Scripture Reading: 2 Tim.3:1-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. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’ and Jambres’ folly was also. Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconiumand at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learnedthem, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
The Righteous Soul & The Present Age
Every time I read these words of Paul, I have this satirical idea of wanting to meet the apostle and thanking him for such an encouraging and positive prophetic promise regarding the last days.
If we accept that these words were written by inspiration of God, then we are not looking at some mere ‘negative confession’ of a tired and discouraged apostle. If we have a problem with these words our problem is not with Paul but with the God who inspired his writing.
The other factor that adds weight to these words is that this is the last letter Paul will write. He is writing from Nero’s dungeon somewhere in Rome- and in this dungeon he will be executed for his faith. A man in that position does not waste time writing words without meaning; every word is now significant.
Knowing that the end is upon him, and undoubtedly considering what would be the most important realities he could share with his Kingdom son, he writes this; But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. And then in three verses he list no fewer than nineteen vices that will characterize people in the last days.
In this portion of scripture Paul, with his characteristic brilliance, sets forth a most significantcontrast between the culture and the man of God within that culture. The man of God to whom he is writing is Timothy- but in a prophetic sense, Timothy is representative of the‘man of God’ in each generation all the way down to the last days. And what Paul writes to and about Timothy is written to and about all people of God in relation to a culture gone mad.
We can speak with equal authority that these words were written to us.
Paul writes about the culture, but his purpose is not to tell us about culture; the focus is the man of God in the midst of the culture. And regarding this there are two vital factors- first he tells us how we are to live in relation to the culture; secondly, and perhaps more importantly he tells us the absolute key to living that way.
It is important that we regard the fact that Paul is writing about the ‘last days.’ Whether we call this the church age or the age between the two advents of Christ, or whatever else we call it- Paul is telling us a couple of very important facts; first, there is a definite end or conclusion to this specific age, and secondlythe closer we move to the end of this age there are certain negative and unavoidable cultural realities that are going to evolve. Everything he describes and refers to here has been present in some measure in each generation of this age, but in thelast days of the age these characteristics will be more and more intensive and extensive.
Regarding Paul’s description of the ‘last days’, I cannot take the time to define all of the terms he used but I do want to lift out a few of them to give some sense of the culture he prophetically pointed to.
Before doing that let me give you a partial definition of the word ‘culture.’
-a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or
period: Greek culture
-the behaviours and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or
age group: the youth culture; the drug culture [Notice the two words 'behaviors' and 'beliefs'-and realize that culture is not just a matter of behaviours- it is equally a matter of beliefs and until it is dealt with at this level it is not really dealt with at all.]
-the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and
transmitted from one generation to another
-the cultivation of microorganisms, as bacteria, or of tissues, for
scientific study, medicinal use, etc.
-the product or growth resulting from such cultivation
-to grow (microorganisms, tissues, etc.) in or on a controlled or defined
Packed into this partial definition of the word ‘culture’ is a whole world of meaning and importance but perhaps the most important aspect of it has to do with the idea of ‘cultivation’especially when joined with the words ‘controlled or defined medium.’
To cultivate something is to take control of both substance and process-and with definite intention manipulate both toward a specific goal, outcome or purpose.
The primary mediums through which this is taking place are the three basic structures upon which all societies are built- ‘government, economics, and religion.’
With government we have the issue of law, structure or societal order. With economics we have the issue of values- which is far more significant than mere money. With religion we have the issue of world view- which is made up of our definitions of God, sin, man and death.
To determine the reality of any culture all you have to know is its corporate laws- or attitude toward law- its corporate values- which will primarily be demonstrated in how it handles money, and its corporate world view.
If these are the controlled and defined mediums through which the cultivation, the growing, the developing of culture is taking place- then we come to the bottom line question in this:‘Who is doing the cultivating?’
And this is where we must see beyond politicians, economists and religionists/philosophers;we must see all the way into the realm of spirit.
Consider these few verses of scripture.
In 1Corinthians 12 Paul sets out the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and their place or function within the corporate setting- and among them is this- ‘to another (is given) distinguishing between spirits.’
1Ti 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and followdeceiving (or seducing) spirits and things taught by demons.
We might ask the question- ‘How does a demon teach?’ I did not include the next verse in this chapter- but that verse makes it clear that demons teach through people.
