by Ray C. Stedman
There was a full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times of this last week that heralded in large black print, "Christ Is Already Here." The ad went on to say that Christ is now in some secret place on the earth, and that within two months a worldwide announcement as to where he is will be made over television and radio. Not only that, but this Christ will also be revealed as Buddha and several other major religious leaders of the past. I do not know who placed that ad. I do know that a full-page ad in the Los Angeles times costs tens of thousands of dollars; and, according to the advertisement, a similar ad was to appear in major newspapers all over the world. Somebody is either attempting to perpetrate a gigantic fraud, or else to arouse interest in some religious announcement that may perhaps launch a new cult.
These kinds of things which are appearing frequently in our day arouse the expectation in many peoples' hearts that perhaps we are right at the edge of the promised return of our Lord to earth, that these days in which we live are the last days. The nuclear threat that hangs over us, the constant advance of the great superpowers of earth toward a headlong clash, make many people feel that we are indeed in the last days before the great tribulation breaks in terrible fury upon the earth. So people today are asking with great sincerity, "Are these indeed the last days?"
The passage to which we have come in Second Timothy is one that many have taken to refer to the last days before the coming of our Lord. Writing to Timothy in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul says:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2 Timothy 3:1-4 RSV)
That reads like a summary of the six o'clock news, doesn't it? I remember reading that in grade school when I was just a boy -- which is not exactly what you would call recent. When I read it, I was filled with fear and trepidation, even that long ago. I was confident that it was being fulfilled in that very day, 50 years ago. The Great Depression was beginning; there was a great deal of trouble and strife in the United States. Fear had settled upon the nations of the world. Already the looming shadow of World War II was gathering on the horizon of life. Many were feeling that those were the last days, when we could expect the return of Christ.
So when I read that, even as a boy, I was aware that this passage was taken by many to predict the last days of the church. But I was unaware that many similar times had come into human history during the course of the 2,000 years since the first appearing of our Lord. Many people take the phrase, "these last days," to refer to the time just before Christ's return, but the biblical usage of that phrase indicates that it refers to the whole period of time between the first coming of our Lord and his second coming. In other words, for 2,000 years we have been living in the last days.
In the account in Acts 2, we read that, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter quoted the prophecy of Joel, in which the prophet said that "in the last days" God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh, (Acts 2:17). That, Peter said, was beginning to be fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, almost 2,000 years ago. The first words of the book of Hebrews are: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son," (Hebrews 1:1-2a RSV). So it is clear, from that, that "the last days" is a period which has now grown to 2,000 years' duration. The Apostle Paul is saying that within this extended period of time there will come repetitive cycles of distress, times of stress, perilous times, when all the conditions which he describes with these chilling words will obtain.
As we look back through human history during these last 2,000 years we can see how true that is. Again and again in our Western world we have had periods of relative peace and prosperity, only to have them interrupted by these terrible times of stress and agony that repeatedly come into human affairs. So these words are not necessarily a prediction of the last days for the church, rather, they are a recognition of the cycle of days like this that will keep coming. And, of course, one of them is going to be the last one.
Whether we are living in those times or not is difficult to say. Perhaps we are. Surely these times of stress we live in exactly fit the description the apostle uses here. But whether the actual last cycle to come into history before our Lord returns is difficult to say. As in the past, the clouds of peril may disperse and the sun may break out again. Some degree of peace and prosperity may return again to the world.
But what the apostle wanted Timothy -- and us -- to know, he clearly outlines: "Understand this," he says, "that these will be dangerous times, times of great stress, times when our faith will be pushed to the limit of its endurance, when we will be under attack and under threat." Furthermore, Paul reveals a rather startling thing, these times of stress will be characterized by and caused by two major factors, which he goes on to describe. The first factor is very startling indeed. The striking thing about this paragraph is not what I read in Verses 1-4, but what is in Verse 5:
...holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:5 RSV)
In other words, Paul says that the primary cause of these repetitive cycles of stress and danger is the hypocritical lives of Christians who outwardly look pious, religious, committed and devoted, but are actually unchanged inside and have no power to overcome evil in their lives. Hypocritical Christianity -- that is the bottom line in these times of stress.
I do not think any of us really grasps the revelation of Scripture about the nature of the church. The New Testament everywhere seeks to convince us that the church is the most important body of people in the world. God builds society around what happens in the church. The church is in control of history. "You are the salt of the earth," Jesus said (Matthew 5:13a RSV). If the salt loses its savor, becomes saltless, without flavor, the whole world will go to pot. "You are the light of the world," he said (Matthew 5:14a RSV). If the light dims, the whole world will sink into darkness. That is what the Scriptures tell us. Immorality in the world is caused by insincerity in Christians. Darkness among the nations is an outgrowth of ignorance and darkness in the church.
