II Timothy 3
II Timothy 3:1-9: “In the last days” – In the typical apocalyptic scheme, the final victory of God at the end of history is preceded by a period in which evil is intensified. The Pastor shares this worldview, according to which there will be a moral decline and appearance of false teachers just before the end. The opponents “predicted” are in fact already present in the author’s own time. (People’s New Testament Commentary). Christian faith has a deep hope that one day the world will be set right – that justice and peace and beauty will all embrace, that God’s dream for the world will be fully realized. This is a powerful hope and is meant to encourage Christians to live in a way consistent with the dream for the world and to keep on in the face of adversity. The dark side of this hope is that persons have become focused on questions about when such events might happen and some become enamored with revenge scenarios – God will make the world right in such a way that many will be punished. Such feelings are understandable among a persecuted people, but I think they should be resisted. The basic message of Christian hope, even in apocalyptic garb, is to keep on living the way God would have you live, even when it is difficult.
The kind of moral decline depicted can be seen in most ages in humanity. Was there ever a time when people did not bemoan the moral decline occurring? What is most interesting are the kinds of attitudes and actions that are considered suspect – love of money, arrogance, abusive behavior, lack of gratitude. Some of these people will maintain a veneer of religion, but it will not be a religion that transforms in the direction of God’s dream for the world. Here is how Eugene Peterson renders part of this passage in The Message: There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. These folks are to be avoided, though this advice needs to be held in tension with other passages in the Bible that ask people to reach out to all others. While lists of vices were a common literary device of the first century, and the writer certainly makes use of this tradition here, we can learn from the list. Some of the things that have become a part of the prevailing culture in our day and time are on this list (cynicism, desire gone wild, hunger for wealthy). How do we live a different way in our day and time?
The strategies of false teachers are elaborated, though in language that is filled with unfortunate stereotypes from the first century. Who might not be, at times, overwhelmed by their own shortcomings or potentially led astray by their desires? The author is critical of those who are always seeking teaching but never seem to get nearer the truth. The negative aspect to the kind of spiritual seeking that happens in our day and time is that it might let people simply flit from one religious tradition or community to another without ever really digging deeply enough to have their lives transformed. The writer is convinced that spiritual teachers who seek to take advantage of the spiritual searching of others will be exposed.
II Timothy 3:10-17: Paul’s life is lifted up as an example to be followed, especially by leaders in the Jesus tradition. His sufferings are particularly noted and sometimes this has been misunderstood. Christians should not go out of their way to seek difficulty. The writer is convinced that simply living the Christian life will lead to conflict with the prevailing values of the surrounding culture. In addition, there will be spiritual teachers willing to lead people in a different direction, away from the important values of God’s transforming dream for the world.
Keep on, continue in the way – that is the advice the writer gives the readers. If one wants to know more about the Jesus way, there are “the sacred writings.” This refers to the Jewish Scriptures for as of yet there were no Christian Scriptures. However, in time, verses 16 and 17 were applied to what developed as the Christian canon, the New Testament. One should note what these verse actually say, however, for they have been used to promote views of the Bible that are not found in the verses themselves. Scriptures are held up as “inspired” – literally “God-breathed.” This does not assume an inerrant Scripture, one without mistakes, contradictions, human elements. It assumes that God’s Spirit uses the words of Scripture to transform human lives in the direction of God’s hopes and dreams for them. Spirit breathed words are useful – useful for “training in righteousness.” The biblical texts are not scientific textbooks, but are intended to help form people’s lives so that they are ready to do good. “Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (The Message).
II Timothy 4
II Timothy 4:1-8: The writer continues to encourage the Jesus community spiritual leaders – proclaim the message persistently. Convince, rebuke (lead those who are going off in the wrong direction back), encourage with patience. Even as this is being done, some simply choose to follow those whose words only confirm what they want to hear. Human desire is not a bad thing, but needs to be questioned, needs to be challenged and channeled. To be sober means, literally, to keep your head.
The writer, using the situation of Paul, celebrates what Paul gave to the early church, encouraging others to do the same – fight the good fight, keep the faith.
II Timothy 4:9-22: While the details in this section of the letter are sometimes used to argue for Paul’s authorship, their presence does not make that case. Letters written by others in the Pauline tradition use details of his life and ministry to raise Paul up as a model for others. Here we are given a picture of a person who struggled to remain faithful to the task of leadership even when it became difficult. Friends left him (Demas) or were at work in other places. People betrayed him (Alexander the coppersmith). Still Paul seeks to be a learning leaders (bring the books and parchments!). He trusts his life to the God he knows in Jesus Christ. He ends the letter praying that God would be with the spirits of the readers, and that they might know grace.