Reading 2 Timothy 3:1-5, I can easily feel a bit smug.
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come; for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”
“Despicable people,” I think to myself. “Thank God I’m not one of them.”
But something sounds familiar to me about my thoughts. It strikes me that I sound a lot like the Pharisee in Luke 18.
“God, I thank You that I am not like other men.” Luke 18:11.
But what did Jesus say about the Pharisee?
“… everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:14.
In my exalted thoughts about myself, congratulating myself for not being like those people, I am guilty of some of the things listed right there. I’m being proud and haughty and boastful. I have to acknowledge that is the truth.
Take heed to yourself
What if I completely changed the way I read this passage? Instead of reading it as being about some other people, a group of obvious sinners and hypocrites, why don’t I take it as a warning of what I could become if I don’t stand guard and watch myself? In another place Paul exhorts Timothy to the do that very thing.
“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” 1 Timothy 4:16.
That’s the key right there. Watch and stand guard so you don’t let these things that are so ugly become who you are because you are smug and self-satisfied in your assessment of yourself.
I’ve already seen how easy it is to be proud and haughty, without even realizing what is happening. What about the other things listed there?
Isn’t it actually so close to me to be a lover of self? To want to protect my ego, my self-interests at all costs? Am I not, by nature, a lover of money? Am I always good to others? Am I always respectful of my parents? Am I thankful? Do I truly love God?
Or do I just sit back, content with the knowledge that I am a Christian, happy with a form of godliness, but denying its power?
The hope of the gospel
Because the power of true godliness is that all of those things can be overcome. Yes, I can easily be a lover of self, but I can overcome that egoism. That is the hope of the gospel. That is the promise of what can come to pass in my life. The power of godliness is the power that we get through the Holy Spirit to overcome all temptations to sin that come from my flesh. (Acts 1:8)
So I need to be awake and watch out for those things in my own life. I need to love and acknowledge the truth about myself, because it is the truth that will set me free from all of this human ugliness. When I see the truth about how I am by nature, then I can overcome it and become free from it. I can’t do that if I don’t acknowledge that it is true that I am proud, unthankful, and all of these other things.
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set make you free.” John 8:32.
The verses in Timothy are a cautionary tale of how it will go for one who denies the power of godliness. Thanks to the grace of God, I don’t have to be one of those people.