2 Timothy 3 : 1 – 17
Verses 1 - 9
Paul was a Jew. Since the giving of the Ten Commandments Jews divided humanity into two groups, Jews and Gentiles. They still do. Paul was a Pharisee and a very good one according to himself (Philippians 3 : 4 - 6). Jewish Rabbis loved making lists of all sorts of things. Paul of course became a Christian but he did not jettison all of his heritage. The architecture of his mind remained in place, put into service for Jesus Christ. In spite of his being a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5 : 17). As he wrote in Romans 12 : 2 ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. In 2 Timothy 3, Paul gives two separate lists, one bad, one good. The first is a gentile list, the second is Paul’s list featuring his Christian testimony.
It is thought that Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner by 62 AD. It was a form of house arrest and Christians were able to visit him and bring him necessities and comforts. He died later in Rome possibly by 67 AD. Rome was a military and slave empire. Roman citizens did not need to do any work as long as there were enough slaves. Daily doles of bread kept the populace alive and sports events such as chariot racing and gladiator contests kept them entertained. Romans were into spiritualism and astrology. They practised superstition and believed in many gods, some of whom had been borrowed from the Greeks. Augurs – semi-spiritualistic mediums cut open chickens to try to foresee the future. I shared this intelligence with some of the prayer meeting in my previous church. One wit responded saying ‘Ma wife disnae need tae dae that – she already kens whit’s goin tae happen’. Rome was a rapacious dog eat dog society in which people fought to survive. It was a cruel and violent regime. Society was licentious and family life incestuous. Some of the temple worship involved prostitution. The merchant class, the rich and very rich lived well. But there were many poor and there was a festering discontent bordering on rebellion present all the time. Spartacus’s slave nearly successful revolution had ended in 71 BC. Not that so long ago.
Paul was writing this letter to Timothy from there. The Great Fire of Rome had begun on 18 July 64 AD and burned for 6 days and then for a further 3. It ignited near the Circus Maximus. Many shops and poorer dwellings were made of wood. Slaves rebelled. Looters and arsonists were reported to have spread the flames by throwing torches or, acting in groups, hindering measures being made to halt or slow the progress of the flames. Some groups were reported to have claimed they were under orders to do so. There was a persistent rumour that Nero had ordered the fire. Nero rebuilt the main fire affected area with beautiful buildings and a new palace. Someone had to be blamed for this. There is an unverified tradition that Jews were blamed first and that they in turn pointed the authorities in the direction of Christians. Nero severely persecuted Christians to death. It was in that recent context that Paul wrote 2 Timothy. It was in that aftermath that Paul was himself martyred.
In the last days
Paul reflects this chaotic disordered violence based society. For Paul it could not get any worse and there was no good purpose in it continuing. He longed for the return of the Lord. Perhaps you would agree that Paul’s first list in 2 Timothy 3 might describe much of life in our country today. We have no overarching collective faith in God, nor belief in Jesus Christ as Saviour of the world. Some will be dismayed that we have lived to see this rejection of Christianity and its replacement by a chaotic mix of humanism and self-centredness. We Christians are in the midst of what are called ‘cultural wars’. We have lost battle after battle as things not Christian are written into the laws of the land. ‘Time’ magazine noted in its 11/18 2021 edition ‘On Sept. 20 Scotland became the first country in the world to require LGBT-inclusive education in its national school curriculum for primary and secondary schools.’
Arguably we have lost the war and we are now broadly sidelined and rendered ineffective in schools, universities, businesses and in public life and politics. What is called the ‘woke’ movement is to the fore instead. Part of wokery is ‘critical race theory’. This originated in American universities led largely by black feminist and lesbian theorists. Critical race theory seeks to undermine and replace the basis of knowledge that has accumulated over the centuries. This includes denigrating people like Newton and Einstein, but also Bach and Mozart and Rembrandt and Van Gogh on the basis that these were ‘privileged white males’ whose ideas can no longer be tolerated. Thus the science that took men to the moon is discarded. 2 + 2 need not add up to 4. It could be 3 or 5 depending on the identity and positionality of the person counting. Cancel culture in universities, schools and businesses has followed. No platforming occurs daily in educational institutions. There is no longer freedom of speech, nor is there freedom to discuss and debate ideas on an equal basis. Snowflake students at Glasgow University had to be given trigger warnings that they might be upset to see images of Jesus being crucified as part of their theology course.
