Theme: The Last Days
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the need to continue in those things we have learned from Scripture, in order to live a holy life.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:1-17
Anybody who has any responsibility for Christian work, whether directing a mission agency, pastoring a church, teaching a Sunday school class, or even raising children, will certainly be able to identify with the apostle Paul in this third chapter of 2 Timothy. Paul realizes that when his ministry is over, the work to be done in the midst of a very ungodly world is being left in the hands of Timothy. Paul considers the world and sees that it’s ungodly, and he also considers the situation in the church and he sees the difficulties that are present, and how the ungodliness of the world is imposing upon the church. As a result, he observes that the church is becoming increasingly secular and people who used to stand for the faith are dropping away.
Paul then thinks about Timothy and is concerned for him and the work he needs to keep doing, knowing the difficulties that are present at this time and will only increase. In addition, Paul might realize that perhaps Timothy does not have the same strong leadership skills as Paul, or a particularly strong constitution, and so Paul could rightly wonder how Timothy can possibly carry on in the midst of a situation like this. How will Timothy make out after Paul is gone? In other words, Paul is concerned about how the work will go forward after he dies.
That can happen to us, as well. We wonder about how a given ministry will fare five, ten, or twenty years from now, when we are no longer involved with it. Will the next generation be able to carry out the particular work? Or with regard to our children, once they have grown up will they remain faithful to the spiritual things we have taught and modeled for them?
In the first part of 2 Timothy 3, Paul begins to write about these troubling times in which Timothy is going to have to live, and then in the second part of the chapter, Paul gives him a charge in view of the coming situation. The charge is really the heart of this chapter, where in verse 14 he tells Timothy to continue in the things that he has learned.
The first part, verses 1-9, deals with the times in which Timothy was called to live, which is also helpful for us because of the times in which we’re called to live. Paul begins by calling this future period the last days and says that they will be terrible times. I should point out that there are two different ways in which this idea of the last days can be taken. One way is to think of the days or weeks or years immediately preceding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. In some period closer to his return, the times are going to be terrible; and there are verses in the New Testament that talk about this. While Jesus does not use the term “the last days,” he did refer explicitly to the time of his Second Coming and said that it’s going to be like the days of Noah when there was materialism and people were going their own way. Their minds will be upon pleasure rather than God, when suddenly the Second Coming is going to be upon them.
But there is another way in which this expression can be taken, and perhaps this is the way it should be understood here in our text. When the term “last days” is used in Scripture, it does not refer to a more limited, specific time at the very end just before Christ comes; but, rather, it refers to the days in which we live, following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. We have an example of that in the book of Joel, where God says that in the last days he will pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. At Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, he said that this prophecy was fulfilled as the Holy Spirit came and was poured out on those who had gathered, marking off the church age. Thus, in this second sense, the “last days” have been in existence ever since Jesus ascended and the Holy Spirit was poured out.
Whichever way the expression is to be taken in our passage, it obviously has important significance for Timothy and his ministry once Paul has departed this life. Paul and Timothy both know they are in difficult days at the moment. But Paul wants to warn and prepare Timothy for the increasingly hard days that will come in the future. When those days come, and when the work of the ministry gets more difficult because of the worldliness that affects the church, Paul wants Timothy to be faithful to his calling and hold firm in the work God has for him to do. And what Paul has to say to Timothy about these coming days is not only for his benefit and encouragement, but for ours as well.
Explain the two ways the term “last days” can be understood.
What main concern does Paul express in 2 Timothy 3?
Reflection: How are you preparing the next generation to continue the Lord’s work after you are gone?