In These Last Days

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“Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 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, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.” [1]

“If God does not judge America, He must apologise to Sodom and Gomorrah.” The speaker was a young evangelist named Billy Graham. The occasion for speaking these words was a West Coast evangelistic crusade which he conducted in the mid-1950s. Though the noted evangelist muted his criticism of western culture in later years, the truth spoken almost sixty years ago has not changed. I confess that I am concerned for the western world. I love my natal land, and I grieve for the wickedness that characterises that nation. Nevertheless, I am bold to say that Canada must anticipate judgement for rampant wickedness which characterises us as a nation.

The spiritual state of Canada yields mute evidence that we may well be living in the final days. Religious conditions will be drastically changed in the final days of plant earth. That the transformation Paul foresaw is already well under way should be evident to reasonable people. Even was I unconcerned about the spiritual state of the entire world, I would need but look to our own community to register my insistence that we are now in the last days.

WHAT ARE THE LAST DAYS? The Apostle is looking forward to a time that he identifies as “the last days.” Jesus spoke on at two occasions of the “last day.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus spoke of the “last day.” Jesus said, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day… Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day… Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” [JOHN 6:39, 40, 44, 54]. Clearly, Jesus referred to the resurrection of the just and the judgement of the wicked. The two events are conflated and referred to as the last day. Likewise, in JOHN 12:48, the Master speaks of the judgement occurring on the last day.

There are several instances in Scripture when the writer refers to the last days. A review of each of these instances will prove beneficial to our understanding. On the Day of Pentecost, as Peter began his message, he spoke these words which provide a point of initiation for the last days. Peter said, “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” [ACTS 2:17]. The last days appear to have begun with the outpouring of the Spirit of God at Pentecost.

Though it is by no means certain that the writer of the Hebrew letter meant to say that the Son of God came in the last days, it is at least a possibility and deserves consideration as one meaning of his words. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” [HEBREWS 1:1, 2].

James has written, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you” [JAMES 5:1-6]. Clearly, James is addressing those who now hoard treasure even as they abuse the labourers as those living in the last days.

Peter, also, is focused on a time which appears to set the upper boundary of the period known as the last days. He sees a time when those professing the Faith will ridicule the concept that God called all things into being. They will appeal to a form of uniformitarianism to account for the presence of all substance. This is nothing less than the exaltation of the neo-orthodox doctrine of evolution as we witness today.

“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly” [2 PETER 3:1-7].

Paul speaks of later times marked by a departure from the Faith, as we saw in a previous message. “The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” [1 TIMOTHY 4:1-3].

The Apostle to the Gentiles had in view the growth of an apostate church which, though bearing the marks of evangelicalism would nevertheless be spiritually dead. That church which he foretold exalts external religion, yet denies the Word of God. This Laodicean church is indeed coming at the end of the Church Age.

In addition to the aforementioned instances, Paul speaks of the last days in today’s text. He speaks of those days as “times of difficulty.” That word translated “difficulty” bears scrutiny. The Greek word employed conveys the concept of that which is hard to bear, something difficult to put up with. It speaks of that which is violent or dangerous, and thus it speaks of that which is evil. We understand that the Apostle is warning that the course of history will move toward dangerous times and increasing evil. Society will become increasingly difficult to bear as the end of the age draws near.

WHAT CHARACTERISTICS MARK SOCIETY IN THE LAST DAYS? “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, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”

As the end of the age nears, human character will grow increasingly perverted. Listen once again to the apostolic appraisal of the downward trend of human character. Eugene Petersen has rendered this passage, “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.” [2]

Does this sound anything like the general condition prevailing in society today? “Self-absorbed, self-promoting” and “without self-control” certainly appears to characterise the general condition of contemporary society. If you question this assessment, stop by any bookshop and peruse the self-help section of the store. The plethora of books available for reading demonstrates that people are very much in love with themselves—society is focused on self. People are more concerned about personal comfort than they are concerned about doing what is right. Per capita giving to charity bears this out. The expenditures for cosmetics and name-brand clothing bear this out. Expenditures for pet food and pet grooming compared to spending designated for the relief of hardship in our own nation demonstrates that this assessment is true. The personal debt load of the average Canadian bears this out.