Right now I am involved with a number of Christian leaders trying to plan a conference of national proportions that will encourage pastors to once again return to the expository treatment of the Scriptures. The reason for this is that, everywhere I go, I am saddened and depressed by the biblical ignorance of church members. There is a terrible biblical illiteracy across the face of this apparently Christianized nation. People have only the most superficial knowledge of the Scriptures.
Sometimes this can be observed in the ignorant answers they give to biblical questions. One man said, "I thought Dan and Beersheba were husband and wife, like Sodom and Gomorrah." Worse than that, they understand nothing of the great secrets of life which the Bible reveals, such as to how to handle their lives, how to understand humanity, and what is happening in the world. That kind of ignorance results in immorality, not so much the blatant, open, sexual type (although that is increasing in the church), but much worse, an inner hardening of the spirit, a manifestation of totally godless attitudes.
Remember that this terrible list, although very similar to a list at the close of Chapter 1 of Romans which describes conditions in the world, is nevertheless really only a description of what is going on in churches and among Christians who have a "form of religion," of "wholesomeness" (the word is godliness, as it has been translated many times in these letters of Paul to Timothy), "a form of godliness but denying the power thereof."
Let us take a closer look at this analysis by the apostle. It falls into four groupings: The first one flows out of that first term, "lovers of self." That is the basic sin of humanity. Self love, the worship of another god, is the vilest form of idolatry. It deprives God of the worship due to his name, and it places a rival god, oneself, on the throne of an individual life. That is where some Christians are, Paul says. They have not really been changed, they are still lovers of self.
When this condition obtains in the churches, it will also be much more clearly and widely exhibited in the world. Today, we have what is known as the "Me" society. The focus is all on "my" -- my rights, my needs, my views, is all we hear about on every side. The first question that is asked about anything is, "What am I going to get out of it?" Christians oftentimes point the finger at non-Christians, saying, "Look how selfish they are," but the apostle points his finger, and says, that is what is happening in the church. People are not changed, they are "lovers of themselves."
This philosophy has been put rather graphically in a jingle that says,
I had a little tea party this afternoon at three. 'Twas very small, three guests in all, just I, myself and me.
Myself ate up the sandwiches, and I drank up the tea. 'Twas also I who ate the pie, and passed the cake to me.
That is the way many people live -- a self-centered existence. Out of this flows all the other things in the list.
The first and primary expression of it is in the next words, "lovers of money." Why are Christian people such materialists today? Why do they, like everyone else, seek a constantly increasing standard of living, a much more luxurious lifestyle? It is because money is a way of indulging ourselves. Instead of using it as the Scriptures exhort us to -- to meet the needs of others, to be ready to quickly respond to human need around us, and to delight to use our excess to that purpose -- we oftentimes merely plan to use it to increase our own possessions, to add to our own enjoyment in life.
I read a startling statistic the other day. There are more people in Russia going to church -- that is, in the visible, open churches -- on any given Sunday than go to church in all the rest of western Europe. Isn't that shocking? I have frequently pointed out that when the missionaries were driven out of China in the '50s, everybody said, "Woe to the church. It is going to go through terrible times." And it did. Yet the church in China has increased seven-fold in these years of persecution.
But it is not persecution that destroys a church, it is prosperity. The churches of western Europe have been wide open for anybody to attend them, but they are virtually empty because they have been destroyed by the love of money, materialism, and sensuality which have gripped and possessed the Christian people of Western Europe. This is the fate that awaits us in the United States if we continue to move along these lines.
Out of this grows another word: "proud." The word is boastful, braggarts. It bothers me to hear churches brag about how many millions of dollars they set aside for missions every year. I welcome the fact that the money is given, but to advertise it, to print it up in brochures that are handed out to others -- I do not know what this does to non-Christians who read it. I am sure it does not impress them very much. They see it as nothing more than the empty boasts of people who are trying to draw attention to themselves rather than to their Lord. That is an outcome of this loving of self.
The word that immediately follows is, "arrogant." Proud people are arrogant people. They have a secret contempt for others; they regard themselves as above them. This is the attitude frequently displayed in many churches and by many Christians today. It often takes the form of a self-righteousness is that looks down its nose at people who have fallen into open, blatant sin. Such Christians use derisive terms for homosexuals, for whoremongers, for prostitutes and pornographers. They gather their robes of righteousness around themselves and pronounce judgment with the same attitude of scornful cynicism revealed by the Pharisees in our Lord's day. That is why Jesus spoke so sharply to the Pharisees and so warmly to the prostitutes.
