When I was ten, my dad gave me a job. “Son, I want you to fill in the holes scattered across our yard.” The “yard,” surrounding our 100-year-old farmhouse in rural Wisconsin, spanned two acres. One disadvantage of living in that old house was all the work it demanded—like digging and moving loads of dirt.
But as an advantage, the farmhouse was heated by a wood stove, which also meant there was lots of firewood at my disposal. I could fill the hole with a few logs, then cover everything with way less dirt. And I did. But the elements of Wisconsin weather revealed the folly of my bright idea. Over time the dirt settled, logs appeared, and my shortcut was cut short.
In 2 Timothy 3:1–13, Paul describes the same kind of dynamic. Some leaders in the church in Ephesus seemed legit. Their teaching sounded good. They had a “form of godliness” (2Timothy 3:5). But not all was as it appeared. Time and the heat of persecution would reveal “evil people and imposters” (v.13).
Hardship (v.1), persecution (v.12), and hatred against the followers of Jesus Christ (John 15:18) are part of living in the last days (2Timothy 3:1). Since Jesus’s death and resurrection, we are already in an era characterized from start to finish by the opposition against Jesus and His followers (John 15:20).
And this opposition reveals who does and does not truly belong to Christ. For a time both kinds of people may seem alike—attend the same church, sing the same songs, affirm the same truth. And so, just like a piece of dark wax and a piece of clay, side by side, might look nearly identical, it’s the heat of opposition that will reveal the true identity of each. Exposed to the same broiling rays of the sun, wax will melt and clay will harden. Time will tell.
And so do their actions. Paul, like a forensic sketch artist, shades in a 15-point composite portrait of people who do not belong to Christ, as their behavior shows (2Timothy 3:2–4). They are profoundly selfish, which 2 Timothy 3:5 summarizes: they are “holding to the form of godliness but denying its power.”
In contrast, Paul reminds Timothy about his own example. In hardship and persecution, Paul had remained faithful in teaching and lifestyle (vv.10–11). So, neither Timothy (nor we) should not be surprised to feel the heat of persecution, nor when others walk away from Christ.
And we should not be surprised when God uses all this to bring good and advance His kingdom. Yes, the Lord was killed—but then came resurrection (Romans 8:34). Yes, Paul had felt persecution—but then came rescue (2Timothy 3:11). For in these last days, the heat of the sun will not only expose what is false, but will, in time, grow a garden that is true and good and beautiful.