Read the Passage: 2 Timothy 3
Rejection of Truth (3:1–9)
In 2 Tim. 2:14–19 Paul had warned Timothy about the inevitable presence of false teachers in the church. After illustrating this by appealing to honorable and dishonorable vessels in 2 Tim. 2:20–26, Paul continued his thought at 2 Tim. 3:1 writing that “in the last days perilous times will come” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1–3). Note in Pauline terminology, the last days are anytime between Jesus’ first and second comings. Next, in 2 Tim. 3:2–5 Paul listed 19 characteristics of those who follow false teaching and reject the truth. Paul describes these unbelievers as “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). The idea here is that such unbelievers in the church will be religious and claim to be Christians; yet, their form of godliness is ultimately either a self-salvation project or hypocrisy, for they will deny the truthfulness, the authority, and the power of Scripture.
Paul gives several more characteristics of those who reject the truth in 2 Tim. 3:6–9. Speaking of false teachers, in 2 Tim. 3:6, Paul writes these heretics “creep into households and make captives of gullible women.” Note that Paul does not say that all women are gullible; rather, here he has in mind foolish women who are led by their sins and lusts. At 1 Tim. 5:13 Paul referred to such women as “gossips and busybodies,” and in the book of Proverbs, Solomon wrote of the same, “She is loud and rebellious, her feet would not stay at home” (Prov. 7:11). Contrast this with Paul’s later description of a godly women at Titus 2:4–5. Next, at 2 Tim. 3:12 Paul describes those who embrace false teaching as “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This is a good reminder that intellectual knowledge is different than spiritual transformation.
Embrace of Truth (3:10–15)
As he often did (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17), at 2 Tim. 3:10–11 Paul appealed to himself as an example for Timothy to follow. Here Paul lists nine characteristics of his own life, with which Timothy would have been familiar, as he had spent many years ministering with Paul. Paul mentions his persecutions and his deliverance at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. Observe that he was also forced to flee from Damascus (cf. Acts 9:23–25), from Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:10), and from Berea (cf. Acts 17:14). Paul’s deliverance from his many persecutions was meant to encourage Timothy; however, Paul reminds his protégé, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). While we might wish that following Christ would be without trials, Jesus taught that the gospel will result in persecution of those who follow Him (cf. John 15:18–21).
At 2 Tim. 3:13 Paul wrote, “Evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” The idea is that sin and evil will proliferate in the world, apart from gospel progress and occasional revivals, until Jesus returns. Observe that the deception that Paul mentions comes from the false teachers’ rejection of truth and willing acceptance of error, as well as from God who “will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11). At 2 Tim. 1:5 Paul had reminded Timothy of his spiritual heritage. Here at 2 Tim. 3:14–15, by way of exhortation, Paul again appealed to the faith present in Timothy’s family. While Timothy naturally would desire to avoid persecution, his knowledge of the Scriptures would guide him forward.
Source of Truth (3:16–17)
2 Timothy 3:16–17 are two of the most well-known verses in the Bible and together constitute one of the clearest passages in the Bible about the authority of Scripture. Paul begins by writing, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Literally the text here says that the Bible is “God-breathed,” meaning that Scripture contains the very words that God intended. Next, Paul identifies four uses of the Bible: (1) Scripture is profitable for doctrine, which is teaching about God; (2) The Bible is useful for reproof, which means to confront sin; (3) Scripture is good for correction, which entails restoring those who have been reproved; and (4) The Bible is good for instructing in righteousness, which includes the positive training of believers in right behavior. In light of these uses of Scripture, at 2 Tim. 3:17 Paul writes the Bible will perfect believers for every good work.
- Regarding false teachers, what does Paul mean in writing, “They will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all” (2 Tim. 3:9)?
- What ought believers to do if they find individuals in the church whose lives resemble the characteristics Paul lists in 2 Tim. 3:2–5?
- Why does God allow those who follow Him to be persecuted for their faith? What is the purpose of suffering and evil in the world?
- What are some of the distinct advantages possessed by believers who come from genuine Christian families? Is there a history of Christian faith in your family?
- In what ways have you found Scripture to be profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instructing in righteousness?