Bryan Paul Sullo

Prophetic Excuses

In Faith & Religion on 18 November 2013 at 1:19 pm

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

— 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NIV)

We Christians love to quote Biblical passages like the one above. I can see a group of us sitting in a circle of folding chairs, nodding our heads, wearing expressions that are a mixture of deep concern and haughty piety.

“That’s right,” one will say.

Another will observe, “We’re living this today.”

Others will point to examples of current events that prove the world is going to Hell, and that these are the “last days.”

After a suitable time of mutual affirmation that we’re living in the prophesied age, we turn to other topics, smugly thankful that we’ve been given such insight, and that “we” are not like “them.”

I don’t think that’s the desired reaction. The Bible contains many instances where the writers warn about this or that coming to pass, but the danger of cherry-picking chapters and verses is that we miss the point. What good is a warning if it’s not tied to a prescription. If you went to the doctor and he told you, “In a few years, you’ll have diabetes,” would you thank him and leave. Would you feel justified in your faith in that doctor when, ten years later, he diagnoses you with diabetes. “You called it, Doc. I’m so thankful for your wisdom.”

No! That’s ridiculous. If your doctor told you you were going to contract diabetes, you’d ask what you could do about it, now. It’s the same with the dire predictions of the Bible. God doesn’t warn us about the future to reassure us of how smart he is. (If you don’t believe in God’s omniscience already, you don’t believe in the God of the Bible, anyway.) He warns us, so we can take action.

Let’s look at some more of the passage, quoted above:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

— 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NIV) [emphasis mine]

Paul is writing this letter to Timothy. He’s giving him instructions on what to do—preach the word, be prepared, correct, rebuke, encourage, be patient, keep your head, endure hardship, do what you were called to do. The “prophecy,” here, is the why of Paul’s command. He’s not saying to Timothy that people will turn from sound doctrine some time in the early 21st century; he’s saying it’s going to happen soon. The longer you wait, the harder your job is going to be, so get busy!

Even though much of the New Testament was written to specific people or groups, it’s equally applicable to all people, through all time. Do Paul’s words sound like a description of today? Absolutely. And if you asked any Christian at any time in history the same question, they would give you the same answer. Paul’s statements are not so much of a prophecy, as they are an analysis of human nature.

If, then, this does apply to us modern-day Christians as much as it applied to Timothy, what should be our response? It should be the same—preach the word, be prepared, correct, rebuke, encourage, be patient, keep your head, endure hardship, do what you were called to do. Shouldn’t it?

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