Paul’s letters to Timothy are the instructions from a mentor to a young pastor, one of the first ever, and contain advice on what to do and how to do it, as well as what not to do. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect given the relationship.
But for no apparent reason Paul tucked several warnings about the end times into various places in his instructions. These are things Paul knew Timothy wouldn’t have to deal with because he clearly described them as characteristics of the Latter Days. We’ll take them each in turn.
1 Timothy 4:1-2
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
When I read this one I always think of certain televangelists who espouse a perversion of the prosperity gospel. They know what they’re teaching is a compilation of half truths and outright lies, so in effect they’re twisting God’s word to steal from their followers. And without the least bit of shame they enjoy the lifestyles of the rich and famous at the expense of their contributors who, according to some reports, come primarily from the bottom 25% of the economic scale.
Taking advantage of their followers’ lack of Bible knowledge and their misguided desire for a more abundant life , these predators foist one get rich quick scheme after another on their desperate flocks, bilking them out of the few discretionary dollars they have and leaving them worse off in the bargain. And they do it in the name of God. It makes you wonder what He’ll say to them come judgment time.
But the prosperity teachers aren’t the only ones in this category. There are others who teach things they know are contrary to what the Bible says. Some of these things come under the heading of conditional salvation, grace plus works, partial rapture, and other false teaching that can steal the joy of your salvation and rob you of your certainty. Their objective is to imprison you within boundaries of rules they themselves can’t follow. Read Colossians 2:8-23 for Paul’s opinion on these modern day legalists.
Then there are those who either treat the prophecies of our time as if they were all accomplished in history, or as if they’re never going to be accomplished because they’re all allegorical. These teachers also know what they’re saying can’t be reconciled with Scripture, but they ask you to believe it anyway, trusting in their superior intellect or advanced education instead of your own common sense. They take passages that can be clearly understood just as they’re written by anyone with an average intellect and make them hopelessly confusing by violating the rules of context, re-defining terms, and making that which is real into something symbolic.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
Just as you become convinced that Paul is describing the unbelieving world in our time and are vigorously nodding your head in agreement, he says that these people have a form of godliness but deny its power. Then you realize he was writing about those believers in name only, who spend 6 ½ days each week living lives indistinguishable from unbelievers, grabbing all they can get from our material world by any means necessary while contributing little or nothing to the work of the Kingdom. These people lead two lives, the one they’re serious about, and the one that’s just for show. Guess which is which.
Paul was not blind to the behavior of these people, nor was this the only time he warned us to stay from them. Listen to what he told the Corinthians.
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat (1 Cor. 5:9-11).
Notice he said “anyone who calls himself a brother” instead of “anyone who is a brother.” I think he was doubting that someone who behaves in this manner could have been saved in the first place.
2 Timothy 4:3-4
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
Here the focus is on the emerging church movement in all its various forms. In business schools, students learn to develop strategies based on a driving force. One such driving force is the market. A market driven strategy requires the business enterprise to focus on what they perceive to be the wants and needs of their target customers and adapt themselves to meet these needs in a more effective way.
Correctly predicting the growing need for a religious organization that could meet the needs of a self centered, self sufficient generation, the leaders of the emerging church movement developed such a strategy. They took the focus off God and put it on the congregation. Entertainment replaced worship, philosophy replaced theology, and good works replaced victorious living.
Borrowing a phrase from Dominion Theology they began calling it “bringing Heaven to Earth” to make it sound more appealing to their idealistic target market. Little do their followers realize that for believers, these good works will be burned up in the fire (1 Cor. 3:14-15), and for unbelievers they’ll be woefully insufficient for entry into the kingdom (John 3:3). God has His own strategy for bringing Heaven to Earth and it doesn’t include the emerging church. Commenting on their works in his letter to Laodicea, Jesus said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”(Rev. 3:15-16) They’re excited about the great entertainment, the stimulating talk, and the good works, but not about the Lord.
