Helpful Teaching for Our Critical Times
1, 2. Why should we be interested in what teachings we follow?
ARE you being helped, or are you being hurt? Are your problems being solved, or are they being made worse? By what? By teachings. Yes, teachings can greatly affect your life, for better or for worse.
2 Three associate professors recently studied this matter and presented their findings in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Granted, they may not have studied you or your family. Yet, what they found shows that there is a definite link between teachings and a person’s success, or failure, in coping with our critical times. In the next article, we will take note of what they discovered.
3, 4. What are some evidences that we live in critical times?
3 First, though, consider this question: Do you agree that we live in times hard to deal with? If so, then you would surely see that the evidence proves that these are “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) The way people are affected varies. For example, you probably know of lands that right now are being torn apart as different factions fight for political dominance. Elsewhere, the killing stems from religious or ethnic differences. Soldiers are not the only ones who get hurt. Think of the countless women and girls who have been brutalized or the elderly who have been deprived of food, heat, and shelter. Uncounted numbers are suffering badly, leading to tidal waves of refugees and many related miseries.
4 Our times are also marked by economic problems, resulting in closed factories, unemployment, lost benefits and pensions, erosion of the value of currency, and smaller or fewer meals. Can you add to the list of problems? Probably so. Other millions around the globe suffer from food shortages and diseases. Likely you have seen horrible photos from East Africa showing emaciated men, women, and children. Millions in Asia suffer similarly.
5, 6. Why can it be said that disease is also an overwhelming aspect of our critical times?
5 We have all heard of frightening diseases now increasing. On January 25, 1993, The New York Times stated: “Flourishing amid sexual promiscuity, hypocrisy and haphazard prevention, Latin America’s AIDS epidemic is on its way to surpassing that of the United States . . . Much of the growth comes from rising infection rates among . . . women.” In October 1992, U.S.News & World Report said: “It was only two decades ago that the U.S. surgeon general, hailing one of the greatest public-health triumphs ever, announced that it was time to ‘close the book on infectious diseases.’” What about now? “Hospitals are again being inundated with victims of scourges that were supposed to have been defeated. . . . Microbes are evolving ever more clever genetic strategies that are allowing them to outpace the development of new antibiotics. . . . ‘We’re entering a new era of infectious disease.’”
6 As one example, Newsweek of January 11, 1993, reported: “Malarial parasites now infect an estimated 270 million people every year, killing up to 2 million . . . and causing at least 100 million cases of acute illness. . . . At the same time, the disease is growing ever more resistant to once curative drugs. . . . Some strains could soon be untreatable.” It makes you shudder.
7. How are many today reacting to the difficult times?
7 You may have noticed that in these critical times hard to deal with, many are looking for help to solve their problems. Think of those turning to books about coping with stress or some new disease. Others are desperate for advice about a failing marriage, about child care, about alcohol or drug troubles, or about how to balance the demands of their job and the pressures they feel at home. Yes, they really need help! Are you struggling with a personal problem or experiencing some of the troubles caused by war, famine, or disaster? Even if a pressing problem seems beyond solution, you have reason to ask, ‘Why have we reached such a critical state?’
8. Why should we turn to the Bible for insight and guidance?
8 Before we can cope effectively and find satisfaction in life now and in the future, we need to know why we face such critical times. Frankly, that provides reason for each of us to consider the Bible. Why do we point to the Bible? Because it alone contains accurate prophecy, history written in advance, that shows the reasons for our plight, where we are, and where we are going.
A Lesson From History
9, 10. How was Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew chapter 24 fulfilled in the first century?
9 The Watchtower of February 15, 1994, provided a noteworthy review of Jesus’ vivid prophecy in Matthew chapter 24. If you open your Bible to that chapter, you can see in Mt 24 verse 3 that Jesus’ apostles asked for a sign about his future presence and the conclusion of the system of things. Then, in Mt 24 verses 5 to 14, Jesus foretold false Christs, wars, food shortages, persecution of Christians, lawlessness, and extensive preaching about God’s Kingdom.