1Jn 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Rev 16:14 They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings(government) of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.
Obviously culture is highly visible, external and physical, but the driving and determining dynamic of culture is neither visible, external nor physical- it is spirit- and the ultimate transformation of culture is going to involve the engagement of the spiritual realm by the people of God, who carry with and in them the victory of the Lord Jesus- victory over that entire spiritual order.
It is the church pressing the gates of hell- and that goes far beyond the visible structures and systems through which hell works.
At this point we should know at least two things: first a reasonable definition of culture, andsecondly the ultimate inspiration or driving force behind it. What we need to see now is just a very quick snapshot of what culture is going to look like at the end of the age.
Jude 1:17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
2Pe 3:3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.
With these brief considerations in mind regarding culture, let us now come to the words of the apostle.
Paul declared that in the ‘last days’- and this is the better translation- “there will be upon us’terrible times.” The idea is that of something that comes upon or over you- something from which there is no escape. And that, of course, is the reality of the nature of culture- we live in the midst of it, are surrounded by it, and cannot isolate ourselves from it.
The adjective “terrible” (which describes the word ‘times’) is found only one other time in the New Testament, (Matthew 8:28), where it is used to describe the “demonic violence”demonstrated in the two men Jesus met in the tombs. In addition the word means: “hard to bear, troublesome, dangerous.”
Had we been there that day with Christ to witness the violent behaviour of those two demonised men living among the tombs, we would have been looking at a snapshot of the‘culture of violence’ of the ‘last days.’ And to read that entire story is to arrive at the following realities: out of control, beyond restraint, loss of mental function, isolated, self- abusive or destructive, physical exposure(a culture of nakedness), the driven restlessness of the soul without peace, and the overall environment of death- for they lived among the tombs.
Each of the next four characteristics Paul presents deserve individual attention but I will point out only the common defining reality or thread that runs through these four characteristics. ‘Lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful and arrogant’- the single defining reality in all of these is self to the exclusionof all other things. Paul sees a culture in which all things exist for one purpose alone- and that purpose begins and ends with the individual self and its need for pleasure and power. And whatever stands in the way of this is to be eradicated with whatever measure of violence is necessary.
The characteristics following these first four- 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, give us an exact picture of what society looks like as the culture becomes more and more entirely self-absorbed. In other words, everything listed here is the unavoidable consequence of an ever-deepening selfishness.
The word “unholy” describes the person who has no fellowship with God and so is living a merely “secular” life. Paul is describing what we now call ‘secular humanism’- where man is the measure of all things and self-consciousness takes the place of God-consciousness. It is life lived entirely in the sense realm and without the slightest reference to spiritual reality.
Then, depending upon your translation, you have the words ‘unloving’, unforgiving, and irreconcilable- the meaning of which is: ‘to be without family affection; to be without a treaty or covenant and therefore irreconcilable.’
Understanding in some measure what the culture of the last days is going to be- and knowing that in some measure we are living in the preliminary stages of that culture- the issue finally comes down to this question: ‘How are the righteous to live in this culture and engage it redemptively?’
In answering this question I suppose I could list and comment upon the fundamental disciplines of the Christian life. However, I am going to reference just one of them. I am growingly convinced that this is the most difficult discipline to really live out- the last thing we really want to do- the one thing that is most resisted by our flesh. And yet I am convinced that no matter how much we read the word, no matter how much we pray, fast, give and testify,without the practice of this particular discipline we are going to be incredibly vulnerable to the influences of the values of the culture.
What I am speaking of is ‘absolute transparent accountability within true covenant relationship or community.’ In the culture Paul described you can mark this down- the righteous soul in isolation is a sitting duck- a prime target- for the seductive forces at work within the culture.
Before dealing with this particular issue, let me make one note in passing. Jesus told us- Mt 10:16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. And following this, Christ himself described a culture of unbelievable hostility, betrayal and violence. In the presence of such a culture it is one thing to beinnocent- it is another matter entirely to be naïve.
To be innocent is to be without blame regardless of what goes on in the culture. To be naïveis to be without discernment in the midst of the culture- and all I can say is, ‘God help the soul that is without sharp discernment in the presence of the powerful seductive forces at work in the culture.’ If you doubt this read what Proverbs says about the ‘naïve youth.’