As For You, Continue
Have you ever started a project that you knew was going to be long and difficult, to the point that halfway through—you realize that it’s only going to get worse?
I was thinking about that this morning as I took our dog Tucker to his bathroom —that is, our deck outside. While waiting for him to relieve himself (which can feel like forever in the cold), I usually shovel the deck. Then I look down at the unshoveled parts of our yard and think: man, that could look a little better.
But when I try to make it look better, it only gets worse the next day because I live in Saskatchewan! That happened last month when I shoveled half our yard for people to park in one evening. The next morning, I look out the window and think: Didn’t I shovel last night? Then I hear about the big blizzard that came through at the end of January...
Maybe for you, it’s other projects or chores around the house. Don’t get me started in the kitchen (everything gets worse for me in that department). Maybe it’s at your workplace that you struggle with this, whether it’s the projects or the people. Maybe you wake up thinking that it will be a long day—or even a long career! A lot of people say “its only uphill from here, but all I see are valleys!”
This is the situation that we hear about in 2 Timothy. Paul gives Timothy the challenging work of patiently enduring evil while correcting his opponents gently, in hopes that God may perhaps grant them repentance. But it will only get worse. How? In 3:1, Paul tells Timothy: there will be difficult times.
Difficult Times (3:1)
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (3:1).
Whenever we hear the phrase “last days,” we usually think far into the future events before the “last day” when Christ returns. And yes, it certainly does have implications for the future since the “last days” are the days prior to the last day. However, this phrase was used by the author of Hebrews in light of Christ’s first coming (Hebrews 1:2), and Peter applies this phrase at Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on all flesh (Acts 2:17) and the apostles spread the gospel message to the ends of the earth.
So the “last days” refer to the time period that started at Christ’s first coming, which continued in Timothy’s present day, and will continue until Christ’s second coming. But why will be there be difficult times in the last days? Well, Paul tells Timothy that in these difficult times, there will be difficult people.
Difficult People (3:2-5)
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (3:2-4).
The big idea here is the source of difficulty: people will be lovers of self—rather than lovers of God. This whole list is centred on these people’s misdirection/inversion of love (evidenced by the repetition of the word love). While disciples of Jesus are called to be lovers of God (Matthew 22:37), these difficult people are lovers of themselves.
“Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (3:5).
Here’s the kicker: Not only do these people love themselves rather than love God, they even claim to love God! On what basis does Paul make this confident claim? By their fruits.
Jesus himself gave this criteria: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). Externally, these people look like sheep with their appearance of godliness—but internally, by their fruits, they are ravenous wolves because the power of the gospel is absent from their lives. “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
Now you might say that this list is telling of our generally sinful, human nature and that this is talking about us. So why would we have to avoid such people? Didn’t Jesus sit with tax collectors? Let’s look at the specific example that Paul gives of these difficult people in Ephesus. There will be difficult people, but there are difficult people in Ephesus as Paul speaks.
Difficult People In Ephesus: False Teachers (3:6-9)
“For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (3:6-7).
The word “weak” used to describe women here is not necessarily referring to these specific women being physically weak. As Paul explains it further, they are weak because they are burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of truth...
So here is a hint as to who these difficult people in Ephesus are. They capture women who are weak in their sins and led astray by their passions, and women who keep learning [from them] but never arrive at repentance. False teachers. Notice how Paul describes a proactive form of sinning here—these false teachers creep into households and capture weak women. “These leaders are not passive or perhaps seeking guidance from an apostolic associate like Timothy. They are on the offensive” (Cited from Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, ed. D. A. Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; London: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2018, p11).
This is quite interesting because in the age of house churches, people were generally welcomed into houses, especially those who were guests of honour—like teachers/ rabbis. So these false teachers would creep into/sneak into homes by capturing spiritually weak women with their false gospel.
These weak women have, as Paul says in 1 Timothy, have seared their consciences and are led astray by these false teachers who encourage them in their persistent, unrepented sins. Why? Because of the teachers’ appearance of godliness but with the absence of its power. One commentator offers a contemporary analogy of these difficult people today as those who are “deliberately unholy and still go to church, covetous and still say morning prayers, blasphemers and still repeat perfectly the Apostles’ Creed; they may be treacherous and still remain on the church board, haters of good and still give lip service to God” (Yarbrough, p12).
As a result, these spiritually weak women are always learning [from these false teachers] and never arrive at a knowledge of the truth (Paul usually ties this phrase to repentance). These false teachers and their students (the weak women) are exactly the people that Paul talks about in chapter 2, the opponents that Timothy were to correct with gentleness: “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2:25b-26).
Note the repetition of words in these two passages (knowledge of the truth/capture). These people who claim to be godly are proactively sinning and proactively leading others, like those weak women, into sin because of they are proactively doing their father’s will—that is, the devil’s. And in 1 Corinthians 5:11, Paul tells the church “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of [proactive and persistent sin]. This is why Paul tells Timothy to avoid these self-proclaimed Christians (or excommunicate them), but in hope that God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.
