2 Timothy (6) “Challenging Situations, Challenging Times”
2 Timothy 2:22-3:9
One of the places in China where the church is particularly strong is Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province. The person who first brought the Gospel to Wenzhou was a young Scotsman with only one leg. George Stott sailed for China in October 1865, one of the first missionaries of the China Inland Mission (CIM). When asked why he, with only one leg, should think of going to China, Stott replied, “I do not see those with two legs going, so I must go.” Instead of being defeated by his disability, instead of giving up & doing nothing George Stott took up the challenge to serve the Lord.
Young Timothy also faced many challenges. Paul encourages him not to give up despite the obstacles & the difficulties he faced. Today, looking at the passage we have just read, I want to highlight three “Don’ts” that Paul shared with Timothy – & of course when he says “don’t” he also implies there are things we must “do” instead. So, the first don’t is:
1. Don’t Just Sit There! (2:22)
Earlier in chapter 2, we saw the apostle Paul encouraging Timothy & the believers in Ephesus to aim for excellence. They were to be like skilled workmen unashamed of their work & like household articles set aside for special purposes – useful to the Master.
Paul goes on to give Timothy more practical advice – advice for himself as a pastor & advice for the local believers as well. They could not expect to be of any use to the Master if they sat down doing nothing. It is dangerous to do nothing. If you discover a fire the Fire Service instructions are: warn other building occupants, operate the fire alarm & phone the Fire Service. And when warned of a fire in the building we are to: leave the building immediately using the nearest exit. There are things we must do. One thing we must not do is just sit there!
Paul tells us there are certain things from which we must run & there are certain things we must pursue or run after. There are negative things to be avoided at all costs & there are positive things that we must passionately pursue. “Flee the evil desires of youth & pursue righteousness, faith, love & peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (v.22)
Timothy & the believers in Ephesus must, firstly, run away from “the evil desires of youth.” Evil desires hinder our growth as Christians. They cause us to slip & fall & may even cause us to end up as spiritual wrecks. What are these “the evil desires of youth”?
One obvious answer is inappropriate sexual desires. We know that sex within marriage is a beautiful gift from God – but outside of marriage it is destructive. Sexual immorality ruins lives & destroys relationships. To avoid stirring up inappropriate sexual desires we must avoid bad company. We must avoid polluting our minds with ungodly movies or with pornography. In our world today this is a challenge for all of us – young & not-so-young. Rather than allowing ourselves to be carried along by the crowd, let us cultivate godly, healthy habits & run away from “evil desires”.
When Paul talks of “the evil desires of youth” he is not, of course, only referring to inappropriate sexual desires. Other evil desires are things like impulsiveness, impatience, self-assertion, aggression, & arrogance.
Some young people become proud & act impulsively. They think they know better than their parents, because in their view anyone over 30 is behind the times & old fashioned. Unfortunately being proud & impulsive does get young people (& older people too) into a lot of trouble, trouble we could avoid if only we are humble enough & careful enough to seek & take advice. All of us can learn from others & be helped by the lessons of the past.
In chapter 3 which we will look at in a moment, Paul describes many other characteristics of those controlled by “evil desires” – things that can affect us as believers, whether we are young or older. Yes, there are many evil desires that we must run away from.
Running away from evil desires is not the cowardly thing to do. It is the brave thing to do & it is the wise thing to do. If we are struggling with a certain temptation or with some bad habit, we must keep away from any person or place or situation that might aggravate or stir up the problem.
Just think of a fish in the Hauraki Gulf. It notices something that looks very delicious. The fish is excited & opens its mouth ready to take a bite. Suddenly, it realises there is danger. Lurking under the delicious looking bait is a nasty hook. If the fish goes for the bait it might end up on the plate of the fisherman. Satan is the one trying to get us to take his bait. What he dangles in front of us looks really delicious but it is deadly. Don’t be fooled.
