Expository Sermon on 2 Timothy 3 and 4
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 8/26/2023
©2023 by Maylan Schurch
(Sorry, the audio on the YouTube broadcast this week was almost inaudible, so here’s the printed version of the sermon.)
Please open your Bibles to 2nd Timothy chapter 3.
I don’t know how closely you are keeping up with the news, but to someone who has spent their life understanding that the end times of this world’s history are going to be serious ones, I just wonder how much worse things are going to get, and how soon.
For example, this week Shelley and I stopped by a nearby Fred Myers store, and now they have two people standing at each exit. One is a store employee, and the other is what looked to be an impressively weapon-supplied security guard. And it’s not the employee but the security guard who looks at your receipt, and then at the items you bought, as you leave. And that’s because brazen, barefaced shoplifting is happening there.
And before I leave my car even to go into the store, I need to be very careful with my leather-covered sermon notebook. The problem is that when that notebook is closed, it looks like it might be the nice cover of a Kindle or other electronic tablet. So when I get out of the car, I open the notebook to some pages that are written on, and leave it lying like that on the car seat. That way, if a car prowler noses his way along past my car window, he can look in and decide that, no, a paper notebook will not be worth his time.
And of course, the horrors of the Maui fires are still in our minds. And then comes the explosion which blew up to the plane on which the leader of the Wagner militia forces was traveling, which people generally think was an assassination.
I mean, I’ve not mentioned even the tiniest percentage of all of the happenings which overwhelmingly seemed to prove that we are in the end times. And this is dangerous—because fear and uncertainty lead to spasmodic responses. This can give birth to January Sixes.
So how do we deal with all this negative news washing over us? As I was reading through Paul’s second letter to Timothy this week, I discovered that he provides this young pastor with several of what you could call “endtime anchors.”
Because Paul did talk about the end times. And it’s important to keep in mind that he most likely had no clue that 2000 years after he wrote to Timothy, you and I would still be talking and thinking about the end times.
And that’s because Paul seems to have assumed that the end times would be happening very soon, and that Timothy needed to be warned about them so that he wouldn’t get discouraged when he heard the increasingly bad news.
Let’s just plunge right into Paul’s famous list of appalling end time challenges. Because I think we’ll discover that there are several anchors which can steady us. And I believe you and I may need these anchors this coming week, so we need to have them ready.
2 Timothy 3:1 [NKJV]: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:
Do you see that word “perilous”? The NIV uses the phrase “terrible times.” The English Standard Version says “times of difficulty.” The New Revised Standard Version says, “distressing times.” What’s interesting, of course, is that – as I mentioned – when Paul started Chapter 3, he wasn’t suddenly skipping ahead 2000 years to nowadays. Paul knew from personal experience that he and Timothy would be facing some “end times” in their near future.
This was probably the final letter Paul wrote. Because he has been imprisoned for preaching about Christ, and he is starting to realize that his own days are very short. In chapter 4, he says things like, “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
So here’s someone who is gazing with clear eyes at his own endtimes, which are accelerating toward him. So maybe he’s the appropriate one to tell us about some anchors are keeping him steady.
And then he launches into his famous list. If we wanted to, we probably could pause after each of these qualities, and even put actual newsmakers’ names to them if we wanted to.
Verses 1 – 5: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power . . .
And suddenly, Paul seems so repulsed by this ugly list, that he can’t help breaking off and blurting out a warning to Timothy. I’m going to summarize that warning into Sermon Point One. Watch what Paul says.
Verse 5: . . . having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
Here comes Sermon Point One.
What is Paul’s first “endtime anchor”?
I think Paul’s first “endtime anchor” is separation.
In other words, turning away. Notice that Paul doesn’t say, “Carry around some kind of weapon, and stand your ground.” He doesn’t say, “Back that person into a corner and try to debate them into submission.”
No, he says, here in the New King James version, “From such people turn away.” The NIV as him saying, “Have nothing to do with them.” The ESV says, “Avoid such people.”
The other day I was watching something on YouTube, and somehow I got into those little short films which last about a minute apiece. In one of them, somebody was teaching how to defend yourself if someone physically attacks you in a particular way. I watched it, and of course once I clicked on it, the “YouTube shorts” algorithm immediately presented me with more of the same.
