by Mike Ratliff
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:1-2 ESV)
God uses things such as the Manhattan Declaration in His plan to educate and edify His people pertaining to the real qualities of His Church, made up of only those whose name are written in the book. Central to this “real Church” is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is clearly defined in the Word of God. Since its inception at the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, His death, resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on the day of Pentecost, the Church has been under attack by our enemy. These attacks come from every conceivable direction and source. Some are direct assaults by unbelieving pagans, however, the most devastating attacks come from those who claim to be “Christian,” but who pervert the truth leading many astray or causing doubt and confusion amongst the brethren.
Nevertheless, God knows who are His for their names are written in the book. These same people prove that they are genuine Christians by them persevering to the end. They stand firm even when many all around them prove their disingenuousness by compromising and neglecting the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of this neglect takes the form of replacing obedience to it with religiosity while other forms are seen in perversions of its simple truth. Some edit it in order to remove what is deemed offensive. In Paul’s last letter to his friend Timothy just prior to his martyrdom by the Romans, he gave us a summary of the nature of these “inside jobs” within the visible Church in the last days (2 Timothy 3:1-9).
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. (2 Timothy 3:1-9 ESV)
In the first five verses Paul describes the nature of those who have the “appearance of godliness,” but deny its power. The description seems to be of unbelievers who, by their own nature, are consumed by the desires of their flesh. However, Paul is describing the nature of some who claim to be Christians, but are most certainly not. Let us look at this one phrase at a time.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. (2 Timothy 3:1 ESV)
1τουτο δε γινωσκε οτι εν εσχαταις ημεραις ενστησονται καιροι χαλεποι (2 Timothy 3:1 WHNU)
This but know, that in last days will be present seasons difficult; (2 Timothy 3:1 word-for-word from Koine Greek to English)
There are no surprises here. The term “last days” refers to what some call the “Church Age.” This is that time after our Lord’s death on the Cross, His resurrection, His ascension and Pentecost. These last days end at the beginning of the “age to come” (Ephesians 1:21). It is a huge mistake to believe what some false prophets say that the Church’s main mission is to overcome these “difficulties” and take over the world. The Word of God is very clear that this age will be noted for persecution of Christians, hence, “times of difficulty.” The ESV appears to read that these times of difficulty are yet future, but the Greek tells us that these difficult seasons are the nature of these last days.
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:2-5 ESV)
2εσονται γαρ οι ανθρωποι φιλαυτοι φιλαργυροι αλαζονες υπερηφανοι βλασφημοι γονευσιν απειθεις αχαριστοι ανοσιοι 3αστοργοι ασπονδοι διαβολοι ακρατεις ανημεροι αφιλαγαθοι 4προδοται προπετεις τετυφωμενοι φιληδονοι μαλλον η φιλοθεοι 5εχοντες μορφωσιν ευσεβειας την δε δυναμιν αυτης ηρνημενοι και τουτους αποτρεπου (2 Timothy 3:2-5 WHNU)
will be for the men self-lovers, silver-lovers, boasters, arrogant, insulters, to parents disobedient, unfavorable, unholy, no family affection, irreconcilable slanderers, no strength, untamed, not lovers of good, traitors, reckless, having been puffed up, lovers of pleasures more or lovers of God, having form of reverence the but power of it having denied; and these turn from. (2 Timothy 3:2-5 word-for-word from Koine Greek to English)
I would like to concentrate on v5. Yes vv2-4 make it clear that the ones being described are fleshly because they are under the control of their flesh. They are not Christians. This is not the nature of one who is walking in repentance, becoming more and more Christlike as God disciplines and trains them as they walk as living sacrifices. Yes, Christians still sin, but their consistent walk will not resemble this. In v5 Paul makes it clear that even though they are fleshly they still have a form or appearance of godliness or reverence, but they deny its power. What does this mean? The word translated “a form” here is μορφωσιν. We get our word “morphemic” from this word. This refers to the outward shape or appearance rather than the true nature of a person. A good example of this is seen in those scribes and Pharisees who openly opposed our Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry.
The visible Church has many false teachers and preachers. These men are primarily concerned with mere external appearances (Matthew 23:25; Titus 1:16). This is what I often refer to in my posts as “religiosity.” This is an outward form of Christianity only. Because of this, these “men” are some of our enemy’s primary weapons in his war against the truth. Paul warns us to “turn from” or “avoid” these people. The Greek word here for “avoid,” αποτρεπου, implies that we should reflexively deflect our attention from these people. We have nothing to do with them. Yes, we warn the brethren about them, but we do not fellowship with them nor do we sign declarations or minister with them.
What does this imply my brethren? It tells us that we will be able to discern this. We will be able to look at the evidence of their lives to see the duality of their profession of faith and ministry in contrast to their true nature. In fact, these fleshly components of their nature will affect their ministries in multiple ways. There is no way for them not to. That is why we look at the lives of ministers of the Gospel and compare what they profess to how they live.
For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. (2 Timothy 3:6-9 ESV)
Here the Apostle Paul lays out the nature of false forms of Christianity. Their flesh controls both the false teachers and their victims. They are not content. They jump from one teaching or teacher to another in a vain attempt to find the truth, but all they find is more lies. They are never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth because they are not pursuing the truth from its source. Instead, they seek the preacher or teacher whose words tickle their ears. This not only keeps both the teacher and student in the dark, it leads only to damnation. This is why I am often alerted by some who attempt to comment here who never quote from God’s Word, but are always trying to justify what they are attempting to say by quoting this or that teacher, preacher, or writer. The really sad thing is that even when I point this out to them, they are blind to it and do not change. We must pray for God to break through and save them. I quote Spurgeon or Owen and other godly men of God, but what they taught is the same as what we find in God’s Word. Those apostate writers, preachers, or teachers pervert the Word of God or focus on extra-biblical things in place of God’s truth. That is the difference.
We are in the last days. We have not yet reached the end of this age as our Lord ushers in the age to come. Until then let us continue in our faithfulness to pursue the truth from God’s Word, deny ourselves and follow our Lord in all we do.
Soli Deo Gloria!