It was during the hippie, free-love, war protesting era of American history that I was a boy growing up in church. Weekly, the pastor would speak of the vile elements of the culture of that day, preaching about how surely the times were so evil that certainly the return of the Lord had to come at any moment. I recall thinking that I would never get to graduate from high school or be an adult, because the world was simply not going to last that long. It seemed to me to be more of a negative message than it was a positive one of the hope to be found in Christ.
Now, about 45 years later, I’m the older pastor in a church; and I’m feeling much the same way as did Pastor Robison back in the 1960s. I’m not one to say much about the sure and certainly soon return of Christ (though I believe it could happen at any moment), but my view of the surrounding world is just about as negative. So, is it just that as we age we tend to see the world more negatively? Do we just become more depressed as we accumulate the observations and experiences of life’s sorrows? Or is the world actually worse and indeed more evil and vile?
I believe the final of these questions does get answered with a definite “yes” and that this proposition is supported by the text of our reading today. Paul says to Timothy …
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.
Most of these descriptors could rightly be used to characterize our modern world and the systems of belief in this age. Endemic to it all and serving as a common denominator is a self-centered focus. And there are loud voices in our culture who champion this indulgence as appropriate, as even the educated choice … so Paul continues …
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.
Clearly this errant focus has no future … it never has, and never will. But Paul offers an alternative to the recurrent, self-centered, errant teachings that have most often predominated the surrounding culture in the last times (all of the years since this was written in the first century). The appropriate viewpoint is to know the truth from Scripture, along with the model and testimony of lives who have lived it before us, and to pass that down for the success of others who follow …
10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Paul references his own sufferings in living for Christ – the persecutions he faced in various places such as he lists here, and about which we studied just this summer in our journey through the book of Acts. True to Paul’s teaching in multiple locations, persecutions and opposition are par for the course for the Christian in this fallen and troubled world. It is not going to get better.
But the good news is that there is a remedy. Paul reminds Timothy to draw upon it by remembering the truth of the teachings of Scripture he had received – in Timothy’s particular case, from his earliest years. This teaching would be sufficient to provide a perspective on the world, equipping him and the others whom he instructed with the wisdom and skills to navigate the crazy culture. The Scriptures provide parameters and the guardrails to live successfully in every sort of situation.
But the remedy must be taught to all people, and most especially to the youth and children. Even as the world has a natural descent and drift toward evil, so the church and Christian community needs an ascending line of biblical instruction and practical understanding. We have to not just receive it, but we have to pass it on. This is the stuff of cross-generational ministry, and it is our duty to not just learn it and apply it for ourselves, but to help others who are just beginning to walk in the Christian faith – equipping them for every good work by being models of that good work in the way we live and serve.