"Abusive" is the next term. This word describes people who use insulting, pejorative terms that put people down. This is the manifestation of an unhealthy, unwholesome, unchristian spirit within the Christian church.
Then there follows a second grouping that centers around family life. This seems to be addressed primarily to younger Christians. The first term is, "disobedient to their parents." Today there is a total breakdown of the home and a rebellion against parental authority. I read a shocking article this past week about the murder in Milpitas that awakened the concern of the whole nation. Teenagers who knew about the murder of a young girl were actually taken by the murderer and shown her body. They were indifferent to this, seemingly apathetic about it, and failed to report it to the authorities.
The reporter who wrote the article found that, as she talked to these young people, many of them expressed the fact that they deliberately carried on basically deceitful lives. One of them said to her, "What we do is act goody-goody at home so we can get out and smoke all the pot we want, sniff cocaine, and have sex any time we like." That is basically deceitful. The young person who said that had no consciousness that it was wrong or hurtful to act that way. This is what the apostle is talking about.
With this Paul links the word "ungrateful." He is referring to younger people, particularly, who are uncaring about the hours of labor their parents have gone through to provide a home and opportunity for them.
This is Mother's Day. I know that many a mother here this morning is being encouraged by her family who have taken time to show in some loving way, not only on this day, but frequently through the year, that they love and appreciate what their mother, or father, has done. Nothing has blessed my life more than to have my children do, as some of them have done, write me a note now and then to say how much they appreciate my love and concern for them. But this attitude is rare in many homes where young people take for granted what is given to them at great cost by their parents.
The next word is "unholy." This word means an unwillingness to observe even the basic decencies of life. It is a flaunting of ungodly actions, a kind of shamelessness that takes pleasure in doing shocking things to provoke reactions from people. With that is linked the word, "inhuman." This means lacking in normal affections, brutish, beastly, cruel. With that is the word, "implacable" -- meaning beyond reason, unappeasable, having a bitter, unrelenting attitude that nobody can talk to or soften in any way.
All of these attitudes occur within the framework of a Christian profession -- of people who say they are Christians, and act as such on Sunday, but during the week, at home and in business, have an entirely different outlook and attitude. They are cruel, vicious and implacable.
Then the list moves to those areas that touch what we call 'interpersonal relationships.' The next word is, "slanderers" -- literally, devils; "profligates" -- people who are ungovernable, who have to satisfy their lust and their passions immediately; "fierce" -- savage people; "haters of good" -- that was our Lord's charge to the Pharisees, that though they were morally respectable, within they were opposers of God and haters of good, and they proved it by putting to death the best man who ever lived; "treacherous" -- the word is used of Judas, the betrayer; and "reckless" -- careless of what happens, entering headlong into things, impulsively reacting without fear of the consequences. Then the last thing, "swollen with conceit," which literally means, swollen-headed, people who think of themselves more highly than they ought.
Finally, the last grouping deals with the religious pretensions of such people -- "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion [the outward form -- the word is eusebeia -- of godliness, or wholesomeness, a Sunday morning godliness] but denying the power thereof." Why? Why should people who are exposed to the Bible, who profess the truth, sing the hymns, and go through the ritual that is being carried out in thousands of churches across our land today reflect during the week the attitudes described here in such a way that destroy the fabric of society? The answer is in this one phrase: "they deny the power thereof."
We do not have to guess at what that power is. The Apostle Paul tells us very plainly in First Corinthians, where he says, "The word of the cross ... is the power of God," (1 Corinthians 1:18 (RSV). When you let the cross have its effect upon you then you will experience and realize the power of God released. It is the denial of the word of the cross that constitutes this kind of Christianity without Christ, godliness without God, spirituality without the Spirit. The word of the cross is that which puts to death the natural life -- denies self, in other words.
Jesus put it very plainly: "If any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me," (Luke 9:23, Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34). This is saying that until we are willing, as Christians, to say "No" to what the cross has denied, what it has put to death within us, we cannot enter into that eternal life that is available to us now. Unwilling to deny self means that we are unable to experience life from God. That is the problem.
That is why we lay constant stress upon the fact that we must practice what we preach. We must say "No" to all the risings of the flesh within us in order that we might lay hold of the supply of power and life and vitality which enables us to walk with God in righteousness and truth. Otherwise we contribute to, nay, even cause, these terrible times of stress that repeatedly come upon humanity.
