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Bible Commentaries
2 Timothy 3

Ironside's Notes on Selected BooksIronside's Notes

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Verses 1-9

Chapter 6 Characteristics of the Last Days

2 Timothy 3:1-9

In his First Epistle to Timothy, as we have seen, Paul speaks of the latter times, and he depicts conditions that have long since been fulfilled-conditions, however, which were still far in the future when he wrote. He said, “In the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.”

We have only to look back into what we speak of as “the Dark Ages” to recognize the fulfillment of these words. We have it in the Romish apostasy, in looking upon an unmarried nun or a celibate monk as a holier person than the Christian wife and mother, or husband and father. “Commanding to abstain from meats,” as though these were conducive to lead one into sin, and the abstinence from them had a tendency to make one holier. We know how all that has been fulfilled.

And now we come farther along the stream of time. We come to our own times-the last days of this Second Epistle. (In order to give a somewhat fuller exposition of this passage than time permitted in the oral address, I have substituted a portion of my book, The Midnight Cry.) Paul says:

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be self-lovers, money-lovers, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, unforgiving, false accusers, incontinent, savage, haters of good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away. For of this sort are they who creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with manifold desires, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all, as theirs also was. (vv. 1-9, 1911 version)

These are the great outstanding features of the “last days”-closing the church dispensation and to be immediately followed by the coming of the Lord. Can any believer in Holy Writ doubt our being now in the very midst of them?

But it may be here objected: “When have men in general been other than as here depicted? Is not this but a repetition of what Paul has already said in describing the heathen world in his day (Romans 1:29-32)? In what special sense are they any more characteristic now than then?” To these very natural queries I reply that such things, indeed, ever described the heathen, but in 2 Timothy 3:0 the Holy Spirit is describing conditions in the professing church in the last days! It is not the openly wicked and godless who are being depicted here. It is those who have a form of godliness while denying its power. This is what makes the passage so intensely solemn and gives it such tremendous weight in the present day. There are twenty-one outstanding features in this prophecy of church conditions in the last days, and that each may have its due weight with my reader I touch briefly on them in order.

1. “Men shall be self-lovers.” It is men self-occupied, as contrasted with the godly of all ages who found their joy and delight in looking away from self to God as seen in Christ. This is the age of the egotist in matters spiritual as well as carnal. They find their God “within” them, we are told, and not without. They make no secret of it. When they profess to love God, it is themselves they love.

2. “Money-lovers.” Is it necessary to speak of this? Colossal fortunes heaped together by men who profess to believe the Bible and its testimony! What a spectacle for angels and demons! There was one Simon Magus of old. He has myriads of successors in the professing church today, and the command “not to eat” with a covetous man or an extortioner is in most places a dead letter indeed.

3. “Boasters.” Read the so-called Christian papers, attend Christendom’s great conventions of young people or old. Listen to the great pulpiteers of the day. What is their theme? “Rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing!” Great swelling words are rapturously applauded by people dwelling in a fool’s paradise, even when uttered by men who are tearing the Bible to shreds, and who deny practically every truth that it contains.

4. “Proud.” So proud as to glory in their shame-congratulating themselves on the very things the Word of God so unsparingly condemns. Proud of their fancied superiority; proud of their eloquence; proud of their miscalled “culture”; proud of their very impiety, which is hailed as the evidence of broad-mindedness, and a cultivated intellect! How nauseating it must all be to Him who said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.”

5. “Blasphemers!” Yes, there it is-that big, ugly word that one hesitates to use, but which is chosen by the Holy Spirit Himself to describe the men drawing salaries as ministers of Christ who use their office to impiously deny His name! Blasphemers! Aye, the whole host of the new theologians, miscalled “higher critics,” and all their ilk-all who deny the Deity of the Son, His virgin birth, His holy humanity-blasphemers, every one, and as such to be judged unsparingly in the harvest of wrath so near at hand! And think of the disloyalty to Christ of Christians- real Christians, I mean-who can sit and listen to such men week after week and are too timid to protest, or too indifferent to obey the Word, “From such turn away!”

6. “Disobedient to parents.” It is one of the crowning sins of the age, and indicates the soon breaking-up of the whole social fabric as at present constituted. Opposition to authority is undoubtedly one of the characteristic features of the time. Children will not brook restraint, and parents have largely lost the sense of their responsibility toward the rising generation. Does this seem unduly pessimistic? Nevertheless, a little thoughtful consideration will, I am sure, convince any reasonable person of its truth. And it may be laid down as an axiom, that children not trained in obedience to parents will not readily be obedient to God. We have been sowing the wind in this respect for years, as nations and as families. The reaping of the whirlwind is certain to follow.

