Dear Radio Friends,
Today we are going to continue our series of messages on the last days and the signs of the last days and the coming of Jesus Christ. We do this today by looking at a passage in II Timothy 3. If you have your Bibles, I ask that you open to that passage with me. In verse 1, Paul writes this: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” What does he mean by the “last days”? He is not speaking here exclusively of the very last days before Jesus returns. Nor is he talking just about the times in which Timothy was living—the last days, for example, of the kingdom of Israel before the destruction of Jerusalem by Nero. But “last days” in the Scriptures refers to the entire New Testament age, from the time of Pentecost all the way to the time of the second coming of Jesus Christ. That is very clear when we look at Acts 2, which describes the day of Pentecost as part of the “last days.” Peter, in Acts 2:17, explaining the phenomenon of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, says this (and he is quoting from the prophet Joel—so this is the Old Testament perspective of the New Testament): “It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.” The “last days” began on the day of Pentecost and they extend all the way till the day when Jesus will come again. So Paul speaks to Timothy of the last days, and those are the same last days in which we live. The explanation for that is that Jesus is always coming, throughout the entire New Testament age; His coming is not limited to the day when He appears finally on the clouds of heaven. He is always coming.
This is the way we are to explain and understand the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ as He gives them in the New Testament as well. They are always present, but they become more frequent and more apparent the closer we come to the day when Jesus Christ will return. There is a day when the clock of time will run out. We are getting closer and closer to the very last hour.
The text that we consider today speaks of those last days as perilous times. “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” Perilous means dangerous or hard to bear. This is a certainty with regard to the last days. They will be perilous times. This is what God’s people can expect. If we go further on in the chapter, we see the apostle saying this, that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution; and he says that evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. It is wrong to hold out this false hope that things in this world are going to get better and better. No, God’s people have to be warned in the last days against the perils and the dangers, especially the spiritual dangers that will come.
What is the peril of the last days that Paul has in mind here? “Perilous times shall come.” When you think about that and the peril of the last days, what is it that comes to your mind? What are some of the perils and dangers of the last days? Perhaps you think of wars, wars in which we lose our liberty and we lose our rights and property. Or perhaps you think of earthquakes and the loss of life and the pestilence and the threat of death—some of the things that Jesus prophesies concerning the last days. Maybe you think of the kingdom of Antichrist and the inability that God’s people will have to buy and sell, and the great tribulation that will come. We think of our families; we think of our children; we think of the church; we think of the worship of the church; and we think of all the threats to these things, these privileges that we have in the last days. Perilous times.
But here it is very striking that when Paul describes the peril of the last days, he does not speak of any of those things that I have mentioned. Instead, the great peril of the last days is a spiritual peril. The peril is not that we face persecution. It is not the kingdom of Antichrist. It is not poverty. It is not death. When those things come to God’s people, those are days of grace, days when they experience the richness of the grace of God. No, the real peril, the real spiritual danger of the last days is, as he says here, that men will be lovers of pleasure and lovers of themselves rather than lovers of God. They will couch this in a religious hypocrisy—they will have a form of godliness but they will deny the power thereof. The peril for God’s people in the last days will not be that they do not have food or furniture. But it will be that they have too much of these things and that they will set their heart on these things. That is very important for us as we today consider the sign of pleasure madness in the last days.
We will do that especially from the beginning of verse 2 and then from verses 4 and 5. After Paul has said in verse 1, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come,” he says, “For men shall be lovers of their own selves.” Then, in verses 4 and 5, they will be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” and then this warning: “from such turn away.” This is one of the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus sends the signs to tell us that He is coming, and this is a reminder to us that Jesus is coming.
What is pleasure? Pleasure is anything that is pleasing to a person—your favorite thing. Sometimes we think of pleasure and of pleasure madness too narrowly. We point to the pleasures that the world of ungodly people enjoy. We look at the pleasures of sin. We think of sexual pleasures or the pleasures that money or luxury can bring to us. Then, because we do that, we think to ourselves that we are not lovers of pleasure. But pleasure is this: anything that pleases or interests you. It may be a person that you are interested in; it may be a thing; it may be an activity; it could be anything that you do or do not have. You may be a person of very few means, but still be a pleasure-lover.