Dr. R. C. Sproul, an emerging young theologian of our day, has pointed out that the Bible divides life into four divisions of humanity:
The first group is those who are not saved and know they are not saved. They are the godless, the pagans, we call them, the people who do not profess any form of religion, the atheists, the agnostics of our day, who have no interest in the things of God, and say so openly.
Then there are those who are saved, but they are not sure of it. They really have come to Christ, they really do love the Savior, they know they have been born again, but, because they have not been taught properly, they do not understand the promises of God. For one reason or another they think that they will lose their salvation if they slip or fall in any way. When they do, they succumb to despair for weeks and months in a painful condition of uncertainty. This group is not sure of anything about their faith.
Then there is the group who are saved and they know it. These are the ones we would call the strong, mature Christians who are growing, evincing a new, changed life. Though they have the normal struggles of everyone else, they show from year to year evidence of progress and growth in these areas. They know they belong to God; they have no doubts about it.
Finally, there is a great group, which Scripture faces, of those who are not saved but think they are. That is the group that is being confronted in this passage. Jesus said, "Many shall come to me in that day and say 'Lord, Lord, have we not done many mighty works in your name, and cast out devils in your name, and preached in your name?' And I shall say to them, 'Depart from me, I never knew you.'" (Matthew 7:22-23). They are the cause -- think of it -- of the times of stress that come upon humanity, times such as we are going through right now.
The second factor is described in Verses 6-9. In this section the apostle is describing the rise of strange cults which embrace very confusing concepts and immoral practices; these are begun by people who have been hypocritical Christians. Verse 6:
For among them are those who make their way to households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith; (2 Timothy 3:6-8 RSV)
Here Paul reveals two favorite tactics of the devil. Growing out of a morally corrupt and hypocritical church, Christians who talk one way and live another way will come infiltrating into homes that may not be connected with the church at all, and strange, exotic cults will emerge. This always happens in times of stress.
It happened in the 19th century, when cults like Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Mormonism and others arose. It is happening again in our day. Out of these times of stress are emerging these new cults -- the Moonies, the Eastern-related cults, metaphysical groups, est, and other mind-manipulative groups. Notice the tactics that are employed:
The first is infiltration. Certain misguided men, for their own benefit and advancement, make their way into households and take captive silly women, rendered vulnerable because of their sense of guilt within, burdened with sin, who will believe anything they are told. Everybody who is a sinner -- and that includes all of us -- cannot escape a sense of guilt. This manifests itself in many ways that are not called guilt, for what people seek to do today is to escape the label guilt. But they cannot avoid the fact. It shows up in inner tensions, in a sense of despair, emptiness, and meaninglessness, or sometimes in a wildly rebellious spirit that seeks to lay hold of pleasure and an unending round of amusement. All this is a manifestation of guilt.
Here Paul speaks of those people who remain at home. In that 1st century culture, and still today, it is the women who remain there. Not all women are weak, by any means; not all fit this category. But some do. There are some women, as there are some men, who are morally weak and vulnerable; and they are intellectually weak -- they will believe anything that is told them, so they can never arrive at the truth. When you believe everything you hear you will never arrive at truth because you are taking in a lot of error along with the truth. With these infiltrative tactics new cults arise.
The second tactic employed by the enemy is imitation, counterfeit faith. Paul says, "Like Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people will oppose the truth." In the book of Exodus we read that when Moses was sent by God to Pharaoh's court, his brother Aaron did certain miraculous signs in order to impress Pharaoh that he was dealing with the Living God, not a couple of strange shepherds from the country. There were magicians in Pharaoh's court (whose names, Jannes and Jambres, are given to us here, although they are not named in the Old Testament), and they did miracles, just like Aaron did. Finally, Aaron cast Moses' rod down and it became a snake. These magicians cast their rods down and their rods too turned into snakes. But they did it by sleight of hand. Any good magician can pull rabbits out of hats, or snakes out of sleeves. These magicians imitated the miracles of the Living God.
That kind of corrupt, counterfeit faith is what we run into in times of stress, such as we are living in today. The cults offer to do what only God in Christ can do -- give peace of mind, an untroubled heart, forgiveness of sins, a sense of purpose in life. All the riches offered to us in the gospel are also held out by the cults. Many people fall for them, and for a while they think they have found these things. Today you can read testimonies of how people have found, especially in these metaphysical cults, peace of mind, a sense of harmony or a quality of enjoyment of life they never previously possessed. That is true, they do possess that for a while, but it does not last.
