2 Timothy 3:1-17
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come. They were in the first days of the Christian era; the times foretold were to be in the last days of that era. There is an intended indefiniteness about the days; nothing is said about their commencement, or about the period over which they are to extend. They are to embrace distinct times, but all characterized by grievousness. From what follows we may infer that the grievousness of the times will consist in the prevalence of moral evil, and in the strange coexistence of moral evil with Christian forms. There will be difficulty in knowing how to act, and also in acting according to knowledge in the face of strong, quasi-Christian solidarities of evil. From a source of revelation open to him, the apostle was able to write with certainty regarding the coming of grievous times in the last days. There is not excluded the ultimate triumph of religion in this world which is taught elsewhere.
I. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MEN IN THE GRIEVOUS TIMES. "For men shall be lovers of self." "Such men as the apostle here describes there have been at all times, and the apostle does not say that they will be then such for the first time, nor that all men without exception shall be such, but he describes the moral spiritual physiognomy of the times which he beholds approaching." We are not to include in this first part of the description all who are influenced by self-love; for it is only right before God that we should be influenced by an intelligent regard to our interest. The persons intended are the selfish - a word which was only brought in by the Puritan divines toward the middle of the seventeenth century. They are those who exclude God from the central place to which he is entitled in their life. They are those who exclude others from the place of interest to which they are entitled. They thus put self in a false position - make it the beginning and end of all their thoughts and actions. They properly take the place of pre-eminence in the apostle's list; for all classes of sinners are after the selfish type, i.e. put forward self in some way or other that does not accord with eternal truth. In the grievous times will be large developments of selfishness. "Lovers of money." From similarity of composition in the Greek words, the apostle passes on from lovers of self to lovers of money. Under this head are not to be included all seekers of money; for it is right to seek money for good ends. Neither are there to be included all who seek money for selfish ends. But we are to think rather of the avaricious, i.e. those who seek to retain money in a selfish way. They look upon it as that which will make them self-sufficient in the future; and therefore they grudge to spend it even on present necessity. The times will be grievous when the avaricious increase. "Boastful." Derived from a word signifying "a wandering about," this word designated first the vagabond mountebanks, conjuors, quacksalvers, or exorcists, "full of empty and boastful professions of cures and other feats which they could accomplish." Men do not need to go about crying up, advertising, that which is of great value. What men generally boast of is some external advantage which is of little consequence in comparison with the moral worth which should be associated with it. The times will be grievous when the gift is exalted above the moral use to which it is put. "Haughty." The haughty are literally, in the Greek, those who show themselves above their fellows. In the glass of their own minds, they behold themselves standing along with others; and the comparison they make is in their own favour. Their estimate is false in respect of the importance attached to that in which they pride themselves, and in respect of the importance attached to that for which they despise others. Birth is an advantage, but not the only advantage, nor the greatest advantage, and must be taken along with service and character. In the grievous times there will be a great amount of pride. "Railers." The word is "blasphemers," but it would be inconsistent with holding the form of godliness to think of blasphemers in the usual sense in English. It is better, therefore, to think of those who use evil words to each other, i.e. words of contempt, or words of bitterness. There is to be a large development of evil speaking in the grievous times. "Disobedient to parents." Selfishness is early to show itself in the form of self-will. The young generation are to show impatience of being ruled by their parents, which is sure to grow into impatience in respect of all rightful rule. In the grievous times there is to be a large development of lawlessness, beginning in the family circle. "Unthankful." Those who are allowed to have their own way in early life are not likely to grow up to show gratitude to parents for what they have sacrificed for them, nor are they likely to show gratitude in the ordinary intercourse of life, nor can we think of them showing gratitude to God for his mercies. Ingratitude is to be a striking feature of the grievous times. "Unholy." There are certain sanctities which are everlasting, which are anterior to all law and custom, which belong to the Divine constitution of things, e.g. the sanctities of the marriage bond. The unholy are those who have no reverence or love in their hearts for these everlasting sanctities. In the grievous times the most sacred bonds are to be disregarded. "Without natural affection." Affection is that which sweetens life. In the grievous times affection is to die out, even for those for whom nature specially claims affection. Parents will act unnaturally toward their children. "Implacable." The word supposes a state of variance. In the grievous times men are not to come to terms with those who have given them offence, but are to pursue them with all the might of their vengeance. "Slanderers." They are not to be