God does not look as kindly upon man in his natural state as man looks upon himself. The list of ills appearing in Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy is both so extensive and so uniformly negative that the unregenerate mind will dismiss it out of hand. All the more reason, then, for the believer to recognize and respond to God’s view of things rather than the view endorsed by the natural mind. For God’s view—that the prevalence of these characteristics represents grave peril—is the accurate one. And believers are fairly warned of the danger represented by the existence of these traits whether in themselves personally or in society at large.
“Men shall be . . . lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God” (II Tim. 3:4). The list we have been examining begins with the warning that “men shall be lovers of their own selves” (v. 2). One of the results of such an attitude is a total debasement of values. When men love themselves their world view is skewed, and they find themselves cherishing things of less and less value. The peril addressed here is an example of such devaluing. The Greek rendering is even more condemning than our English translation. For our translation seems to suggest that men still love God; they just love pleasure a little more. But Paul, who is in perfect accord with Matthew, who declared that “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24), is not making a comparative statement; i.e., a characteristic of dangerous times is that men will love pleasure more than they love God. Rather, the Greek is absolute: “men will love pleasure rather than [or, instead of] God.”
That is frightening. God does not yield first place to anyone or anything. He has first place in the heart, or he has no genuine place of love at all. And the person who thinks he can pursue his own pleasures, follow his own desires, and find a place for God in a pew on Sunday morning (or Sunday evening, and even Wednesday evening), and perhaps fit in a few acts of service or devotion at other times during the week convenient to him does not love God.
Hedonism is a (if not, the) defining characteristic of this age. Far too many have no higher values and no greater end than is expressed in the statement: If it feels good, do it. Work is something to be endured as a means to the end of obtaining pleasure or enjoyment. And work that does not serve that end (such as self-sacrificial service to others and for the Lord) finds no place in many lives—even among those who profess Christ.
The danger of such an attitude is multiple. First of all, it is subtle. For the pleasures pursued may not be sin in and of themselves, so it becomes easy to rationalize their pursuit. Second, it is seductive. The happiness that pleasure provides is real; the fact that it is temporal can be masked by pursuit of more happiness-producing pleasure, which leads to yet more of the same. But the real danger lives in its substitutionary nature. Instead of doing that which honors God, brings the doer real joy, and results in eternal blessings, lovers of pleasure substitute a pursuit of temporal pleasure. They do not appreciate the fact that what glitters is not gold but only fools’ gold. When an individual, a society, or, especially, a believer can be content with something as superficial as pleasure and does not find satisfaction in God, peril abounds. We may not change the course of this age in that regard, but let us examine our own individual hearts as believers. Do we love God, or do we love our own pleasure? We cannot do both.
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