1 & 2 Timothyby Robert M. Solomon
The “last days” in the Bible refer to the entire period from the ascension of Jesus to the cataclysmic end of history (Hebrews 1:2). Paul refers to this period here, focusing on how bad it will be in the future. These will be “terrible times” (2 Timothy 3:1) and full of terrible people. The people of the last days will show the cumulative effects of self-love and self-centredness. Paul lists 19 characteristics of the terrible people of the last days. Most of them can be summarised in terms of misplaced love—love of self, money, and pleasure. God is love (1 John 4:8) and created us with a capacity to love. Hence the commands of Scripture are summarised as the call to love God wholeheartedly and to love our neighbours (Matthew 22:37–40). But fallen sinful human nature has perverted true love and turned it into love of self and things. The result: ugly human beings living in an ugly world.
Paul’s list can be briefly examined as follows:
They love themselves above all (2 Timothy 3:2). This is the biggest problem. It produces all kinds of bad behaviour, from arrogance to slander. Human beings are obsessed with themselves, in what social critic Christopher Lasch called “the culture of narcissism”. Martin Luther’s observation about himself as he resisted the pope of his day is illuminating: “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.” This is why the Christian life begins and is maintained by self-denial (Luke 9:23).
They love money (2 Timothy 3:2). The love of money is the source of many evils and has become a deadly obsession. The Bible calls greed idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5), showing that money is the god worshipped by many.
They love evil and that which is unholy instead of the good (2 Timothy 3:2–3), inverting values and calling good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20).
They love pleasure (2 Timothy 3:4). In pursuit of self-indulgent pleasure, they lose their self-control (v. 3).
Even the religious among them are guilty of a hollow religion (v. 5).
Paul’s punch line is, “Have nothing to do with such people” (v. 5).
In essence, Christians must be different from the terrible people of the last days.
Why is self-love the main human problem? How do we learn to crucify the flesh daily (Luke 9:23; Galatians 2:20, 5:24)? How does God’s grace enable us to do this?
To what extent is Paul’s list real in today’s world? In what way is there an inversion of values (Isaiah 5:20)? How can Christians keep themselves from becoming polluted by the world (1 Corinthians 15:33)?