2 Timothy 3:1-9: The Real Gospel and Real Christlikeness
August 14, 2019
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
This is one of the more politically incorrect passages that Paul ever wrote! Why would he write what – to contemporary ears – seem such harsh words?
First, we have to understand the bigger picture theology. Behind Paul’s writings there is an assumption about human nature. Today people tend to think that people are basically born good, and degenerate through negative experiences, circumstances, and lack of opportunities. However, the biblical view about human nature is quite different. Biblically, we are all born in the image of God – that must not be forgotten by any means – but that image is nonetheless marred and broken. We are, therefore, “sinners” which does not mean we are un-valuable. We are still made in the very image of God, but we have a disease, a sickness that pervades every part of our being and taints even the greatest and most wonderful things that we do. Our sin is even the greater for the way we deface the masterwork that we are in the image of God.
But there is also a further assumption and that is about eschatology. Paul’s eschatology – or the doctrine of the “last things” (or as he calls it here, “the last days”) – is that ever since Christ came and rose again we are now in the last days. The time between Christ’s first coming and his second coming is all the last days. This is what Peter preached at Pentecost when he said that what they were seeing and hearing as the Spirit was poured out there was what Joel had prophesied would happen “in the last days.” And it was what the author of Hebrews taught when he said that “in these last days” God has spoken to us by his Son, Jesus. Paul’s teaching here then is against the backdrop of these last days when the gospel itself will flourish and grow, but at the same time there will be great opposition to the progress of that gospel. The devil (see 2 Timothy 2:26) is railing against his defeat at the cross and dragging as many as he can with him into his trap.
Give these two assumptions – a theology of human nature, and an eschatology of salvation history – it is understandable that Paul would write as he does. The problem, the core problem with us as humans in these last days, is a problem of love. We love ourselves and we do not love God. But note, this problem is not a distinction or partition separating the religious from the irreligious. The people that Paul is talking about here are religious! They have a form of godliness but deny its power. Nothing masks sin with greater effectiveness than pharisaic and fake forms of religiosity. Beware a mere form of godliness – some kind of form is inevitable in this world in which live – which has no power from God to transform lives. Instead, seek the power of God through trust in Christ and prayer and his Word.
What kind of comfort is there for Timothy (and us) in these terrible times in which he lived (and we also live)? First, that Timothy, like Moses, is a preacher of God’s truth. What a comfort! By preaching the gospel, by teaching the Bible, by sharing Christ and his Word, we are speaking God’s truth as Moses did. Second, that people will oppose the truth as they opposed Moses. This is a great comfort, too, because it reminds us that the struggle is not against us personally but ultimately against God. Third, those who oppose the truth – while they must be corrected and not passively ignored (see 2 Timothy 2:25) – will not get very far, for in the end the folly of the false teaching, and the foolish false living, will appear eminently foolish to anyone who observes with any kind of sanctified common sense. There is something intrinsically foolish about false teaching (and false living), as much as there is something essentially attractive about the real gospel and real Christlikeness.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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