What is the Meaning of 2 Timothy 3:1-5?
What is the meaning of 2 Timothy 3:1-5? I don’t know about you, but I have often heard people recite these verses as evidence that we are living in the End Times. If you look at this list, you would be hard-pressed to disagree.
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5
Let’s go through the list quickly:
- Difficult times – certainly many would say our times are difficult
- Lovers of self – people sure do look out for number one over everything else
- Lovers of money – we are a money loving world
- Boastful, arrogant, revilers – all true of people today
- Disobedient to parents – scarily true, thanks to Dr. Spock for this one
- Ungrateful, unholy, unloving – yes, yes and yes
- Irreconcilable, malicious gossips – Unforgiving? Check. Gossips? Check.
- Without self-control – absolutely
- Brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited – all true
- Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – It’s all about what makes people feel good and God has been removed from all areas of life
- Holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power – Everyone thinks they’re good people and going to heaven, though they want nothing to do with the God who is in Heaven.
There we have it. These verses are evidence that we are living in the End Times.
There’s only one problem.
These verses are not speaking about society in general. They are speaking about a very specific group of people.
The People Mentioned in 2 Timothy
Here’s the reality: people have always been like this. Go through the list again and think of a time that those types of people did not exist. We see them today, for sure, but they were around 100 years ago as well. They were there in the time of Jesus; just look at the Pharisees. They were there in the times of the Jewish Kings and the Jewish Judges. They were there when Joseph was thrown into the pit and then sold into slavery. They were there when Noah was building the Ark.
So if these people have always been around, then why would God give us this passage? It’s like saying, “The End Times will come about when people are walking and talking.” The world cannot be the subject of these verses. It makes no sense. He must have something else in mind.
God gives us these verses to look at ourselves, The Church.
Christians are the subject God has in focus in these verses.
The Church in History
Throughout her history, the Church has been known as sanctified. In other words, she was separated out from the world. She did not look like the world, sound like the world, or act like the world. This was why people were drawn to her in the first place. She was different from anything else in the world.
Here is one view of what Christians looked like, from a Greek convert named Aristides:
They love one another. They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who will hurt them. If they have something, they give freely to the man who has nothing; if they see a stranger, they take him home and are happy, as though he were a real brother. They don’t consider themselves brothers and sisters in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Spirit, in God.
Here is another view from the Roman Pliny, governor of Bithynia:
…this is the course I have taken with those who were accused before me as Christians. I asked them whether they were Christians, and if they confessed, I asked them a second and third time with threats of punishment. If they kept to it, I ordered them for execution;
From Tertullian’s Apollogeticum;
We are equally forbidden to wish ill, to do ill, to speak ill, to think ill of all men. The thing we must not do to an emperor, we must not do to any one else.
Chuck Colson, in his book, The Faith writes:
The Christians’ God expected that His followers would acknowledge His love by sacrificing themselves for others. They were to extend God’s love not merely to their families and friends but to their enemies as well. “Love one another” became their standard… (Regarding those who had fallen ill due to the plague) The care Christians showed often did result in their succumbing to the plague themselves. But paradoxically, their compassion did not deplete Christian ranks in the long term – quite the reverse. Tending to the sick increased the disease survival rate by as much as two-thirds and this witness attracted many new converts. By acting on the teachings of Christ, without regard to their own welfare, these Christians, against all expectations, progressed from being a small sect to the dominant cultural group.
This is what the church looked like – loving selflessly, persecuted unto death, giving sacrificially.
Testing the Church
We go back to the passage in 2 Timothy 3 and review these aspects again, this time with an eye to the Church today rather than the world as the subject of Paul’s writing:
- Difficult times – Christians are the most persecuted people group in the world, even now in America
- Lovers of self – Unfortunately, most Christians now look like the world, putting themselves and their families before others
- Lovers of money – As Christians look more like the world, they also act like the world. Ask them to put all the money that is in their wallet into the offering. Good luck with that.
- Boastful, arrogant, revilers – just check out the social media of many Christians
- Disobedient to parents – scarily most Christians raise their children using the wisdom of the world rather than the wisdom of the Bible, resulting in Christians who always spare the rod
- Ungrateful, unholy, unloving – Can you be a Christian and be ungrateful, unholy and unloving? Look at the members of your nearest megachurch and it will be easy to find them.
- Irreconcilable, malicious gossips – I’ve met many Christians who are unforgiving and gossips
- Without self-control – Ask a Christian to fast for a day. How about pray for an hour? Or study the Bible for an hour? Too hard, can’t do it. Zero discipline.
- Brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited – Christians hate those who disagree with them. They can be brutal in their thought, words and deeds. Most Christians hate the idea of Discipline, Humility, Meekness and Sacrifice – all good things. Many are thoughtless. Most are proud.
- Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – How many Christians would rather go to a 3-hour church service or prayer meeting than to a movie or ball game?
- Holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power – Most Christians more resemble the Pharisees of Jesus’ time than they resemble Jesus. Jesus called them white washed tombs.
The End Times Church
In the Book of Revelation, we get a picture of what the End Time Church will look like:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. – Revelation 3:15-18
We get another look at the End Time Church in 2 Thessalonians 2:3
Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first…
In the same way that we recognize 2 Timothy 3 cannot be speaking of the world, so it is in this case. The apostasy is going to come from the Church. Apostasy means to abandon or renounce the beliefs of the faith. Look at the teachings of the church today and you will see apostasy in many pulpits.
Are we in the End Times? Does the Church look like 2 Timothy 3, Revelation 3 or 2 Thessalonians 2? Maybe, maybe not. The more important question is what are we to do about this?
