Be realistic – 2 Timothy 3:1-9

So far in this letter, we’ve seen Paul writing some helpful things to Timothy but we need to be realistic about the challenges.

Timothy was being a bit cautious about living for God – not least because it could be dangerous. But we’ve been reminded that not only must we do things for the Lord but – amazingly – we can do them! In the power of the Holy Spirit; in the strength of the grace of Christ.

Last time we looked at how we’re to be ready for his service, to be the right tool for the job at the right time. But today, we need to be realistic about what might be in the way of you and me telling people about eternal life in Jesus.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Beware dead religion

We’re going to see three obstacles to you telling people about Jesus. The first of them might be surprising: Religion. Read 2 Timothy 3:1.

The New Testament consistently describes the days we are in as “the last days” – it’s the last time period before Christ returns to earth. So Paul isn’t writing only about some final end-times, but actually about all the centuries that have past and are to come. Today.

For everything Paul’s written so far about needing to tell people the truth about themselves and about Jesus, Timothy needs to know “there will be very difficult times.” People will make it difficult! Read 2 Timothy 3:2-4.

We read a list like that as Christians and we see the world around us. We shake our heads and worry about the state of the world. But Paul isn’t writing about the state of the world. Not directly. He’s writing about religious people: Read 2 Timothy 3:5-7.

Who are they, exactly, in these days? We might think in terms of weird cults that only a few believe in, but they’re actually even more dangerous than that: They’re respectable. Read 2 Timothy 8-9.

Who were Jannes and Jambres? They’re not mentioned by name in the Old Testament. There’s a long, long tradition (dating to at least the Dead Sea scrolls) that they were Pharaoh’s magicians. When God did miracles and plagues through Moses, to begin with Pharaoh’s magicians could do the same.

Jannes & Jambres (if those were their names) were established, royal religion – and they could do what Moses could. Until they couldn’t. They were found out.

Counterfeit religion

Here in 2 Timothy, Paul is giving a stern warning: In the days we’re in, there will be many people in formal, established, state religions who are counterfeit:

  • They appear godly. They will convince lots of people by their sincerity, their rituals, and their ceremonies.
  • But they love themselves and their money.
  • They will often make allowances for sin, and be graceless towards people who differ from them.
  • But they actually teach only rules without grace; they teach religion without repentance and faith in Jesus alone.

Who are we talking about?

  • Certainly cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormans, who deny Jesus, twist Scripture, and add their own laws on top of Christ’s grace.
    • They certainly draw people in, burdened with sin – then pile more sin on them without ever leading them to freedom in Christ.
  • The Roman Catholic church is similar. There will definitely be Christians in the Roman Catholic church, but the teachings of the organisation are false, unbiblical.
    • They pile up penances and burdens without ever leading you to freedom in Christ.
    • And how many Catholics do you know who go about with godless lives, hoping they’re ultimately ok because of what the church has told them?
    • Boastful, proud, unloving and unforgiving?

Church should point you to Jesus

Religion of that sort is self-serving. Anything that doesn’t cut a straight line from God’s written word to salvation in Jesus Christ is self-serving.

  • Church is a place to be fed, strengthened in Christ – not weighed down and burdened. We must proclaim Jesus.
  • Religion never saved a soul. Only Jesus does.

You are not transformed by tasks and burdens. You are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in the grace of Christ. So it’s no surprise to see scandals and falls in organisations like that – they teach falsehood because many were never saved themselves. And, if you want to tell people about Jesus, you’ll end up tarred with the same brush in many people’s eyes. Dead religion is an obstacle even to those who want to point people straight to Jesus.

But there’s a second massive obstacle, also people-related.

Love those who love wrongly

There’s a simple reason that false religion leads to the kind of unholy lives that we read about here – false religion is usually undemanding for the masses. There will be many devout Catholics around this area. Some will be trusting Jesus for salvation – they’ll be saved by him, I’m sure.

Most never go to church. They were Christened, maybe took holy communion a few times, got married, and will one day have a Catholic funeral.

  • It makes no demands on their lives; they live as they want.
  • Their religion has been outsourced to their priest.
  • They hope to pick up their ticket to heaven at some point, maybe from a Saint.