7. “Unthankful.” It is the denial of divine Providence-utterly forgetting the Source of all blessings, both temporal and spiritual. Straws indicate the turn of the wind, and even “so small a matter,” as some may call it, as the giving-up of the good old-fashioned and eminently scriptural custom of thanksgiving at the table, we may see how prevalent is the sin of unthankfulness among professed Christians. Go into the restaurants or other eating houses. How often can you tell the believer from the unbeliever?

8. “Unholy.” The godly separation from the world according to the Bible is sneered at as “bigotry” and “Puritanism.” In its place has come a jolly, rollicking worldliness that ill comports with the Christian profession. Piety-that characteristic Christian virtue-how little seen now! It is not necessary to be outwardly vile to be unholy. Giving up the line of separation between the believer and the unbeliever is unholiness.

9. “Without natural affection.” The foundations of family life are being destroyed. Unscriptural divorces and all their kindred evils cast their dark shadows over the professing church, as well as over the body politic.

On the next unholy octave I need not dwell particularly. To enumerate them is enough to stir the heart and appall the soul when it is remembered how they are tolerated and spreading through the great professing body.

10. “Unforgiving”

11. “False accusers” (Let us beware lest we be found almost unwittingly in this satanic company!)

12. “Incontinent”

13. “Savage”

14. “Haters of good”

15. “Traitors”

16. “Heady”

17. “High-minded”

This last accounts largely for the daring things proudly uttered by learned doctors against Scripture and the great fundamentals of the faith, and complacently accepted by unregenerate hearers. Surely, the time has come “when they will not bear sound teaching, but according to their own desire shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3, 1911 version).

18. “Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Would you not almost think the words were written by some fiery-souled exhorter of the present day? How aptly they characterize in one brief clause the greatest outstanding feature of the religious world. The church of God has gone into the entertainment business! People must be amused, and as the church needs the people’s money, the church must, perforce, supply the demand and meet the craving! How else are godless hypocrites to be held together? How otherwise can the throngs of unconverted youths and maidens be attracted to the “services”? So the picture show and the entertainment, in the form of musicale (sacred, perhaps!) and minstrel show, take the place of the gospel address and the solemn worship of God. And thus Christless souls are lulled to sleep and made to feel “religious” while gratifying every carnal desire under the sanction of the sham called the church! And the end? What an awakening!

19. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Men must have some form of religious expression, and so the outward thing is sustained after the life is gone out of it. Thus formality prevails where regeneration, conversion to God, the Spirit’s sanctification, and everything really vital has long since been virtually denied. The bulk of so-called “church-members” do not even profess to have been saved or to be Spirit-indwelt. All this is foreign to their mode of thought or speech. The gospel, which alone is “the power of God unto salvation,” is seldom preached and, by the mass, never missed! Could declension and apostasy go much further? Yet there are still lower depths to be sounded!

20. Feminism. No, you will not find the word-but read verse 6 again, slowly and thoughtfully. Does it not indicate a great feminist movement in these dark days? “Silly women, laden with manifold desires”-craving what God in His infinite wisdom has forbidden them: authority, publicity, masculinity, and what not? Thus they leave their own estate and make a new religion to suit themselves. Is it a matter of no import that just such emotional women were the tools used by Satan for the starting and propagating of so many modern fads? Need one mention Mesdames Blavatsky, Besant, and Tingley of Theosophy; the Fox sisters’ relation to modern Spiritism; Mrs. Mary Baker Glover Eddy and her host of female practitioners in the woman’s religion miscalled “Christian Science”; the neurotic Ellen G. White and her visionary system of “Seventh-day Adventism”; Ella Wheeler Wilcox and her associates in the spreading of what they have been pleased to denominate the “New Thought,” which is only the Devil’s old lie, “Ye shall be as gods,” in a modern garb; and the women-expounders of the “Silent Unity,” or “Home of Truth” delusions? All these are outside the “orthodox” fold. But when we look within, what a large place has the modern feminist movement secured in the affections of women who profess to believe the Bible, but who unblushingly denounce Paul as “an old bachelor” with narrow, contracted ideas, little realizing that they are thereby rejecting the testimony of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the signs of the times, and clearly shows toward what the professing body is so rapidly drifting! 21.

21. “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”- and that by their own confession. They are “truth-seekers.” Ask them if it be not so. They confess it without a blush and consider it humility thus to speak. According to these apostates, the church which began as “the pillar and ground of the truth” is, in this twentieth century of its existence, “seeking” the truth, thereby acknowledging they never yet have found it! Truth-seekers! Yet the Lord Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Why then seek further? Because they have drifted away from Him and His Word, so they go on, ever learning, ever seeking, and ever missing the glorious revelation of the truth as it is in Jesus.