content with pouring contempt and bitterness on one another in ordinary evil speaking, but they are to attack one another with falsehoods. Thus the diabolic character is to be developed in the grievous times. "Without self-control." With self-will uncurbed in early life, it is not to be wondered at that the men of the grievous times are to be men who have lost self-control. "Fierce." In the grievous times there will be loss of self-control, proceeding to deeds of violence. "No lovers of good." In keeping with the personal reference before and after, we prefer to translate, "no lovers of good men." With evil so active in them, the presence of good men will be burdensome to them. They are therefore likely to make the times grievous to the good, by unjustly treating them. "Traitors." Fidelity is the sacred bond that joins friend to friend. In the grievous times friend will be often found betraying friend. "Headstrong." In the grievous times men will go to daring lengths. "Puffed up." The explanation of their daringness is, that they have no right sense of their own position before God - their insignificance, impotence, and responsibility. "Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." Men will be daring especially in sensual gratification. Pleasure will he preferred to God. "Holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof." The remarkable thing is that the men who have been described (we do not need to think of the characteristics being all combined) should hold a form of godliness. The relation of the form of godliness to the men who make the grievous times, is that it conceals their true character. It is self throughout, in a more or less hateful form, and therefore the real power of godliness is denied. But it does not appear so nakedly and hatefully to be self where there is a form of acknowledging God. The relation of the form of godliness to the grievous times is, that it allows evil to work more insidiously. It is not so difficult to meet pure heathenism as it is to meet a Christianity that has become heathenish. Advice. "From these also turn away." Paul would have things put on a basis of reality. Between Timothy and such men there could be no sympathy. Why keep up a semblance of fellowship? Both for them and for him it was better that the line of demarcation should be drawn, and that all further intercourse should proceed on the footing that they did not belong to the same Christian society.
II. THE MEN OF THE GRIEVOUS TIMES ANTICIPATED. "For of these." The apostle follows up his description of the men of the evil times by the advice to turn away from them, as though they were already present. The explanation he gives is that there were forerunners of them, men of the same spiritual kith. Characteristics.
1. Influence with women.
(1) Manner of their influence. "Are they that creep into houses, and take captive silly women." Their converts were among women, which was not matter of reproach to them. But it was matter of reproach that it was women so habitually that they sought to influence, and that they did not go openly about the work of influencing them. They crept into houses, as though they did not wish to be seen. And that mode of entrance suggested the employment of other methods than the direct force of truth. By the methods employed they got the women completely into their power. It was matter of reproach to the women that they gave themselves up to such teachers, and therefore they are called silly women.
(2) Explanation of their influence. "Laden with sins, led away by divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." They were not women of the right stamp. In relation to their past they were laden with sins. In relation to their present they were led away by divers lusts - led away to divers, and even conflicting, sources of gratification. They needed a salve for their conscience, and yet a salve that allowed continued gratification. This salve was supplied by the false teachers. They were always getting some new point from them, which gave satisfaction for the time, but they never came any nearer resting in the truth. The reason was that they had not the right moral conditions. Their object was, not to get such truth (to be found in the gospel) as would have delivered them from the guilt of their sins and the power of their lusts, but to have lengthened out to them a mingling of sensual and intellectual gratification.
2. Withstanding the truth.
(1) Type of their opposition. "And like as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth; men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith." The apostle here makes use of Hebrew tradition. Jannes and Jambres are not mentioned in the Old Testament, but Hebrew tradition identifies them with the chief of the magicians who withstood Moses. Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and it became a serpent; and the magicians "they also did in like manner with their enchantments." It is also recorded that they succeeded in imitating the first two plagues. They thus withstood Moses - stood between him and the effect which his miracles were intended to produce on Pharaoh. So the false teachers produced a spurious imitation of the truth, teaching what resembled the gospel without being the gospel. As the gospel teachers had also to a late period (Galatians 3:5) the power of working miracles, so we can understand that these teachers made use of magical arts in confirmation of their quasi-gospel teaching. They thus withstood the truth - came between the gospel and the effect it was fitted to produce. In thus acting they were corrupted in mind; their motives were not good. Their object was not to advance the truth, or to benefit those whom they taught, but to advance themselves and to obtain their own ends with their female converts. They were also reprobate concerning the faith; they were making it abundantly clear that their adherence to the faith was a complete failure.