No Church leader in Britain to my knowledge has spoken out against all of this. No-one has set out the claims of and for Jesus Christ in these culture wars. In Critical race theory Christianity is identified with colonialism and is therefore toxic. The connection between the British Empire and Christianity is being reconsidered. This is a legitimate exercise. But balance and fairness must also be applied. Was Rome’s pre-Christian society better than Europe’s Christianised society? Few would say so. But Europe’s Christianity was not strong enough to stop centuries of mediaeval wars, the rise of communism and Nazism and the horrors of two world wars. And yet, it was Christianity that brought about peace and reconciliation. It was the words of the prophet Isaiah that were carved in the walls of the United Nations Building in New York. ‘They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’. (2: 4) Whisper it - Isaiah was a Semite, Isaiah was a Jew.
Having a form of godliness but denying its power
Who is Paul taking about here? The Church of Scotland? 121 George Street which bows to every political correct point of view? The Presbytery of Ayr? Liberal church people through the centuries? Ministers who approved the Highland Clearances? Paul appears to be talking about people either inside or on the fringes of church life. We could call them influencers. They seem to have been talkative and had agendas which were different from Paul’s. He did not want Timothy to waste his time with them.
Have nothing to do with such people
This is Paul being a Jewish Christian. We know that Pharisees did not associate with sinners. Jesus did though. Paul is coaching Timothy in ministry leadership. He advises him to keep himself clean and separate. Throughout Paul’s letters there is a theme of paranoia about false teachers. He could not sleep at night for thinking of people inside his newly formed Christian congregations being led astray by alternative ideas. Early Christians had to struggle for the Gospel just as we are having to do today. Christianity was a marginal activity. Just as it now is in Scotland under the UK and Scottish governments’ policies. But Jesus did go to the likes of these sinful difficult people in order to redeem them. He did meet them, talk to them, heal them and love them. Paul set up Christian congregations with the intention of long term survival. He wanted the Church of Ephesus to remain. It did so. There were two Church Councils at Ephesus in the latter years of the 5th century
Paul was no misogynist although he has had a bad press on the subject of women. ‘I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae’ (Romans 16 : 1). Paul recognised the gifts that women receive from Our Lord Jesus for his Church. I have never found the women I have encountered in the Church of Scotland to be gullible. Terrifying, scary, certainly not gullible. Some of the women in the church at Ephesus were burdened with sin, real or imagined. A Catholic priest was asked what it was like to hear confession from nuns. He replied ‘It’s like being stoned to death with popcorn’. But the women in the Church at Ephesus were not relieved of their spiritual burdens because the men who were ministering to them were imposters and the women could not tell the difference. Remember Rasputin? He inveigled his way into the Russian royal family and was especially close to the Empress Alexandra. British royalty has been influenced by all sorts of astrologers and the like over the years. Diana’s psychics did not advise her ‘Dinnae you go tae Paris this week-end hen’. Spiritualist societies have grown in number in recent decades attended mostly by women. Spiritualists Peter Caddy and his wife Eileen and Dorothy McLean founded the Findhorn Community in 1972. Peter Caddy got involved with all sorts of women and left the community in 1979 and later died in a car crash.
Always learning but never able to come to the truth
Some people in the Church of Scotland have attended church for decades and yet they have never really absorbed anything more than they learned at Sunday School. How is that? May be they learned about Jesus but never knew Jesus. May be they long resisted the tug of Jesus on their souls. Maybe they did not want to be that committed, that identified with Jesus in their lives. Going to church was OK. Our Lord Jesus wants to take you further along the journey of Christian understanding and personal faith. This is the only hope for parish churches to survive into the next generation in this godless age. Do you want to go there with Him?
