Well, God’s Word speaks to the matter quite directly, in 2 Timothy 3. Paul says at 3:1 that “in the last days difficult times” will come. He uses an adjective here (χαλεποί) that carries the idea not only of hard, difficult, troublesome, but in some real sense ferocious, dangerous. And when Paul says “the last days,” he has in mind, quite broadly, this whole period from the completion of Christ’s work until the end, not just some short little period just before the Second Coming. We are now in “the last days” and these days, now, are just such peculiarly “perilous” times.
Look around! People are, as Paul says they will be, “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . .” (2 Tim 3:2-4). And what is particularly unsettling is that these are also religious folks—“holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (3:5). They have an outward form of religion, but know nothing of, in fact live in contradiction to, the power and reality of true Christianity. That truth explains why polls indicate that America is a “very religious” country, and at the same time the most corrupt and violent of any developed nation on the face of the planet.
So what are we to do? How do we stay on mission—avoid drift, fight the good fight—in the middle of such a mess as this? In the whole chapter of 2 Timothy 3, there are only three imperative verbs, three commands, that give us desperately needed direction.
- Realize that such times will come (v. 1)
“Realize, understand, know”1 that there will come violent, fierce, terrible times. “Take note of this and be assured of it,”2 Paul says. And such an understanding starts with a biblical worldview. If we ignore the Fall and its consequences, we set ourselves up for disastrous disappointment and unexpected distress. When it comes to our view of life and the world, we must have something better in place than an idealistic, pie-in-the-sky, Enlightenment notion of humanity that thinks all people are basically good. Without the biblical take on humanity’s situation, when things turn out so much more badly than a wrongheaded kind of worldview ever thought it would, we’ll despair, and get depressed, and worry, and become utterly useless in the good fight and its mission to the world! So, first thing: “Realize such times will come.” Understand that we’re in for a fight if we mean to be faithful. Then …
- Separate ourselves from such influence (v. 5)
That is, don’t get caught up in the spirit of the age. “Turn away from, or shun”3 such people—not personally, of course, because we’re on mission to them, but shun their influence, their pressure, their pull. And do this as a matter of habit. The idea here is not a one-time, break-off of all relations thing, but a constant, moment-by-moment rejection of the assimilating power of the world, moment-by-moment resistance to the acculturating magnetism of the age. And the only hope we have of accomplishing these two objectives—knowing what to expect and successfully resisting it—is to …
- Give ourselves to the Word (v. 14ff)
“Continue4 in the things you have learned and become convinced of …” (3:14). There’s no quick fix, no handy gimmick, no switch to flip. Paul says simply, “Abide in these things, remain faithful to what you have learned, go on steadily, stand on the Truth, keep to the teaching! Continue in what you have learned and become convinced of!” And by that he means continue in the Word of God! See, because of what it is, the “God-breathed” Word of God, it alone is useful in this warfare, because it alone can benefit us by teaching us, convicting us, correcting us, and training us in righteousness. There’s no other way for us to be profitably equipped for every good work (vv. 16-17).
Nothing fancy here, really. Just expect hard times and know that means a fight; resist getting pulled to the dark side; and do both those things by continuing in the Word of God, abiding there, living there, taking every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor 10:5), being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2).
“Too quickly,” James White notes, “and often without a struggle, we trade making history for making money, substitute building a life with building a career and sacrifice living for God” to “living for the weekend. We forgo permanent significance for the sake of petty success and pursue the superficialities of title and degree, house and car, rank and portfolio over a life lived large and well.”5 That’s the way and the end of insensible drift!
May it not be so with us!
Everything is at stake here: heaven or hell, paradise or suffering, forgiveness or judgment. In the fullness of time, everything gets put to the final test. Everything! This is no time for toy soldiers.
So, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim 6:11-12).
- Grk., γίνωσκε, present active imperative. ↩
- Respectively, the renderings of The Emphasized New Testament: A New Translation by J. B. Rotherham and The New Testament in Modern Speech by Richard Francis Weymouth. ↩
- Grk., ἀποτρέπου, present middle imperative. ↩
- Grk., μένε. ↩
- James Emery White, Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 12. ↩