But for many of them, Jesus will send them away and say he never knew them. They never knew him. They’re the same as people with no religion at all.

False faith is like no faith

And what are they like? Read 2 Timothy 3:2-5 again:

2 For people will love only themselves and their money.

  • Notice they “love” themselves, their money, and (v5) pleasure.
  • You might think you can reason with someone and persuade them Jesus is better, but you can’t fight their “love” of those things with clever arguments.
  • You need winsomeness, not arguments. Character.
  • In fact, to win people you need to show both that life with Christ is good (winsomeness) and sincere (you’re different from dry religion).

They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God [blasphemers], disobedient to their parents [and, therefore, authority figures in general], and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. 

3 They will be unloving and unforgiving [that is, determinedly refusing reconciliation]; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. 4 They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God.

  • It’s easy to see those things in our society.
  • See them in our friends, colleagues, families.

In fact, it’s easy to see how hardwired people are not to serve God.  And yet, because God will call everyone to account, these are serious matters. Judgment will come to everyone. It’s also easy to see how fatal counterfeit religion is. God will judge you, but he’s also the one who calls you to salvation.

God calls you to freedom in Christ

He doesn’t call you to burdens, but to freedom in Christ. You trust in Jesus to have done that work of salvation for you – all of it, completely – when he died in your place. And now that Jesus lives, he calls you to life

See how these verses condemn people for loving only themselves, their money, their pleasure.

  • Those things aren’t inherently evil, but they’re not eternal either. You will lose them all.
  • But in Christ, you find eternal life on offer for us all.
  • He alone is salvation, peace, and life. You go to him.

But for those who wish to share this good news, there’s a third obstacle (after dead religion and trying to battle with people’s “love” of this world):

Be realistic about your own heart

It’s interesting that in v5 Paul feels the need to say, “Stay away from people like that!” Isn’t it obvious? In truth, each of us will find words in that list that describe aspects of our character.

It’s easy to read this passage and set up “them” and “us”.

  • “That church over there” is awful, but “we’re” built on truth, and faith, and Jesus, etc.
  • It sometimes works on what Bible translation you use (“the right one, obviously”), or the style of songs you sing (“only the old / new ones”), or whether women are allowed to do anything other than make tea…
  • “They will be boastful and proud…” says Paul. Ouch.

James 1:23 describes the Bible as being like a mirror. When you read 2 Timothy 3:2-5, can you see yourself?

“People will love only themselves and their money… love pleasure rather than God.”

  • Could it be that the biggest obstacle to your evangelism is actually you? You love yourself, your pleasure, your comfort, more than you love God?
  • You love yourself more than you love the people around you who are sleepwalking into hell?

In Revelation 3, Jesus wrote to the church at Sardis, “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead… Repent and turn to me again.”

The answer for you is the same it is for everyone: Go to Jesus.

Help in difficult times

Paul says there’ll be “very difficult times.”

  • The Lord will strengthen you by his grace in very difficult times; he gives supernatural divine assistance.
  • He will revive you, as you go to him.
    • Jesus brings life to dead souls.
    • He renews life in lukewarm hearts.
    • Jesus alone can reorient your desires – so that you will love him more than yourself, your money, your pleasures.
      • Because he will become your delight, your pleasure, your riches.

You can actually draw comfort from the fact that your heart is reflected in these verses.

  • It shows that you really don’t have strength in yourself – so stop beating yourself up, and turn to Jesus to strengthen you.

2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Do you want to see people praising God for Jesus?

“In the last days there will be very difficult times.”

Religion will give you a bad name!

  • This church will continue to be focussed on cutting a straight line from God’s words to your heart, your heart to Jesus.
  • We must work together to build one another up, and encourage one another in our faith.
  • Our Christian character matters.

People in the world love their lives

  • By being close to Jesus, your life in him will radiate joy and peace that others can only dream of.
  • Your contentment in Christ can shame people into questioning the value of things in their lives.
  • Your winsome character is more convincing than many words.

Be realistic about your own heart:

  • Is there a coldness to Jesus, a love of self or pleasure?
  • You know all treasures of knowledge and wisdom are bound up in him. Repent, go to him, and live! Then tell.