Yet Paul says that these people who are proactively sinning and leading weaker people to sin are also proactively opposed to truth.
“Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men” (3:8-9).
According to historical writings outside of Scripture, Jannes and Jambres were the names of the Egyptian magicians who challenged Moses in Pharaohs court! In the same way, these false teachers oppose the truth because they’re corrupted in mind (that’s why the hope is that “they may come to their senses” [2:26]), which then makes them disqualified regarding the faith (they capture weak women because they’re captured by the devil themselves).
Yet their destiny is sure. They might be capturing and leading people astray right now, but they will “not get very far” because they will be exposed in the same way that the Egyptian magicians were when Aaron’s serpents swallowed up their serpents. This comparison with false teachers in Egypt hundreds of years ago and false teachers in Ephesus shows that false teachers have been running around for centuries on end, and that they will not get very far because they will be exposed.
So we shouldn’t be surprised to hear about Christian teachers today who appear to be genuine and godly on the outside but inwardly are lovers of self rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness but devoid of its power—and as a result, they capture spiritually weak people with their false gospel because they’re opposed to truth.
These last 9 verses have shown us that there will be difficult times (3:1) because there will be difficult people (3:2-5), and Paul identifies these difficult people in Ephesus as false teachers (3:6-9). And I want to pause for a second here before verses 10-15, because these difficult people exist today. And a specific group of false teachers that are running rampant with their false gospel today are these so-called “prosperity preachers.”
Difficult People Today: Prosperity Preachers
These prosperity preachers (and you see them on televisions masquerading as televangelists) are lovers of self instead of God, who have the appearance of godliness yet deny its power. Why? Because they equate loving God with being healthy or being wealthy, and that you keep that up by regularly giving tithes to those specific teachers.
When my sister was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease five years ago, she was put in the hospital for about a year (and she’s still suffering the effects of it today). But during that time, our family was worried to the death (literally, because my sister could’ve died anytime). Instead of having our church or elders praying that God’s will be done in her life—whether she be healed through miracle or medication, or that she suffer for the glory of God and in her weakness Christ be magnified, we had wolves like Joel Osteen telling us that “you deserve to be healthy!”
Other wolves like Kenneth Copeland also told my family: “If you really want that healing, then you need to give tithes to this ministry” because they’ve healed people through “holy laughter?” One way to spot these wolves is to simply listen to their words and see if it lines up with the Word of God! Question: When have you ever heard “you deserve to be healthy” or “holy laughter” in the Bible? These are false teachers with a false gospel (and I only named two)! Yet, when people are sick or in vulnerable situations, it’s easy to get desperate and in turn, deceived by these people.
When I hear about these spiritually weak women that the false teachers in Ephesus captured with their false gospel, I think of my sister and family during that time (including myself). They crept into our households (through television/radio) and captured weak women (like my sister who was physically weak, and my whole family who was spiritually weak due to desperation at the time).
It is only by the grace of God that we were delivered from the snares of Satan when God led us back to the truth through other people’s warnings. We wouldn’t have known what was wrong, unless we we were spending time on what was right and true—the Bible. And I thank God for those people who warned us because they spent time in the word of truth.
If you have any more questions about this, please come talk to me. Another way to look into this is to watch a documentary called American Gospel: In Christ Alone. I’ve even heard some testimonies of people who have said that watching these documentaries played a part in their genuine conversion to faith in Christ!
Back to Ephesus. Despite all these difficult people and those who have followed their false teaching, Paul makes a sharp turn and distinguishes himself from the false teachers and Timothy from their followers: You, however, have followed my teaching.
You, However, Have Followed My Teaching
“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness” (3:10).
Paul’s teaching is found all over his letters, and Timothy got to experience that first- hand. From his teaching, Timothy has known and followed Paul’s conduct, aim in life, faith, patience, love and steadfastness.
Does this sound familiar to you? This is what we call discipleship. This, is a mentorship relationship. This is why we do this as a church here at EBC. And guess what? We wanna do this with the next generation so that the next generation can step up like Timothy was equipped by Paul to fight Satan’s schemes, and this is our job for life.
2 Timothy is a “passing the baton” letter as Paul hands the gospel off to Timothy in his dying days—because he has taught Timothy the gospel, and in turn, shown Timothy how to live out the gospel, Timothy now is to do the same thing with the church in Ephesus. That’s the same for us today. From teaching and living out the gospel, Paul zooms in on a specific aspect of his life. His persecutions and sufferings.
“my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me” (3:11).”
At Antioch, he was blasphemed by the jealous Jews (Acts 13:45); at Iconium, he was opposed and almost stoned (Acts 14:2, 5-6); then, Paul fled to Lystra where he waseventually stoned and thought to be dead (Acts 14:19). Timothy would’ve been been very familiar with these events considering that he was from Lystra, so h e would’ve seen or heard about these events. And it wasn’t too long after that when Timothy met Paul (Acts 16:1-4) and saw first-hand how Paul endured these persecutions and how the Lord rescued Paul from them all!