Yes, there are things we must run away from but there are also things we must pursue. In the second half of v.22 Paul writes, “…pursue righteousness, faith, love & peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
These are the things Christian workers, like Timothy, & also regular believers, like the Christians in Ephesus & like you & me, must run after & pursue with all our hearts. Righteousness is the opposite of evil. It is living a holy, God-honouring life. Faith is the opposite of giving in to temptation. It is holding on to the promises of God. It is trusting in Him. Love for God & love for others must guide our actions. If we love someone we will not try to take advantage of them. We will want the best for them. Peace is another quality we must pursue – for as Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Being a peace-maker involves working hard to bring understanding where there is misunderstanding & reconciliation where there is conflict. These are the things we must pursue with all our hearts.
And notice one other important point: Paul says, “…pursue righteousness, faith, love & peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Brothers & sisters, we need one another. We will find it almost impossible to grow as Christians unless we regularly meet with other believers for worship, study of God’s Word & for fellowship. We find strength, joy & support in the body of believers. This is why regularly attending church is essential. It is why attending prayer meetings & being part of a Life Group are also very important. We need one another. When a log of wood is taken out of the fire it soon stops glowing & eventually goes cold. Put it back again, & soon it will be burning brightly. Some of you may have lost your glow. You may have grown cold. If you want to burn brightly for Jesus make sure you stay connected to His people.
So then our first point is: “Don’t Just Sit There!” – run away from evil & run after righteousness, faith, love & peace. Now secondly:
2. Don’t Get Sucked In! (2:23-26)
Paul advises Timothy as the leader of God’s people in Ephesus, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish & stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (v.23) Timothy needed to avoid getting sucked into foolish & pointless arguments. Families sometimes argue. Couples sometimes argue. Sadly, people in church sometimes argue. Yes, we all have different opinions. We see things from different angles. This is not necessarily a bad thing. What is bad, however, is when we get involved in “foolish & stupid arguments”. Sadly, church arguments very often are not about important matters of doctrine & faith. More often they are about unimportant things.
Three Christians were arguing about the best positions for praying, while an electrician was working nearby. One said, “Kneeling is definitely best.” “No,” said the second, “I think standing with arms stretched out is the way we should pray.” The third said, “You are both wrong. The best way is lying face down.” The electrician overheard their conversation & could not resist joining in, “Hey, you guys, the best praying I ever did was hanging upside down from a telephone pole.”
I think we are very blessed at MBCC. Being an intentionally multi-cultural church we are perhaps just a little bit more careful not to offend one another or argue over our differences. But let us not take our unity for granted. It is so easy, for example, to get into an argument over sensitive but non-essential issues like politics. Let us avoid such arguments for they only produce quarrels. Quarrels are destructive – whether it is a couple quarrelling, or members of a family quarrelling, or members of a church quarrelling. Quarrelling hurts relationships.
So, says Paul, “…the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (v.24) This is good advice for pastors & preachers but it is also good advice for those teaching Sunday school, leading Bible studies or Life Groups. It is actually also helpful for us in the context of personal witnessing. When people have questions, doubts or concerns, we need to listen to them respectfully & patiently. We need to be courteous & gentle & must avoid getting into arguments. We must remain calm & polite even when the other person is aggressive or says things that are unkind, unreasonable or untrue. The Bible says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) Even if people get angry or nasty we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, remain calm. Jesus is our supreme example in this for when he was attacked & mocked & even nailed to the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
What should we do when people oppose us & attack us? How should we respond? Paul says that the one serving the Lord “…must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (v.25) Just as a patient & wise father gently instructs his child, so too the Christian worker must seek to convince & win over those opposing them. Love can soften the hardest heart & the most stubborn will. Our desire should be for the Lord to open their eyes to the truth. Our role is to gently instruct. God is the One who convicts & grants repentance.