10 History proves that those very things did occur during the conclusion of the Jewish system of things. If you had lived then, would those not have been difficult times? However, things were moving toward a climax, an unprecedented tribulation on Jerusalem and the Jewish system. In Mt 24 verse 15 we begin reading of what unfolded once the Romans attacked Jerusalem in 66 C.E. Those events climaxed in the tribulation Jesus mentioned in Mt 24 verse 21—the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the worst tribulation ever to befall that city. Still, you know that history did not stop then, nor did Jesus say it would. In Mt 24 verses 23 to 28, he showed that following the tribulation of 70 C.E., other things would occur.
11. In what way is the first-century fulfillment of Matthew chapter 24 related to our day?
11 Some today might be inclined to dismiss such matters from the past with a ‘so what?’ That would be a mistake. The fulfillment of prophecy back then is vitally important. Why? Well, the wars, famines, earthquakes, plagues, and persecution during the conclusion of the Jewish system were to be reflected in a greater fulfillment after “the appointed times of the nations” ended in 1914. (Luke 21:24) Many now living were eyewitnesses to World War I when this modern fulfillment began. But even if you were born after 1914, you have witnessed Jesus’ prophecy coming to pass. The events of this 20th century overwhelmingly prove that we are now living in the conclusion of this present wicked system.
12. According to Jesus, what can we yet expect to see?
12 This means that “the tribulation” of Matthew 24:29 lies before us. It will involve celestial phenomena that may be unimaginable. Mt 24 Verse 30 shows that people will then see a different sign—one proving that destruction is at hand. According to the parallel account at Luke 21:25-28, at that future time, ‘men will become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the earth.’ Luke’s account also says that Christians will then lift up their heads because their deliverance will be very near.
13. What two key points merit our attention?
13 ‘All well and good,’ you might say, ‘but I thought the issue was how can I understand and face our hard times?’ Correct. Our first point is to identify key problems and see how we can avoid them. Linked to that is point two, how Scriptural teachings can help us to enjoy a better life now. In this connection, open your Bible to 2 Timothy chapter 3, and see how the words of the apostle Paul can help you to deal with the hard times.
A Prophecy About Our Times
14. Why is there reason to believe that consideration of 2 Timothy 3:1-5 can benefit us?
14 God inspired Paul to write to the loyal Christian Timothy much fine counsel that helped him to lead a more successful and happier life. Part of what Paul wrote was to have prime application in our day. Even if you feel you know them well, follow closely now the prophetic words at 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Paul wrote: “Know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.”
15. Why should 2 Timothy 3:1 be of special interest to us now?
15 Please note, there were 19 things listed. Before we examine these and come into position to benefit, get the overview. Look at 2Ti 3 verse 1. Paul foretold: “In the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here.” What “last days”? There have been many last days, such as the last days of ancient Pompeii or the last days of a king or a ruling family. Even the Bible mentions a number of last days, such as the last days of the Jewish system. (Acts 2:16, 17) Jesus, though, laid the basis for us to understand that “the last days” Paul mentioned refer to our time.
16. What situation did the parable of the wheat and the weeds foretell for our time?
16 Jesus did so with a parable about wheat and weeds. These were sown in a field and left to grow. He said that the wheat and the weeds stand for people—true Christians and false ones. We bring up this parable because it establishes that a long period of time would pass before the conclusion of the entire wicked system. When that arrived, something would be in full bloom. What? Apostasy, or the turning aside from true Christianity, resulting in a bumper crop of wickedness. Other Bible prophecies confirm that this would occur during the last days of the wicked system. That is where we are, in the conclusion of the system of things.—Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
17. What parallel information does 2 Timothy 3:1-5 provide about the conclusion of the system of things?
17 Do you see the import? Second Timothy 3:1-5 gives us a parallel indication that during the conclusion of the system, or last days, the fruitage all around Christians would be bad. Paul was not saying that the 19 things listed would be the prime way to prove that the last days had arrived. Rather, he was warning about what we would have to contend with during the last days. 2Ti 3 Verse 1 speaks of “critical times hard to deal with.” That expression is from the Greek, and it literally means “appointed times fierce.” (Kingdom Interlinear) Do you not agree that “fierce” aptly describes what we are facing today? This inspired passage goes on to give divine insight into our time.