As the apostle goes on to say in Verse 9:
But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. (2 Timothy 3:9 RSV)
When the serpent which Aaron's rod had formed saw the other two snakes, it ate them up. This was a visible sign that God's power is always more powerful than the devil's. The apostle says that this is what will happen with counterfeit groups. Do not panic, he says to Timothy, evil has its limits. The devil always overreaches himself. His very success at winning converts will ultimately leave people so empty, so hungry of heart, so searching for ultimate truth they become wide open to the appeal of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what is happening in our day.
When you read the Great Awakening stories about the Whitefields and the Wesleys of the 18th century you see that these men, though they preached to huge crowds, did not gather them by sending out press agents and advertising in the newspapers. They merely went out on the street corners, even the fields, and began to talk to a few people about the gospel. But the whole English nation was so hungry, so empty, so lonely, miserable, and depressed that they began to flock to hear these men. The word so spread that whenever they started preaching people would come running to hear them. John Wesley and George Whitefield often found that, though they began by speaking to just a few people, before they were through they would be addressing a crowd of ten thousand or more. I think that is what we are headed for in the future. Times of stress are also times of great opportunity, when God uses the devil's very deceitfulness to outwit him, and to prepare the hearts of people for a genuine pouring out of the blessings of God.
Remember, then, that hypocrisy and insincerity in the church is what was produced the times of crisis that are described here. We are living heirs today of the lukewarmness of the churches of the '20s and '30s of this century. God's righteous judgments always are based upon reality. He knows what is in the heart. If we think we are fooling God by our coming to church, by singing hymns, by faithfully attending Bible studies, but not allowing the Word to get at our self-indulgent lives and change us, we will awake sooner or later only to find we are fooling ourselves. These are strong, searching words from the apostle's pen. He goes on in the next section to tell us how to oppose these conditions, what to do in the midst of them, how to live in these times of stress.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for how accurately you describe what happens in our world. Thank you also that there is something we can do about it. We can be real, not phony, people; we can be genuine, not hypocritical; we can allow the Word to change us from the heart outward, and not dress up the outside merely to impress others. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.
Title: Dangerous Times By: Ray C. Stedman Series: Studies in Second Timothy Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:1-9 Message No: 8 Catalog No: 3789 Date: May 9, 1982
WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU CAN BE
by Ray C. Stedman
Last week we looked at the passage in Second Timothy 3 which describes, in very graphic terms, the times of distress which will come repeatedly during this period of "the last days," that is, the period between our Lord's first coming until he returns again. Without a doubt we are going through one of those times of stress today. The evidence is visible on every side:
There is the rocketing rate of teenage suicide. I was shocked the other day to read that in the past year suicide among teenagers has increased some 200% over what it was the previous year. This speaks of widespread despair among young people as they look to a future that seems bleaker and blacker than ever before. Then there is the marriage burn-out syndrome we are so familiar with. Also, nuclear war jitters are now stirring up people to protest and demonstrate against the nuclear arms race. Then there are the familiar figures of drug and alcohol addiction and the resulting violent outbursts that startle us from time to time.
Some of this stress comes very close to home. Some of you who have been laid off work are feeling stress. Others are experiencing family breakups, or facing physical crises. All these are part of the times of stress that people have to endure. When such circumstances arise, the question, "How can a Christian cope?" always comes up. What do we do in response to such times of pressure? As he was writing to Timothy, the Apostle Paul understood that this would be Timothy's question too. Paul had left him in the pagan environment of Ephesus to lead the leaders of the church there. Timothy undoubtedly was questioning in his own heart what he could do to withstand the pressure of the times. How could he resist being swept along into hard-hearted cynicism, blatant immorality, or blasphemy, bitterness and resentment in his heart against the workings of God? How do we stand in such times?
The apostle answers by giving Timothy two simple things to do. Today we will take the first of these. (This section runs from 2 Timothy 3:10 through the end of the chapter.) In the first part, Paul says to Timothy, "Remember my model. Do what I did. Do what you saw me do when you traveled with me these past 15 or 16 years. Remember my example." The second thing Paul says to Timothy is, "Trust the Scriptures to guide you. This Book is given to help us through times of persecution, stress and difficulty. It is the book of reality."
What a tremendous impact a good model can make! Last Thursday, Pat Thebus and I joined Howard Bennett, and together we flew in Howard's plane up to central Montana, where I was to speak at the commencement address of the Big Sky Bible College. (The college was not even built when I lived in that part of the country, but I have since had a part in its ministry.) It was a great experience for me, because Lewistown, where the school is located, is only 40 miles from the tiny Montana town where I graduated from high school, I am ashamed to say it, almost 50 years ago.
