But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
This past weekend, I sat down and mulled over these verses as a form of self-evaluation. Then, on Sunday morning, the pastor asked the congregation to take a moment and reflect on what needed to be put in order in our lives. It was sobering for God to deal with me personally and reinforce that generally. It might be said, and not without merit, that the end of the year is a time for reflection and resolving to do and be better in the year to come. Be that as it may, these verses have stuck with me and I felt I should look more intently at those that troubled me; the descriptors that made me pause and ask, “God, does this describe me?”
The first is lover of self. Looking up the word, it basically renders to selfish. And I can be. I am not always, but I do catch myself being selfish. Let me then mark this is as a growth area.
The second is arrogant. The word renders poorly, but basically means “with an overweening estimate of one’s means or merits, despising others or even treating them with contempt.” As I think on it, it seems that I have a mostly realistic view of my means and merits, though I do hold some individuals in contempt. Growth area.
The third is ungrateful. Coming out of the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is easy to feel that I am ungrateful. I also catch myself not feeling very grateful for things from time-to-time. This is an area that merits further inspection.
The fourth is without self-control. I find myself struggling to keep from having one more coffee drink or one more snack or hit the snooze bar one more time or … that gives a fair sampling. There are more serious areas where self-control is lacking. My mouth sometimes runs of its own accord. My temper is sometimes a struggle to keep in check, despite years of God working on it with me. And there are more areas. This is the place where I must stop and confess to God that I have fallen short. I do not consistently bear the fruit of self-control and this is a thing which should not be.
The fifth is lovers of pleasure. This causes me to pause before I even get moving on it. Who doesn’t love pleasure? It’s pleasurable. It’s pleasant. But the phrase is not lovers of pleasure by itself, rather it is lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. The problem, it would seem, is not in loving pleasure but in loving pleasure above loving God. Does my desire for pleasurable things conflict with my love for God? If so, which one wins out in the conflict? Yet again I must stop and confess that I have fallen short. There are pleasures that interfere with my devotion to God and these hold sway in a way that they should not.
The last one that troubles me in these verses is holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Almost every person that calls him- or her-self a Christian holds to some form of godliness. The word used for hold is “echo.” For those familiar with Greek mythology, this will ring a bell, as in Echo and Narcissus. Echo is an excellent example of the idea of the word. She holds to Narcissus, despite his morbid self-love. She holds to him so much that her own physical form wastes away. But that is not the part that gave me pause. We all cling to some form of godliness and, like Echo, we will waste away holding to it if nothing renews us. And that is where the power comes in. The power spoken of is dynamos; dynamic power – the power to change. My wife and I discussed this and concluded that the key word in this phrase is denied. The word used could mean to deny in the sense of refusing to believe in or admit something. But it also carries the — in my opinion, sadder — meaning of rejecting. The power is there for the taking, but these people reject it; they want no part of it.
And, I confess, that I am somewhat frightened of God’s power to change. I fully admit that He can make all things new — Jesus tells John to write that exact phrase down when John has his Patmos visions that we call the book of Revelation. It is not the existence of the power that I fear I have denied. I fear that I have rejected the power and have therefore not changed. Over and over in The Bible, God states His goal as my sanctification. He wants to make me holy as He is holy. And that is frightening. To be utterly self-controlled means that I have no excuses for my behavior any longer. It is habit or knee-jerk reflex no more. To love God more than anything else? I can mentally admit the desirability of the goal, but it troubles my mind to wonder what that would mean in a practical sense.
I think that this phrase is the pivot on which the rest of this turns. If I reject the power that God offers, then I will not change or will change so slowly as to be imperceptible. If I accept the power to change, then I will change and this list will, one item at a time, cease to apply to me.
Father, as the new year looms, thank You for causing me to pause and reflect. Not to condemn myself, but to examine myself and see where I fall short. It is a non-destructive testing of the self You asked of me and there are indications; areas of concern. Though I admit to fearing what it might mean, please apply Your power to me and make me like You: holy. Nothing less will satisfy either of us.