Deception in the Last Days

Text: 2 Timothy 3:1-9

Paul goes into his final and most complete indictment in this letter concerning false teachers. But this is not just meant for Timothy. These reminders are for us today as well. Even in the last days, the gospel is sufficient to deal with the deceptiveness of sin, not only from false teachers, but also within our own hearts.

Three ways Christians can better prepare to deal with deception:

I.  Have a biblical understanding of sin.  (v. 1-5a)

When Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent to eat of the one tree God told them not to eat of, they made a statement that had profound consequences. Their statement was “God, you’re not enough. We don’t trust you. And we don’t need you.” Behind every sin is the heart of man saying, “I know what’s better for me than God does.” And the consequence was God gave them what they wanted – an existence outside of His care.

Even after a person becomes a Christian, we still wrestle with “indwelling sin” that we need help with. That’s why warnings like these in scripture are so helpful – not just to warn us about other people out in the world, but to remind God’s people, right here in the church, that our hearts need help as well. In verses 2-5, Paul lays out a damning description of sinful man.

  1. “lovers of self and lovers of money” – When you love yourself more than you should, then you will put your own comfort and your own wants above all else. In fact, this love of self is like the bookends to this whole list. Down in the end of v. 4 it says men will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
  2. “proud and arrogant” – This is connected also to “swollen with conceit” in v. 4. Our natural, sinful desire is to be self-centered, to be proud and arrogant. To think more highly of ourselves, our opinions and our preferences, and not value others.
  3. “Disobedient to their parents”, is connected to being “ungrateful” in the same verse. A child that is disobedient to their parents, one who is not disciplined, who is allowed to do what they want, and are given whatever they want, that kind of child will become an ungrateful adult, believing that the world owes them something. Anytime something goes wrong, they will look for someone to blame, a perpetual victim.
  4. “unholy” – That means to be opposed to what is holy, hostile to what is sinless, to reject what reflects and honors God. That is connected to v. 3 and “not loving good”. We have become a generation who values feeling good above doing good. To the point of despising what is good. If I hate God, then I will hate what is good. But I won’t care, as long as I feel good.
  5.  “abusive” – That’s not physical, but verbal abuse. Malicious talk. Which includes in v. 3 “slanderous” – or telling lies about others. That heart is further described as “without self-control or brutal”. I don’t care how my words affect others. My goal is to speak my mind, to be true to myself – which is just another way of saying I worship me.
  6. “heartless” (v. 3), which means unloving. Connected to that is “unappeasable” which means unforgiving. A person who refuses to be reconciled with others, who refuses to admit it when they’re wrong, always someone else to blame, and leave many damaged relationships in their wake. Unloving and unforgiving. Part of that same grouping is v. 4 – “treacherous and reckless”. That is a person who is bent on getting their way, no matter what it takes, and no matter who it hurts.All of these are the opposite of the Great Command, to love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.Now, verse 5 is a transition. So far, Paul has been warning Timothy of the downward moral slide of the average pagan culture. But now, Paul includes those in the church. Verse 5, “…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” As awful as these descriptions have been to this point, this is the most dangerous. A person who looks godly without being godly. Pretending to be religious, but not actually being regenerated. Seeing the gospel as a means to an end rather than a truth that transforms. Some of these people are pretending to be Christians, and they know they’re not. But others have gotten so used to pretending, that they’ve become self-deceived, going through the motions of attending church, and saying the right things, and having the right answers, but hearts that are unchanged.

    Timothy, avoid such people. Have nothing to do with them. That brings us to our second reminder for how Christians can better prepare to deal with the deception of sin.

II.  Know how to guard your heart.  (v. 5b-8)

That long list of sinful qualities, Paul first applies it to describe all sinful men in the last days. But now, Paul makes it personal and applies it specifically to Timothy’s situation, and the false teachers in Ephesus.

[6] For among them [among those who fit this list of sins] are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions,

 Paul is saying, “Timothy, you’re on the front lines of this battle. You have these kinds of people in your midst, in your community, in your church.”

False teachers who love self and money more than they love God, who pretend to be religious, but only so they can gain people’s trust, get them to lower their guard, so they “creep into” or “worm their way into” households and families for financial gain.

These women were “always learning” (v. 7) in the sense of always spending time and subjecting themselves to bad theology, to the point that they were never able to arrive at what is true and right and biblical. They were never able to fully realize the only truth that transforms – the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We can all be deceived. We can all be vulnerable to deceptions.

So how can we guard our hearts against this kind of spiritual deception?

  1. Know God’s word. (Measure all your beliefs with what is “written”.)
  2. Be satisfied in Christ. (Meditate on all the blessings you have in Christ, in the gospel, so that your heart will not long for something else.)
  3. Know who you are in Christ. (This will guard us against flattery, and trying to find our identity and worth in things, or what other people think.)
  4. Encourage one another. (We live life together as the church, reminding one another of these truths, helping one another see our blind spots, pointing to the goodness of Jesus again and again.)

III.  Trust Jesus to bring truth to light.  (v. 9)

As Paul so often does, he ends a section – not emphasizing the bad news, but reminding us of the good news. Very briefly, look at v. 9…

[9] But they [the false teachers] will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

Paul is reminding Timothy, “With all the bad news of the situation, the bad news of the human condition, and the bad news of the false teachers that are harming the church, let me remind you of the good news. Truth will come to light. Two ways we know this for sure:

  1. Paul says their “folly” or their foolish deception, will eventually be plain to all, just like it was when Moses faced off against Pharaoh’s magicians. Those false teachers in Ephesus may think they’re fooling everyone, but there will come a point that God will reveal them for what they are. Their claim to be followers of Christ will eventually be exposed as a fraud by the lives they live. Their own selfishness, their own deception, will eventually be revealed. The truth will come to light.
  2. God will reveal truth to His people. His truth will stand. Deception is temporary, but the gospel is eternal. When Jesus promises to build His church, to protect and keep those who are His, embedded in that covenant is the promise that even though you and I may swerve and be tempted, Jesus will always open our eyes to the truth. He is faithful to keep those who are His from deception.

And as we delight in Jesus and the beauty of His gospel, our hearts won’t long for anything else.

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