The heart of the apostolic charge is that people will be “lovers of self.” Whenever self is exalted to a position of honour, God is no longer worshipped—indeed, God cannot be worshipped if we are exalting “self.” Satan loved himself more than He loved God; his self-love was the genesis of rebellion in heaven. Adam and Eve exalted “self” to the throne of their lives and thus plunged the world into ruin. Loving “self” can never result in that which is good or right.

One of the most frightening developments among contemporary churches is the wide acceptance of and enthusiastic proclamation of self-love, not only as allowable, but as being the basic virtue. [3] Self-love and its many derivatives—self-esteem, self-worth, self-fulfilment, positive self-image—have been imported into the churches from antibiblical psychology. The claim is made that one cannot properly love God and/or other people unless he loves himself. Such self-love is perverted and destructive, inviting the wrath of God. God must be loved supremely. Today, instead of a theocentric view among the churches we are witnessing an egocentric view.

When people are self-absorbed, they also become “lovers of money, proud” and “arrogant,” or as Petersen says, “money-hungry, self-promoting” and “stuck-up.” Money is not of itself evil, but when the acquisition of money becomes the primary pursuit, that pursuit leads people astray. “Money-hungry” describes far too many people in this day. Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, the Nortel Scandal, Martin Shkreli and Turing Pharma—each remind us of Corporate greed which was enabled by societal greed. The present instability in the stock market reveals a society scrambling to own just the right stock to make us rich. We should also mark the Health and Wealth movement, the Name-it-and-Claim-it crowd as wrapping this philosophy in the guise of religion.

Self-absorbed people grow overly confident in their spirituality. They are boastful of their spiritual depth, though they are shallow and undependable. They want to be “teachers of the law, without understand either what they are saying, or the things about which they make confident assertions” [1 TIMOTHY 1:7]. They think themselves spiritually superior. I had an individual like this in a former congregation. The man comported himself as an expert in the Word; he was always ready to argue some minutiae. On one occasion, he rushed home to retrieve a concordance in order to prove that he was right about the meaning of one word, though he knew nothing of syntax. He could not permit himself to be wrong. He was arrogant and ignorant.

Barclay makes a helpful comparison of the individual who is proud and arrogant. “The braggart is a swaggering creature, who tries to bluster his way into power and eminence. No one can possibly mistake him. But the sin of the man who is arrogant is in his heart. He might even seem to be humble; but in his secret heart there is this contempt for everyone else. He nourishes an all-consuming, all-pervading pride; and in his heart there is a little altar where he bows down before himself.” [4]

The text continues with the assessment that people will be characterised as “abusive.” The word “abusive” translates a Greek term from which we get the English term “blaspheme.” The arrogant person will speak abusively of others, because in his mind he is better than others. Christians are taught “to speak evil of no one” [TITUS 3:2]. In fact, it is a characteristic of false teachers than they “slander” others [see 1 TIMOTHY 6:4].

Society will produce children who are “contemptuous of parents.” The subject deserves an entire sermon. Too many parents think that Bart Simpson is cute when he disses his parents. Those who have no respect for family—the first divine institution—are unlikely to have regard for anything which is holy, even dismissing God. We have a society which is in rebellion to all authority, it is not cute—it is sinful!

Self-centred people are “ungrateful,” imagining that they but receive their due whenever a courtesy is shown toward them. The ungrateful person despises the very idea of grace. God’s wrath is displayed against the ungrateful person [see ROMANS 1:18, 21]. “Ungrateful” people are “unholy” people, no matter how religious they may appear. The word translated “unholy” carries not so much the idea of irreligion as of gross indecency. It was used of a person who refused to bury a dead body or who committed incest. The unholy person is driven by self-love to gratify his lusts and passions of whatever sort, as fully as possible, with no thought of impropriety or decency. [5]

Society will be marked by “heartless” people. If you understand that “heartless” is the negative translation of a Greek word which points to the affection parents have for their children and which children express toward their parents, you would understand how the word is naturally associated with the concept of a society which is characterised as “contemptuous of parents.” Petersen translates this concept as “dog-eat-dog,” perhaps to emphasise the animal-like nature of such individuals who love themselves more than their children and of youth who love themselves more than their parents.