Jannes and Jambres
These names were traditionally given to Pharaoh’s magicians who imitated Moses’ miracles in Exodus 7. ‘Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt. But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts’. (Exodus 7 : 20-22). Moses outlasted and bested them and Pharaoh as we know finally gave in. Paul is comparing the false teachers in and around the congregation of Ephesus with these imposters. Paul calls the false influencers in the congregation men of depraved mind who as far as faith is concerned, ‘are rejected’ – an extreme and unredeeming description. These people are vehemently opposed to Jesus Christ’s Gospel in Paul’s mind and there can be no compromise with them.
Verses 10 - 17
Paul gives a list of his merits, gifts, experiences and sufferings for Jesus. At Antioch, Paul was kicked out of the city for preaching the gospel (Acts 13:50). At Iconium, Paul was almost executed by stoning (Acts 14:5). At Lystra where they actually did stone Paul and leave him for dead (Acts 14:19).
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
That was true of Christians in the first centuries of the Church. Things settled down after Christianity was tolerated in the Roman Empire from 313 AD. Throughout the centuries however, Christians have suffered much for proclaiming the Gospel. Missionaries often forfeited their lives. Graham Staines - an Australian Christian missionary, was burned to death along with his two sons, Philip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged 6) in India in 1999 by a Hindu mob. His wife and daughter were not with them and survived. We all know about Islamic jihadis. Iraq and Syria have been de-Christianised. Have you heard western government leaders defending them? The Christian population of Iraq has been reduced from 1.5 million in 2003 to 200,000. In north east Syria Christian villages are empty, churches have fallen into ruin and there are no priests to conduct worship. The latest persecutor is Turkey. Christians are the most persecuted identifiable social group in the world. In North Korea, China and throughout the Islamic world Christians are suffering in greater numbers than ever. Horrors upon horrors are being perpetrated by Islamic jihadis throughout Africa. Open Doors calculates that 260 million Christians in 50 countries are suffering persecution, over 10% of the entire Christian population. This is never on the TV news. Christians don’t matter. ‘Of whom the world is not worthy’ (Hebrews 11 : 38).
Continue in what you have learned...you know from whom you learned it
In chapter 1 Paul’s credits Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice for his early nurturing in Christian Faith. He was taught the Scriptures from infancy. What Scriptures were these? They must have been the Old Testament plus portions of what became the New Testament. Paul is also talking about himself and his own writings. These would be precious to Timothy as he read and re-read them over the years. Paul has been a good example to Timothy of Christian leadership. Apart from his missionary heroics, Paul is literate, intellectual, confessional and pastoral. Paul has been a great example, teacher and peerless role model to Timothy. More than that Paul describes Timothy as ‘my true son in the faith’ (1 Tim 1 : 2). Paul was a spiritual father to Timothy and he a spiritual son to Paul.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Note the rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Church of Scotland ministers were well known for rebuking and correcting. Not as much as the Brethren or Baptists but more so than Anglicans and Methodists. That seriousness is long gone. The sharp edge is blunt. Ministers have become entertainers on Sundays and property managers through the week. If you can’t make the kids laugh – you are out of a job. It is Scripture however that is the key to Christian formation. Yet many church going folks hardly ever read their Bibles.
The Bible is the living powerful testimony to the eternal and enduring truth of God throughout his relationship with his called people. Without the Bible, we are lost. Its truth is corroborated in every generation in the lives of those who love Jesus Christ. Renewal and revival can happen when the Bible is placed at the centre, not of the church lectern, but at the centre of our hearts and minds.
Think of Paul and Timothy and the daunting task of witnessing for Jesus in Rome and Ephesus all those years ago. Who would have thought that 2.3 billion Christians would know about Paul and Timothy, 2000 years hence. It worked. We are here. Think of the daunting task of witnessing for Jesus today in Scotland. It can work. Truth will survive. Christian truth will survive. Jesus Christ’s truth will survive in our hearts and minds and in those who will follow us.