6 minutes

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.

Our Response

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.