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (3:12-13).”
Unlike those spiritually weak women who have followed these false teachers who persist in their sins, you, Timothy, are a strong man of God who has followed my persecutions and sufferings. That’s why Paul tells Timothy to “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God [unlike the false teachers’ appearance of godliness but absence of its power]... the gospel for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do” (1:8, 11).
It is only on this basis that Timothy can continue in the faith, in the same way that Paul encouraged all his disciples before Timothy: “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22). All the while impostors will continue in their false, self-love gospel and deceive others along the way.
But As For You, Continue
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:14-15).
Isn’t this what we heard back in chapter 1? “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God” (1:5-6). From childhood, Timothy has been educated in the Scriptures (as they knew it) when the law was “read every Sabbath in the synagogue” (Acts 15:21). As he learned the Scriptures and watched his mom and grandma’s genuine faith through their lives, Paul comes into the picture and continues to teach him and set an example for Timothy through his life.
By the way, this sets the basis for our discipleship/mentorship of the younger. It starts with our physical family in the home (because parents are primarily responsible for teaching their kids the Scriptures), yet coupled with our true family in the church (because we are called to make disciples by teaching them). This is why we have children/youth/young adults ministries at EBC. Personally, I made sure to tell the YA parents at the start of the year that YA is not a solo mission but a team effort: we are working together to disciple our younger people—both in the home and in the church.
What’s the foundation? Scripture. Because these pages are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, as Paul reminds Timothy here. This is how you come to a “knowledge of the truth” (2:25, 3:7).
Again, this is why we do Bible lessons for kids, Bible studies for YA, and Bible preaching every week as a church—which couples the efforts at home. The one thing I remember my parents saying to me a lot was: “Josh, we make sure to teach you all the things that you need to know—but the most important thing is the Word of God.”
This is all summed up by the big command here for Timothy: but as for you, continue.
Paul tells Timothy that in these difficult times, there will be difficult people who love themselves rather than God while claiming to love God but deny his power. They were on the rise in Egypt and Ephesus, and they’re still on the rise today. While spiritually weak people have been deceived by their false teaching, you, however, have followed my teaching Timothy. These false teachers will continue to deceive and be deceived— but as for you, continue. Continue in the Word, that you have learned from childhood through your mom and grandma and myself, which is able to bring you to a knowledge of the truth—that is, salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
What does this look like for us? I have two suggestions: 1) Continue to learn from the Word, and 2) continue to learn the Word from others.
Continue to Learn the Word
This is what disciple of Jesus do: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32).
Are you continuing to learn from God’s Word on your own time? And I use “learn” rather than “read” intentionally. Because sometimes we can read the Bible but not actually learn from it at all.
We as EBC have all these ministries that are meant for people to continue in learning God’s Word. Do you want to be equipped for the world out there, which we would all agree will only get worse and go downhill? Your job/money can’t fully prepare you for that—but God’s Word will.
So there should be no excuses that “I’m too busy” to continue learning God’s Word in your church, on Sundays (Sunday school, prayer meetings, men’s/ women’s study groups) and the rest of the week (kids/YA ministries, small groups).
Get involved in the life of this church, EBC, because we want to continue learning in the Word that is able to bring people to a knowledge of the truth.
Continue to Learn the Word From Others
Are you learning from someone in the faith? Maybe it’s someone in your family like Timothy had his mom Eunice and grandma Lois? For me, my parents always made sure to train me up in the Word as best they could, especially my sister who was a mentor for me growing up.
But maybe you don’t have family members that teach you the Bible. Maybe you come from a non-Christian family. But that’s why Timothy had Paul (keep in mind Timothy’s dad wasn’t a believer, which is why Paul only mentions his mom).
Maybe for you, it’s someone in your church or community or in your life right now? As Paul says, imitate me as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). If Timothy was to remain faithful in the end, he needed Paul’s encouragement and exhortation. He needed to watch Paul’s life and how he handled these difficulties so that he can be prepared to handle what’s coming his way.
Do you have a Paul in your life? Instead of following people on social media or politicians and news headlines, why don’t you follow a person in your church or community that can be a Paul to you who can teach you the Bible and live the gospel out with you? In this day and age, we have to find the Pauls. It might mean asking someone to go for coffee with you regularly, or ask someone to read the Bible with you and help you understand what it means.
If you have a Paul, continue to watch their lives and follow in their footsteps as they seek to follow Christ. Continue to follow the Paul or Paul’s in your life, and if you don’t have a Paul then I’d encourage you—as the Word of God is calling us to do here—get started.
The author of Hebrews says this: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 5:12-6:1).
People will continue to deceive and be deceived by false teaching. But as for you, continue. Continue learning the Word of Truth that sets you free (John 8:32) and sanctifies (John 17:17) and continue learning from others.