(2) Type of their defeat. "But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be evident unto all men, as theirs also came to be." So Luther used to say of the priests by whom he was opposed. The false teachers used secret and spurious methods with success; but, though they might wax worse and worse themselves (ver. 13), the time of their exposure was come. So was it with Jannes and Jambres. They were in undisturbed possession of power till Moses appeared on the scene. They seemed to be succeeding when they turned their own rods into serpents; but they suffered defeat when Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods. They seemed to be recovering their success when they imitated the first plague, and again when they imitated the second plague; but they were baffled in their attempt to imitate the third plague. They were in connection with another plague shown to be defeated, when they could not stand before Moses because of the boils. Moses succeeded in getting the children of Israel out of Egypt; and Hebrew tradition tells that Jannes and Jambres perished in the Red Sea. This is the history of all false teaching, of all spiritual trickery. It may succeed for a time, but its very success often works its ruin. The time comes when its impostures are found out, and it can proceed no further. So we can believe that the great development of evil in the last days will end in complete exposure, and in the brilliant triumph of good.
III. CONTRAST IN TIMOTHY.
1. Timothy reminded of his conduct at a former period, which was a following of Paul as his guiding star.
(1) A leading up to sufferings. "But thou didst follow my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, long suffering, love, patience, persecutions, sufferings." The period referred to is Timothy's early ministry. He then acted as assistant to Paul, and what Paul gratefully calls to mind was his close following of him as a disciple. He not only followed him so as to be familiar with details, but followed him so as to direct his course by what he saw in him. The great lines of his teaching, the great lines of his conduct, Timothy made his own. The special purpose of his life (ruling so many details), which was to spread the gospel of Christ, was also after Paul. So, too, was his disposition towards Christ, viz. faith, especially in his power to make his gospel to tell upon men. So, too, was his disposition toward opponents, viz. his long suffering with their bitter opposition. So, too, was his disposition toward those in whose interest he laboured, viz. love for their souls. So, too, was his disposition under all the adverse conditions of his ministry, as appointed for him, viz. patience. This forms a point of transition to past troublous times when Paul was persecuted, and persecuted so as to be a sufferer in many ways. Even to the apostle's persecutions and sufferings Timothy's following extended; i.e. he thoroughly appreciated the fidelity which led to them and brave bearing under them. They may have had to do with his joining the apostle, and determined his own relation to persecutions and sufferings.
(2) Sufferings specified. "What things befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured." At Antioch he suffered expulsion. At Iconium he had to flee from maltreatment, particularly stoning. At Lystra under Jewish instigation, the mob stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. Such were the persecutions, the last especially sharp and extreme, under which Paul bore up, of which Timothy bad a distinct impression, and which were fitted to embolden him still.
(3) Comfortable issue of the sufferings. "And out of them all the Lord delivered me." He was cared for by the great Head of the Church, to whom all power in earth had been committed, to whom it belonged to order the earthly destiny of his servants. The Lord, who had more work for him to do, delivered him out of all the machinations of his enemies - gave him up to sorrowing friends when he was left for dead by his enemies.
2. Timothy forewarned.
(1) Regarding persecutions. "Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." To live godly is to take the rule of our life from God. This can only be carried out in communion with Christ Jesus. Were all living according to the Divine rule around us, we should be abundantly encouraged. But seeing we live in the midst of so many who hate goodness and do not like to be reminded of God, we must expect to suffer persecution, i.e. to be misjudged, to be opposed, to be assailed, if our godliness is active and aggressive against evil, as it should be. We must have a mind to live godly, whatever consequences it entails. It was because he lived according to the Divine rule that Paul was stoned. As the principle involved was universal, Timothy, in proportion to the vitality of his godliness, must expect to suffer persecution.
