Week of July 3

Check the Air Inside Your Spiritual Balloon

Read: 2 Kings 13-14; 2 Chronicles 25; 2 Timothy 3
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.”
2 Timothy 3:1, ESV


Stay inside and hide because there are bad people outside! This rhythmic first sentence may seem to be extreme, but I ask if you have read 2 Timothy 3:1-5. It appears that Paul has compiled such a wide list of people to avoid that we are left with only ourselves—and even we, too, are beginning to look a little suspect! We will soon learn that we, and much of the non-Christian world, are not in Paul’s view in this passage, because he is warning Timothy about the characteristics of false teachers in the Ephesian church (3:1-5a)! The larger principle for us, however, is to remain vigilant in an evil age. Let’s learn from his words of instruction today.

Understanding the Bible Context

A brief overview of the passage
Ephesus must have been filled with religious pretenders. There were, for example, “quacks” and “mytho-maniacs” that ran rampant in that city. Paul uses this context to issue a warning to Timothy and the church. There was an Early Church conviction that the time preceding Christ’s return would be a period of “agonizing crisis” leading to a collapse of moral standards (BNTC). I know, that was then, and this is now, so what do we make of this? Actually, Paul’s warning to Timothy holds lasting significance until Christ returns. The true church is to recognize misconduct and unsatisfactory religious faith. We may sum up Paul’s challenge in two words—be vigilant!
Living an active faith in treacherous times
First, we need to “mark” (i.e., realize) the fact that there are those in religious circles who are false teachers/preachers (see 3:5). Paul literally writes “take note of this.” Just because you can fill a stadium and flood media with your message does not a biblical prophet make.

Secondly, the interim period between Jesus’ resurrection and His return is referred to here when Paul writes “last days” (3:1; cf. Acts 2:16-39; Hebrews 1:2). The resulting outbreaks of moral decline have been evident throughout Christian history. I do not want to offend anyone, but wake up everybody and recognize this decay. We are living in the last days.

Thirdly, people are bad and do the bad things listed in 3:1-5a, which should confirm to us that times are truly “evil” (terrible). We should note that all these vices flow from a “love of self” (C. Spicq, as quoted in NAC; cf. “lovers of themselves”). Let this last paragraph settle on your minds, then proceed with the rest of the devotional.
Keeping spiritually fit
Most of us are list people. We have to-do and grocery lists, Christmas and birthday gift lists, and even home repair project lists. Christians, as well, are list people. Lists of vices abound in the Bible (cf. Romans 1:29-31; 1 Timothy 1:9-10), but the one in 2 Timothy 3 is about people who refer to themselves as professing Christians (NAC). Notice that the initial term, “lovers of themselves,” in the list sums up the following depravities.

Paul was known to gather his ethical lists from both Jewish and Greek sources. This moral approach was quite common then, as it is now. This catalogue of vices is evident elsewhere (see 1 Timothy 1:9; cf. this list with Romans 1; cf. also Philo in C. Spicq, pp. 381 ff.). Let’s consider how much of what Paul proscribes is evident today. These people demonstrated general rejection of “law, decency, and natural affection” (BTNC). They were self-loving (lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure, and not lovers of God), self-centered (i.e., boastful, and haughty), and savage (will stop at nothing to gain one’s ends). Hmm. We sure see evidence of these ungodly characteristics today! The arrogance of these leaders was overwhelming.

I must say that if inflated egos in religious teachers today were hot-air balloons, then we’d have a festival! There have been similar significant moral failures among mega-church and national religious leaders in our nation. Here is the root cause: “When the center of gravity in an individual shifts from God to self, a plethora of sins can spring up” (Tommy Lea, NAC). This begs a question for me, “What fills your balloon—is it your hot air, or the wind of the Spirit?” We may simply gather all these of iniquities together and tie off the package with a ribbon that looks pretty but cannot hold a moral life together. In other words, they had the outward appearance of Christianity, but they had denied its truth as a way of life (3:5).

Apply the Passage to Our Lives

I recall commenting a few years ago on a hot-air balloon tragedy that took place here in Texas. The balloon crashed, killing all 16 people who were onboard. An investigation into the accident confirmed what many who read the initial news of the disaster felt to be the case, that pilot error had led to the tragedy. Two dozen people went up in a balloon that was piloted by a “false pilot” of sorts. The simple warning to you and me today is to know the “Truth” (the Savior and His Word) well so that you will be able to recognize false teachers (“pilots”) and their teachings.

Here is a spiritual principle. Paul simply instructed Timothy to “keep away from such people.” We often hear preachers use apocalyptic language like Paul does (in the last days), but we should notice that the force of his warning to avoid such people is not focused on the future but the present. Paul uses a present tense imperative to make the point. We are living in the end times, so beware.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Here are two action steps to pursue. First, your daily Bible study and devotional life combine to equip you with radar that detects false teaching. Continue to upgrade your defense systems against falsehood by growing throughout your Christian life. Secondly, whenever a solid theological education is accessible, then encourage your leaders to avail themselves of it. I have stated it before, and I will state it again: Six months of guitar lessons and a sincere heart do not disqualify a person’s call to ministry, but they also do not necessarily qualify them to teach well the key truths of the faith! Encourage proper theological training for those who lead in your church.

2. For Families: As an enjoyable exercise for after-dinner fun at the supper table, play a game of “Hot Air or Truth!” The game is played by inviting each person at the table to share a brief story. It needs to be an unusual and interesting story, and it can be made up or the truth—either one. The object is to tell the story so well that people are not sure if it is true or not. At the end of the story, everyone has to vote whether it is full of “Hot Air” (a falsehood), or whether it is true. The story-teller has to reveal the nature of his story and those who guessed accurately earn a point. The person who gets the most correct guesses is the “Truth-Seeker” of the night. The one who fooled everyone the most is “The Hot Air Champ.”

Now, apply this game to church, and ask your family to be on the watch for “Hot Air” leaders who teach things that are not true about our Bibles. God gave our Bibles to us to show us who He is, and to show us how to live here. His way is always best. Encourage your family to seek the truth in all things, especially things of God. If your children have questions about what they hear at church (or anywhere else), invite them to bring those questions to you for a chat. You will help them find the answers!

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock