So, in my last post titled The Carpetbaggers of 2 Timothy 3 (part 1), I began to describe the perfect storm of the Southern church that was vacant of theology and real leadership. She is a vulnerable church, but vulnerable to who or what?
You know what a carpetbagger was, but what I mean by carpetbagger is nuanced here.
In 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Paul warns Timothy of the carpetbaggers of his day. After the attention that Paul gives Timothy’s personal devotion to service in chapter 2, he warns Timothy of those who will come in what he calls ‘the last days’.
“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 Timothy 3:1–9, ESV)
Before you discount what you may perceive as a “misapplication” due to the nature of ‘last days’, let me place a hurdle in your exit path.
Paul intended for Timothy to actually beware of people who fit this description, so obviously the ‘last days’ included the days contemporary to Timothy. That is to say that the ‘last days’ as far as Paul was concerned, were at the time of Timothy’s pastoral ministry. It is not to say that the ‘last days’ were exclusively the time of Timothy’s pastoral ministry. In fact, it would be true to say that a more accurate view of what Paul referred to as ‘last days’ would be specifically the ‘last days’ before the 2nd coming, which has not yet occurred. Therefore, the ‘last days’ continue to present. So we can agree that there may be some application of this warning to the church today.
It would be easy to assume that this passage or pericope, describes people in general as the last days near. That is a pretty common view of dispensationalists who are looking for things to get much worse before a pre-tribulation rapture. I do believe that Paul intends for Timothy to watch for that, in a sense. But a much more robust understanding of who Paul is trying to warn Timothy of is explained in verse 8, the analogy of Jannes and Jambres to the men who oppose the truth.
Jannes and Jambres were two people who opposed Moses, Paul says. They are not listed in the account of the Exodus in the Old Testament, but Jewish tradition had these two men as the magicians who opposed Moses in front of Pharaoh. They were false teachers, opposed to the truth and so were the men of Ephesus of whom Paul warns Timothy. Timothy, and by application the church, is to beware of false teachers like the ones Paul describes here.
But what kind of false teachers? How can we recognize them?
Paul gives us a laundry list, no less than 18 adjectives to help us see one of these false teachers for who they really are… 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
Now we could go through each of these descriptive words and explain each one. That’s what the commentaries do. That might make a nice sermon, but for the purpose of this article, it would be best to highlight and summarize them. Most of them are pretty self explanatory, but a couple of them could use some definition.
Lover of self, money, proud, etc. are easy. I don’t have any real pause until I get to unappeasable. It is the Greek word ἄσπονδος, ον (σπονδή ‘treaty’) of one who is unwilling to negotiate a solution to a problem involving a second party, irreconcilable (BDAG). It is a word meaning someone who is not willing to be reconciled.
Another descriptive phrase is without self-control. This is a person who, although they seem to make an effort, cannot control certain sinful behaviors. This lack of self-control is often attributed to a disorder like the “God made me this way” kind of excuse. It’s never their fault. Paul doesn’t buy it.
If there is one more of the adjectives that just don’t quite make sense to me, it’s the word treacherous. προδότης is a betrayer, traitor. This person would sell you out in a minute. They will listen, advise, confide, and console, but will consistently betray the confidences of those who trust them.
The other terms Paul uses to describe this false teacher are related as describing a self-absorbed person. Lovers of self, proud, arrogant, abusive, swollen with conceit…are among them.
So what kind of person is Paul describing? Overall, this is a very self-centred person. They could be characterized by the love of self, even to the point of mistreating others (brutal, treacherous), and denying God’s power and his reconciliation. It’s a person who has the appearance of godliness, but is swollen with conceit and would slander those who stand for truth. It is a person who is heartless, seemingly unmoved by the injuries of those he has attacked.
Paul goes on to describe this self-absorbed false teacher as someone who preys on weak women, who slithers like a worm into the homes of those who are ignorant or chained by the sins of their past. It is as if this person can sense the Christian who is beaten down by their carnal past, and preys upon their low sense of self-worth.
This person can be summed up by one modern phenomenon, the narcissistic pastor, and for our weakened Southern and rural churches, he comes as the carpetbagger of 2 Timothy 3.
To be continued…