I’m pretty sure I don’t have to convince anyone reading this that we live in a strange and perilous age. While we remain largely the recipients of many blessings and creature comforts, there is a super-abundance of evil in the world, near and far.
Some Christians are convinced that these have to be the last days. But my parents thought they lived in the last days. So did my grandparents in the run-up to World War II. My guess is that throughout every era of church history there has been some cumulative feeling that evil is advancing and the world is falling apart. The first century church thought they were living in the last days and had every expectation of the second coming of Christ.
So were all of these folks wrong about the last times? The answer is “no.” The Scriptures use this phrase in a couple of different ways. The last days began after the completion of Christ’s work and ascension. The next “big thing” is that he is going to come again, and all the time between is the last days. Yet the words are also used with a tone, such as we see today in this passage, to talk about the days at the very, very end of this entire period of time, however long it may be. Every generation of the church has looked for and longed for the coming again of Christ. In many, many different times and eras over the past 2,000 years, there have been circumstances and events that would surely seem to indicate that Christ’s coming simply has to be soon.
But it is a reasonable position to believe that we may indeed be living in the last of the last days, as this chapter surely sounds like the era in which we live …
3:1 – But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
3:6 – They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
The list of 18 negatives about the conditions of the last days is much more interesting when read in the original Greek language, as many of the words sound alike and have an interesting ring to them in connection with one another – all of which is lost in the translation to English. To try to illustrate it, it would be like saying in English that someone is malicious, malevolent, maleficent, malodorous and maladroit – all of those “mals-” colorfully describing a bad person with bad qualities who also smells bad!
The first two phrases set it all up and summarize what is to follow – lovers of self / lovers of money. And the final two phrases summarize what preceded, also sounding much alike – lovers of pleasure, not lovers of God.
Each of these “lovers” phrases is actually one Greek word each beginning with “phileo” – the word for love, as is Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love … or philosophy, the love of wisdom.
Just look again at that complete list and think through the news events of the past week – local / national / global – and all of these terms come to mind as descriptors of our world.
Having a form of godliness … We often hear that people today are religious, just that it is not based upon the traditional truths of Scripture. Everyone has a faith system that shapes values and worldviews. The problem with the “people of the last days” crowd is that they base their faith in themselves and their own passions, desires and ideas, rather than in an objective source from the outside. That kind of objective moral code is in this era rejected as oppressive.
Gullible women … What is this saying? That women are intrinsically gullible and the source of most problems in a church community? No. Paul selected a term (literally “little women”) to project the most vulnerable people imaginable, the easiest to take advantage of and deceive. Be they men, women, young, old – these are folks who lack an intelligent foundation and moral code for living. They are not tethered to anything, and therefore they can be easily swayed and used, especially when the errant teaching feeds their simple minds and perverse desires.
Those doing the deceiving are spoken of as “worming their way” into the lives of gullible people. It is a good translation of a person who is conniving and deceitful without being obviously so whatsoever. They are the ultimate snake oil salesmen.
Who are Jannes and Jambres? Though not in the Bible, Jewish traditions and writings list them as among the magicians who opposed Moses and to some extent (by Satanic powers) replicated some of the miracles Moses performed to get Pharaoh to let the people go.
“… always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth” – These folks never arrive, though they talk like they have. And when it seems they have a cogent message, if you hang around long enough, they will contradict something earlier as the circumstances change. You can’t have it both ways, but they want it both ways. This means they are driven by immediate circumstances and the associated feelings, rather than being informed by any sort of timeless truth.
Given enough time, they tend to hang themselves and become obvious as frauds, but in short windows of time they can do much damage. These folks have never been rare in church circles. They are interested in some of the big ideas of the gospel, but the details are odious to them – details about things like serving others and taking up the cross of suffering, etc.
But we need to understand that these people WILL be around the fringes of church communities. It is the nature of ministry. It will happen, and it is not a mark of a church having done something wrong; and it could be just the opposite!
Did you ever play a game where the rules were constantly changing? That is the way it is with errant teachers. They do not have a solid and objective truth and foundation upon which to live and teach. Therefore, in the end, all they do is create trouble. But they don’t last; God’s Word lasts … forever. We would be lost without an objective truth and foundation. And we can be pretty sure that this is what Paul is going to go on to say in the following paragraphs!