What do you feel compelled to warn your children or grandchildren about? Diet? Exercise? Diligence in their schoolwork? Their companions? Strangers? What about your friends, adult relatives, and peers—do you have any warnings for them? Bad weather? Financial scams? Identity theft? The political climate? Doubtless, there were many natural dangers and practical issues that Paul might have warned his young protégé Timothy about, but as Paul came to the end of his ministry and life, he felt compelled to warn his beloved son in the faith about spiritual issues of eternal consequence. Two potential dangers about which Timothy would need to be wary seem to have exercised him in particular.
1. Those who fall away from the faith. “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth” (I Tim. 4:1-3).
Paul’s concern in this instance is underscored by the very sober caution that the Spirit of God had “explicitly” spoken warnings centered on those who “fall away from the faith.” The danger such people present is not some outrageous sin or criminal activity that they participate in and might tempt Timothy to follow; rather, it is the fact that they continue being religious, but not according to “the faith” as revealed in the Word of God. They follow and promote religious doctrines, but they are “doctrines of demons.” They espouse good works (e.g., forbidding to marry and abstaining from certain foods), but they are not works of righteous that accord with divine revelation. Paul is aware of how seductive such error can be to someone who is earnest about serving the Lord. So he warns Timothy, not in vague or general terms, but with such specificity that Timothy will be able to identify the religious hypocrites when he encounters them.
2. Those who have a form of godliness. “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men 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, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these”(II Tim. 3:1-5).
Paul recognizes that it is essential to warn Timothy that the true gospel that both he and Timothy were preaching would not take the world by storm; there would be no universal abandonment of sin and false religion, no worldwide embrace of the truth. Quite the opposite, the “last days” would be characterized by the coming of “difficult times” for those who would stand for the truth. And as in the previous warning, those for whom Timothy was to watch in particular were not people in and out of prison, not violent criminals, not agnostics and atheists, but those who have a “form of godliness,” those who profess to be righteous and practice religion. Timothy must note whether those professors and practitioners were endued with power—the cleansing, sanctifying, life-transforming, sin-rejecting, truth-loving, righteousness-practicing power of the Holy Spirit.
At first, we might be surprised by the choice of warnings Paul decides to give. But we need only consider the power of false religion (Roman Catholicism, for example) and of mere form rather than genuine godliness (note how many of the sins listed above are commended by charismatics and other elements of the modern church and transformed into false virtues) to realize that Paul’s warning to Timothy remains relevant today. As believers, we must remember that we are in a spiritual battle; Satan has not raised the white flag of surrender. In fact, “knowing that he has only a short time,” his fierceness increases (Rev. 12:12). Are we wary ourselves so that we may remain faithful and may warn the unwary?
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