Many profess faith in God but do not even know Him! Their worship is vain, not knowing whom they worship and learning the doctrines of man, not God. A belief imparted by parents or other authority figures that God exists is not sufficient to establish contact with Him. For example, the Pharisees, familiar with the God of the Old Testament and believing they were in good standing with Him, received Christ's rebuke that their faith was in vain. This is true of most people today who think they "know the Lord" and profess faith toward Him.
Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: Faith Toward God
Perilous suggests "difficult," "threatening," and "dangerous." The term "last days" does not specifically mean the times we are living in at this moment, as Paul believed he was living in the last days. He expected Christ's return to be imminent, certainly during his lifetime, as many verses relate. Thus, he meant his instruction to Timothy to apply immediately. If this were not so, why would he tell Timothy in verse 5 to withdraw from the people he just described?
In verse 13 ("But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."), the Greek grammar gives the sense of conditions or expressions of human nature that ebb and flow like waves of the sea rather than a constant state of affairs. When combined with the idea of things growing "worse and worse" and Jesus' comments about the days of Noah, we can understand the situation will be especially intense in our time.
In addition, Paul did not intend us to suppose that everyone would express all of these traits all the time. Rather, all of them would indeed exist in each person since he is describing the elements of every human's deceitful heart, but the intensity of their expression would vary from person to person.
The peril to church members is not to being injured or killed but to being drawn into expressing the same sinful attitudes and conduct that everybody else is! Paul's warning is not to mix with people dominated by these characteristics. This helps us to understand that the potential to commit these sins is right in the church! Why? It exists in the church because we have all come out of the world where these things are nurtured, and none of us have overcome all these characteristics yet. In other words, despite conversion, we are still capable of expressing these sins. We must be on guard!
The first characteristic Paul lists is "men will be lovers of themselves," the wellspring of all eighteen subsequent traits. The wellspring remains in us, as Paul graphically explains in Romans 7. About this verse, William Barclay says in the Daily Bible Study Commentary:
Love of self is the basic sin, from which all others flow. The moment a man makes his own will the centre of life, divine and human relationships are destroyed, obedience to God and charity to men both become impossible. The essence of Christianity is not the enthronement but the obliteration of self.
New "religions" calling themselves "Christian" and having self-love as their very essence are popping up everywhere. These churches are quite popular, and their congregations tend to be large. In them, tolerance is a key concept, and the facts about the vileness of sin and man's vital need of repentance are smoothed over. Additionally, they will not teach several true Christian doctrines, ones essential to salvation, because of their belief that they are "divisive."
Truly, those doctrines do divide! They divide Christians away from the world yet unite them with God. These new religious groups are ignoring essential doctrines for the sake of so-called unity. Which is more important: unity with God or men? Men are easily deceived by their deceitful heart and blinded to their real state, believing all is well because everybody in the congregation is so "friendly," because the "gospel" music is entertaining, because the slide program is informative, and because the church is growing so large. With all these "good" proofs, they reason, surely God must be blessing their "church"!
They are deceived. None of these things is necessary to salvation and a good relationship with God. They are not proofs of God's blessing. Christ gives no indication His church would grow large. In fact He calls it a "little flock" (Luke 12:32). These churches may appear successful on the surface, but the fact remains that they are not teaching essential doctrines. They might as well be a weekly social center that also teaches some religious principles. Strong, detailed preaching about sin, repentance, and glorifying God through the works He demands must be part of Christian instruction, or the members will not grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18).
The preachers promoting this agenda are cheating people through their smooth words, convincing them that sin is not nearly as bad as the Bible makes it out to be. Sadly, church members do not sufficiently realize the extreme subtlety of our heart's disease. It does not come at us loudly proclaiming to be our deadly enemy, saying, "I want to ruin you in the Lake of Fire!" Sin comes like Judas, with a kiss, and like Joab, with his hand extended in friendship and his tongue uttering flattering words.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Two)
Self-indulgence promotes, among other things, attitudes of fanaticism, false security, presumption, and fun-seeking. Fanaticism is unbridled obsession, and though most do not recognize it as form of self-indulgence, it is a gratification of selfish desire. The apostle Paul says that we should avoid those who are driven by lust and greed and have no self-control.
Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 8): Self-Indulgence
Just as the signs of Matthew 24 give us indications of the last days, so do the attitudes listed here by Paul. He says, "Know this!" because it is important in identifying the signs of the times. When he finishes with his litany, he writes, "Have nothing to do with such attitudes!"
Unfortunately, we can see these attitudes in today's youth. This discourse does not intend to ridicule but to analyze them. Nor does it intend to paint everyone between 15 and 35 with the same brush. Many do not fit the general type, but it may be surprising to learn how many of this world's attitudes have rubbed off on us and our families.
According to the authors of the book, 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, everyone born between 1961-1981 belongs to the 13th Generation, the thirteenth since the birth of the eldest of America's Founding Fathers (e.g., Benjamin Franklin). The authors, Neil Howe and Bill Strauss, admit that their findings are generalities. Not every person fits the mold of a 13er, as they call members of this generation, but 13ers typically follow certain trends, attitudes and ways of thinking.
Sadly, II Timothy 3 lists many of them. Here are some examples of how these attitudes appear in society today:
Lovers of Themselves
This attitude heads the list because it is the root cause of all the others. We could also use the terms "selfish," "self-centered," and "self-absorbed." These are the young people of "Beverly Hills, 90210," "The Cosby Show," and "The Simpsons." Their selfishness has many different facets:
Clothing: the grunge look, the 70's-retro look, the designer-GQ-Mademoiselle look.
Body Sculpting: steroids for bulking up and anorexia/bulimia for slimming down.
Body Accessories: rings in the ears, nose, navel, nipples, tongue, lips, eyebrows, and other places; tattooing.
A Soaring Suicide Rate: Suicide is a totally self-centered act. Tragically, 10% of adolescent boys and 18% of adolescent girls admit they have attempted suicide, and one million of them succeeded. In the 13er movie Heathers, a teacher says, "Whether to kill yourself or not is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make."
Lovers of Money
David Leavitt, a 13er writing in Esquire, reasons, "It's okay to be selfish, as long as you're up front about it. . . . We trust ourselves, and money. Period." Their greed has put many of them into debt. Two 13ers, Anne Gowen and Sean Piccoli, write about their contemporaries in a Washington Times article, "A Generation Lost in Time":
They are little Drexel Burnhams, little S&Ls: free-spending in the '80s, when they got their first taste of plastic; broke now. . . . Their parents are like ATMs, hit up regularly to pay for plane tickets and help tame credit-card debt.
Daniel Smith-Rowsey, a 13er, brags in Newsweek:
We're street smart, David Letterman clever, whizzes at Nintendo. We can name more beers than Presidents. Pop culture is, to us, more attractive than education.
In fact, the authors of 13th Gen say that 13ers proudly think of themselves as the "clean up" generation, out to right the wrongs and clean up the messes of their elders. "We're not trying to change things. We're trying to fix things. We are the generation that is going to renovate America. We are going to be its carpenters and janitors," says 21-year-old Anne McCord of Portland, Oregon.
Modern Bible translations render this word as "railers," "defamers," "abusive," "contemptuous," and "given to bitter words." Who do 13ers rail against, defame, and abuse? Baby Boomers, who, they say, ruined everything for them. One 13er vents:
Drugs, crime, sexual diseases and family stress is all stuff you [Baby Boomers] blame us for, when you are the ones that raised them all to an art form. You blame young folks for having no concept of the higher ideals in life, when you're the ones who trashed most of them. . . . Your gnatlike attention span has produced a culture of ideas that is far junkier than any video game we could ever waste an hour playing.
