Appearance of Godliness

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“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (2 Tim. 3: 1-5).

Timothy is told that in the “last days” difficulties would come, and he explains the type of person who would bring those difficulties. The first thing to note is that Paul had in mind the last days of the Judaic aeon, and not the last days of the world, or the space/time continuum. This can be seen contextually in that Paul says that a certain kind of person will be manifested in the last days, and he concludes the exhortation by telling Timothy to avoid those people. We can see this as the first application without reducing in any way the need for us to make similar applications in similar circumstances.

What sort of people would show up in the last days? Paul runs through a laundry list of sinful characteristcs, and holds his surprise for the end. People, he says, will be lovers of self, which indicates that there is possibly a problem with our culture’s insistence that everybody learn how to love themselves. They will be greedy, lovers of money. Their demeanor will be an insolent one — proud, arrogant and abusive. They fail in the most fundamental relationship — they disobey their parents. Their attitude is ungrateful, and they do not care for holy things. Their hearts are filled with cruelty — they are heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, brutal, and teacherous. They have no self-control; what they want, they want right now. They do not love the good, they are reckless, and they are swollen with conceits and vanities. Instead of loving God, they love pleasure. And now the surprise. From the description, we would be justified in thinking that Paul was describing particularly sullen members of some particularly tough street gangs. But no . . .

These people are in the church. They have the appearance of godliness, but deny the power of it. Timothy is told to stay away from them, meaning that they most likely aspire to some sort of teaching or leadership office. Now if this kind of person has the appearance of godliness, it is plain that in order to pull this off, some people have to be looking at the wrong set of standards entirely. The power of godliness lies in avoiding the list of sins that just went before. It does not consist of pounding a pulpit, writing a thick academic tome, wearing a robe, praying through nose in sonorous tones, or giving a big chunk of change for the new annex on the church building.

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