We went up a day early so that I could see what had happened in the 44 years since I had been in that town. It was a sentimental journey. It was a moving experience for me to meet some of my old classmates, to see how much of the town was still standing, and how much it had been built up since.
One of the things that made a deep impression on me was to drive past the ranch, just a mile or so out of town, where a rancher and his wife, who bore no relationship to me, nevertheless virtually adopted me as a son when I was in high school. I had spent many happy hours there doing the usual work of a ranch. But I was especially drawn to the rancher, who was like a father to me. Memories of all the things he had taught me and modeled for me -- patience, fortitude, manliness and humor -- came flooding back into my mind as I drove past the place where we had spent so many happy times together.
I am sure that is what the Apostle Paul is seeking to do here with Timothy. He reminds Timothy that he had set before him an example, so he says to him, "Do what I did." Here are Paul's words. Second Timothy 3:10:
Now you have observed by teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. (2 Timothy 3:10-11 RSV)
When Paul says, "You observed this," he uses a very strong word in the Greek, which means, "You came right along with me; you accompanied me through all of this; you saw all these things, now don't forget them."
When we ask ourselves, "What did Paul do when his world threatened to come apart, how did he react in that first generation of Christians, when the whole Roman world was about to explode in warfare, when pagan pressure and superstition abounded on every side and the civilized world seemed to be given over to widespread sexual immorality?" We must notice the first thing Paul says: "Timothy, you observed my teaching." What did Paul do when the world was in trouble? He taught the truth; he reminded himself and his hearers of what is real about life; he exposed the illusions and the delusions of his day to the revelation of Scripture so that people could get their heads on straight and think rightly, truly and realistically about life. That encourages me a great deal, because I believe that every Christian ought to be able to teach the truth about life from the Word of God. We desperately need this today.
A few weeks ago I watched a group of young pastors on the East Coast as they listened to a man of some prominence reveal to them and review for them the terrible nuclear threat that hangs over the world today. He described in very graphic terms what a nuclear holocaust would be like, the awful threat of the virtual elimination of life from the face of the earth if the superpowers should ever resort to nuclear war. He was doing this to try to stir them to protest and to get involved in demonstrations against the nuclear arms race.
I watched these young pastors become sober and fearful as they listened. It struck me that there was something missing, that though this threat is very real -- there is no question that a nuclear holocaust would result in the virtual destruction of the human race -- nevertheless, that is not what the Scriptures say about life. There was a missing element.
During the course of the discussion that followed I was able to suggest that we needed to turn to the Word of God and learn again of his sovereignty over human events; that God, not man, is in charge of this world; that man proposes but God disposes; that there are limits to man's ability to carry out his evil purposes, and we needed to see again that God puts in the hands of Christians spiritual weapons by which to influence the times in which we live. As we talked about these things, I could sense a spirit of renewed hope and of challenge come into the hearts of these young pastors.
I believe that is what the Scriptures are for: they are to guide us in times of despair, of pressure, and of stress. The very first thing the Apostle Paul would do would be to give himself to proclaiming the mighty revelation of God, to help men see again that God is in charge of life.
Then, not only was Paul's teaching involved, but, as he puts it, so was his conduct. "You observed my conduct," he says. That means that when he was confronted with danger, persecution, and stress, he behaved himself; he practiced what he preached. By returning to the word of faith, Paul controlled his temper, subdued his lusts, mastered his passions, conquered his fears, and forgave his enemies. He did what God told him to do: He worked with his hands, he supported himself, he prayed for his friends, he kept himself growing and walking in the Spirit because he knew that was the greatest thing he could do to counteract the fear, the depression and danger of the times in which he lived.
These first two words are very important. They have direct relevance to us. How should we react to such times? Paul's answer is, let us teach; let us open men's eyes and hearts to what God is doing in this world. There is a conspiracy of silence against that today. That is why people are scared to death. They live in downright, abject fear because of what the future holds for them. How wonderful for Christians to be able to unfold the realities of life to people and to manifest those realities in their own conduct! That is the greatest thing we can do to steady the world in this time of danger.
Not only did Paul model his actions for Timothy, but he also modeled his attitudes. He says, "Remember my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness." Those are great qualities which the apostle had set as an example before this young man.
The most important of them is the first one, Paul's aim in life. Paul did not do anything that did not relate to what was, for him, the most important thing in life. He himself tells us in many places, notably in Second Corinthians, what that was:
Whether at home or away [i.e., in the body or out of the body], we make it our aim to please him." (2 Corinthians 5:9 (RSV)
Everything Paul did in life was done with the understanding that it would either please the Lord Jesus or it would result in grief of heart to him. That was Paul's guiding light.
