Difficult Times and Difficult People
by Doy Moyer
Predators prey on gullible people when they think they spot an opportunity. This is one of the points of II Timothy 3:1-9. The difficult times in this context, though spoken of as future, included the time in which Paul was writing (note the present tense in II Timothy 3:6). These difficult times are brought on by difficult people whose attitudes and actions are such that lead to the conclusion, “Avoid such men as these” (II Timothy 3:5). This is slightly different from those who opposed the truth in II Timothy 2:24-26, where there was still some hope that through patient and gentle instruction they might be led to repentance.
There is hope for many who might not realize that they are taken captive by the devil, and we should always begin with the assumption that people are willing to listen until they prove otherwise. Start with the benefit of any doubt and perhaps some will be saved.
Then Paul provides an important contrast: “But know this ...” (II Timothy 3:1). There will be difficult times because difficult people are so far gone that they are to be avoided altogether. That takes judgment, of course, but the principle is the same as in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Some people will show themselves to be so brutal and uncaring that they need to be marked for what they are so that we can move on and not waste time with foolish disputes.
Paul told Timothy that these men are so bad that they will seek out gullible women who are weighed down by sin (note: this is not talking about every woman, but certain women known to them). These particular women are driven by every wave of doctrine (cf. Ephesians 4:14), unable to come to a knowledge of the truth because of the deception and lies of these false teachers who themselves do not care about the truth. Again, false teachers prey on the gullible who might even be looking for answers.
In principle, this could be any of us if we are not careful. Some will not land on any truth and they are the prey for those who can persuade them of some new idea, some new doctrine that seems right on the surface. We must be balanced, for, on the one hand, we do need to be open to listening, weighing evidence, and considering what others say. We might have missed something. We might have misread something. We might need to change. At the same time, there are limits. Not every idea is a good one. Not every doctrine is to be equated with the truth. Instead of refusing to listen on the one hand and only wanting new things on the other, like the Bereans, we must search the Scriptures to see what is actually true (Acts 17).
In this context of II Timothy 3, Jannes and Jambres, who opposed Moses in Exodus 7 and whose names were known from earlier writings, were fitting examples of the type of people Paul was talking about. They had a form of godliness, the ability to pretend as if they had God or the gods on their side. They could, to a point, imitate the truth, but ultimately their folly was exposed. They were unable to match the truth once enough of it was made known, and their failure became obvious.
False teachers will operate this way. They might have a measure of the truth. They will initially sound right. They will give the appearance of godliness. They will appear to be working for your good. Yet deep down they are looking for a way to manipulate things to their own advantage. They “worm their way” in (CSB) and take advantage. If they think someone is given to various doctrines, they will jump on that and attempt to persuade others for their own gain. As we say, if they are given an inch, they will take a mile. Avoid such men.
What is the way to combat this? When we read Paul’s letters to Timothy all the way through, we see the stress on the need for sound teaching, the need for preaching the word in purity, the need for avoiding foolish disputes, and suspicious wrangling. We must become deeply entrenched in Scripture itself, to know the truth so well that we can spot the error when its ugly head rises.
By the end of the chapter, Paul says it clearly, and this shows the significance of Scripture:
“But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:13-17).