by Matthew W. Bassford
The first nine verses of 2 Timothy 3 contain one of the most brutal condemnations of the wicked in the entire New Testament. However, its subject does not appear to be people in the world. Instead, it describes Christians who have been corrupted by the world. Normally, we think of hard times for the faithful as being the result of external persecution. In this case, though, Paul says that internal decay will cause hard times.
Among the worst of the fallen are those who use the gospel as a pretext for seducing foolish women. Paul compares these evil men to two other men named Jannes and Jambres. He does not further identify them, but contextually we can link them to the magicians deployed by Pharaoh in Exodus 7 and 8.
For a time, it seems like these Egyptian occultists can keep pace with Moses, the prophet of God. Moses’ brother Aaron throws down his staff so that it becomes a serpent; the magicians do the same. Admittedly, Aaron's snake proves to be a little higher up the food chain than theirs, but they make the miracle look less extraordinary.
The same thing happened with the first and second plagues. Moses turns the Nile to blood; they turn water to blood. Moses creates frogs; they create frogs too. However, when Moses brings forth gnats for the third plague, the magicians are baffled. They are revealed as pretenders to the power that the prophet wields, and we see no more of them in the story.
Paul warns us that those who use the gospel to satisfy the flesh are on a similar track. For now, they can resist the truth. Such resistance can take two different forms, either contradicting the gospel directly or bringing it into disrepute through luxurious living. How many people sneer at Christianity because of what they have seen from televangelists or from corrupt leaders in their own congregations?
However, just like the magicians didn't have true power, the pretense of Christianity doesn't have any power either. False teachers have no answers when life gets hard or when tragedy strikes. How can they call others to surrender everything to Jesus when they themselves have not surrendered?
Finally, the hypocrite always ends up being exposed. Thankfully, this seems to be happening a lot more in this life these days. Countless predatory clergy have been brought to shame by the people they abused and ruined years or decades ago. The IRS catches up with a fair number of embezzlers and cheats too.
Far worse is the certainty of being exposed in the next life. On the day of judgment, God will reward both the faithful servant and the scoundrel far beyond what either had imagined was possible. Untold billions will watch the downfall of the lying teacher.
The point is plain. Don't be a worldly, corrupt Christian. Especially, don't be a worldly, corrupt church leader. The devil wants you to believe that you will get away with it.