(2) Regarding evil men, and especially one class of them. "But evil men and impostors shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." Of the evil men that make persecutions, the worst specimens had not yet been seen. The rule is that good men wax better and better, the good men of one generation outstripping the good men of former generations. This may not apply to particular specimens, for we do not find any to outstrip Paul. But it is true of good men as a class that, with better helps, more experience to go by, better education, better books, better methods, better organization, they are of more value to the society to which they belong. We have laymen in our Churches now whose Christian enlightenment and activity is above what any previous generation has seen. While the good are better, the bad are worse. This applies especially to the class specified, who, with reference to what has before been said, are called impostors, or tricksters in religion. The original reference of the word is to those who chanted their spells in a sort of howl. We have worse specimens of withstanders of the truth than Jannes and Jambres were, or their successors in the early times of Christianity. Infidels are a worse class of men now than they were half a century ago. The incantations used in the free thinking press are of a more dangerous nature than any potions or howlings that were resorted to by magicians of old. Our free thinkers are deceivers; they habitually subject Scripture to the most unfair treatment. And deceiving, they are also deceived; conscious of their own trickery, they do not subject the statements of their friends to examination, but are known for their amazing credulity.
3. Timothy incited to present duty founded on past early training.
(1) Early teaching. "But abide thou in the things which thou hast learned." Timothy was no longer in the position of the child taught, but in the position of a teacher of others. To one in that position it might have been thought that the appropriate thing would have been advice about his reading - and he does appear to have had books and parchments from the apostles - but the advice which he gives him here is to continue in the things which he had learned, i.e. as a child. And there was really nothing better for him; nothing except this, that the Messiah whom Lois and Eunice taught him to look forward to was now come, and that there had been done to him and by him all that the Old Testament Scriptures had said of him. And so to those who are grown up, and have power to think and to read and to grasp things with a firm grasp, there is never anything better than the old story of Jesus and his love, learned at a mother's knee.
(2) Early teaching along with early convictions. "And hast been assured of." We should read," Thou didst learn, and wast assured of." It is Timothy's early convictions that we are to think of. He not only got the teaching from Lois and Eunice, but it became matter of personal conviction to him. He could set to his own seal to what he had been taught. He knew the worth of a mother's religion in the peace, restraint, hope, it brought into his own soul. It was a legitimate argument for Paul to use with Timothy, not to turn his back on his early convictions, to hold to the God of his childhood. When life was lived according to God's ideas, such as Timothy's was, he was not to be inconsistent and to make the latter part disagree with the former. "There is but one way of making all our days one, because one love, one hope, one joy, one aim, binds them all together; and that is by taking the abiding Christ for ours, and abiding in him all our days. Our true progress consists, not in growing away from Jesus, but in growing up into him; not in passing through and leaving behind the first convictions of him as Saviour, but in having these verified by the experience of years, deepened and cleared, unfolded and ordered into a larger though still incomplete whole."
(3) Personal element in teaching. "Knowing of whom [what persons] thou hast learned them." "Timothy was supposed to have a complete set of recollections from his mother woven into his very feeling of the truth itself. It was more true, because it had been taught by her. There was even a sense of her loving personality in it, by which it had always been, and was always to be endeared. On the other hand, it will be always found that every kind of teaching in religion which adds no personal interest or attraction to the truth, sheds no light upon it from a good and beautiful life, is nearly or quite worthless. And here is the privilege of a genuinely Christian father and mother in their teaching, that they pass into the heart's feeling of their child, side by side with God's truth, to be forever identified with it, and to be, themselves, lived on and over with it, in the dear eternity it gives him."
(4) When teaching begins. "And that from a babe thou hast known." Those who carry the idea of individual responsibility through everything have a difficulty here in the dating of religious instruction from the very earliest age. James Mill, the author of the 'History of India,' taking the education of his more remarkable son, John Stuart Mill, into his own hands, proceeded on the principle that a religious upbringing would be an interference with free development, and systematically kept all religious ideas out of his mind till he considered him able to form an independent and unbiassed judgment upon the subject of religion. Our objection to that course is that it is a virtual selling of the child to the devil. If God and truth are not presented to the mind till a matured judgment can be formed, it is not as though there had not been experience, but the mind is already warped and religion is placed at a fearful disadvantage. Eunice proceeded on the right principle when she seized the earliest opportunity of influencing the mind of Timothy in favour of religion.
(5) Scriptural teaching.
