I have the outline of a new book sitting here on my desk, which I never seem to have time to get started on. So I thought what I would do is write it here with a weekly installment, and have you all provide your observations and comments and thereby…help me write the book!
Here is the central theme scripture the book title is drawn from and which is really a statement of the purpose of the book:
2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. (2) For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, (3) heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, (4) treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, (5) having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
Most all of the wicked people I have had to deal with as a pastor, in the church, were this very kind of person. They had the appearance of godliness, but they denied its power. Let’s see if we can think through what this means.
Paul told Timothy, and us, that the “last days,” that is, the church age in which we live, will be difficult times. Difficult for whom? For people like Timothy. For genuine Christians. For people who really have been born again. The times will not be so difficult for the worldling, but for the godly it is going to be a struggle.
Because of evil. Because of evil people. Because of people like this:
- Lovers of self
- Lovers of money
- Proud and arrogant
- Disobedient to parents
- Without self-control
- Not loving good
- Swollen with conceit
- Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
We could spend a lot of time, with considerable profit, going through that list one by one and thinking about how those particular evil qualities work themselves out all around us. Those of you who have experienced domestic violence will recognize your abuser in many, if not all, of these traits.
But what I want to focus on in this study is that last “punch line” characteristic that I believe Paul is saying is the most evil of all – having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Let’s just think about that description a bit.
What does it mean to “have the appearance of godliness”? Well, it means to be a counterfeit. It describes a person who in fact walks in the evils in the preceeding list but who wears a disguise of godliness. Who puts on a mask – and a very convincing one – of being someone who knows God. A wolf in wool if you will. Someone who claims to be a Christian and who appears, outwardly, to be a Christian.
But it is just an “appearance.” And as they say, appearances can be deceptive. What appears to be, often is not. I like to put it this way – Not all Christians are.
What this also tells us is that the most dangerous kind of enemy we face is this kind – the kind who wears this “godliness” mask. The man or woman who is just the finest church member, the eminently “holy” one, the pillar of the church. That kind of person who expends constant energy “keeping up apprearances,” deceiving and being deceived. They are most dangerous because they are the most deceptive. They work to get next to us. To gain our trust. And all the while they are working behind the scenes to destroy Christ’s true people, His true church, and His ministry. That diabolical list of evils Paul gives us here, in other words, are not practiced openly and plainly by these kind of creeps. Most people would be shocked and offended if you ever tried to reveal to them just who these wicked ones really are. (Note: I use the term “creeps” because Jude warns us that they “creep in among us.”) An appearance of godliness, you see.
In the next installment in this series, I want to talk more about what a denial of the power of godliness is. That is what these people do and it is what they are. By their life and their words, they deny something that is apparently central to what Paul calls “godliness.” What does this mean? We need to find out.
Finally, by way of further introducing this series, let me tell you about how I plan to go about it. After making some initial observations about our central theme – an appearance of godliness – I want to actually flesh this subject out by introducing you one by one to “case studies in evil.” That is to say, I want to write descriptions of this kind of counterfeit in the church who you can expect to meet.
I know this, because I have met them.