But 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. (2 Tim 3:1-9).
This passage is something I’ve been very interested in for a while. What exactly is going on in this passage, and what does it have to do with today? Most importantly, why does it say to “avoid such people,” when we’re supposed to make disciples and love our enemies?
I think the key to understanding this is the phrase, “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” The people described by Paul have all of these ungodly traits—they are self-centered, greedy, proud, lustful, etc.—yet they lead what we might call good lives. They do nothing overtly evil. They’re not rapists or murderers. They’re just people living their lives and doing what pleases them and denying God.
Does this sound familiar? This sounds to me an awful lot like our secular society. Most people aren’t overtly evil. They’re just living without God, living for themselves. They’re not bad people. They’re just people.
Now who are Jannes and Jambres? What is Paul talking about here?
Jannes and Jambres are, traditionally, the names of two of Pharaoh’s sorcerers in Exodus. Their names aren’t in the Old Testament, but these are the names traditionally ascribed to them. What did Jannes and Jambres do? Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, the Prophet of God, by replicating the miracles God did through him. When Aaron cast his staff on the floor and it became a serpent, they cast their staves on the floor as well and they also became snakes. When the water in Egypt turned to blood, Jannes and Jambres did the same thing. And so on.
Jannes and Jambres are those who tried to discredit God by imitating his miracles. When God did the miraculous, they replicated it with their own arts to basically say, “See? God isn’t necessary. He’s not better than we are.”
And isn’t this the rallying cry of the modern atheist movement? Indeed it is. People are declaring that technology and science have given us the ability to do what previously was attributed to God, so now what need have we of God? Where people would be healed by God previously, now modern medicine heals them, so they claim. So we then don’t need God. God is dead, and we have killed him, as Nietzsche said.
So Paul is talking about those who do mighty and good things, but they do so while denying God.
I once was talking with a guitarist who said he didn’t see the big deal with Jimmie Hendrix. He said that Hendrix never did anything that he couldn’t do. So what was the big deal with Hendrix?
The answer was simple: the only reason he knew to do those things is because Hendrix invented them. He was imitating what Hendrix pioneered. The fact that he could replicate it in no way diminishes the fact that Jimmie Hendrix was a genius for inventing it.
Sort of like that (though like all analogies, it’s not perfect), just because humanity can do amazing things in no way undermines the fact that God exists and God does amazing things.
So why does Paul say to “avoid such people?” Should we shun the atheists and agnostics around us who live good lives but don’t follow God?
I think what Paul is saying is that those people aren’t part of the Church. They don’t have authority over us.
If we avoid them entirely, we’ll never make disciples of them, and they will never be saved. But at the same time, we don’t give them undue credence. Because the fact they aren’t overtly evil doesn’t mean they aren’t lost, that they don’t need God, and they speak authoritatively about God.
Why would we ever give them credence in these matters anyway?
The reason why, I think, is because we often believe the cultural idea that the purpose of life is to live a good life. Don’t be overtly evil; just live a good life. And that is all that is required.
Yet you, as a Christian, know that is not true. But it’s such an ingrained cultural idea that we sometimes forget it, and leave it unchallenged when it is stated against us.
What even is a “good life?” Does living a good life simply mean not murdering or raping or stealing? What a low bar for “good!”
And more, what good is living a good life if you burn in hell? It’s worth nothing.
Paul says this outright in Philippians 3. In regards to a good and righteous life, he had it all. He was utterly blameless as far as worldly notions of goodness and righteousness. Yet, when Christ found him, he cast it all aside because he knew it was utterly worthless compared with Christ!
In all, this passage reminds me to challenge the ideas and mindsets that I was born into as a 21st century American. So many un-Christian things are a part of the American worldview. Yet, because I was born into it, I don’t always realize when my American worldview is at odds with Christ.
So think over these things for yourself. What parts of the American worldview do you hold to that are not from Christ? Which of your beliefs and values are Christian and what are American? Always be mindful of this great divide! Because it is a divide in your own heart.