1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV
If Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was to encourage Timothy, this section seems to veer wildly off course. In it, Paul shares a rather bleak and pessimistic view of the conditions Timothy can expect to find in the days ahead. Essentially, he is warning his young friend that things are going to get worse before they get better. In his efforts to spread the gospel and instruct the saints, Timothy should not expect the world to be transformed into heaven on earth.
With his use of the term, “last days,” Paul is referring to the time period that began with the birth of the church at Pentecost and will continue until the Lord returns for His bride at the Rapture. In his first letter, Paul had already warned Timothy to expect an increase in apostasy and demonic activity.
Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. – 1 Timothy 4:1-2 NLT
And Paul was not alone in his gloomy assessment of the final days. The apostle Peter also shared a rather dismal outlook for the future.
Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again?” – 2 Peter 3:3-4 NLT
And Jude echoed the words of the apostles, warning his readers to expect the last days to be marked by an increase in “scoffers” – those who stand opposed to Christ, His followers, the things of God, and the truth of the gospel.
But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them. – Jude 17-19 NLT
If Timothy was successful in helping believers to live lives that were set apart from the world, they would act as bright lights in the darkness, exposing the sinfulness of those around them and accentuating the glaring difference between holiness and wickedness.
Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. – Ephesians 5:11-14 NLT
Timothy could expect difficult days ahead because of the increasingly wicked context in which he would carry out his ministry. He would find himself sharing the good news of the gospel in a world filled with evil people with bad motives. And Paul shares a long and far-from-flattering description of what Timothy can expect to encounter in these last days.
…people will love only themselves and their money – Vs. 2
People will be plagued by selfishness and self-centeredness. They will be narcissistic and self-consumed, refusing to love others and spending all their time and energies on loving themselves. And they will use money as a means to gratify their own desires. They will chase the almighty dollar in an attempt to satisfy their insatiable appetite for pleasure, possessions, power, and prominence.
They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God… – Vs. 2
Their growing affluence will make them self-sufficient and arrogant, as they glory in their own greatness. Their self-made success will cause them to dismiss the very idea of a sovereign God of the universe. They will see themselves as the masters of their own fates and the captains of their souls. Mankind will inculcate the values expressed by Napoleon Hill in his classic work, Think and Grow Rich.
“You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct, and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.” – Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich (1937)
King David wrote a psalm that describes the very nature of these kinds of people.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt; their acts are vile. There is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if any understand, if any seek God.
All have turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. – Psalm 14:1-3 BSB
Money will become a substitute for God, serving as the primary source of comfort, provision, and purpose for life.
And Paul goes on, describing the world’s inhabitants as “disobedient to their parents” (2 Timothy 3:2 NLT). Each of these descriptions stands in stark contrast to the Ten Commandments. Rather than honoring their fathers and mothers, people will treat them with disdain by disregarding their God-given authority.
Ingratitude will become commonplace. And this ungratefulness will be primarily directed at God. A spirit of dissatisfaction fueled by unmet expectations will run rampant. People will never be happy with all that they have and will refuse to give thanks to God for all that He has done. Paul expressed this problem in his letter to the church in Rome.
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. – Romans 1:21 NLT
And it gets worse.
They will consider nothing sacred… – Vs 2
Paul used one Greek word to describe these individuals: anosios, and it means unholy or wicked. Their lives will be marked by a complete disregard for all that God has deemed holy. While Christ-followers are called to live set-apart lives, the rest of humanity will share the common distinction of being unholy because they will not belong to God. They will stand in rebellion against Him.
And their antipathy toward God will reveal itself in a range of godless behaviors that expose the destructive nature of their chosen lifestyle.
…unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. – 2 Timothy 3:3-4 NET
The last days will be marked by love of self and hatred of others. This narcissistic, self-consumed lifestyle will have corporate consequences. No one will truly care for anyone other than themselves. The world will become an increasingly selfish place where everyone looks out for their own self-interests, at the expense of all others. It will be every man for himself. Disunity, discord, dissension, and division will be the order of the day. Everyone will care only for themselves, a trait Paul describes as self-love that is motivated by self-pleasure.
If it feels good, do it. That will be the mantra of the day. And the love of pleasure will replace the love of God. The quest to fulfill sinful desires will overwhelm any sense of living in obedience to the will of God. But Paul warns Timothy that this will not be an irreligious time. In fact, people will pursue all kinds of spirituality in the form of a wide assortment of man-made religions. But they will all prove unprofitable because they will lack any transforming power. Paul states that people “will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:6 NLT).
The pursuit of godliness apart from God is impossible. The desire for contentment, significance, and meaning in life can never be fulfilled apart from a relationship with God. Man’s tireless quest for pleasure at all costs will always fall short because true joy is unattainable without God. And a restored relationship with God is impossible apart from a belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ. So, as Timothy continued to do his work of preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, he was to avoid all those who displayed a persistent and stubborn rejection of the truth. The self-righteous and falsely religious were not interested in what Timothy had to offer. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they viewed themselves as spiritually whole and in no need of a Savior. They pridefully viewed themselves as healthy individuals who did not require the services of the Great Physician.
But there would always be those who understood their need for healing. Timothy would always find that there were some who recognized their sickness and were unashamed to seek the help of the Savior. So, he was to keep on teaching, preaching, and proclaiming the good news of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.