If we look at the Bible, we see that the Bible has quite a low view of pleasure and of fun. That is not because the Bible and Christianity are opposed to pleasure itself or that pleasures themselves are wrong. In fact, if we look in I Timothy 4:4 we read this, that “every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.” In chapter 6:17, Paul is speaking to the rich and says that they should not “trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who [and now this] giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” He is speaking to the rich of the things that God has given to them, and God has given those things so that they might enjoy them. God created us, in fact, to find joy, to find our joy in, not just this creation, but in Him. And we may enjoy, as we use everything for the glory of God, all the good things that He has given to us. Think of the pleasures of food and the pleasures of marriage and the pleasures and beauty of this creation that we see.
Yet, at the same time, we see that the Bible does not speak highly of pleasure. Think of the parable of the different kinds of soil, where Jesus speaks of the seed that falls among thorny soil. He says in Luke 8:14, “…that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” Even though pleasure itself is not wrong, and fun itself is not wrong, it is the love of pleasure that is wrong. The Bible condemns that. When pleasures become the most important thing in your life, when they usurp the place of God—this is idolatry, is it not? Love of the heart. Where is the heart? God has commanded us and He has created us to find our joy and our pleasure in Him! When God and His Word and the worship of God and obedience to God and serving God are replaced with the things that please me and that please my flesh, then I love myself and I love pleasure more than I love God.
The word for “pleasure” here in verse 4 is the word from which we get the English word “hedonism.” Maybe some of you are aware of that word. It is an ancient Greek philosophy, an “ism,” or a school of thought, that has a certain view on life. Hedonism says that you determine something is good or valuable based on how much pleasure it gives to you. The perspective is this: that we should strive to get as much pleasure out of life as we can with as little pain as is necessary.
Even though that is a school of thought, a philosophy, still, it is a way of life and thinking for many—not just in ancient Greece but also today. The apostle is saying here that this will characterize the last days. That makes sense because in the last days there will be the rise of Antichrist and the religion of Antichrist in which man will be central and the worship of man and the exaltation of man and the love of man and the pleasure that man can get and receive and the promises that Antichrist will give to man, of wealth and prosperity and peace—all the things that will make man front and center—the number of man: 666.
Certainly we see that in the culture and the age in which we live today. It can be characterized or called a culture of self. There is a pervasive narcissism that says to everyone today that you are the center of your life and of your universe. Look, for example, at the social media. Social media itself is not bad. But look at what it brings out. People portray themselves in ways in which they can promote their own self-esteem. Think of the discussion in the last twenty or thirty years about the subject of self-esteem. Think about the standards today for morality. Everybody does what is right in his own eyes, and the standard is this: if it makes you feel good or if it makes you happy, do it. That is the response of many to the immoral practices that have become so common in society today. Think of drug-use that is legalized today, or think of homosexual marriage and homosexual relationships or adultery and fornication—if it makes you feel good, do it. Think of the response now of so many to that. They say, “Well, I don’t agree with it but it doesn’t affect me.” It is as though that is the standard. But where is God in it all? It is a hedonistic morality.
We should see that what the apostle has in view here is the people in the church—they have a form of godliness, he says, but they deny the power thereof. The ungodly world does not have a form of godliness; it does not care about God. It is happy to go around denying that there is a God, confessing atheism. No, this is about people who have a confessed religion, a form of godliness, churchgoers. We sometimes are very good at having this form of religion. When we let pleasures overrun our life, we are actually denying God, the power of our godliness.
So, we have here a serious call to self-examination. What are the things that most please you? Do you let them take the place of God in your life; take the place of your love for God in your life; take the place of your worship for God in your life? We should not think here just of open sins—of drunkenness or sexual fornication and so on—but we can actually make an idol and find pleasure in any good thing and let something that is not wrong in itself take the place of what should be first and what should take priority in our lives. A person can do this with his work. Or maybe you enjoy reading. Or it could be your social life and your relationships. It could be your entertainment. Whatever it is that is most pleasing to you, in which you find delight and that takes you away from your devotional time and your Bible study and your worship of God and with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. Something that takes your money—maybe it is shopping or a hobby and so on, and it soon takes away so much of your finances that you have nothing to give to the causes of the kingdom of God. Or there may be something that consumes your time. I think of things like video gaming or reading or recreational activities. It could take you away from responsibilities that you have in which you should be glorifying God.
Take, for example, a father who must not only provide for his family with his work but must also be a spiritual leader and raise his children and not leave all this spiritual care and even their physical care to his wife. But now, if there is some pleasure in a man’s life that takes him away from his family all the time, so that he becomes a disconnected dad, then he has become a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God. Love for God shows itself in obedience to His way and His calling for us in whatever the situation we find ourselves in life. So, there are all kinds of ways that we can be hedonistic, that we can be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.
