Scripture Reading: II Timothy 3 - 4 ...
We are in the last days of planet earth. I don't mean we're in the last days as in the time between the birth of Jesus and His return ... I mean the end, the last days, as in the last decades ... or less. What about Jesus' words that we would not know "the day or the hour." We don't know the day or the hour ... or the week or the month, but God told us that we WOULD know the time. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: " ... you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape" (I Thessalonians 5:1-3). Most people stop reading there, but there's more.
"But YOU, BROTHERS, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief ..." (I Thessalonians 5:4). There are signs given in the Scriptures that give specific details of the last seven years prior to the battle of Armageddon and the return of Jesus Christ to defeat the Antichrist, and to establish His millennial kingdom in Jerusalem. But there are also signs that point very clearly to the time leading up to the last seven years. One of those signs is so clear today that we who believe the Bible to be the Word of God MUST speak about it and call people to recognize it and to be ready, willing and able to stand firm. The sign I am speaking about is the widespread rejection of sound doctrine IN THE CHURCH today.
In our reading today Paul warns "there will be terrible times in the last days" (3:1). He goes on to explain how people will live - a general description of how sinful people have lived for some time, but in the last days all of these will be extreme. While all of them are obvious in our culture and around the world, there is something more in verse 5 that catches our attention: Paul is describing those who have "a form of godliness." These are people who claim to believe in God and perhaps even claim to be Christians. He warns Timothy to stay away from them, for they lead many astray by their false teaching. They are "always learning, but never able to acknowledge the truth" (3:7).
Today in the church countless pastors and teachers, professors of theology and those who follow them, speak about philosophy and teach from the traditions and words of men rather than from God's Word. As I listen to sermons from local churches and elsewhere I rarely hear even the name of Jesus, and even more rare is any mention of the cross or why Jesus came. People want to believe that everyone is going to heaven - or almost everyone, and that there probably isn't any such place as hell. The World Council of Churches is focused on social justice rather than the preaching of the Gospel and the Interfaith Movement wants all religions to work together for "the common good."
False teaching is nothing new ... what IS new is that millions IN the church are listening to it AND are criticizing those of us who continue to declare the Gospel and call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ! Paul charged Timothy to continue in what he had learned from the teaching of God's Word. He assured him that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (3:16-17). People all around us have turned to the latest "Christian" speaker, without turning to the Bible to discern whether what he or she is saying is true.
What is going on today is the fulfillment of Paul's words to Timothy in Chapter 4 of our reading. Paul instructs Timothy to "Preach the Word ... in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction" (4:2). Why was that so important? Because it was the only defense against what was coming. "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (4:3-4).
While that was true to some degree at other times in the past 2,000 years, I do not believe it has ever been the case that the general trend in the church is AWAY from sound doctrine and the teaching of God's Word. Before the Reformation the church was teaching false doctrine, but the people did not have the Word of God in their hands at that time because it hadn't been printed yet. Today is different. People have the Bible in their hands, but don't open it!!
People want to believe things will continue on the way they are today. God says the change will take place suddenly and without warning - for those who do not study God's Word and listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. But we, who like Paul and Timothy and many since have trusted in Christ, will be able to come to the end of our lives and say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me but also to all who have longed for His appearing" (4:7-8).
Are you longing for His appearing? Few are. People want more and more and more in this world, but few are longing for Jesus to return, even though the Bible ends with the words, "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20). We who believe must be firm in our faith, and the only way for that t0 happen is to be taught by the Spirit of God through the Word of God. If you are not learning and growing, you are leaving yourself vulnerable and you can easily be led astray. Read, study, learn, grow and stand firm in your faith, for the end of all things is near. Be ready!
"Our Father in heaven, the signs of Jesus' return are multiplying all around us. As more and more people turn aside from the truth, listening instead to the words of men, I commit myself to reading and studying and learning and growing, so that I may be mature ... not to be independent, but to learn to trust in YOU for all things. Give me wisdom and strength daily to proclaim Your truth ... to fight the good fight, and to finish the race, knowing that in the end, it will all be worth it. In Jesus' name, Amen"