I am certain that you would agree with me when I say (write) we are living in perilous times. The world seems unstable with world leaders jockeying for positions of power and money. What used to be considered sensible, moral values are now being thrown aside as out of touch and irrelevant. In a similar manner, the church in America is in a place of peril, due to the propagation of false and syncretistic ideas. There is a movement afoot to discredit the word of God and draw our attention to what “makes sense” to us rather than embrace the unalterable truth of God given to us. This must be why the apostle Paul wrote to one of his spiritual sons, Titus, that he should “Speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.” Because in that day, much like today, followers of Jesus Christ were being invited down a road of disregard for God’s truth and the exploration of “their truth.” He wrote to Titus that for those who were defiled and unbelieving, nothing was pure and even their minds and conscience were defiled. He then offers a description of them, which certainly could fit many in our generation.
“They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him…”
In Paul’s letter to one of his other spiritual sons, Timothy, he makes this statement, from which we get our title – “in the last days perilous times will come.” The word perilous describes a society that is barren of virtue but abounding in vices. He then lists a not-so- attractive summation of vices.
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness (Having an outward pretense, but able to speak the vocabulary of the Christian), but denying its power.”
What Paul is saying to Timothy is to continue in the gospel, even in the face of an increase of evil and a departing from the gospel. Godless humanity always gravitates toward being “lovers of self” and “lovers of pleasure,” because these efforts appear to offer fulfillment or contentment that is missing in an individual apart from their Maker. We can take a lesson from this error of their ways, because far too often those of us who name the name of Jesus have run after that which would stroke our own egos and feed our unnatural desire for personal pleasure. William Barclay, the Scottish theologian wrote:
“The moment a man makes his own will the center of life, divine and human relationships are destroyed, obedience to God and charity to men both become impossible. The essence of Christianity is not the enthronement but the obliteration of self.”
It is interesting that when Paul finishes his list of godless humanities, he writes these words. “Avoid such people.” It is implied here that some of these ne’er-do-wells had infiltrated the church. And he was instructing Timothy to avoid associating with them and definitely to avoid embracing their alternate gospel. Charles Elliott wrote that Paul was giving a description of what might be called “a kind of heathen Christianity.” And I have observed that in our current day, there is also a certain kind of “heathen” Christianity. Thus, the necessity that we maintain and teach sound doctrine in our churches and groups.
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “You, however, have followed my teaching.” Timothy had not departed from that which he had been taught by his spiritual father and his mother and grandmother as a child. The intent of Paul writing to Timothy was that in contrast to the current decline in morals, empty Christianity and the insurgence of false teaching, Timothy is called and charged to be different. He was called to rise above the compromised and diluted gospel promoted by others, and preach the unvarnished gospel of Jesus Christ.
He further tells him to continue in that which you have learned and to remember from whom you have learned it. As referenced earlier, from early childhood he had been taught the Scriptures by his mother and grandmother. And as an adult, he had been taught the truth of God by the apostle Paul. He was still holding to the unadulterated gospel he had been taught for his entire life. John Stott writes an interesting remark regarding this:
“This message has perhaps never been needed more than today when men boast of inventing a “new Christianity” with a “new theology” and a “new morality,” all of which betoken a “new reformation.”
There is no room in the realm of sound doctrine for a “new theology” or a “new reformation.” There might be new methods of application and new methods of delivering the message, but the message has never changed. Timothy was reminded that he had been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood.
The very Scriptures which he had been taught all those many years, was actually God- breathed. The Scriptures are a product of God’s creative breath. It was given by inspiration of Almighty God. And the word of God is profitable in many ways. Once again quoting John Stott:
“The profit of Scripture relates to both creed and conduct…As for our creed, Scripture is profitable ‘for teaching the truth and refuting error’. As for our conduct, it is profitable ‘for reformation of manners and discipline in right living’.”
This is so that we might become fully and thoroughly equipped for the mission. The wording used here is descriptive of a rescue boat that is about to go out to assist a stranded or capsized boat. One would supply the boat with everything that might be needed once they found the parties in jeopardy. The Christian is equipped by the Master with everything we need (1 Peter 1:3) to go out looking for those who need to be rescued. That equipment begins with the Sacred Writings.
