Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Church in Crisis

"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days" (2 Timothy 3:1)

Acts 28:30 reveals that Paul lived in Rome in his own rented quarters while awaiting his hearing before Caesar. But when Paul describes his imprisonment in Rome to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:16–17 and 2:9, he speaks of chains. It seems that this is a later imprisonment, after a fourth missionary journey, just before Paul’s death (2 Timothy 4:6–8).

This was in the mid to late A.D. 60s, a time when the Romans began to move against Jerusalem, and also a time when Nero moved against the Christians in the Roman Empire. It was a time when many fell away from the church. In 2 Timothy, Paul speaks of the “last days,” and some scholars have argued that the “last days” refer not to the end of the Christian era but to the last days of the old covenant. Whatever the case, times of tribulation have come upon the church more than once in history, and in such times the “last days” scenario has become relevant.

The first three chapters of 2 Timothy describe the scenario of tribulation and exhort Timothy (and the church) to persevere. Then in chapter 4, Paul shows three important aspects of the kingdom that are particularly relevant in such times.

The first is, “Preach the Word!” (4:2). Preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God is important in preparing people for times of tribulation, and there must be no letup when the tribulation comes. As always, it is the truth of the Word of God that builds and sustains the church.

The second is for Timothy himself to be a model of perseverance (4:5). When people see their leaders standing firm, they will be encouraged to stand firm as well.

The third important truth for the church in distress is to maintain community and fellowship—not only within the local church but also with believers elsewhere. Paul shows this in 2 Timothy 4:9–21, where he mentions one person after another as those who either encouraged and comforted the saints, or who abandoned the cause. It is easy to forget how much we need one another, but in times of tribulation we find out how weak we are and how much we need the support of the brethren.

Is it possible that preaching against certain sins, such as homosexual acts, will be outlawed as “hate crimes”? Is it possible that the faithful churches will come under persecution in the near future? As you read 2 Timothy today, ask yourself if you are prepared for a time of tribulation.