Temporary Difficulties

2 Timothy 3
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

Some passages are just harder to preach from than others. Today we have one of those passages before us. The New Testament and the gospel message of salvation is really good news, but with that good news there are some really hard realities that we must face. This paragraph that I just read is one of the longest lists of sin and evil that we will find anywhere in the Bible. It is a long list of sin types that will keep many from ever coming to Christ, and a list of sins that will continue to plague many Christians.

These sins remind us of our need for Christ and should keep us running to God for help, strength, and stamina as we walk through this world waiting to meet Christ face to face. What we don’t need to do is to wallow in self-pity and hopelessness when we face such sin, but we should be reminded of God’s grace and mercy in that He has saved and continues to save sinners. Now, for the Christian, none of these sins should define us, we are no longer slaves to sin, we are redeemed. But again, this does not mean we won’t struggle with some of these things.

In preparing to go through this passage I thought I might just make general comments about the list, but mostly focus on how these things are not for us, we belong to Christ so we must put them away. However I’ve decided to spend more time on each one. Not equal time on each one, but some time making sure we understand them for the purpose of recognizing some of our tendencies so that we can put them away in Christ’s strength.

Now, I do think that Paul is still talking primarily about false teachers whose lives are now defined by many of these sins. But think of this, those false teachers in the church, they didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to give themselves wholly to the things on this list. No, these were church people who allowed error in thought to creep in over time until they eventually became overrun with some of these sins.

So for us, we need to look carefully at where we are and deal with whatever temptations we are facing, deal with sin in our lives, no matter how subtle it might be, so that we don’t become the people that Paul is describing here. We participate in habitual sin by practicing it, perhaps infrequently, and then eventually it becomes almost a part of who we are. At that point the separation from it becomes so much more difficult.

So let’s not go through this list of sins thinking of everyone around us, but taking an honest look at where we are and where we need God’s help to change us.

Paul begins with this: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” You have to love this about God and the Bible. There is no sugar coating here. We are told truth even if it is sometimes hard to take. Here is the full disclosure: there will come times of difficulty!

For those of you who are out in the world, working, playing, shopping, driving, vacationing, going to school, doing anything where you are engaging with society, you know that dealing with people, rubbing shoulders with people will bring some level of frustration. People just don’t always, or almost never, just cooperate with our goals. People are like roadblocks in our lives when we are trying to get done what we want to get done.

When we walk out our front door, and really many times when we walk in our front door, we should be prepared for difficulties. Paul said they will come, and they will most often come in the form of other people. And it is no wonder why these difficulties come when we read how people will be from the list above. Think about it: you are going merrily on your way to achieve some goal, maybe something simple like going to buy groceries, a full day of running errands, and in the process you come across many people, some of which you need their help and others are just out doing what you are doing, but in a full day you see and interact with many people. Let’s say these people that you meet on that day are all characterized by one or more of these descriptions:

lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,

If these are those we will meet on our day out then, well, I can see where difficulty may come.

This is the reality of our world. And so our desire for a pleasant, carefree existence in this life, well, we may want to re-evaluate our desires and expectations. One thing we can do is not go out anymore, we can stay home, alone, in some way protecting ourselves and our emotions. But we are not called to that, we are called to glorifying God as we go. We need to know how to do that. And something else: if going out and being around people frustrates us and makes us angry, then the reality is we are dealing personally with some of the very same sin in this list that is bothering us about those other people. We are more like them than we may realize.

All around though, the point is we can expect difficulties as we live in this fallen world. But thank the Lord, Jesus Christ overcame the world and dwells in us as His people, and we can live above all the junk and we can be a shining light on a hill, we can be His ambassadors, live for Him, be different than the world at large, living in joy and with patience. In fact here is what is to describe our lives – just grasp the contrast in these lists from the one we have already read this morning. Here is what we are to posses:

Galatians 5
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control;

1 Corinthians 13
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Colossians 3
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

These are words for us! What contrast!

Again, verse 1: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” We are no doubt in the last days.

Matthew 24
6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

We hear of wars and rumors of wars, nations rise against nations, famines are taking place, earthquakes are all over, even in places where there have never been earthquakes. Did you know that there are over 600 earthquakes per year in Oklahoma alone? Christians are being delivered up and put to death around our world, more now than ever. Christians are hated around the world, false prophets are all around, and many are led astray by them. Lawlessness has increased tremendously, there is little respect in our country for law enforcement, love for others has grown cold. We are in the last days, we have been since Christ was here, but all of these things are increasing as we have been told they would near the end. And these last days have brought many difficulties.

