"You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come."
(2 Timothy 3:1 NRSV)
Our fellowship recently received "homework"; why did Paul tell Timothy to consider what he said (2nd Tim 2:7)? We were only to use 2nd Timothy, no other sources whether biblical or otherwise. It was a fun study and yet it revealed a somewhat sad commentary of Paul's last days concerning the gospel he spread for Christ, and for those who believed this gospel (past tense). The aim of this post however is to look at chapter 3, verses 1-7. Please read them and think about your first impression.
Why did Paul tell Timothy "that in the last days distressing times will come."? Did Paul believe they were living in the last days? The last days as in the end? Christ was coming soon? The end of the world? The answer is no! Paul was not speaking of "the last days" as most of christianity thinks of it. Read the list Paul gives of the behaviors people will have.
"For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,..."
(2 Timothy 3:2-4 NRSV)
Lovers of self, lovers of money, arrogant, haters of good, slanderers, and many more. Do you think people already displayed such behavior in Paul's day? Of course! They practiced such things well before Paul was born, right? It would be very accurate to claim that the human race displayed such nonsense going back to the first family! Were the days of Adam and Eve the last days? I read one commentator describe today's public schools and their anti-God curicculems as to what Paul was speaking of, attacking the "church". Another looked at the current state of christianity as the lesson as if Paul was telling Timothy of a coming future time.
The key is found in verse 5. "...holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power." Who would hold to an outward form of Godliness? Certainly Paul must be refering to believers! Read 2nd Timothy and find some of these even named in Paul's letter. Paul tells Timothy earlier in the letter that all of those in Asia have left him. The Asia Paul speaks of is modern day Turkey, where paul was born. Timothy was in Ephesus which is in Asia. Paul was well traveled throughout Asia. Though we only read of letters directly attributed to Ephesus and Colosse, Paul no doubt left believers who gathered in various ways throughout Asia. Look at a map of Paul's travels and you will see multiple stops throughout the region. In verse 5, Paul is speaking of people that either he himself had given the evangel or, others we read of who traveled with Paul spread the word. According to Paul they have "all" left him; most likely Paul is simply refering to the leaders and not every single believing soul in Asia.
Paul was telling Timothy that he was in "the last days" right now! Timothy was in them, he was about too experience them if he had not already. Paul is not prophecying about our current times or some time far ahead of us. Paul is not indicating to Timothy that some "rapture" is coming any day. Paul is bracing Timothy for what is about to happen in Asia as soon as Paul is executed by Rome under Nero. Those who became believers under Paul's gospel are not even waiting until Paul is gone; they are already moving in to completely change the revelations which Paul received from Christ. The "church" of Paul's day is about to collapse.
I imagine Timothy meeting with folks from Ephesus, shocked by what he is hearing and witnessing. Timothy may begin to lose faith in the message Paul proclaimed as he is being singled out and attacked. This was Paul's point in this letter, get ready Timothy and hold fast, look for others who remain faithful to continue spreading the true evangel. It is encouraging to read Paul's closing words; he is confident that he has performed his best for Christ and exhorts Timothy to continue on in faith. Paul solidifies this thought in chapter 1.
I believe we should be careful when jumping to conclusions about "the last days". Yes, there are those among believers today who behave as Paul warned. There were those when Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, they were around before also. 2nd Timothy was a personal letter to Timothy! We are blessed to have access to this letter and it is filled with many practicle truths; "the last days" that many believe in today are not one of them.
The letter of Paul to the Colossians is probably my second favorite next to Philippians, followed by Ephesians. For reasons I will not discuss here, I believe these 3 letters hold the key for today's believer in the Body of Christ. So much confusion and error is found by attempting to lump these three with the rest of Paul's epistles not mention integrating them with the gospels! Are we part of the Bride? No! We are of the Body! Two different spiritual entities with distinct purposes.
As I read today, Colossians, a small phrase jumped into my brain that I have not payed all that much attention to in the past. It occurs as Paul describes his prayers of thankfulness to God for the saints in Colosse. In verses 5 and 6 Paul is saying that they have heard the truth, the gospel, and that as a result of their hearing Paul hears of the fruit that has gone forth from Colosse. The phrase Paul uses as to how this has happened occurs in verse 6; "...from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God."
" Truly comprehended the grace of God." Do we truly comprehend? Are we often silent because we do not truly comprehend? Are we not thankful for everything because we do not truly comprehend? Possibly so! Paul continues to say that they learned of this miraculous grace from Epaphras, obviously one who did truly comprehend and shared this grace eagerly with those from his home town. The saints of Colosse did not learn it from Paul, but from one of Paul's faithful students. At this time Paul had not been to Colosse and was writing from prison.
We have no firm writings that tell us exactly what Epaphras used other than his own words and the spirit of knowledge and wisdom. No doubt he probably had some writings of Paul's with him, maybe some other scriptures as well. There is much doubt among scholars regarding the origins of Ephesians as some manuscripts lack any language attributing it's being to Ephesus. Some argue that Ephesians was actually a circular letter that was shared among the various churches of Asia and probably Greece as well. Is Ephesians the letter mentioned in Colossians 4? Maybe. Whatever the possibilities, they are encouraged to share letters with Laodecia.
If we stay right in Colossians we can read of the grace that they truly comprehended. Chapter 2:11-15 talks well of the grace that they have truly comprehended; of course we could go elsewhere to find this grace as well but I believe that the most important and logical places to find it are in the prison letters. Paul repeats what Epaphras most likely has told them already, that they have been spiritually circumcised from the flesh through the baptism of themselves in Christ's death. They were subsequently raised with Christ and made alive with Him. All trespasses and legal failures have been removed, nailed to the cross! Not only this but Christ made a heavenly appearance and paraded this very grace publicly to the celestial rulers! That is grace to truly comprehend!
Not only do they truly comprehend, but in verses 6 and 7 of chapter 2 Paul tells them something truly rare. The saints of Colosse ARE "rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith..". What a blessing and encouragement this must have been to Paul. It should be to us as well. Here is a group of folks who had limited access to scripture, who were surrounded by Judaisers and gnostics, yet they were living the gospel. We have full access to the scriptures and countless resources yet we are often lazy and lack this true comprehension. Due to such laziness or confusion many truly do not even begin to grasp what grace has been poured out towards us.
I encourage you to read the three letters, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians. Stay there for a good bit with dozens of readings and contemplation. Do your best not to compare them with the gospels, general epistles or even Paul's other writings. These are loaded with your true reality in Christ now, today, and your future purpose!
Finally, imagine what grace Paul is speaking of in the closing of his letter! God is blessing you.
In Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus, as he often did, spoke a parable about the "kingdom of heaven". The kingdom of heaven here is the same kingdom of God as the other gospel writers speak of. Throughout the parables we see Jesus using a familiar cultural or social situation which those to whom he speaks can relate. Verse 2 ays, "the kingdom of heaven may be compared to...".
A recent discussion on a FB page brought to light a common misconception regarding the writings available to the early believers. I have heard it questioned or stated more than once that these folks had no scriptures to study. The discussion questioned the need to spend time studying the bible rather than just reading it or even not reading and receiving enlightenment directly from God. It becomes clear that this belief stems from a lack of even a cursory reading of scripture, mainly in the books of Acts.