But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Tim 3:1-5).
In an age where “toleration” for all manner of behaviors and perspectives is considered a supreme virtue, are you obeying God by “turning away”? That’s what Paul called Timothy to do. But what did he mean by it?
Here are four quick thoughts on this passage.
First, there are two senses of the last days. Neither sense makes a strictly chronological claim about time—i.e., Paul was not telling Timothy this would happen within a few literal 24-hour days. Instead, “the last days” is a statement of the character of the age we currently live in (as Peter proclaimed in Acts 2:16-17, and the author of Hebrews also affirmed in Heb 1:2). However, there is also a sense in which the last days are also future: “in the last days perilous times will come” (emphasis added). However, since Paul warned Timothy about those days and told him to “turn away,” he must have lived in that age, too.
Second, the last days will be characterized by self-centeredness. The first term in the vice list, that “men will be lovers of themselves,” sets the theme for the others, which are all fruits of egoism and self-centeredness. Why do you love money? For what it can buy you. What do you boast about? Yourself. What are you proud about? Your own accomplishments. Why do you disobey parents? Because you think you know better. Why are you unthankful? Because you always think you deserve more. Why are you a traitor? Because you place your own interests above the interests of your friends. Why do you love pleasure? Because of how it makes you feel. (By contrast, loving God might involve suffering, which, to the egoist, is unthinkable; hence he loves himself rather than God).
Third, Paul calls these “perilous times.” To understand the seriousness of that description, let’s look at the Greek for perilous, chalepoi, which only appears one other time in the NT, in Matt 8:28, where it describes the behavior of demon-possessed men. This is not your run-of-the-mill immorality (if I can put it that way). Later, in v 6, Paul will compare some teachers from those last days with Jannes and Jambres, the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses. This is spiritual warfare.
Fourth, in light of this, you should “turn away” from those “people.” That is, you should practice Biblical separation. You cannot avoid the times, but you can turn away from the people who make the times what they are (at least, from the worst of them). And you should do that for your protection. Why? Well, do you want to be slandered, brutalized, and betrayed? A self-centered person will not hesitate to sacrifice you at the altar of his ego, so “turn away,” both to avoid the direct harm such people can do to you and to avoid the indirect ways their bad behavior can corrupt your own. Because, hopefully, you’re spiritually sensitive enough to see yourself reflected, at least in part, in Paul’s vice-list, if not in your overt behavior, then in your more subtle mental attitude sins. Are you ever unthankful, unloving, or unforgiving? I know I can be. So you and I don’t need encouragement in sin, but in holiness. Which is even more reason to heed Paul’s advice and “turn away”!