Paul now lists many sins, attitudes of people that are indicative of the last days. The first thing he says is this: “For people will be lovers of self.” This first sinful attitude that he lists is one from which all the others flow so easily. People will be lovers of self.

This is an interesting one for us to consider in our day. It is interesting because many would say that the problem in our day is that people have not learned to love themselves enough. We hear this all the time, we hear things like, “You just need to love yourself more.” “You need to love yourself first.” Don’t we hear that? “If you would just love yourself more, love yourself first, then you would be better off.”

The Bible however says that our problem is not a lack of love for self, but too much love of self. We need to understand this. This love mentioned in this verse is to have great affection for. Depending on what or whom the object is, this love can be a very good thing. In Titus 2 the same root word is used of love which we understand as affection for when older women are told to teach younger women how to love their husbands. In Titus 2:4 we read, “and so train the young women to love their husbands and children.” In this case affection is a good thing because it is wives having affection not for themselves, but for their husbands.

In the Bible we see that there is an assumption that people love themselves, and so there is no need to encourage it or more of it. Our struggle is to love God and love others more than we love ourselves.

Some people think that Matthew 22:37-39 encourages self-love when it really only assumes we already love ourselves sufficiently as sinful people.

Matthew 22
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

We are commanded to think of others ahead of ourselves

Philippians 2
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Matthew 16
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Galatians 5
24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Our problem is not a lack of self-love, it is an inordinate amount of love for ourselves.

But you may hear someone say, “I hate myself.” Well if you hear that, we must first of all be very careful in how we respond. That person may be in a really bad place in life, and so we must speak with compassion in our hearts, love for that person, being gentle with a listening ear. That would not be a time to speak harshly or quickly without regard to the person who is hurting.

But let me say this. Even when someone thinks they hate themselves, they are still, usually, showing great love for themselves by their actions. Even when destructive behavior is evident, often that destructive behavior is rooted in self-love.

For instance, I know a person who had a terrible drug problem. This person lost their family, all their money, severed ties with everyone they knew. They became homeless, jobless, and friendless, and yet kept up the drug habit – stealing, lying, cheating in order to get the drugs that were craved. This person ended up in several drug rehab facilities where the message was, “You just need to love yourself more.” “If you loved yourself more you wouldn’t be destroying yourself with these drugs.” Was this person’s problem a lack of self-love? I would say no, and I think the Bible supports this.

The truth is, this person loved self so much that they were willing to give self what was wanted at the expense of greatly harming everyone in their path, including family, spouse, and everyone else. This person so hated their circumstances and so wanted to escape them that drugs would be the way of escape, the way of relief, and it didn’t matter who was hurt as long as self got relief. Now you tell me, was this person loving others and God or loving self?

Life is difficult when everyone is loving self, and in these last days we see this. Think about your own family. What if for one day everyone in the family only did what was loving for themselves? What if everyone only did what was pleasing to themselves? Only did what they wanted to do? What if no one did anything for the good of anyone else, only themselves? That would be a difficult place to live. This is the world we live in to a great degree, no wonder life is difficult!

Now we can talk about everyone else, but let’s be honest with ourselves and examine our own lives and ask, in my daily life whom am I loving most? God and others, or myself? This is a universal problem magnified in these last days.

So two things as we close. First, let’s not be surprised by people’s behavior that shouts loudly that they love themselves more than anyone else, and so they will throw us aside if necessary to get what they want. This can be hard and yet provides such great opportunity for us to sacrificially love them. This gives us an opportunity to look to Christ, to rely on Christ, to cry out to Christ for strength and a supernatural ability to love those who may not be loving us. This can be done in our homes, in our workplace, with our neighbors, wherever we go. That is to love when we are persecuted. To this we are called.

Secondly, self-examination must take place. We are those who have been redeemed by our Savior, given new life in Christ. Are we loving God and loving others first? Really, how are we doing here? If we are loving ourselves first, then we are acting more like the world than what is pleasing to God.

Now, I don’t want to end with, “Well, life is hard!” Let’s end with this: Life is short, Christ is coming back, this is not all there is, we have been called to live in joy because we have a home in heaven with Christ. All hardship for the Christian is temporary, it is short, and paradise awaits us. We can live in hard times for this short time because of Jesus Christ who is our Savior! These difficult times will pass and pass quickly, and all that awaits us is pure joy with our Savior!

Romans 5
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Hang on and live for Him and for His glory!

2 Timothy 3
1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self,