It is so important for us to see this. So important because we must get at the root of our behaviors. Behavior is not the problem. The problem is our love, our love of self—men shall be lovers of self more than lovers of God. It is so important to see that! Because, as we think about the peril of the last days, we see that the peril is not pleasure itself, the peril is not the things that this world offers to us—material things—but the peril is in our heart. We need to come to the cross of Jesus Christ in confession of our self-love. We need to crucify our old self. We need to do this daily in repentance. We should not just feel bad at one point in our life today as you hear this message because you have selfishness in your heart, but you have to come daily to the cross of Jesus to put to death the old man of self and the old man of sin. My ego needs to be crucified at the cross of Jesus Christ. My ego does not need to be propped up but it needs to be slain so that I am not a lover of self but a lover of God. When we come to the cross in repentance, this is what we do. The cross means the end of me. It means the emptying of me. It means my salvation is all of Him. At the cross we understand what Jesus Christ did in His selfless love for us. Then we learn ourselves to be selfless and to love God as Jesus did with a perfect love and obedience at the cross.
Of course, we understand that is never going to happen to us perfectly in this life, and so we have to go back again and again to the cross of Jesus Christ in repentance—to have our sinful pride exposed by the preaching of God’s Word so that our love for self is not the all-consuming thing in our life but that we come to our only hope in the cross of Jesus Christ.
So, the last days will be characterized by self-love. We need to be warned. You see, the peril is not the things; it is not even the people that are described here; but the peril is our own self-love. So, being warned to watch and to be ready for the day of Jesus Christ means especially this, that we watch in our own hearts against a love of self that may be the occasion for us to be drawn after the things of this world so that we are not setting our heart on the day of Jesus Christ. There is the peril. The peril is in our own heart—that we set it on something that we want, that we become discontent, that we become ungrateful for the things that God has given to us and that stands in the way of our love for Him. Then we are drawn after the pleasures of this world.
That is important as we think about the future and our children—the next generation in the future, too. Do your children see in you a heart for the things of God? Or do they see this: that you could just as well let go of spiritual activities and replace them with recreational activities. You could just as well skip going to church on the Lord’s Day and spend your time in vacation or recreational activities. You could just as well spend your money on the things you want and that you have to get and find your happiness in those things and in the end have no finances left to give to the Lord, no time left for spiritual activities , for the reading and study of God’s Word, for reading a good book on the Lord’s Day. What is it that your children see? Do you see the peril? The peril is our love for self, and we need to be discerning then, as God’s people.
So, at the end of verse 5, the apostle says concerning these who are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God and these who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof, that we have to turn aside from such. That means that we have to live a godly life in which we separate ourselves from the world and its ideals and its pleasures and its hedonism.
That does not mean that we treat the people of this world like dirt or that we have a right to treat them in unchristian ways. No, we have to have a Christ-likeness in all our behavior towards the world. But when the attitude we confront in the world is one of self-love and pleasure-loving, and when we confront that attitude in ourselves, then we have to turn away from it. That is repentance. That is our duty. “From such turn away.” We need to forge our relationships not with pleasure-lovers and pleasure-seekers, but with those who love God and seek God.
Because our hearts love pleasure, this is where this calling and living in the last days becomes so difficult. This means that the same place to which we go to crucify ourselves—the cross of Jesus Christ—is the place where we must go to find our true love and our true love for God. When we come to the cross of Jesus Christ, what we see and what we believe and what we experience is the greatness of God’s love for us. God has manifested His love towards us in this that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Seeing, experiencing, and believing the immensity of God’s love for us, His sacrifice—that fills our hearts with a love for Him so that we do not love self, so that we do not love pleasure, and so that we seek Him and desire the coming of His kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth.
May God keep us from being lovers of pleasure and make us lovers of Him more than lovers of self.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the warning that the Scriptures give us of the peril of the last days, the danger. We realize this danger as we look in our own hearts and see that there are so many ways in which we do love ourselves and in which we do seek the things of this earth. We pray, give us hearts, eyes, the eyes of faith, that look for the day of Jesus Christ so that we seek Him and not the things here on the earth. Spare us, we pray, and keep us till the day when Jesus will come. We ask it for His sake, Amen.
Dear Radio Friends,