If we think the Church today proves we are living in the End Times, how will you conduct yourself today? Will you reach out to a lost person to share the gospel before it’s too late? Will you repent and confess and decide to become obedient to the word of God in all ways, not just those things that you can do easily?
Here’s the truth: whether we are in the End Times or not, Jesus has given us a playbook to live by. He expects that we will follow it regardless of how soon His coming might be. The reason He did not give us a Time and Date of His coming is so that every day, we might live as if it was the last day.
If every Christian did these things, the Church would look completely different. It would look more like the early church that we read about earlier.
We might not be able to change the Church in a day, but we can change ourselves. Let’s live like Biblical Christians, even as we watch and wait for His return.
I just read your article on 2 Tim. 3:1-5, and was discouraged that you left out the directive in the last line of verse 5. Which is the answer to how we are to respond to “christians” like this. Of course, you may go through other processes in scripture before this, but…
The system of American Christianity is unbiblical. What if Jesus would have just gone to a building Sunday and Wednesday sang a song, gave a buck, listened, called it good and went to breakfast….I’ll tell you: we would all be going to Hell, because it is another gospel…perverted/false/fake/ a lie!
Come out of the Babylonian buildings that are only trying to make a name for themselves.
Striving to contend for the faith,
Thanks for the comment, Barbara. I appreciate your heart for a pure church. Thanks for the reminder that we need to avoid those “christians” and those “churches” who are wrecking the faith. I missed it in the post, but here it is now! God bless and keep praying for the renewal of the Church and the coming of our Lord! God bless.
This is so true. Come out and follow The Holy Spirit!.Jesus is Lord!
This verse helped me in my church since am a youth pastor in church but still need to undergo theological education.
I as a believer in JUSHUA know the importance of fallowing the Holy Spirit, there is times I hear the Lord and fallow what HE says, I find it difficult to constantly listening to the Holy Spirit with a husband that doesn’t think I should operate in the gifts mercy, evangelism that GOD gave me in front of him only when it is a safe setting with other believers and if he don’t like something I say he will let it be known My husband monitors me. My husband is gifted too with grace, wisdom and words of healing for people for their minds practical application but won’t use the name of JESUS or GOD in many instances so therefore he thinks I am not correct in sharing my faith when GOD leads me so therefore I no longer step out in faith in front of him unless I am not dwelling on his disapproval of me but otherwise I secretly obey when he is not around. It could be embarrassing or feel like he is discrediting the faith in me JESUS the hope of glory, when he will walk away right in public from me or when I am dealing with our adult children if I say something gently to our children or grandchildren he will correct me I share the word of GOD or he will say what are you trying to say and stick up for the person that GOD put a word in my heart for and therefore and get mad at me, I feel not confident. I am submitting to my husband in my situation so I could have peace in our relationship. I love my husband he is a good man just hard for him to let me walk in my calling❗️
God knows your heart. While I don’t believe your husband is loving you as he ought, you are doing your part to be the kind of wife God desires you to be. Please continue to use your gifts as much as you can. God has gifted you and He expects you to use them. Continue to pray for your husband, that he will be the man he needs to be. God can use all situations for good, so look for the good in your current situation. My prayers are with you. God bless…
The Scriptures are talking about the world in general. The world has changed and generally speaking this is the attitude of the world. It also includes many who called them selves Christians and also includes many who are of non-Christian religions. This is because Satan has control of the world in general first John 519.
David Tue I am fine with 6 of the 7 comments here. All except the other Davids reply comment stating the Devil controls the world in general, but if that were the case wouldnt the devil be the Lord instead of Jesus for the most part? For instance Matthew 4, 8-9 and Luke 4, 1 5-7.
As far my comment awaiting moderation that I posed a few minutes ago, it should have included saying true the devil will control us if we let him, but then again any elected politician will control us if we let him or her, not to mention our own neighbors will control the other neighbor if the other allowed it. But no the other David is wrong to say its about the world in general because the world and its attitudes have been changing pretty much shortly thereafter its formation. Our own 1776 revelation was a changed world from the new testament events as I see, just subtract the 4th 0 from 2000 years ago to 200 years ago.
Thank you for sharing this eye opening commentary! Very helpful indeed. May the Lord bless and keep you!
I totally agree with what Barbara said about the directive in verse 5. Confronting sin in the church is a messy thing that most “Pastors” don’t want to deal with. There is a complacency or flat out negligence that allows wolves in sheep’s clothing to destroy relationships and entire families. If we are told to “have nothing to do with such people” (NIV), or “from such turn away” (KJV), how is this directive carried out? I have seen families destroyed and end tragically in divorce because the same man was allowed to stay in the congregation and remarry, only to terrorize and abuse unsuspecting women and children. If he had been confronted and asked to leave the fellowship, the carnage could have been prevented.
As I grow in my theology and desire to discern and grow closer in my study with a heavy attention to context, today I bounced up against this thought. It was a letter to Timothy, not necessarily prophesy. Christ even said that signs would be the birthing pains of things to come. Not that it applies to scripture in any way but even natural laws (that God put in place) would indicate that this is a progression with Newton’s second law, entropy, but we don’t have a finish line and measuring stick to say, ok, now. Adding the context that this applies to the church I believe is good theology and a better indication of where we’re at. Satan has always had his wiles and people up to this type of no good. Relation to the apostacy is probably spot on, but I think it begs further study. I’M STILL LEFT WITH ONE LINGERING QUESTION, all translations seem to state “last days”. What would last days mean to Timothy. This was a letter of instruction TO HIM and often used as guidance for those who seek to lead in ministry.