Systemic Narcissism

“For people will be lovers of self…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

- 2 Timothy 3:2–5

Daniel 12:1–2 is an important text when considering the troubles in the last days, and it may have been on Paul’s mind when he wrote 2 Timothy 3:1. In verses 2–5 the apostle expands upon his reminder that the church would have to endure difficulties in the period between Christ’s first and second advents, fleshing out exactly what kind of trials we should expect.

Living among undesirable characters, whose traits are de ned in verses 2–4, is part of this time of trouble. Paul’s list is not exhaustive but represents the many ways unrepentant sin manifests itself in people. That the apostle first says people will be “lovers of self” (v. 2) in the last days is likely intended to tell us that selfishness is a root from which many evils emerge. This is confirmed in the demarcation of troublemakers as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” at the end of the list (v. 4). Inordinate self-love feeds the vices, leading them to yield even greater self-love. When love is misdirected toward the self and not the Lord, only sin follows, which cautions us against some manifestations of the modern self-esteem movement. Proper self-assessment has its place (Rom. 12:3), but a preoccupation with the self inevitably breeds narcissism. John Calvin writes, “He who loveth himself claims a superiority in everything, despises all others, is cruel, indulges in covetousness, treachery, anger, rebellion against parents, neglect of what is good, and such like.”

Paul’s call to have nothing to do with those described in 2 Timothy 3:2–5 means not to ignore relationships with non-Christians but to ensure that those who practice sin unrepentantly receive no affirmation from the church (1 Cor. 5:9–13). People who pay lip service to right doctrine without repentance of sin and earnest hunger for personal righteousness have only a form of godliness, not its power (2 Tim. 3:5) — the Holy Spirit who drives us to repent, forgive others, and chase after holiness. Without Him, the professing Christian ultimately produces only destruction in his wake and must be rooted out. Dr. John MacArthur notes that an “outward form of Christianity…makes [people] all the more dangerous” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,810; hereafter MBC).

Coram Deo

Augustine exhorts us to “shut out the evil love of the world so that you may be filled with the love of god” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 9, p. 261; hereafter ACCNT). even believers struggle with self-love, but if we have truly come to Jesus for salvation, then god’s Spirit has poured love for Him into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). Let us seek for Him to ll us with such love and make us hate the inordinate love of self and the world.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 119:36
Mark 7:21–22
Luke 9:23
James 3:13–18

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