Disobedient to Parents
Some translations read, "disrespectful to parents." Growing up, this generation faced the highest divorce and abortion rates ever in America. They were the latchkey kids whom the television baby-sat. Their parents indulged them with expensive clothes, cars, stereos, and games because they felt guilty for spending so little time with them. As a result, most 13ers have no respect for parents, and many feel they know more and are more mature.
13ers appreciate neither what their parents have provided for them nor the tried-and-true methods for prosperity that have a long and successful history. Howe and Strauss write:
Twenty years ago, the biggest fights between adolescents and their parents were over global "values" involving politics, war, and religion. Today, surveys show their biggest quarrels are over "how they spend their money" and "what they do with their leisure time." . . . 13ers collectively lack that strong attachment to the familial, educational, and economic institutions that once helped move older generations from here to there on the ladder of adult success.
Other translations have, "without piety," "irreverent," "having no religion," "irreligious," "wicked." Pollster George H. Gallup reports, "Religion ranks behind friends, home, school, music, and TV as factors teens believe are having the greatest influence on their generation."
13ers make up a large portion of those who are fleeing churches and taking up witchcraft, New Age religions, or becoming totally secular. A professor at Cal-Berkeley says, "TV is their collective dream machine, their temple." An ethics report reads: "An unprecedented proportion of today's youth lack commitment to core moral values like honesty, personal responsibility, respect for others and civic duty."
This is the generation most heavily influenced by the baby boom idea that "God is dead." They do believe in sound bites, rap lyrics, and advertising slogans that become their mottoes: "Just do it." "Do the Dew." "Life is short. Play hard." "All the sugar, twice the caffeine." "Life is a sport. Drink it up." "Image is everything." "Why ask why?"
Other translations read, "callous," "inhuman," "without natural affection," "hard-hearted." This is the generation of inner-city gangs, Neo-Nazis, carjackings, and Lyle and Eric Menendez. They were raised on Dirty Harry, Rambo, and the Terminator. Syndicated columnist William Raspberry writes:
Their casual acceptance of violence, the attitude (often reinforced by their parents) that any means is okay to get what you want, and the fatalism that kills their hope of the future is turning them into a generation of animals.
Quotations and statistics can easily be found to support the ten other attitudes Paul lists in II Timothy 3. For now, it will suffice to read what 13ers say about themselves:
» We are clueless yet wizened, too unopinionated to voice concern, purposefully enigmatic, and indecisive.
» Mine is a generation perfectly willing to admit its contemptible qualities.
» We are an impatient, quick-and-dirty generation.
» Our generation is probably the worst since the Protestant Reformation. It's barbaric.
» It's only wrong if you get caught.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are These the Last Days? (Part 2)
So, as Paul is preparing to die, he warns his protégé to take heed of certain seducers, not only that he might not be drawn away by them himself, but arm those who were under his charge against their seduction.
Matthew Henry comments on verse 6: “They crept into houses to insinuate themselves into the affections and good opinion of the people to draw them over to their way of thinking.” The apostle finishes in verse 7 by describing these seducers as seeming to learn new things all the time but actually never coming to a right understanding of the truth. He warns Timothy—and us—to turn away from such people!
It is our job as God's elect to pay attention at all times to what we are learning, and we should pray for God to help us build discernment to divide the Word of Truth properly (II Timothy 2:15). We need to be able to separate God's truth from what is false.
Ronny H. Graham
The Gift of Discernment and Godly Love
Paul writes that in the last days selfishness will appear as self-love, self-seeking, and selfish ambition at an unprecedented level. Some will not reciprocate loving deeds, not seeing what they receive but only what more they can get. Selfishness is having too much concern with one's welfare or interests and too little or none for others. We often refer to this type of person as self-centered, self-absorbed, and self-serving.
Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 7): Selfishness
These verses give us a concise but graphic overview of powerful and evil attitudes driving this world toward the brink of annihilation. We have all been victims to some degree of these ungodly attitudes. We cannot escape being affected by them, and even after conversion, it is difficult to fend them off. This overriding way of life has an invasive way of forcing one to concentrate attention on self-satisfaction. It leads one to believe that life, government, employer, or society owes him a living. A strong sense of obligation to serve others, especially freely given service, and loyalty are major victims of its onslaught because it produces the attitude that one is owed rather than that one owes.
