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2 Timothy 3:1-9 Study Guide: Remaining Faithful in Difficult Times

Community Group Study Guide —Remaining Faithful in Difficult Times
2 Timothy 3:1-9

Study Information:
Throughout 2 Timothy 2 Paul described the need for faithfulness and a long term vision for discipleship in the life of the church. Timothy was to pass on what he had learned to faithful men who’d teach others. In the midst of this there would be people who swerved from the truth and others who would quarrel and fight over ignorant and foolish controversies and some who’d deny core things to the gospel like the resurrection of followers of Jesus. Timothy was to remain faithful, handle the word rightly and rebuke his opponents with gentleness. Our passage today amplifies the challenges of living between the resurrection and the return of Jesus by looking at the evil in the world and how it can creep into the church. Our next study guide will focus on the positive example of godly leaders and mentors and the Word of God itself, but our question to explore in this study guide is “how do we remain faithful during these difficult times?” 

Living in the Last Days
2 Timothy 3:1
The last days will come with times of difficulty. This means that we should expect to have seasons that are more challenging than others as followers of Jesus in relation to the world. The phrase “last days” can make it feel like some far off and distant reality, but when you look at how the Biblical authors use the term it describes the time between Jesus resurrection and his return (book at 1 Timothy 4:1, Acts 2:17 and Hebrews 1:1-2). The time between the resurrection and return of Jesus marked the last phase in God’s redemptive plan and the “last days” for God’s people. This truth should give us comfort because it means that the difficult seasons we are facing are not new to the church or completely unique to our time. Christians have faced having to faithfully live through seasons of war, famine, sickness, disunity, moral drift, sexual promiscuity and redefinitions of sexual ethics in the past. This is good news because  we have the unique ability to look back and learn from faithful Christians who have gone before us. With that said, each generation of the church will have unique problems to face or varying degrees of intensity with the issues of their time. Do not be surprised by these times and as much as you can be prepared to stand faithful and minister in the times that God has placed you.  

What Do Difficult Times Look Like?
2 Timothy 3:2-9
Paul listed 19 sins or vices we find in the world during difficult times and then pivoted to talk about how these difficult times can leak into the church. As we read the list in verses 2-4 we should rejoice in what God has saved us from, grow in compassion for those who are lost and be on guard against these sins entering into our lives. 

What makes a season “difficult” in the last days? A lack of proper love for God. Paul specifically addressed our failure to love God rightly by calling out that people in difficult times will be lovers of self, money and pleasure and not lovers of God or lovers of good. Many of the sins in this list also address our failure to love people rightly. Paul wrote about actions like being abusive, slanderous, brutish, disobedient to parents, treacherous, etc, which are all sinful actions towards others. When we fail to love God rightly we get caught up in loving lesser things like pleasure, self and money and we’re unable to love people as we ought to. 

Paul also wrote about how these difficult times are not just out there in the world but they also leak into the church community. In 2 Timothy 3:5-9 Paul described some abuse of power situations including religious leaders who were preying upon “weak women burdened with sin who were always learning and never able to arrive at truth.” We do not know the specific situation but given the context of Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus it is likely that these women were from a background that involved being redeemed from cult prostitution or they were widows like those described in 1 Timothy 5, maybe a mixture of both. The situation seemed to be that there were people who appeared to be godly on the outside, and were therefore trusted and they used the desire of these women to learn as an opportunity to sneak into their homes and swindle them out of money or to lead them astray from the faith. Paul calls this “having the appearance of godliness but with none of the power.” Their religion was a show. To underscore this Paul brought up the two magicians in Pharaoh’s court in the book of Exodus, Jannes and Jambres. The bible never gave us the names of those magicians, but sources outside the Bible referred to them as Jannes and Jambres. They were able to create some fanciful signs and wonders but ultimately did not have the power of God behind what they did and were exposed for their fraud. The good news is that over time God will reveal the folly of these corrupted religious leaders (2 Timothy 3:9). In the meantime, the more we are familiar with the scripture and sound teaching the more likely we will be able to spot those who just have the appearance of godliness with none of the power. 

How Can Christians Be Faithful in Difficult Times?
2 Timothy 3:5,9
There are times to gently correct our opponents and pray that God would grant them repentance and there are times where we are commanded to avoid them (2 Timothy 2:24-25, 3:5). It takes wisdom to know what to do when. If you find yourself pulled towards certain sins or if you feel like your correction of the person who is in error would somehow give legitimacy to their abuse, sin or ministry then it may be wise to avoid them. 

However, we should not forget that God has called us to ministry and mission during these difficult seasons. We’re not allowed to just check out because times are hard. When you read this list of 19 sins do you think “I’m glad I’m not like those people” or do you think “that is what God saved me from, how can I help them see God’s compassion?” As much as we can we should pray for opportunity to be witnesses to a lost and dying world and look for opportunity to call people out of darkness to God’s glorious light (1 Peter 2:9-12). Likewise, we should take confidence that difficult times do not mean that God is somehow losing. The kingdom of God is never at risk and the error and folly of these times will become evident to all, if not now then in eternity. 

At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read 2 Timothy 3:1-9

What does Paul mean by “the last days?” Read 1 Timothy 4:1, Acts 2:17 and Hebrews 1:1-2 as cross references. 

What are your initial feelings and thoughts from reading these list of 19 sins in 2 Timothy 3:2-4? Think about the various categories Paul uses, how you see your own past in this list, how you think Christians should respond to people who are caught up in these sin areas, etc. 

How do we spot people who have the appearance of godliness but deny its power? Why is this kind of thing particularly dangerous in the church?

What are some ways you think you are called to minister and share the gospel in these “difficult times?”