(a) Name. "The sacred writings." The name is suggestive, in the first place, of a written revelation, which has the advantage over oral tradition (the form of revelation which obtained for the first two or three thousand years) in that it does not lie so open to the action of prejudice. Men may come with all manner of prejudices to it, but it is there to witness for itself to every unprejudiced mind. The name is suggestive, in the second place, of many writers being employed in the communication of Divine truth, which is much better than one with his particular idiosyncrasy entering into his writings, inasmuch as all classes of minds can be thus suited, and if they are not attracted by one mode of stating the truth, they may be attracted by another. The name is suggestive, in the third place, of writings connected with religion, such as there do not seem to have been in connection with the religions of Greece and Rome. The Bible can be employed for the instruction of children, inasmuch as it is truly a child's book as well as a man's book. What is needed, at the first stage at least, is truth in the concrete form; and this is to be found in the Bible, which, with some things hard to be understood, has yet many a simple statement and story that is fitted to fill the child's imagination and to touch the child's heart. Eunice had only the Old Testament Scriptures to draw upon: the Christian parent has now an immense advantage, in the addition of the New Testament, and especially of the four Gospels, and in the greater facilities which a printed Bible gives him for getting Bible images and lessons into the mind of the child.
(b) Property. "Which are able to make thee wise unto salvation." They form a directory to salvation, containing all the information and pleading with the soul which are necessary. To one inexperienced in the ways of the world it is a great advantage to have a friend at hand, able on every occasion to give a sound advice, to expose fallacies, to put forward weighty considerations. Inexperienced in the ways of the world we certainly are, liable to be deceived by appearances, to be buoyed up with false hopes. In giving us the Scriptures, God acts the part of a friend, giving us the best advice, opening our eyes to reality, so that, with all our inexperience, it is as though we possessed boundless stores of wisdom. They are able to make wise unto salvation, but they may not; for there are some who make themselves wiser than God's Word, and think they know better about things than God does, and so perish by being wise in their own conceits and refusing to be guided.
(c) Condition of efficiency. "Through faith which is in Christ Jesus." The Scriptures cannot do more than make us wise unto salvation; they are not to be put in the place of Christ, whose connection with salvation is more than that of a directory - is of the most intimate nature, who is really the efficient Cause of salvation, the Receptacle of salvation; and they only do their work when they bring us up to Christ, and also induce in us that state of mind which is here called faith, which instrumentally appropriates the salvation which is in him.
IV. SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE.
1. Ground of sufficiency. "Every Scripture inspired of God." According to this translation the inspiration of Scripture is taught, not explicitly but implicitly. We are to regard it as taken for granted that Scripture is God-breathed. Inspiration extends to every part of Scripture. This is a doctrine of vital importance to the Church. Its bearing is that there is not only the absence of error, but the presence of positive perfection in relation to the whole want of man under the present order of things. The Divine influence, however operating, is guarantee that in Scripture, in its manifoldness, we have all fundamentally that needs to be said to man on the subject of religion, and in the form that is best fitted to have deep and lasting effect upon his spiritual nature as a whole. The difference is very perceptible in the post-apostolic literature. "Even where we recognize a lofty flight of the spirit as in the Ignatian Epistles, the inspiration repeatedly is merely a religious enthusiasm, a subjective romance, showing itself in an almost revelling desire for martyrdom, moving and even infectious; so that many who read an Ignatian Epistle for the first time feel themselves doubtless more excited and stirred than by a Pauline one; but this very feature proves that it is not really inspired; for the Spirit who founded the Church does not tolerate the extolling of one isolated tendency in the soul, and cannot bear such subjective partiality of view, be it ever so strong, ever so apparently admirable."
2. Fourfold use. "Is also profitable." In reading the Scriptures what we are to seek above all things is that the truth contained in them may be brought into contact with our minds for our profit. "For teaching." There is first a revealing power in the Bible. It teaches us much that we could not otherwise have known. It supplies us with what is necessary not only for a correct, but a lofty, conception of God. It acquaints us with our fallen state, and with God's dealings with us for our salvation. "For reproof." The reproving power of the Bible results from its great revealing power, along with the state in which it finds us. The light it sheds is not for our justification, but for our being convicted of departures both from truth and righteousness. "For correction." The corrective power of the Bible starts from our being convicted as out of the straight path. By proper directions, admonitions, warnings, encouragements, it brings us back into the straight path. "For instruction which is in righteousness." The disciplinary power of the Bible is specified as being within the sphere of righteousness. In the lofty demands it makes - the loftier the further we advance - it gives us the spiritual drill which makes for right habits.
3. Completeness aimed at. "That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work." The man of God is man according to the Divine idea. Many excellences go to
Parallel VersesKJV: This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.