Such a culture will also be “unbending.” The word speaks of an individual who cannot come to terms with another. The word literally means “without a treaty.” “Friends need no treaty, and implacable foes will not make one.” [6] Convinced that they are right they will refuse to be reconciled because they must be seen as right in every instance. They will refuse to compromise regardless of the consequences, even to the point of destroying their own lives and the lives of their family members.

Society will become “slanderous.” Some imagine that slander is confined to speaking lies about another; however, slander can consist of the truth. What is in view is whether in relating an account about an individual the one relating seeks to do harm to the one about whom she speaks. The slanderer trades in ruined reputations and destroyed lives. To be slanderous is to be diabolical; the slanderer is doing the work of Satan. Thus, slander is devilish, demonic, satanic.

In 2 TIMOTHY 2:24-26, the Apostle speaks of the need for the Lord’s servant to be “kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” The reason for this is that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” The use of diabolos to describe society so soon after using it in this passage may mean that such captives become like their captor. [7]

Inhibitions and shame will be jettisoned by those loving “self” excessively. Those loving “self” excessively will care little for what others think—and why should they? They have already seated themselves at the centre of their universe, and thus they are “without self-control.” They will prove to be “brutal,” “savage” toward others. When they are angered, as they must be when they do not get their way, they will care little for the impact of their actions. A woman who was a member in a former congregation said that her temper was like a shotgun, it went off and then it was all over. Did you ever see the damage a shotgun can do? She was a disaster ruled by her anger.

In their downward spiral, the Word of God characterises self-centred people as “not loving good.” Those characterised as “not loving good” are individuals who have no law for the good. In effect, they become a law unto themselves without regard for the consequences. It is to be expected of self-centred people.

From this point, the Apostle continues with three characteristics depicting human pride and harmful dealings with others before summarising their relationship to God. “Treacherous” tells us that they are not dependable—here today and gone tomorrow. “Reckless” tells us that they are not careful with relationships; they use relationships instead of valuing them. “Swollen with conceit” (“bloated windbags” is Petersen’s take) is what you would expect of self-centred people.

The text concludes the initial litany of wicked character with this summary assessment—“lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Donald Guthrie, in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, writes: “Moral corruption follows from love falsely directed. Self-centredness, and material advantages, when they become the chief objects of affection, destroy all moral values, and the subsequent list of vices is their natural fruit.” [8]

Lest you think that the Apostle has confined his consideration to the world in general, this final condemnation should lay that thought to rest. In the last days, people will have the “appearance of godliness, but deny[] its power.” Literally, the people in view will have the outward form of true religion [e.g. Christianity] even while denying its power. These people are church members, but they are lost. These are people noted for sitting through worship though refusing to sing—they have no song in their heart. They are noted for enduring the occasional service because it is expected. They maintain membership in the church because they want their children to be inoculated against evil. They are great at saying prayers, but never praying; asking questions, but refusing to listen to the answers. In short, they are phoneys! Without a heart for God or even for the things of God, they pretend to be Christians. The words describe in no small measure the condition of too many Baptists today, including some among our ken who think that by playing at religion they will impress God.

HOW SHALL WE LIVE AS WE AWAIT HIS RETURN? These are indeed dark days, and there is little in contemporary society to dissuade me from the understanding that we are now living in the last days—perhaps even the final days. Even a casual review of the state of evangelical churches in this day lead me to despair that conditions can be quickly changed. Evangelical and fundamental churches, even our beloved Baptist Zion, have become utterly compromised by the spirit of this dying age. The foundations of the Faith appear so rotten as to be mistaken for Swiss cheese. Nevertheless, I am not discouraged. I’m not looking for the undertaker. I’m looking for the upper taker.

The cult of “self” has grown so strong and become so ingrained that many professing Christians are oblivious to its presence among professing saints, except when we look into the mirror of Scripture. Stand where I stand and you will weep for the foolish among us. Watch the refusal of professed saints to worship Sunday after Sunday and you will know that people actually do play church. Listen to the language of modern youth and you will know that Paul’s description fits our day as perhaps never before.

As the Apostle continued instructing the pastor of the Church of Ephesus, he insisted on the way Christians must live in the last days. Paul wrote that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” [2 TIMOTHY 3:12, 13]. I don’t expect the world to hear what I have to say, and I am realistic enough to know that the self-absorbed who call themselves members of a church will ignore anything I may say as they continue indulging in their narcissistic style of life. However, I am convinced that found within our ranks are a growing number of men and women who want to honour God and who want to find what pleases Him. These precious souls make up the new church seeking to find what pleases God and doing that.