Well, this is the end. Declension can go no further than to deny the Lord that bought them, until He Himself shall remove His own to the Father’s house. Then the apostate body remaining will declare, “We have found the truth at last!” and they will worship the Antichrist, believing the Devil’s lie and calling it the truth. And how comes such delusion? “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie; that they all might be judged who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, emphasis added, 1911 version).

As for those who have been the leaders in turning others from the truth, what will happen to them? “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.” That is, in due time God is going to deal in judgment with those who mislead the ignorant and unwary, and who turn them unto fables which encourage them to live in sin and follow after the lusts of the flesh.

This is God’s picture of the last days. And I challenge you to look about you and see if these are not the conditions that characterize a great part of Christendom today-no reality, no power, yet much profession. God give us to be genuine, to be real, that eternal things may so grip our souls that we will live and do the work and be real witnesses for Him.

Verses 10-17

Chapter 7 The Authority of the Holy Scriptures

2 Timothy 3:10-17

But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works, (vv. 10-17)

In contrast to the false teaching and evil practices of many in the last days, we now have the example of Paul himself set forth under nine heads, after which he stresses the importance of cleaving to the Holy Scripture as our security against error.

First we read, “But thou hast fully known my doctrine.” Paul was preeminently a teacher. He was also an evangelist, but his great gift was that of teaching, unfolding the truth that God had revealed to him for the blessing of others.

Second, inasmuch as Timothy had been associated with Paul for a number of years-ever since the early days when he first began to witness for Christ-the Apostle writes to him, “Thou hast fully known my … manner of life.” It is a pitiable thing when one’s behavior is not in accordance with his doctrine. You have heard of the preacher who preached, “Do as I say, but not as I do.” That is a poor testimony. We cannot lift men higher than ourselves. If one is not living for God, is not walking with Christ, then he cannot be a real blessing to other people.

In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul said, long years before he wrote 2 Timothy, “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost” (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6). Paul and his companions lived such lives that they gave power to their message.

Third, we read, “Thou hast fully known my… purpose.” It is most important that we have a purpose and stand by it when that purpose is not to magnify oneself but rather in all things that Christ might be magnified.

Fourth, “Thou hast fully known my… faith”-not the faith that saves but that faith which enables one to lay hold upon God day by day and triumph over all circumstances.

Fifth: “Longsuffering”-enduring all things for Christ’s name’s sake and the gospel. Coupled with that is “charity,” the sixth in order. This word has come to mean “almsgiving,” but that is only a very small part of its meaning. The original word translated “charity” is not simply almsgiving, though that may be included, but it is unselfish love and compassion for men everywhere, thus enabling one to rise above jealousy, envy, covetousness, and every unholy tendency. We are to love even our enemies, no matter how they treat us.

Seventh: “Thou hast fully known my… patience.” It takes a lot of patience to go on in the work of the Lord. So many things try and exercise one’s heart. But if we recognize the fact that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), we can patiently endure even the most distressing experiences.

Eighth and ninth, the Apostle adds, “Persecutions, afflictions,” which he had to suffer for Christ’s sake. Timothy knew a great deal about them. He knew what Paul had gone through at the beginning in Antioch, in Iconium, in Derbe, and in Lystra, where Timothy lived as a lad. It was at Lystra that Paul, having performed a great miracle, had difficulty to keep the people from worshiping him and Barnabas, his companion, as gods. Later these same people were stirred up by unbelieving Jews and tried to kill Paul. They thought they had done so and dragged his body outside the city gate, leaving it there as refuse. However, as the disciples gathered about him in great distress and were about to make arrangements to bury him, he opened his eyes and indicated there was no need of a funeral for the present.

Timothy was familiar with all these things, but Paul could say, “Out of them all the Lord delivered me.”

You and I sometimes think we suffer if people cross our wishes, if they find fault with our motives. But I am sure it could be said of most of us, as Paul said to the Hebrew Christians, “Ye have not resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4). Many Christians in other lands have been called upon to suffer excruciatingly, to suffer in ways we have never known. Unto us it is given not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake.

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” If to some extent we are not the objects of the world’s hatred, if we do not have the disapproval of those who despise Christianity, if we are not evil spoken of as were the prophets of God of old, then we may very well raise the question as to whether we are living godly lives or not. Persecution is inevitable for those who are faithful to God in a world like this, where “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” The world is ripening for judgment. It goes on and on in rebellion against God and His Christ, and its doom cannot be delayed much longer.