I find there are many Christians today who think that when you become a Christian you get unusual power to enable you to do special things, miracles, etc. But Christianity is not a way of doing special things, it is a special way of doing everything. Paul's special aim in everything he did was to please the Lord Jesus. What a simple thing that is, and yet how profoundly it would affect us if we would ask ourselves a dozen times a day, "Is what I am saying, what I am doing, what I am thinking, pleasing to my Lord? Does it reflect his beauty, his character, his loveliness?"
With this the apostle links his faith, because that is what made his aim possible. Faith is the confidence that there exist certain invisible realities which are extremely important to us, and then acting in the light of those realities. Faith is believing that God is at work in running human affairs, and that he will give us power to love and to speak with gentleness and graciousness when we are being mistreated or abused. Faith is the consciousness of invisible realities. Paul tells Timothy that that is the key to his behavior.
Then there was the apostle's patience. This was always with regard to people. Sometimes it is hard to be patient with people. I have found that not everybody is as lovely, gracious, sweet and easy to get along with as I am, so there are times when I am tempted to be impatient with those stupid people who cannot respond like I do! They, of course, are thinking the same thing about me. That is why the Word of God says that one of the characteristics of a true Christian life is that we learn to develop patience. We sometimes say, "Don't bug me. Don't push me. Let me have time to work this out. Give me some breathing room. Get off my back." Others feel that way too. If you want others to be patient, then surely it is only right that they should expect you to be patient with them. That is what the Scriptures exhort us to do. Paul had demonstrated this to Timothy, and he reminds him of it.
With that Paul links love. This is the word, above all others, that ought to describe the Christian approach. Love means an acceptance of everyone as being valuable; you do not regard anyone with contempt or disdain, you do not put anyone down. You understand that, though people may be struggling, though they may be difficult, nevertheless, they are valuable. God loves them; God has made them in his own image. People have great possibilities if they are touched in the right way. This is what Christian love manifests.
Finally, there is the quality of steadfastness. That means endurance, not quitting when the pressures get rough, hanging in there, not merely in a grin-and-bear-it attitude, but rather with a confidence that God is working things out. Someone told the story of the man in a testimony meeting who said, "My favorite Scripture is the verse that says, 'And it came to pass,' because when something happens to me I remind myself that it didn't come to stay, it came to pass." If you wait, it will pass.
But Paul says to wait in cheerfulness, triumph, and quietness of heart. Not only did Paul model his actions and his attitudes, but he specifically reviews for Timothy certain persecutions and sufferings that he underwent. He says, "You have observed my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured."
I believe that you never really get to know anybody until you know what he has been through. Recently I read the book by Elton Trueblood, Abraham Lincoln, Theologian of American Anguish. The book traces the years of Lincoln's presidency, a time when he was growing by leaps and bounds in Christian stature as a mature believer in Christ. The key to his growth was the personal anguish he suffered. Not only was there the terrible pressure of the war between the States -- he took very personally and felt very keenly the awful bloodbath the nation was passing through as thousands of boys from both North and South were dying on the fields of battle -- but his favorite son, his beloved 12-year-old Willie, died while he was President. There were also the daily vituperative attacks of the press upon him. He was lampooned, ridiculed, mocked and insulted in most of the papers. There was widespread opposition against him.
Rather than crushing him, rather than making him react with anger, bitterness, and vituperation in return, however, all of this humbled Lincoln. As he himself put it, "I was often driven to my knees with the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go." If you go to Washington, visit the Lincoln Memorial and read there the words of the Second Inaugural Address, to my mind one of the greatest words any statesman ever uttered. There you will see that through all the agony, the pressure and the anguish that he underwent, Lincoln came to understand and to see more clearly, perhaps, than many of his successors the sovereignty of God in national affairs; how the hand of God was governing the conduct of the war and bringing about judgment on a people that would result in righteousness, justice, and truth in the land again.
Here Paul is reminding Timothy, "You were with me during many of those times of persecution. Remember how at Antioch I had to leave town lest my life be taken, how at Iconium I was driven out by a lynch mob, and how at Lystra I was stoned and left for dead outside the city walls." Yet Paul adds these words, "But out of them all the Lord delivered me." Timothy was with Paul in many other times of trouble, but these early experiences evidently burned themselves into his mind.
