If you have ever gone camping, I’m sure you gathered together in the evening around a campfire. When the flames seem to be all but extinguished, you can move the wood around and stir up the coals (or perhaps even fan the small flame), which will result in a roaring fire again with just a little attention.
Paul and Timothy were both in transition. Paul was in his last days, and Timothy was experiencing great opposition to his message and to himself as a leader of the church of Ephesus. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:6-7) Paul was reminding Timothy during his trials that when we use the gifts God gives us to build up the body of Christ, the Lord will give us the power we need to accomplish whatever task He gives us.
He goes on to encourage him, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim. 1:14) Timothy had everything he needed to face the future, if he would hold on tightly to the Lord’s resources. When we are facing a transition, we would do well to follow Paul’s advice and remind ourselves of our experiences, and who our faith rests in, and know that we are not alone. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Prov. 3:5-6)
And then after encouraging Timothy, Paul warned about difficult times for Christian service, and he could be easily describing what is occurring in our society today. “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Tim. 3:1-9)
Paul is warning us what worldliness will be like in the last days. In the letter to the Romans he said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:2) Clearly, as Ambassadors for Christ we are not to act as those described prideful, abusive, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. We aren’t to settle for comfort and momentary pleasure, which the enemy makes look appealing.
Why is it so tempting to love pleasure rather than God? Pleasure is something we can control; God cannot be controlled because He is the only one truly in control. Most pleasures can be obtained easily; love for God requires effort and sometimes sacrifice. Pleasure benefits us now; the benefits of loving God are often in the future–but benefits from the Lord are eternal. Pleasure also has a narcotic effect; it takes our mind off ourselves and our problems. Love for God reminds us of our needs and responsibilities. Pleasure cooperates with pride. It can make us feel good when we look good in the eyes of others. To love God we must lay aside our pride and accomplishments and humbly submit to Him.
The “form or appearance of godliness” includes going to church, knowing Christian doctrine, using Christian clichés and even following a community’s Christian traditions. Such practices can make a person look good, but if the inner attitudes (the heart) of belief, love and worship are lacking, the outer appearance is meaningless. Paul warns us not to be deceived by people who only appear to be Christians. All of us (especially new believers) need to grow in our knowledge of the Word, because ignorance can make us vulnerable to deception.
He goes further to describe the unbelievers in the last day, and reminds us that the Lord has the final say in what happens to us in eternity. “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.” (2 Tim. 3:6-9)
False teachers will be exposed and defeated just as Moses exposed and defeated Jannes and Jambres (Ex. 7:11-12). People can hide their sin for a while, but eventually the truth will be revealed. Sooner or later distraction, opposition, anger or fatigue will wear down “the pretenders”, and their true hearts will be exposed. The trials of life will conspire against their efforts to maintain a religious front. Conversely, we are to build our character carefully and patterned after Jesus’ life, and humbly submit to the Lord. So let us guard the good deposit entrusted to us by our faith in Jesus, and fan into flame the gift of God that does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
- Life Application Study Bible (NIV)