Notice how many of the descriptors given in these verses directly relate to focusing on the self. Self-satisfaction is the foundation, the launching pad, and driving force that motivates sin. It is sin's very essence. We should not be deceived into thinking that God does not want us to have any satisfaction in life, but we should rather understand that human nature, aided by Satan, easily allows conduct to get out of control and finds satisfaction beyond the bounds of righteous standards. God wants satisfaction to be produced differently in us.
Sex is an area in which we can see this principle quite easily. God created and pronounced it very good as He stopped His work during Creation week. The Bible shows it is to be used for reproduction and binding a marriage ever more closely in an intimate, loving, pleasurable, and satisfying way as each partner gives and serves the other. God intends it for use within marriage only.
However, as we can see by observing the world, if a person lacks a strong sense of obligation to his mate or to God due to taking wedding vows, to God's laws, or to his personal relationship with Christ, its use can get out of control when one seeks only to please himself. Self-satisfaction then becomes a destroyer of marriage and family life. The stability of the community is disturbed, and above all, one's relationship with God can be shattered by means of something He intended for our good. A deep sense of obligation motivates us toward the vital virtue of faithfulness.
The Bible uses several metaphors to teach the result of human nature's perverse longing for self-satisfaction. Paul notes in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Sin indebts us to death to an amount that, if we paid it, cuts off all hope of eternal life. Proverbs 22:7 adds important understanding to the spiritual principle involved here: "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." Sin put us in debt to the one we obeyed in sinning. Once we sin, we are living on borrowed time, and we, the borrowers, the debtors, lose our independence. In terms of sin, we owe our lives to someone else. A sinner is no longer his own man!
The idea of "servant" becomes clearer when we understand it as "slave." Slavery is another metaphor for what self-satisfaction produces. Sin puts us in bondage to the cruelest taskmaster in the universe, Satan, the one who generates this host of self-centered attitudes. We are completely unable to break free from this bondage without supernatural help, as Hebrews 2:14-15 says:
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation
A lack of self-control is commonly shown in lust, greed, gluttony, alcoholism, conceit, sexual sins, gossiping, violent quarreling, and false and reckless speech, and many other sins that Satan can tempt us to commit if we allow him.
Martin G. Collins
The reason we have such a lack of courtesy in today's world can be found in II Timothy 3:1-2, where the apostle Paul writes: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves. . . .” He goes on to list about eighteen more traits people will exhibit in the end time, but he leads the list with “lovers of themselves.” If we are first and foremost in our lives a lover of ourselves, then we are never wrong. We are always first, and, we think, deservedly so! The left lane is ours! We are the direct opposite of “humble.” We could not be courteous if we tried.
Consider verses 2-5 from the Contemporary English Version. Remember that Paul is speaking of the last days, and note how each of these traits relate to courtesy:
People will love only themselves and money. They will be proud, stuck-up, rude, and disobedient to their parents. They will also be ungrateful, godless, heartless and hateful. Their words will be cruel, and they will have no self-control or pity. These people will hate everything that is good. They will be sneaky, reckless, and puffed up with pride. Instead of loving God, they will love pleasure. Even though they will make a show of being religious, their religion won't be real. Don't have anything to do with such people.
Powerful words, indeed. Perhaps the reader thinks that I am making too much of the lack of courtesy around us. Maybe so. But it is something foundational, something basic, to a Christian life. A humble and God-fearing person will naturally be courteous. If we esteem others greater than ourselves, we will be courteous. If we are striving to live in accordance with God's laws, we will be courteous.
So, does this mean that by simply saying “please” and “thank you,” we will be in God's Kingdom? No, it is not quite that easy, but it is a start! Conversely, it is probably safe to say that those who are impolite and rude will not like their reward at all. As the sign says, “Keep Right.”