I watched a couple of more, and I discovered that the instructor is very careful to let us know that when you’re threatened by physical violence, running away is often the safest thing you can do.
Can you think of Bible characters who, rather than doing what they did, should have run away? Eve should have run away from the fascinating, whispery hiss of the serpent. Instead, she stayed and tried to reason with him, and he trapped her. David should have backed away from his balcony view of Bathsheba.
When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, he turned and ran. Jesus Himself often made Himself absent when He knew there was no use in staying to reason with His enemies. He was on a strict timeline, and made sure to follow it, even though it meant sometimes disappearing so people couldn’t see Him. And this “turning away” anchored Him safely within the will of God.
So now that we know Paul’s first “endtime anchor,” is “separation,” what shall we do with it?
Well, you can’t always separate yourself physically from people who fall into one or more of Paul’s character-categories here. Or actually, you can’t, but you can. I spent 10 years working full-time in secular workplaces before I became an English teacher at an Adventist college. There are people you sometimes have to work with, and you quickly learn how easy it can be to let their negative attitudes rub off on you. The worst thing you can do is to spend enough time with these people to really let them twist your mind.
Paul says, “Turn away.”
Nowadays, of course, it’s very easy to absorb attitudes and ways of thinking without even having to be in someone’s presence. There are blogs, there are talk shows, there are websites which can brainwash you if you aren’t holding tightly to the “separation” anchor. I mean, a lot of these sources strongly assert that certain things are true, but don’t seem to care about finding or giving real, under-oath proof.
It might be a good idea to ask yourself, “Where are my ideas coming from? Are they coming from sensible, balanced sources? Am I gathering ideas and information from a spectrum of sources, rather than just one channel? Is there someone who is influencing me in ways against which I need to turn my back? Someone whose ideas I need to separate from?”
Now let’s take a look at what I think is Paul’s second endtime anchor. Let’s check it out, and see if you agree with me.
Paul gives a few more examples of the effect these dangerous people can have on their victims, and then he starts pointing out his second endtime anchor. Glance down at verse 10:
Verses 10 – 14: But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,
Do you see what Paul is saying here? He’s saying, “Timothy, while you’re keeping on the alert for the crazy people I just mentioned, and turning away from their dangerous ideas, think back to how you have seen me deal with these things. Remember how I’ve been your mentor. Have you been watching my example? ”
Here comes Sermon Point Two.
I think Paul’s first “endtime anchor” is separation – turning away from dangerous people. And I think his second endtime anchor is stance.
What do I mean by “stance”? The 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary has several definitions of “stance,” but this is the one I would like to apply here. An “intellectual or emotional attitude.”
Because, when you are dealing with people whose ideas are zany and harmful, it’s not enough to just turn away from them, or avoid them. You have to make sure that you yourself are facing life with a steady and sensible stance.
When I was in my early teens, I got hold of a copy of a book called Bruce Tegner’s Complete Book of Karate. It was a fat paperback , and on its glossy cover there was a picture of Bruce Tegner launching an impressive side kick. And all through the book were photos of Bruce subduing a mugger, Bruce hand-chopping a bad guy, Bruce striking someone in the head with his elbow, and so on.
Now, my life was fairly placid. The only bully I who ever had harassed me had been in elementary school, and his family had moved far away. I did not dwell in a high crime area. No gangs roved the streets of Redfield, South Dakota. I was in no danger.
But, you just never know. So I studied Bruce Tegner’s book far more thoroughly than I was studying my Bible at that time. Bruce, with the help of his black-and-white photos, had become my karate mentor.
And one of the first things Bruce taught – aside from how important it is to avoid a fight if at all possible, including running from it – was the karate stance. Or at least one of them.
Bruce’s stance was a way of positioning your feet which would give you the best chance of maintaining your balance in a tussle with someone. Bruce called this stance the “T position.” You placed your right foot so that the toes pointed to your right. And you placed your other foot so that those toes were pointed forward, toward your enemy. This meant that if you were to pull your left foot up against your right foot, it would form an upside-down capital T, with your left foot being the leg of the T, and your right foot being the crossbar at the top. This way you could have the best chance of maintaining your balance in all directions.
Well, I made it my business to practice getting into that T position as rapidly as possible, meanwhile raising my hands into a defensive position from which I could karate-chop somebody if I had to.
