I hope you didn't skip over this familiar and important passage of the Bible. Paul knows he is facing his impending death, and he writes to Timothy, a "baby Christian" to encourage him to stand strong in his faith; to endure in the face of everything the Enemy will throw at him to confound and confute his faith. Paul goes on to describe all the characteristics of people who are lovers of self, rather than lovers of God. And make no mistake ... within that vast group of sinners, the Church is not found innocent. Now read that passage again with intention. Increasingly, we can see that "difficult days that will be hard to bear" are upon us. We see the arrogance and greed extend from our government at the highest levels to the corporate titans to the scammers who take advantage of the vulnerable on the internet. We see the actions of those who are "devoid of natural human affection" as the numbers of innocent people who are killed or injured in our cities rises to alarming statistics. We see immorality intensify to obscene, blasphemous, and debased levels -- children sold for sexual pleasure; the government [through our education system] seeking to claim our children for themselves and lead them into a debauched culture of men claiming to be women, and women denying their role in creation; thereby stealing and corrupting the innocence of childhood.
But, lest there any of us who claim security in our faith, we need to understand that Paul doesn't hold the Church guiltless either. And I want to make myself clear -- I do not disparage all members of the Church! I understand that it is the institution of the Church that has not lived up to the commission Jesus called His followers to. I am fully aware that individual followers are committed to being devout and obedient servants of His Kingdom here on earth. It is not up to me [or anyone else] to judge their hearts or measure the worth of their faith. That, Jesus will do at the Judgment Seat. But each of us can judge the fruit of the institution, and those who walk in religion, seeking to control and dictate belief systems through misleading and false teachings, or deceptive, man-made doctrine. Following Jesus is easy; we have His Word to guide us, and it is the Holy Spirit who counsels and reveals God's will for the faithful. The institutionalized Church, if not careful, can switch the focus of Jesus's teachings from His truth to their own interpretation, resulting in people losing sight of Him as they seek to please the leadership and themselves.
A man I greatly admire, Victor Marx, recently posted a meme that stated, "Too many Christians want a seat at the table that Jesus would have flipped over". "The table" he is talking about is the seat of power and reputation/recognition that the Church has become for far too many who claim their faith in Jesus. The Lord flipped the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple because they were profiting off the poor; requiring inflated payment for the poor to have access to the sacrificial animals and entry into the House of His Father. The Temple was to be open and available to all; it is the Father's will that all have access to His love and to His Presence.
But is it really any different today? I have personally seen the 10 Ways the Enemy Has Infiltrated the Church, from a powerful article written by Evangelist Chuck Lawless. I have seen 1) Rivalry in the Church, 2) Immaturity among believers, 3) Tolerating sin in the congregation, 4) Believers turning on believers, 5) Sexual immorality in the church, 6) Misuse of Christian liberty [to condemn others], 7) Idolatry in the church, 8) Competition over spiritual gifts, 9) Unwillingness to forgive a repentant believer, and 10) False teaching in the church. I do not point these out from a superior attitude -- it is always my heart for God to purify anything He finds unholy in my heart. My intention is to call ourselves to account for the ways we might be limiting access to God for anyone seeking Him.
I mean, are we really glorifying our Lord if we are fighting over ministry turf; allowing internal strife between members; tolerating sexual sin; promoting someone or a ministry above our holy God [worshiping the gods of our heart]; competing over whose spiritual gift is greater; being unwilling to forgive a repentant brother or sister in Christ; or being unable to discern a false teaching from the grace of Jesus to allow for a difference of opinion that doesn't contradict the Gospel and the Father's will?
For instance, does it really matter if we baptize in the Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit -- or we simply baptize in the Name of Jesus? Isn't that make Baptism into a religious ritual rather than a pronouncement of our allegiance to Heaven? Didn't Jesus say He and the Father are One, and if we've seen Him, we've seen the Father? Isn't the purpose of declaring a name is that you know who you are declaring your spiritual allegiance to -- the Light or the dark side? Jesus allowed His followers to eat from the wheat fields on the Sabbath, breaking a strict religious rule. When He declared that “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath”, He is proclaiming that He exercises authority over the Sabbath. He also exercises authority over baptism, and if we choose to be baptized, He knows the condition of our heart, and that we understand the significance of this action. He never desired that our faith be difficult, once we choose to believe. Why do we make it so?
Finally, I think there can be no disagreement that we are seeing the brutality of mankind on the earth. And when the Rule of Law is no longer operating, then the message the masses receive is that there are no rules; or the rules are made to be broken; or it's ok to make your own rules and just do what makes you feel good about yourself -- none of which were ever taught by the Creator and Redeemer of all mankind. Therefore those men [and women] will come to despise the One who made the rules to guide us all to a peaceful and harmonious life. And they will deny His power and authority to guide their lives because it comes in conflict with their own self-interests.
It is evident from the threats of war, famine, disease/plagues, and persecution from those who love power and those who hate God, that we are indeed in perilous times. Is the glorious return of our Lord imminent, or will He give us a reprieve by some miracle of His mercy and grace? No one can say for sure, but this I do know ... it is time to receive HIS TRUTH, not the truth of the world, and most certainly time to discern if you are hearing the truth in your place of worship. It is not time "to tolerate unsound doctrine and inaccurate instruction [that does not challenge them with God’s truth]; but wanting to have their ears tickled [with something pleasing], they will accumulate for themselves [many] teachers [one after another, chosen] to satisfy their own desires and to support the errors they hold." It is perilous enough that you need to know what you believe and why! Don't rely on another's faith -- own your own. And remember what Jesus said to His disciples in those ancient times ... Listen carefully, I have told you in advance. So go and find out what HE said because His words "will not pass away". For it is most assuredly the time to determine that we will stand in persistent perseverance. And He will stand with us! Praise Him, above all Names, for He is worthy to be praised!
Luke 21:28 Now when these things begin to occur, stand tall and lift up your heads [in joy], because [suffering ends as] your redemption is drawing near.”