Topical Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:1-9
As a public service announcement, I’m here to remind all gentlemen that this Saturday is Valentine’s Day. Here’s the story.
For 800 years, the Romans held an event each mid-February during which young men drew the names of teenage girls from a box; the girl would become his sexual companion for the next year. Understandably wanting to change this practice, Pope Gelasius around A.D. 496 changed the lottery to draw the names of saints to emulate during the rest of the year. Many young Roman men were not pleased.
To encourage support, the pope named his event for St. Valentine, a martyr who was beheaded in A.D. 270. The emperor had forbidden his troops to marry, so Valentine performed their weddings in secret. He was sentenced to death, and fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer while awaiting execution. He sent her a farewell note signed, “From your Valentine.” And a tradition was born. One you’re supposed to continue this week.
Today we’ll talk about women in the Bible and in Christian faith. And we’ll talk about the end times. I can’t imagine two more controversial or practical subjects.
Be holy in unholy days (vs. 1-5)
First we deal with the “last days”: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days” (v. 1). “Mark this” means “pay attention to this”—it’s an imperative, a command. We must know what follows. Know what?
In the “last days” there will be “terrible” times, literally “grievous” or “dangerous” times. This is the word used of “violent” demoniacs (Matthew 8:28) and by Greek writers of an “ugly” wound.
When will they come? What did Paul mean by the “last days?” It may surprise you to know that the Jews divided history into two categories: the “former” days before Messiah comes, and the “latter” or “last” days after he arrives. And so, in this era after Jesus’ advent, we are in the “last days.”
At Pentecost, Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy about the “last days” and said they were fulfilled with Jesus (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28-32).
Hebrews 1:2: “…in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”
James 5:3: “You have hoarded wealth in the last days.”
1 Peter 1:20: “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
1 John 2:18: “Dear children, this is the last hour….”
Paul tells Timothy to “have nothing to do with them” (v. 5), indicating that this period included his son in the faith. And in verse 6 he begins to describe those who are misleading others in the “last days,” using the present tense: “They are the kind who worm their way into homes….” Clearly Paul’s warnings about the “last days” have to do with Timothy’s present circumstances. And with ours.
Even though the Messiah has come, these “last days” are “terrible.” Paul lists eighteen reasons, painting a complete picture of the culture of his day. Read through the list and ask yourself which of these God finds within your heart today.
Here are the priorities of the last days: “lovers of themselves,” “lovers of money” (v. 2), and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (v. 4). According to a recent Time magazine article, pornography online has increased 1800% since 1998. Nearly one in five movie rentals is a pornographic film. Hollywood produces 400 feature films a year; the porn industry makes 11,000. One in four American adults admitted to seeing an X-rated movie in the past year.
Here are the ways these people treat others: 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 (vs. 2-4).
Here is their deception: “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (v. 5a). They are even in the church. They look and act godly, but “deny,” refuse and thus do not produce, its power. You can know them by the degree to which God uses them.
Last Sunday’s Super Bowl was one of the best games in the history of the event. Tragically, all anyone is discussing is its horrendous, scandalous half-time show which culminated in obscenity seen by a billion viewers around the world, many of them children. What are Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia saying about our nation this week? What are we to do with such a culture?
Paul says, “Have nothing to do with them” (v. 5), literally, “turn away from these.” The Greek has the strongest possible condemnation in it—avoid them with horror. Do not be like them. Choose to be holy in an unholy day.
His injunction does not mean that we withdraw from attempting to influence the world. Salt is no good in the saltshaker, or light under the basket. I once saw a poster which pictured a ship at sea, sails billowing in the wind, speeding through white-capped storm-driven waves, and the caption: “Ships in the harbor are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
Rather, he means that we are to change the world without allowing it to change us. A ship in the water is a good thing; water in the ship is a bad thing.
How do we keep water out of the ship? By keeping the Spirit in control. By asking him to empower, cleanse, and fill us every morning. By communing with God in prayer, Bible study, and worship. By staying so close to Jesus that the world must come through him to get into us.
These are the “last days,” and will be until Jesus returns. That could be tomorrow, or in a thousand more years. But this could be your last day or mine. So be conformed to the image of Christ. Be holy in unholy days. What steps should you take first?
Be gracious with each person you meet (vs. 6-9)
A nurse writes, “During the second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: ‘What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?’ Surely this was some kind of joke. How would I know her name? I handed in my paper leaving the last question blank. Someone asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. ‘Absolutely,’ said the professor. ‘In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care.’ I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned that her name is Dorothy.”
