Read: 2 Timothy 3:1-13
2 Timothy 3 is a difficult section of scripture to read. “But understand this,” Paul writes, emphasizing that what he is about to say must be kept in mind. When difficult things must be known, we can thank God for bringing them to us. Father, help me to engage the ugliness of sin described in your scripture and be transformed.
The Days of Fierce Trials Are Now
Paul says, “In the last days,” something will be happening. Those last days he discusses are now: the time since the coming of Jesus. Jesus warns us not to imagine we will know when the final days before his return will occur. Instead, we need to realize Paul is discussing something going on now.
Many Bibles translate Paul’s words to say that “times of difficulty” are coming; however, this is a thin translation of a powerful word. The other time the word is used in scripture is to describe the fierceness of violent men, possessed by demons, who were so strong they frightened everyone around them. Paul isn’t talking about a hassle or inconvenience but rather a fierce trial that makes life as a follower of Jesus very painful.
The Fuel for Fierce Trial Is Commonplace
With this kind of warning, we’d expect the source of the fierce trial to be huge and menacing. In this very letter, Paul speaks of his mistreatment by authorities and the risk that he would be fed to lions. But wild animals and deranged governments aren’t the real fuel for this fierce trial; instead, Paul warns of ugly sins that, frankly, seem ordinary.
Listen to Paul and notice just how ordinary all of these fuels seem to be:
- Lovers of money
- Disobedient to parents
- Without self-control
- Not loving good
- Swollen with conceit
- Lovers of pleasure and not Lovers of God
Paul, these sins seem so…conventional! What child has never disobeyed their parents? Who has always spoken honestly of others and never once been slanderous? The evening on which I write this, I’ve just been riding a scooter with coworkers around Washington DC. It’s very possible I could have been accused of being reckless. Are these really the causes of fierce trials?
But key to this list are the sins mentioned at the beginning and the end — the misplaced love. Rather than loving God supremely, the rebel against God’s truth and God’s people really loves his or her own self most of all. This is the love of self above the love of God and the love of self above the love of neighbor (the others God has made). We can see both how ordinary these sins are and how dangerously close they can be.
Paul’s words are a warning to us as we look in the mirror or lay our head on our pillow and reflect on our day. So many of these sins seem to be “garden variety” character flaws — mostly not the kinds of things we imagine creating a major problem. We should ask God to do the following: Show me, Father, Is this me? Help me see where I am tempted to accept small compromises and to prioritize my own desires over my desires for God.
The Patterns of Fierce Trial Are Ancient
Paul tells us the fierce trial follows an ancient pattern that goes back to the time of Moses. Jannes and Jambres are the traditional names for the magicians of Egypt that opposed Moses in Exodus 7:11. “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men” who are characterized by the love of self and the love of pleasure, “also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” Paul warns us that people pretending to be representatives of God but tolerating garden-variety sin have always been opposing God’s truth and therefore fighting against his people. Though this opposition is happening in the “last days” in which we live, it truly has been going on forever. The battle has always been the Lord’s.
And yet, the message is not without hope: “They will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as it was of those two men,” Jannes and Jambres. Paul reminds us of Moses, so we will remember that God allowed him to see great victory. We can also rely on the truth that God’s word will prevail.
Jesus, you promise never to leave us or forsake us; guard us, by your strength, from temptation and give us the power you gave to Moses and Paul: to endure the assaults of those who oppose your truth.