The answer to how we must live is found in the words which conclude this chapter. The Apostle has written, “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 competent, equipped for every good work” [2 TIMOTHY 3:14-17].

I alluded to some problems exemplifying the conditions Paul prophesied. Christians cannot expect psychologists and psychiatrists to change society’s penchant for self-love. The infiltration of pop psychology into the churches got us into this mess. Don’t expect child psychologists to correct the attitude of contempt for parents—they brought us the condition. Bart Simpson didn’t create the problem in modern society; he exemplifies the problem. Don’t expect economists to correct the rampant greed which marks contemporary society. They told us that greed was good and we believed them.

Surveying modern society, it is obvious that the dams that hold back destruction are now cracked, now threatening society with momentary inundation. Instead of trying to stick fingers in the dike as crack after crack appears, we need to look to God and His Word. We need to realise that all fellowship is ultimately based upon doctrine and not upon how we feel about ourselves, about how we feel about others or even about how we feel about the conditions we face. We share our lives through sharing truth; we share our lives through determining to obey God and to honour Him.

“See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” [ECCLESIASTES 7:29]. Either we look to God, or we can attempt to “fix” things by putting our fingers in the dike. Be aware, however, that the dike is crumbling and springing multiple leaks. Just as we saw the state of culture being overwhelmed by the cult of “me,” so it is impossible to “fix” what is dead. What is dead must be abandoned. We don’t have enough fingers. Therefore, look to God.

With respect to this particular congregation, we can do church the way it was “always” done, or we can determine to become a beacon of hope in a world of darkness. We can please the majority of society by refusing to make anyone uncomfortable or we can speak the truth in love, knowing that it will cause some to feel distressed. We can continue to fight and claw our way to the top, living only for our own glory, or we can in humility determine to serve one another in love. We can promote “self” and justify “self,” or we can adopt the spirit of servanthood that Christ has revealed. We can go to church, or we can be the church.

We need to hear and heed the Word of God at this point. God commands us through the Apostle, “Remind [the people] to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” [TITUS 3:1-7].

Those who choose to be divisive must be removed from service. Paul charges, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” [TITUS 3:10, 11]. We can either grow in love toward one another, or we can grow in love for ourselves. We can either honour God, or we can exalt self.

A Texas rancher was asked to help a man who drove his car into a ditch in a desolate area. The rancher responded by bringing a big, strong horse named Buddy. He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, “Pull, Nellie, pull!” Buddy didn’t move. Then the rancher hollered, “Pull, Buster, pull!” Buddy didn’t respond. Once more the rancher commanded, “Pull, Pokey, pull!” Nothing. Then the rancher nonchalantly said, “Pull, Buddy, pull!” The horse easily dragged the car out of the ditch. The motorist was thankful—and curious. He asked the rancher why he called his horse by the wrong name three times. The rancher said, “Ol’ Buddy is blind and if he thought he was the only one pulling, he wouldn’t even try.”

I challenge you, as we live out the few days before His return, “Pull!”—pull together. You are not alone. However, you need to encourage others that you are pulling with them. Together, we need to seek the will of God and together we need to encourage one another to do the will of God.

Those who are outside the Faith will be unable to grasp this truth. Your first need is to be born into the Kingdom. I care not whether you are a member of this church or whether you are outside this church, if you have no evidence of transforming grace in your life, you should be concerned. You have need to be born again from above and into the Kingdom of God. You have need to be saved. Listen to this great promise of life.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” [ROMANS 10:9-13].

Be saved today. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright  2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: New Testament With Psalms and Proverbs (NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO 1995)

[3] See John MacArthur, Jr., 2 Timothy: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Moody, Chicago, IL 1995) 108

[4] William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Revised Edition): Daily Study Bible, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1975, 187

[5] MacArthur, op. cit., 114

[6] Moulton, J. H., and Milligan, G., The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, cited in Mounce, William D., Pastoral Epistles: Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46 (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN 2000) 546

[7] See Knight, George W., III, The Pastoral Epistles: New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI 1992) 432

[8] Guthrie, Donald, The Pastoral Epistles: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (InterVarsity, Wheaton, IL 1957 157) 157

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