Mike Ford (1955-2021)
Self-centeredness will produce the crisis at the close of this age. Its evils will reach a climax that can be compared to the time just before the Flood or to Sodom and Gomorrah. Self-centeredness, everyone having his own perception of beauty and pursuing it to the nth degree, is the driving force behind the perilous time of the end. It will be a time that fits the description in Judges 21:25 when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." During the period of the judges no one could provide central leadership because people said, "This is what I believe; this is what I'm going to follow."
So it will be at the end. People will abuse one another to possess the things they hold to be beautiful, like money or power. "[Men will be] . . . lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good" (II Timothy 3:2-3).
The concept of "men will be lovers of themselves" (verse 2) continues in verse 5: "[H]aving a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" Verse 7 identifies them further: these people are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
Within God's warning of what it will be like at the end, He lists the traits that Christians must fight against when self-centeredness reaches its peak. But the Laodicean does not resist as he should, and that is his problem! Though converted, he has an attitude of self-centeredness, strong enough that his mind is diverted from more important spiritual concerns!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
The apostle Paul writes that "evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (II Timothy 3:13). People today are no different from when Moses wrote the Pentateuch or Paul his epistles, but the occasion to sin, the incentive to do so and thus sin's frequency and intensity are at their highest levels since just before the Flood. In other words, the environment to commit sin more easily grows ever more amenable, and human nature is taking advantage of it. We have been born into—indeed have unwittingly contributed to creating—an environment in which it is exceedingly difficult to remain faithful.
We live in a world in which self-centeredness is being promoted to its greatest extent in human history. Appealing advertising hammers away at us to gratify ourselves: Why wait, why deny ourselves, why sacrifice, why not go along with everyone else? Constantly we hear, "Indulge yourself because you deserve it."
This world always appeals to moral and ethical standards lower than those of the great God and His way of life. In Technicolor with emotion-stirring music, Hollywood "sells" adultery and fornication as acceptable as long as the couple involved are attractive and somehow oppressed—thus "deserving" of a "better" relationship.
War, murder, lying, stealing, coveting, Sabbath-breaking, and idolatry are acts that almost everyone in the world would claim as being wrong, yet most unwittingly commit them to some degree and promote them in our culture. They justify their sin because everybody else is doing it, and they see no good reason why they should not just go along. If they try to swim against the tide, they think they will be taken advantage of.
Not too long ago, a person's word was his bond, and mere handshakes sealed major business agreements. Tales of Abraham Lincoln's honesty over pennies are an almost legendary part of our nation's history. Historians say that faithfulness was such a hallmark of the Roman Republic that not one divorce occurred in its first seven hundred years! But in the last fifty years this nation has seen a calamitous, family-destroying rise in the divorce rate that threatens the very stability of society.
Faithlessness is playing a major role in this destruction. People are without natural affection and traitors to their marital contract. Child abuse is becoming ever more prevalent. Athletes seem to break contracts almost at will. Manufacturers lie about the quality of their products, and workers fudge in the quality of their work.
Faithlessness is rising to its peak because self-centeredness, the father of irresponsibility, is being promoted to its utmost. It is the spirit of this age, but we have cause to resist it by what God has offered us in His revelation. God-centeredness in our lives is the answer to faithlessness and irresponsibility. But God-centeredness is not cheap, and few are willing to pay the price: their lives!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
Paul uses these phrases as an overall assessment of the cause of the horrible conduct he describes. The root cause is that a true relationship with God is missing. Despite having some knowledge of God, people are not living by faith. They are ignoring Him and feel free to pursue their own desires, on which they place a higher priority than on what God says. Their pleasure is what they desire in terms of conduct, and the behaviors that Paul lists reveal the lack of godly fear. He is simply not an all-the-time reality to them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Sovereignty
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 2 Timothy 3:5:
2 Kings 4:27-31
2 Corinthians 6:17