There is nothing like the shock value of the first discovery of truth. The apostle is trying to remind Timothy here of the surprise he must have felt when he realized that an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Lord of heaven and earth, could and would suffer like Paul did. This gives an adequate answer to the idea abroad today that, when you become a Christian, God protects you from all kinds of danger, that you never get into any peril but God saves you from it, that God goes to work for you to make you prosperous. That is not what Paul experienced. If that is the sign of successful Christianity, then Paul was the greatest failure of all Christians because he suffered these many experiences. He reminds Timothy that is what God had designed.
But the fourth factor that Paul reveals here, and which he modeled for Timothy, is undoubtedly the most important of all. It is found in these words:
...yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. (2 Timothy 3:11b-13)
The bottom line of how to stand in times of pressure is right here. Paul knew the secret of the Divine Presence: the Lord was with him, working in all the events of his life. In everything Paul did, Jesus Christ walked with him and was beside him to strengthen and help him.
You cannot read Paul's letters without seeing that every one of them focuses upon the amazing truth that in all the difficult times and all the blessed times of his life, his Lord stood with him. We need to rediscover this secret today. Paul saw Jesus as Lord in charge of all events, "the One who opens and no man shuts, the One who shuts and no man opens" (Revelation 3:7b); the One who lays a restraining hand upon the violent people of earth so that they can go only so far and no further; the One who restrains mobs and opens a door of escape in times of distress; the One who prepares men and women to be ready to respond when the Word is preached. Paul saw Jesus as his own personal Savior Who forgave him his sins,who picked him up when he was discouraged, who stood by him in times of pressure. He saw Jesus as his Companion, as his dearest Friend who never left him. That is the secret of standing today. Christianity was never intended to be merely a creed that you believe, or certain doctrines that you subscribe to. Christianity is a Person whom you know, whom you live with, rely upon and walk with day-by-day.
But even more: Paul not only understood the secret of the Divine Presence, but also that his very trials were part of a designed course. In fact, he says, "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived."
That very remarkable statement is saying that true Christianity is always a counter-culture movement; it is always against the grain. You will not always be popular when you stand and speak as a Christian. Sometimes you will; sometimes your words will be welcomed, and reckoned as cold water on a hot day. On other occasions, what you say will be sneered at, ridiculed, and laughed at; you will be put down and rejected. All that is part of being a Christian. That is what it means to "stand" in these days.
There is a phony "folk Christianity" around today that will enable you to apparently escape all these persecutions. In every church there are people who are trying to put on a Christian front. Paul spoke about them in the passage we looked at last week, describing them as, "having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof," (2 Timothy 3:5 (KJV). They act like Christians, they read the Book, and sing the hymns, but they have no reality of Christ in their lives. That kind of Christianity does escape a lot of persecution because it never stands for anything. But, in the end, it perishes along with the world; it is destroyed in the judgments of God. I know that many people who come to church reflect the attitude that says,
I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul, or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love a Black man, or to pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy just $3.00 worth of God, no more.
That kind of Christianity is worthless. It does nothing to stem the tide of corruption and disaster toward which the human race is headed. If we want to be men and women of God, we are to follow the models that are held before us. As this age draws to a close, evil will increase, the apostle says. Men and women who believe their own lies will speak with intense conviction so that many will follow in their evil ways, victims of the great deceiver, the god of this world, the devil. But if you want to stand against the stream, if you want to make your life count in these days, then do what Paul did:
Teach the truth; spread it around. Let people know what is right and real about life from the Book which you hold in your hand. Live righteously: Practice what you preach.Expect trouble, because you will get it. There will be times when what you say will be very unpopular, but that does not stop you from saying it and living it. Above all else, walk with the Lord. Love the Lord Jesus. Live in his presence. Draw closer each day to that Divine Lord who walks invisibly in our midst, who is in charge of all the events of earth, controlling them and working them out to his one great purpose which he shall bring to pass.
God knows that things are going to get worse and worse -- he intended them to -- but he has planted within that decaying, corrupting, morally imperfect civilization men and omen like you and me who are given the privilege of standing for truth and righteousness in a day of declension. May God grant that we will be such people.
Our Father, we pray that you will forgive us for the many times we have allowed the world to creep into our thinking and guide our conduct, when we have faded into the background and been lost in the crowd on its way to darkness, delusion and hell. Grant to us Lord the courage and the grace to stand, impelled by this Divine Presence within, that we might be workmen who need not be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of truth. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.
Title: What you See is What you can Be By: Ray C. Stedman Series: Studies in Second Timothy Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:10-13 Message No: 9 Catalog No: 3790 Date: May 16, 1982
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