So what is our response to all this doctrine that is something other than what the Scriptures hold to? Paul wrote to Timothy, “Preach the Word.” The answer to a false gospel isn’t argument or debate. The answer is to proclaim the true gospel. All too often, well- meaning followers of Jesus think the counter to false teaching is to argue them into the truth or to berate them on social media. But I submit the real answer is that we proclaim “sound doctrine” in the perilous times.
An inference in these passages is that we must, at all times, proclaim the veracity of God’s word, even when it might not be popular. We must continue in the truth of the Scriptures as we live our own lives. I must at this point say something about our relationship to the Scriptures. I am not advocating a legalistic embracing of the Bible as a set of rules and regulations to follow. I am not suggesting that we worship the Bible as we would worship the God of the Bible. I am, rather, expecting that we might connect with the One whose word we read and study. The object of the Scriptures is not to place spiritual handcuffs on us so we can have no freedom of movement and to follow some prescribed rules.
The purpose of the Scriptures is first and foremost to draw us to Jesus. Jesus said in John 5:39,
“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”
In other words, you are searching the Scriptures for some hidden treasure, and I have been here all the time. He continues on with this statement:
“yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life.”
So don’t read the Bible looking for a rule, but rather for a Savior.
The Scriptures are also to be for us an example, hopefully helping us avoid pitfalls demonstrated by others. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction…” And again,
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” 1 Corinthians 10:6
The apostle Paul warned that the time would come when people would no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. But rather they would follow after their own desires and seek those who would satisfy what their itching ears wanted to hear. He wrote that people would refuse to listen to the truth and chase after myths. I am sure this dynamic must have developed in that day or sometime after, but I am positive that “virus” has found its way into the minds of 21st Century believers.
What can we do about this issue? Paul offered some ideas to his spiritual son that are applicable to us as well. First he wrote to Timothy that he should keep a clear mind in all situations. Now, this is not a letter purporting the idea that everyone should be a teetotaler, but the word used by the apostle here literally (literally) means to abstain from wine. If we are going to be effective as God’s servants and kingdom agents, our minds cannot be clouded by outside influence. This is why Paul would write to the church at Ephesus (and other churches as well) to not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit. The issue is who or what controls our lives. He was instructing the church at Ephesus to not be controlled by wine, but to allow the Spirit to control their lives. The Holy Spirit doesn’t make you do things you will regret later.
He also instructed Timothy to be willing to endure hardships and difficulties. If you embrace and proclaim the truth of the Scriptures, you will eventually be confronted by those who have decided the Bible is outdated and no longer relevant. Will you be able to withstand the opposition and hold on to the truth?
Paul wrote to Timothy that he should do the work of an evangelist. I don’t really think that Timothy functioned in the office of an evangelist, every indication in Scripture is that he served as a pastor. But even though he might not have been gifted as an evangelist, he could still do the work of one. The same is true of you and me. Chances are you are not called to be an evangelist (if you are, hallelujah!), but we can all do the work of one. Doing the work of an evangelist is simply one who shares the good news of the gospel with those with whom God causes our paths to cross. We have a message to communicate that is found in the Scriptures and we also have a story to tell about how that message and the Christ of the message has changed our lives.
Another indicator he wasn’t necessarily called to be an evangelist is the next instruction Paul writes is that he should fully carry out the ministry God had given him. Most of the readers of this newsletter are not called to what we call the leadership or five-fold gifts. But you do have a calling on your life nonetheless; a mission for which God has anointed and prepared you. Please don’t minimize the importance or value of the service to which God has called you. Don’t forget Tabitha in Acts 9 of whom the Bible says she was abounding in good deeds and acts of charity. Upon her death, the widows showed up grieving and showing Peter all the tunics and garments she had made them. There was such an uproar that God gifted Peter to raise her from the dead. No worldwide ministry, no name recognition, just a lady who served God in the manner in which she was called. As the Cajun said in The Waterboy, “You can do it!”
I will conclude with Romans 12:2 from the J.B. Phillips translation. “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within.”