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'Winging It

    by Stan Smith

Difficult Times
Date Posted: February 1, 2023

Look around. Marriages are in trouble. Indeed, marriage itself is in trouble. Church attendance is declining. Genuine Christians are harder to find. Gross immorality is becoming mainstream. We have bands of young men who think it's fun to randomly knock people down on the streets, crazy youth who decide to shoot up a school, vicious parents who abuse and kill their own children. We have a government that fails to protect its people and provides greater misery instead in the name of compassion. The only genuine source of any moral code is ridiculed in the streets and barred from the legislature. Things are not looking good. Here's the phrase that Paul used: "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty" (2 Timothy 3:1).

Notice that the chapter begins with a conjunction. "But"? What preceded his warning here? Paul is giving instructions to Timothy, the young pastor, as he goes forward. "Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:1). "Share in suffering" (2 Timothy 2:3). "Remember Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:8). "Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved" (2 Timothy 2:15). "Avoid irreverent babble" (2 Timothy 2:16). "Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart" (2Tim 2:22). Then, just prior to chapter 3, Paul tells Timothy

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:23-26).

"God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth." Good news! "They may come to their senses." Yahoo! If we teach with patience and correct with gentleness, the good news is that God might -- just might -- give some repentance and save them from Satan's snares. That's great! "But ..." (2 Timothy 3:1). That's is a signficant "but". "In the last days there will come times of difficulty." Really significant.

The description of the times of difficulty reads like a newspaper. People are lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to parents (2 Timothy 3:2). Wait, "disobedient to parents"? Today's society seems to classify that as a virtue, not a difficulty. Our culture is populated by the ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, brutal ... well, you read it. It's a long list (2 Timothy 3:2-5). And if you examine it, the list only gets worse. The ESV translates astorge at the start of verse 3 as "heartless". Most accurately, it is "not storge" where storge means "natural family affection". In the last days (our days) people will lack natural family affection. Yes, that's absolutely true, isn't it? And it goes on from verse 5 to the warning of false teachers who captivate weak women "led astray by various passions", an unmistakable description of our times.

What struck me, though, was the interesting emphasis on the religious. To tell a secular culture, "You are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" seems pointless. To tell a religious culture the same is an indictment. And, as it turns out, that's what this is -- an indictment of the religious, of so-called Christians. Sure it describes the sinful world around us, but what do we expect? Tragically, this list is an apt description of too many who call themselves Christians. And Paul is not warning that society will turn bad. He's warning of false teachers who have the appearance of godliness but deny its power (2Tim 3:5), the false "priests of God" who don't actually represent God at all (2 Timothy 3:8).

Paul's remedy to these difficult times is essentially two-fold. First, he urges Timothy to follow his example (2 Timothy 3:10-15) from his teachings to his persecutions. He includes a promise here: "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2Tim 3:12). Try to avoid it if you like, but Paul says it is certain ... just as certain as the rise of the imposters (2 Timothy 3:13). So stick with the truth.

There is a second remedy here. If you've followed the verses I've listed and notice what verses come next and are familiar enough with your Bible, you know what that second remedy is. Just as certainly as night follows day, 2 Timothy 3:16 follows 2 Timothy 3:15, so we read

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The ultimate remedy to today's guaranteed difficult times -- the real support to avoid the moral and religious disarray in the church -- is Scripture. I get an image from Paul's list here of its uses. It is profitable for teaching, reproof correction, and training in righteousness. Teaching tells us the right road -- "This is the way; walk in it." Reproof says, "You've stepped off the way." Correction offers, "This is how you get back." And training in righteousness informs us how to remain on the right road. All that is required is found there. Scripture -- God's Word -- is profitable to complete you and equip you in difficult times. Welcome to "difficult times". Now, if you'll just be diligent about your handling of the Word, I think we can walk through these difficult times equipped to handle whatever comes. Let's begin.

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Biography Information:
Born and raised in a Christian home, I've been treated to immersion in the Word and squandered it. 'But God ...' I love the phrase. God has been faithful when I was unfaithful. At every turn He has crowded me to Him.

I'm married with four grown children and (currently) four grandchildren. My wife and I live in sunny Phoenix by choice. I hope to encourage people with my words and to share with others what God has shared with me.

For more writings you can see my blog at
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