But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, 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, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (verses 1-5)
When Paul speaks to Timothy about the corruption of the “last days,” our tendency is to think he’s referring to some distant future.
But that’s not what he meant. Paul, together with the rest of the New Testament writers, views the “last days” as having started with the first coming of Jesus himself. From their point of view, ever since Jesus first came, we have been in the midst of those “last days.”
When Peter gave his first public sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he quoted a prophecy from Joel which describes the outpouring of the Spirit as happening “in the last days” – he was signalling to his audience that those days had already begun (Acts 2:16-21). Similarly, the writer of Hebrews says that although God spoke in the past through the prophets, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2) – the coming of Jesus into the world, working salvation for us and bringing us to God, has fully inaugurated the “last days.”
Those days, then, stretch all the way between Christ’s first and second comings. So, during that whole period, we should not be surprised if there are “terrible times.” Indeed, Paul is letting Timothy know that his experience of the false teachers in Ephesus is itself a clear indication of “last days” activity. Paul goes on to list the symptoms. So many of them were clearly visible to Timothy already. If we’ve got eyes to see, so many of them are visible to us in our day, too.
I’m struck by two things in Paul’s list.
The first is the presence of misguided or misplaced love. Look through the list and you will see the word “love” popping up again and again. Unfortunately, what is described is a love that has been distorted. Love is meant to look outward, to extend itself to those around, but Paul says that last-days-people will merely be “lovers of themselves.” It seems likely this inward-focused love is the source from which all the other symptoms flow. For instance, being “lovers of money.” Self-loving lovers of money will crave wealth simply for self-expenditure, disregarding the needs of others while greedily embracing riches as another means of embracing oneself. Further, they will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” again focusing inward rather than on the One who created us for himself.
The second thing I’m struck by is the number of negative words that make up this list. Paul, writing in Greek, takes positive words and puts an “a-“ in front of them to turn them into negatives. For instance, if a “theist” is someone who believes in God, an “a-theist”is one who doesn’t. In the same way these “lovers of themselves”have embraced negative qualities. Beginning with the theme of love, these people are “without love” and “not lovers of the good.”Further, they are un-compliant toward parents, un-grateful, un-holy, un-forgiving, and un-self-controlled. It’s a disastrous listing.
Paul adds many other character traits (boastful, proud, abusive, etc.), but the clincher to the whole is that these people have a form of godliness but deny its power. They are obviously religious, looking very spiritual to themselves and others. But in fact, they are completely disconnected from the power of Almighty God. Ouch.
We shouldn’t be surprised if we, like Timothy, encounter people in these last days who act in such ways. But the greater caution is to see if any of these vices have infected our own lives. Have we embraced misguided love, turning inward with self-centred focus? Have we allowed Christian virtues to be turned to negatives in our own lives, becoming un-grateful, un-holy, un-forgiving? Are we in danger of having only a form of godliness, rather than the real thing?
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting.
Reflect: Have you allowed any of the world’s negativity to invade your attitudes? Ask the Lord to show you.