Irrespective of that, both the seats and the coffers soon filled, signs that their market driven strategy was working, and for many the emerging church was soon the place to be. This was especially true for those who had become bored with traditional Church and wanted a place where they could feel good and do good with no messages about sin and salvation to convict them. The gospel was not missed in its absence.
Besides, “All of our attempts to define the right form of the Gospel are just human interpretations,” the movement’s leaders claim. “We must avoid a naive or excessive confidence in any telling of the Gospel story, since no articulation of the gospel today can presume to be exactly identical to the original meaning Christ and the apostles proclaimed.” In a sense, they’re saying since its impossible to know what the Gospel story really is we shouldn’t put too much faith in it.
Learning about the rapidly approaching End Times and the need to be ready for it has also been skipped. Instead, the “excessive” study of prophecy is called a distraction from the real work of the Church. These things were done by design, since the goal is to have non-believers make up at least half of the congregation. The market is much bigger that way and the non-believers help move the believers away from theological absolutes, like the need to be born again and the importance of prophecy.
In the next verse Jesus offered additional criticism. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev. 3:17) His letter to the Church in Laodicea contains no commendation for their works and offers no escape from the end times judgments, just a plea to be allowed back into their midst (Rev. 3:20).
But Wait There’s More
Over fourteen years earlier in his second letter to the Thessalonians Paul had first warned us about the apostasy of the latter days, calling it one of the signs that would mark the end of the age. In 2 Thes. 2:1 Paul began to address their questions about two events, the (2nd) coming of our Lord, and our being gathered to Him (the rapture). He was responding to information they had received saying the day of the Lord had already come. He told them not to worry because several things had to happen first.
Paul didn’t go into things like the regathering of Israel, the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week, or the building of a Temple. Israel had not been dispersed yet, and the Second Temple was still standing. He focused on events that are more gentile in nature.
A careful reading of 2 Thes. 2:3-8 shows the order in which he said these things would take place. He said the apostasy would happen first (verse 3), then the rapture of the Church when the Holy Spirit is taken out of the way (verse 7), and finally the revealing of the anti-Christ and the 2nd Coming (verse 8). (If you don’t read this passage carefully, you could become confused by Paul’s mention of the anti-Christ in verses 3-4. But verse 8 clearly places the official unveiling of the anti-Christ after the removal of the Holy Spirit.) Even a casual observation shows that we’re well into the time of the first sign.
What should be our reaction to this? First is to remember that God’s Word said this would happen so there’s no point in bemoaning the fact that it’s happening. Instead we should be encouraged to know the end of the Age is getting closer. Jesus said the true Church would become weaker and less influential as the end approaches (Rev. 3:8). As the world moves further and further from God, those of us who follow Him will naturally feel less comfortable and be less welcome here.
If you live in the United States, stop confusing your country with your church. No believer outside the US makes this mistake, and the fact is the Church has neither a home nor a land on Earth. Our citizenship is in Heaven (Phil. 3:20) and we look for a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebr. 11:10).
No matter where we live in the world we have to remember that we’re aliens here and our visit is about over. Soon we’ll be going home where we belong.
In the mean time we have to stop depending on organized religion to meet our needs. In some places the Church is being forced underground. In others we’re going willingly. But either way the gulf between religion and the Church is growing wider by the day.
If you can’t find a God worshiping, Bible teaching church where you live, don’t settle for what you can get. Gather a small group of like minded believers and worship at home. Paul and Timothy didn’t have a huge bureaucracy behind them. They didn’t have million dollar buildings or professionally designed programs. They didn’t even have the New Testament. Yet they found a way to worship God, and to help others do the same.
Stop supporting groups who are trying to bring Heaven to Earth and start sending your treasure to Heaven. I could tell you stories all day along about what God can do with a hand full of people He can trust. Ask the Lord to identify a need for you to meet in His name and then work in His strength to meet it. Apart from Him nothing you do has any value to the Kingdom (John 15:5).
Dig into prophecy. It’s the single biggest topic in the Bible and more is written about our life and times than any other period in history. Know what you believe and why you believe it.
Do these things and you can make the time we have left the most rewarding and enjoyable time you’ve ever known.