I know some people have the idea that the whole world is to be converted and all men brought to the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ by the preaching of the gospel. But Scripture gives no hint of anything of the kind. In fact, we find it teaches the very opposite. Our Lord said, “As the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:37). The world was not converted in the days of Noah. The mass of men were given over to violence and corruption. And the Lord Jesus Christ put the question, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). The nearer we get to the end, the higher is the rising tide of rebellion against God.

“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” Paul was thinking of Timothy’s instruction in his home, as well as that which he had received from Paul and others of his companions who had been fellow laborers in the gospel. In those early days there was no such thing as a Bible Institute or a Theological Seminary where young men, who wanted to give themselves wholly to the work of the Lord, could go in order to be trained for Christian service. The custom was for an experienced servant of Christ to take one or more young men with him and instruct them in Scripture and train them in the work of the Lord. This was Timothy’s case. He had gone forth with Paul, had heard him preach the truth of the gospel, and had learned from him that which he had gotten direct from God Himself through divine revelation.

Then Timothy had his Bible, and he was responsible to read it. Paul says, “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures.” It is a wonderful thing to know the Holy Scripture from childhood. Many of us can thank God that we first learned to reverence and love the Bible in our own homes. How we should praise Him for godly parents who loved this Book and who implanted in our hearts a reverence for its teachings. Timothy had this privilege. If any of you parents do not give this privilege to your children, you are robbing them of something they will never be able to get anywhere else. Do not depend upon sending your children to others to teach them; do not depend upon the Sunday school or the church service to do this for them. These, of course, are important, but you should supplement this work by instruction in the home.

Timothy was well furnished. He knew the Word of God from a child. It was not, however, the New Testament which the Apostle had in mind. That had not been written when Timothy was a child. Do not neglect the Old Testament. Many Christians do. Many give very little time to the Old Testament, and the result is that they have a very imperfect understanding of the New Testament, for the roots of the New Testament go deep down into the Old Testament. Timothy knew the Hebrew Scriptures. He was familiar with the prophecies concerning the coming of Messiah, so that when the Lord Jesus was presented to him, he was prepared to believe in Him. “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Simply knowing Scripture will not produce salvation. One may know the Bible, one may be able to quote many Scripture passages, but that in itself does not save. But the Bible reveals Christ, and when one believes in Him, he is saved. That is what happened in Timothy’s case, and thank God, in the experience of millions more.

Note how fully Scripture meets every need for the believer as he goes through this scene. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Originally this term scripture was applied specifically to the Old Testament. Later the books of the New Testament were likewise so designated. In the last chapter of his Second Epistle the apostle Peter adds Paul’s letters to the other Scripture passages.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God”-that is, it is divinely breathed. The men who wrote the Bible did not write their own thoughts. They wrote as guided by and directed by the Holy Spirit. We read, “No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Whether it be the historical books of the Bible; or the poetical books, like the Psalms; or the wisdom literature, like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes; or the Gospels and the Epistles of the New Testament, the writers of all these books wrote not simply their own thoughts, but they wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit of God. As we turn to any page of this Book we may know that God is speaking to us. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable.” One might not think there is much that is profitable or instructive in some parts of the Word, such as the genealogies, for instance, but all are of value, whether we realize it or not.

Scripture is profitable for four things: “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” First, it is “profitable for doctrine.” The only authoritative book on divine teaching is this blessed volume. Men have written thousands of books to try to explain the Bible, but the Bible itself is the only authority. No matter what teaching may be set forth, if it is not found in the Bible then we are not to accept it. We are to test everything by what is written here.

Second, Scripture is “profitable… for reproof.” It is profitable to show where we are wrong in our lives and in our thoughts.

Third, it is “profitable… for correction.” It shows how to get right.

In the fourth place, it is “profitable… for instruction in righteousness.” After I have taken the right path, it shows me what God’s will is for me. Therefore, we shall never reach the place where we can be independent of the Word of God. Sometimes just one verse will change one’s whole viewpoint. We need to read and ponder every word in dependence on the Holy Spirit that He may open our understanding to the truth.

As we learn from Scripture, we shall find that it is all-sufficient to so guide and direct “that the man of God may be perfect [or mature], throughly furnished unto all good works.”

In the light of this passage we may be sure that nothing is esteemed by God as a good work if it is contrary to the Word of God. When we stand at the judgment seat of Christ, it will not be a question of what we thought about this or that, but what God said. The standard is His Word, not our understanding of it. But we should seek to understand it as the Spirit of God opens it up to us in order that we may walk in obedience to it. If any turn aside from the Word, they will be held responsible for disobedience. The Bible, and the Bible alone, is the basis of instruction and guidance for the Spirit-led believer. God grant that we may be subject to that blessed Word.

Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 3". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/2-timothy-3.html. 1914.
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