It is helpful to remember that very often Satan is the one behind the opposition we face. When we get criticised or attacked suddenly & unfairly, the source of such an attack is often not the person attacking us but Satan. When we sense the hand of the evil one at work we can pray more earnestly for the person that they “…will come to their senses & escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (v.26) Only the Holy Spirit can lead people to repentance & set them free from the evil one but we, by our love & godly example & by our prayers can help open the door.
Our first point today was “Don’t just sit there” & our second was “Don’t get sucked in”. Now finally:
3. Don’t Be Surprised! (3:1-9)
Paul has been advising Timothy about how to deal with challenging or difficult people & situations. He does not want Timothy, or us, to be surprised when we face opposition. The world we are living in is a world hostile to God’s truth. And the times we live in are difficult times. Paul says. “But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days.” (3:1) “The last days” is a term in the Bible that refers to the period between the ascension of Jesus & His second coming. We are living in “the last days”. The “last days” refers to this present age & will come to a cataclysmic climax at the end of human history, the final showdown, when Jesus returns in power & glory, & decisively defeats & judges all evil.
Paul describes the “terrible times” in these last days. If what he describes was true in his day, 2000 years ago, how much more is it true of our day! There are a number of prophecies about terrible suffering in the days immediately preceding the return of Jesus. As we look briefly at Paul’s description of those “terrible times” I think you may agree, we could be approaching the closing period of human history. As the time for Christ’s return draws near – and no one knows exactly when it will be – we should not be surprised when evil seems totally out of control & when all moral foundations are being shaken.
In vrs 2-5 Paul gives a description of these “terrible times”. He mentions 19 characteristics of people living in these times. Did you notice the word “lovers”? It comes five times: v.2, “People will be lovers of themselves” & “lovers of money”, v.3, “not lovers of the good” & v.4, “…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” People love themselves, they love money, & they love pleasure but they do not love the good nor do they love God. This surely describes society today. People are selfish & self-centred. In English we spell “sin” S-I-N – notice the “I” in the middle of that word. When we put “me” or “self” first, when “I” is in the centre – that is when we fall into sin.
Paul mentions those who are lovers of money. In 1 Timothy 6:10 he says, “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” It is not money that is the problem. The problem is the love of money. “Money” sometimes takes the place of God in people’s lives. “Pleasure” too can become our god.
Many earthly pleasures are good, for as we read in James 1:17, “Every good & perfect gift is from above.” But earthly pleasures are passing & none can be compared with the pleasures of walking life’s journey with Jesus. When we pursue earthly pleasures, we may make a lot of money, we may temporarily feel good, but our inner life becomes barren & empty.
Paul also speaks of people being: “…boastful, proud, & abusive.” I cannot help but think of certain politicians who boast about how brilliant they are & who say all kinds of abusive things about others. Boasting, pride & being abusive all go together.
Then too people are characterised by being,”…disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, lacking self-control, brutal.” They are “…treacherous, rash & conceited.” It is not a pretty picture, but don’t you agree – it looks just like the world in which we live today?
In v.5 Paul adds that these people can be very religious, on the outside at least. He describes them as “…having a form of godliness but denying its power.” And another characteristic of these terrible times is the prevalence of false teachers who lead gullible people astray. In our day there are many such false teachers spreading false doctrines & deceiving people. Groups like the Mormons, the Jehovah Witnesses & others go door to door. Do not invite them in. Yes, be polite but do not be deceived. In fact Paul says in v.5 about all these people, “Have nothing to do with them.” In v.7 Paul says they are “…always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” What a description of modern secular man!
We have looked at the advice Paul gave Timothy. Like one-legged George Stott of the CIM, don’t let anything hold you back from serving the Lord. Don’t sit there doing nothing. Take up the challenge to live for God. Flee from evil desires & pursue godly ones. Don’t get sucked into foolish arguments. And don’t be surprised at the things you see going on. Don’t be discouraged or defeated. Stand up for Jesus. Rejoice because the day of His return is drawing near.