18. What should we focus on as we study Paul’s prophetic words?
18 Our interest in this prophecy should allow us to identify tragic examples of how critical, or fierce, our period is. Recall our two key points: (1) to identify problems that make our times hard and to see how to avoid them; (2) to follow teachings that are truly practical and that can help us to enjoy a better life. So rather than stressing negatives, we will focus on teachings that can help us and our families in these times hard to deal with.
Reap Rich Benefits
19. What evidence have you seen that men are lovers of themselves?
19 Paul begins his list by predicting that in the last days, “men will be lovers of themselves.” (2 Timothy 3:2) What did he mean? You would be right to say that throughout history there have been conceited, self-serving men and women. Yet, there is no doubt that this defect is unusually common today. It is extreme in many people. It is almost the norm in the political and commercial world. Men and women pursue power and fame at any cost. Usually that is at any cost to others, for such lovers of self care little how they harm other people. They are quick to sue or cheat others. You can understand why many call this the “me generation.” Prima donnas and egotists abound.
20. How is Biblical counsel in contrast with the prevailing spirit of loving self?
20 We do not need to be reminded of bitter experiences we have had in dealing with people who are “lovers of themselves.” It is nonetheless true that by candidly identifying this problem, the Bible is helping us, for it is teaching us how to avoid this trap. This is what it says: “Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own.” “Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking.” That excellent advice is found at Philippians 2:3, 4 and Romans 12:3, as rendered in Today’s English Version.
21, 22. (a) What broad evidence is there that such counsel can prove helpful today? (b) What effect has God’s counsel had on normal individuals?
21 Someone might protest, ‘That sounds good, but it is not practical.’ Oh, yes, it is. It can work, and it does, with normal humans today. In 1990 the publisher for Oxford University printed The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism. Chapter 8 was entitled “Jehovah’s Witnesses in a Catholic Country,” and it described a study in Belgium. We read: “Turning to the positive attraction of becoming a Witness, apart from the attraction of ‘the Truth’ itself, respondents again sometimes mentioned more than one characteristic. . . . Warmth, friendliness, love, and unity were the most regular mentioned items, but honesty, and personal comportment in ‘acting out biblical principles’ were also qualities that Witnesses cherished.”
22 We might liken that overview to a picture taken with a wide-angle lens; if, instead, you used a zoom, or telephoto, lens, you could see close-ups, many real-life experiences. These would include men who used to be arrogant, bossy, or blatantly selfish but who are now milder, becoming husbands and fathers who show more tender affection and kindness to their mates, children, and others. It would also include women who used to be domineering or callous and who now help others to learn the way of real Christianity. There are hundreds of thousands of such examples. Now, please be forthright. Would you not find it much better to be around people like that than always to be confronted with men and women who love themselves first and foremost? Would that not make it easier to cope with our critical times? So would not following such Biblical teachings make you happier?
23. Why will it be worthwhile to give further attention to 2 Timothy 3:2-5?
23 We have, though, considered just the first item in Paul’s list recorded at 2 Timothy 3:2-5. What about the others? Will your carefully examining them also help you to identify key problems of our time so as to avoid them and enable you to understand what course will bring you and your loved ones greater happiness? The following article will help you to answer those questions and to gain a rich blessing.
Points to Recall
□ What are some evidences that we live in critical times?
□ Why can we be sure that we live in the last days?
□ What two key points can we draw from a study of 2 Timothy 3:1-5?
□ During this time when so many are lovers of themselves, how have Bible teachings helped Jehovah’s people?
[Picture Credit Line on page 8]
Photo top left: Andy Hernandez/Sipa Press; photo bottom right: Jose Nicolas/Sipa Press