the earliest days of the church there has been dispute over the basic nature of
the church. Is the church basically a health club for saints, a place for the
good to get better? Or is the church basically a hospital for sinners, a place
for the bad to become the good? The discussion very much follows a similar
problem: is man basically good, or evil? My answer to that question is
simple: Both – because he is fallen. So the church at any time contains both
the righteous and the unrighteous – and sometimes it’s difficult to tell which
is which. This lesson shows us one approach to that problem.
church as hospital
in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels
of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore,
if anyone cleanses himself from these things,
he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for
every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith,
love and peace, with those who call on
the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations,
knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord's bond-servant must not be
quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with
gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant
them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to
their senses and escape from the snare
of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
(2Ti 2:20-26 NASB)
words particularly cherished by Americans, “all men are created equal.” This
can hardly be described as fact; but it is a fine ideal. In fact, we know that
all within the church are hardly equal. Some were raised in Christian homes;
some raised in a bar room. Some had loving Christian parents (or
grandparents); others found Christ in a coach or youth leader. So we are not
equal. But we can change.
does one grow in the church? It’s very much like any other organization. You
need to make yourself useful. If you are not fit to do anything, you’re not
likely to stay, are you?
But how do you “make yourself useful?” If you want the world’s answer, it’s
found in any number of services. These are no doubt needed in the church, and
should be done willingly. But the first step is this: you must cleanse
yourself. The church is the bride of Christ; he will have her spotless. You
must take the first steps; you renounce your wrongs, ask forgiveness and then
you will be useful – not to the board of elders, nor the planning committee but
to God Himself. That makes you fit for honorable service.
bad and ugly
counsels Timothy to flee the most common temptation of a young man – lust. The
point is more general than that. For any given age, time and place, there are
common temptations. Look around, see what they are, and avoid them.
is one in particular that we all must avoid. Sometimes we must choose between
right and righteousness. It feels very good to win an argument (I am
personally quite fond of being on the winning end), but we must not put that
pleasure above being righteous. In winning the argument about the correct
interpretation of 2nd Hezekiah we may alienate the loser – who may
see the church not as hospital for sinners but debating society.
always, for every “thou shalt not” there is a “thou shalt.” We are to pursue
righteousness, love, peace and faith. Please note something: “pursue.” You
do not obtain these things by sitting back and relaxing, waiting for the
righteousness truck to drop off another load. Ask, seek and knock! This is
where the pure heart of the cleansed sinner enters; only the pure in heart see
God – which explains why the rest are in the dark.
character of the man of God is seen here. He is not a championship debater; he
is a shepherd. He must be a man who is kind, patient and gentle, with
sufficient knowledge of the faith that those whom he rebukes will know that he
is speaking the truth. Keep your eye on the prize: it is not their
humiliation we want, it is their repentance. Pray that they will come to the
knowledge of the truth. As Paul puts it here, that they will come to their
senses. Just like the Prodigal Son.
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.
(2Ti 3:1-5 NASB)
take a deep breath; exhale slowly. Yes, we are talking about the end times.
Just what are the end times? It is clear that the Apostles themselves did not
know, as Christ Himself was not permitted to know. The Scripture tends to give
us two meanings to this phrase:
it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now
many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.
(1Jo 2:18 NASB)
seems to say that “end times” means now. But:
no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come
unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the
son of destruction,
(2Th 2:3 NASB)
That seems to tell us that we are still
waiting for the appearance of the “Man of Lawlessness.”
Who can say?
Signs of the Times
Paul gives us several characteristics of
the men of the end times. Please note that he is writing within the context of
those who are in the church. One of the difficulties of chapter and
verse is that it is easy to miss the context, and that is often done here.
Many conclude that this is what the world will look like, but it won’t happen
inside the church. It is what will happen in the world, but we
will also see it in the church. Let’s take a look and see what these people might
Lovers of self? The
church is a convenient place for weddings and funerals, but other than that,
look out for number one.
Lovers of money? Is
this seriously at question in the most materialistic church in the world?
Just mention the word “golf.”
parents? We’ve made teenage rebellion into billions of dollars worth of
The “un-s” –
ungrateful, unholy, unloving. We come to “get something” out of worship; our
ancestors came to give thanks for what they had.
Irreconcilable – the
kind that just can’t come to an agreement. (Sometimes I have my suspicions
about this, Troy).
without self control – in short, people who can’t keep their mouths shut.
Without self control,
brutal, haters of good – consider this one well: the church (as a whole) now
accepts homosexuals. Men with passions run amuck who can’t stand anyone who
tells them the plain sense of the Scripture.
Treacherous – anybody
you know fit in this category?
We could go on. And on and on. But this
gives you the idea.
The real danger in this is apostasy.
This you know of. These are people who practice the forms of Christianity –
they worship on Sunday, appearing humble in public prayer. Their theology,
however, is laced with delicate exceptions – most of which add up to the idea
that they may do as they please. How so? God (take your pick) doesn’t care,
changed his mind, has been misinterpreted – the list goes on.
Do you need an example? There are
actually church communions that ordain practicing homosexuals as bishops. You
wouldn’t stand for an elder who made his money by bank robbery; but those who
object to homosexual bishops are denigrated for their “tired” view of right and
The Peril to the Church
among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed
down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to
come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses,
so these men also oppose the truth, men
of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make
further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes's and
Jambres's folly was also. Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose,
faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and
sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and
out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in
Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
(2Ti 3:6-12 NASB)
The way of the apostate
It is a rather grim description: the
apostate worms his way into the hearts and lives of those who are weak. Paul
singles out women here for the simple reason that they were most likely to be the
victims. You think this is past tense? The assisted living home in which my
mother lived was strict about allowing entrance. If someone showed up saying
he had an appointment, the staff would call the person and ask if they really
were expecting a visitor. Otherwise, the con men would find this place easy
But this has a disadvantage: the church
has been taught that by their fruits you will know them. They appear learned;
dignified – but inside they are snakes. Eventually, their actions will portray
their real character.
Those who are of the way
So how do you tell the real from the
- The real follow the teachings of the
Scripture; the fake mouth them but do not do them.
- The real follow an example – human,
but none the less an example. The fake do too – P. T. Barnum.
- The real know their purpose: their
first concern is for God.
- And – perhaps most recognizable of
all – the real face persecution.
May we end with some predictions about
the end times?
- Those who love Christ to the end
will suffer and be persecuted for the faith.
- Those who don’t (we are speaking of
those in the church, now) will grow worse and worse.
- But – at the end of the end times –
the Lord returns. See here His description of how He will deal with the
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels
with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. "All the
nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one
another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the
left. "Then the King will say to those on
His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom
prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was
thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I
was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then
the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You,
or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we
see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?
'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'
"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I
say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to
Me.' "Then He will also say to those on His
left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been
prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was
hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;
I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked,
and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'
"Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord,
when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in
prison, and did not take care of You?' "Then
He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it
to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'
"These will go away into eternal punishment, but the
righteous into eternal life."
(Mat 25:31-46 NASB)
Take the high, hard road. Face the
suffering and persecution; maintain love, patience and gentleness in the
faith. Remember: we know the end of this story.