Pyromaniacs: Faithfulness, "Fruitfulness," and the Twisted Notion of Evangelical Celebrity
Second Timothy 3 begins with a stern, prophetic warning: "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty." And then Paul gives a dead-on job description for the typical 21st-century celebrity: "People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God."
But get this: When Paul says "People," he is not talking about People magazine or the secular celebrities that grace the cover of that periodical. He is predicting a time when those traits will be characteristic of church leaders. Notice that the people he is describing "hav[e] the appearance of godliness, but [deny] its power" (v. 5).
We are living and ministering in a time such as Paul described. Watch today's rock-star pastors on their YouTube channels and you will see every characteristic Paul listed played out in vivid detail on the church stage.
So what are Paul's instructions to Timothy? Should he mentor these guys, invite them for Elephant-Room-style dialogue, become a headliner in their conferences, or publicly embrace and encourage them in the hope that he can harness their popularity and perhaps influence them for good? Not at all.
With regard to pastors and church leaders who promote and model innovative, worldly, self-loving ministry philosophies, "reckless [church leaders], swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure"—Paul wants Timothy to be a separatist: "Avoid such people" (v. 5). In fact the Greek term is active, aggressive: "from such turn away."
Paul then reminds Timothy of his singular duty to be both a student and a herald of the Word of God: "As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed . . . . All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (vv. 14-17).
This has been a repeated theme in Paul's counsel to Timothy. First Timothy 4:6: "put these things before the brothers." What things? "the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed." Verse 11: "Command and teach these things." Verse 13: "Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching." Chapter 6, verses 2-4: "Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing." Second Timothy 1:13: "[Hold fast] the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me." Chapter 2, verse 15: "Present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."
New Testament pastors are called to be simple and single-minded in the carrying out of a single task. Yet, amazingly, the straightforward clarity of Paul's charge to Timothy seems utterly lost on many 21st-century church leaders. They have been blinded to it by the quest for celebrity and a worldly standard of success.