To be holy in unholy days, be gracious with each person you meet.
Those in the church who “have a form of godliness but deny its power” have done the opposite, as they are victimizing the church.
They dominate “weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires” (v. 6b). As a result, they are “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (v. 7). They are fascinated by the heresies advanced by these deceivers, and so unable to see the truth of God’s word.
Paul mentions Jannes and Jambres, the names given by Jewish tradition to the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses. Like them, they “oppose the truth” and are “rejected” in the faith (v. 8). One day “their folly will be clear to everyone” (v. 9).
There is some place in your heart and mine where we can be deceived and attacked like this. Some place, some secret sin and shame, some area of spiritual or moral weakness where the enemy has a foothold. Expect such deception wherever you are weakest and most susceptible. And stay close to Jesus when it comes.
Paul’s reference to “weak-willed women” raises another issue for us today, the larger question of women in the Bible. The bestseller The DaVinci Code states, “The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male Church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean. It was man, not God, who created the concept of ‘original sin,’ whereby Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race. Woman, once the sacred giver of life, was now the enemy” (p. 238). What should we believe in response?
First, understand that Paul is by no means condemning all women here. Rather, he is dealing with a specific problem already in existence in Ephesus, where a specific group of women have been victimized by these deceivers. Because they are “loaded down with sins,” they are more easily swayed or influenced by evil desires.
It is possible and even likely that the apostle is specifically addressing former temple prostitutes. The shrine of Diana was there, the pagan goddess of fertility. Thousands of women were employed as temple prostitutes. The Christian church was willing to help them when no one else would, so that many came to Christ and their faith family. But they are still dealing with their sins and guilt, and are victims now of deceivers.
Whatever the historical context, the apostle is not describing women in general, or summarizing the larger biblical picture. How did Jesus relate to women?
Our Lord spoke to a Samaritan woman when no one else would (John 4).
He befriended an immoral woman no one else would welcome (Luke 7:36-50), decidedly not Mary Magdalene.
He commended a widow’s offering at the Temple (Luke 21:1-4).
He cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2), and called her and others to be his disciples.
What was their status in the Scriptures?
Miriam was a prophetess (Exodus15:20), as were Deborah (Judges 4:4) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14).
The New Testament cites Anna (Luke 2:36) and Philip’s “four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9).
Paul cautioned a woman to cover her head when she “prophesied” in the church (1 Corinthians 11:5).
Paul recognized Priscilla as the leader of the church in Rome with her husband Aquila (Romans 16:3-5).
He commended Euodia and Syntyche as his “fellow workers” (Philippians 4:2-3).
And he listed Junias as “among the apostles,” the highest level of leadership in the early church (Romans 16:7).
Remember that the resurrected Christ chose to appear first to Mary Magdalene, and to send her to the disciples with the news of Easter as the first evangelist in Christian history (John 20:17). Remember that Paul’s first convert in Europe was Lydia, one of the leading citizens of Philippi; she soon established the church which met in her home (Acts 16:14-15, 40).
And remember Paul’s instruction to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).
Choose to be holy in these unholy “last times.” Stay so close to Jesus that deception cannot “worm its way” into your soul. And choose to be gracious with each person you meet, for every person you know is the created child of God. This is the simple word of God for us today.
The greatest among us will be such servants.
I read this week of one bitter cold Virginia evening, where an elderly man waited on a path by a river, hoping for someone on horseback to carry him across. His beard was glazed with frost and his body numb before he finally heard the thunder of horses’ hooves. Anxiously he watched as several horsemen appeared. He let the first pass by without making an effort to get his attention, then another and another.
Finally, only one rider remained. As he drew near, the old man caught his eye and asked, “Sir, would you mind giving me a ride to the other side?” The rider helped the man to his horse and, sensing he was half-frozen, decided to take him all the way home, several miles out of his way. As they rode, the horseman asked, “Why didn’t you ask one of the other men to help you? I was the last one. What if I had refused?”
The elderly man said, “I’ve been around awhile son, and I know people pretty well. When I looked into their eyes and saw they had no concern for my present condition, I knew it was useless to ask. When I looked into your eyes, I saw kindness and compassion.”
At the door of the elderly man’s house the rider resolved, “May I never get too busy in my own affairs that I fail to respond to the needs of others.” With that, Thomas Jefferson turned and directed his horse back to the White House.
Who will ride on your horse this week?