Of course, you realize that all of this was theoretical. I never got into a fight, and if I had, I would’ve probably miserably lost. (Bruce Tegner did not include a section on dirty street-fighting in his book.)
However, I knew how to get into a T position probably quicker than anybody else in town.
This actually came in handy at work one day. A fellow worker by the name of Denny was a friendly, good-humored guy, three or four years older than I was. One day he was kidding around with me and pretending that he was going to slug me.
I wasn’t scared, because I knew Denny meant no harm, but I guess I had my brain so full of what my mentor Bruce had taught me, that without thinking about it, I snapped myself into a beautiful T position stance. Denny was stunned. His grin faded, and he backed rapidly away.
Paul, by his example, had been teaching Timothy some stances to use as he faced the challenges of dealing with a godless culture. Let’s look at a couple of examples of those stances. Glance back at chapter 2, starting with verse 22:
2 Timothy 2:22 – 26: Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
Did you notice the stances Paul was teaching Timothy? Don’t quarrel, don’t debate, be humble, act so that people who disagree with you might finally come to repentance and escape the snare of the devil.
So now that we know that another of Paul’s endtime anchors is a good stance, what do we do with this? Well, we need to continually associate with mentors who can teach us wise ways of moving through our lives.
I’ve mentioned several times how much I appreciate this congregation. You have different personalities, and over the years, a good number of you have mentored me in how to deal with people, how to defuse a tense situation, how to lead. That’s one of the prime reasons to actually be here in church, be here in a Sabbath school class.
If all we did was to huddle in a corner, trembling at the onset of endtime crises, we would not be prepared for them. But if we know, and have associated with, people who have faced such traumas with courage, that gives us courage too. When Hebrews 10:25 tells us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, the reason it gives is so that we can encourage one another, and mentor one another.
So take every opportunity to get together. Come to potlucks. Come to tonight’s church business meeting at seven o’clock. Sign up for our church Rosario retreat in October, and come to that. You’ll find your stance being strengthened just by being around someone else who’s faced life challenges too.
Let’s look at just one more endtime anchor which can keep us steady in the weeks ahead. And this is probably the most important one. Let’s start back at chapter 3, verse 13.
2 Timothy 3:13 – 17: But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
I think Paul’s first “endtime anchor” is separation – turning away from dangerous people. And I think his second endtime anchor is stance, positioning yourself to behave like Christ. And his third endtime anchor is Scripture.
The more you read the Bible, the more fascinating it becomes. That’s because, the first time you read a Bible story, you don’t pick up all of the nuances. You simply can’t. You just get the main action. But if you come back to that story later, you’ll be able to understand deeper and deeper meanings.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bible gives you stories of people who should have turned their back on temptation, and others who did turn their back on temptation.
It might be interesting some time to think about Bible people in connection with their stances. How would you describe David’s stance? His attitude?
And Elijah’s stance? Was that stance different from his successor Elisha’s stance? If so, how? None of these Bible people except Jesus was perfect, of course. But just like we learn from fellow church member mentors, we can learn from the Bible people as well. The Hebrews 11 faith chapter is written to show us faith mentors.
And in Second Timothy chapter 4, Paul gives a crucially important reason to become better acquainted with the Bible.
2 Timothy 4:3 – 4: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
So what are some ways you can use Scripture as an endtime anchor?
One thing you can do is to print out the Bible verses from each week’s Sabbath school lesson, and read them over several times before studying the lesson itself.
Another way to make Scripture more a part of your life is to actually bring your Bible to church if you’re not doing that already. Make sure you have your phone, and read the Scripture on your phone or tablet. Rather than just listen to me, focus your eyes on the verses I’m reading.
And of course there are audio Bibles you can listen to on your phone or in the car, and there are many other ways to get familiar with absorbing Scripture into your mind.
Because these are the end times. Paul’s chilling descriptions of how end times people will behave are exactly what is happening now.
And we need to stay steady. A lot of folks aren’t staying steady, even people who should know better, but they need to. And we can do this by separating ourselves from evil ideas, learning the correct stance to face the future, and treasuring Scripture as our guide.
Because Jesus will one day arrive in a blaze of heavenly glory, and we want to be ready for Him. Our closing song, “The Gleams of the Golden Morning,” describes what this event will be like, in the hope that it can bring us. Let’s stand and sing it together.