"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" 2 Tim. 3:1-5 NKJV
This is a familiar passage to Christians. I know I've read it unnumbered times. It was the last sentence that jumped out at me this last time. More on that in a moment.
This counsel of Paul to the young pastor Timothy, whom Paul thinks of affectionately as a son, is specifically referring to our day..."in the last days perilous times will come..." Paul makes a rather long list of quite reprehensible behaviors that will be seen, not just at large, but in professed Christians--"having a form of godliness but denying its power."
Re-read Paul's list above. Take note of his first descriptor, "men will be lovers of themselves." Other versions say "people" instead of "men". (Men is often a global term for humanity in the Bible). The defining characteristic of malignant narcissists is their all-consuming self-love. Don't fall for the psycho-babble clap-trap that tells us they really hate themselves and that's why they're such wretched people. Their self-interest is total. Whether or not they have feelings of love for themselves is not the issue. Their behaviors are of absolute self-interest. That is the biblical view of self-love. Doing everything with an eye to "what's in it for me". Putting yourself first every single time. Ignoring the needs of others, ignoring morality, ignoring the law (God's and man's), "what I want is what I will get". That is the level of selfishness the malignant narcissist displays every day of their sordid lives. Paul is describing a person who is completely given over to gratifying their every whim, desire, lust, urge in this term "lovers of themselves".
Just like the "wicked man" passage in Proverbs six, this list of behaviors in Timothy is not a list of discrete individuals. In other words, it isn't necessarily describing one separate behavior per separate person i.e. this person is a "lover of themselves", that person is without self-control, that other person is a slanderer, etc. Someone who is given over to evil doesn't have just one objectionable characteristic. Bad characteristics breed; they run in packs. One thing leads to another. It is likely Paul is describing the global characteristics of evil individuals. The reason I think that is because when I look at the list above I can see all of these characteristics displayed in each of the narcissists I know. I think you can too. Look at those characteristics and ask yourself how different your malignant narcissist is from the description of all those behaviors. I daresay there is no difference at all. If you asked for a list of the more grotesque behaviors of a malignant narcissist this passage would work very well.
When we read the list of sinful behaviors in this passage the temptation is to think that this person or persons would be overtly evil in their presentation and easily recognizable to the average observer. This is not the case. First of all, these people must be able to disguise themselves well enough that Paul is compelled to warn Timothy of them. Timothy is well-versed in the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:14-15) and wise beyond his years, yet Paul doesn't dismiss the possibility that one of these people could slip past Timothy's radar. These reprobates have a veneer of religiosity, an appearance of being godly or moral. So we have to conclude that there are people in the church who are practicing malignant narcissists in their daily lives yet are able to look like a good church person to the undiscerning observer. Some of us know these people personally. Some of our parents are these people. Some of us know that the most vile of persons can often pass for being godly. Paul knew these people too.
By the way, this doesn't condemn religion. Evil must disguise itself in order to stalk it's prey...religion shouldn't be faulted for being used by those seeking cover for their nefarious deeds. If you will fault religion then, to be consistent, you must fault many other worthy institutions of service and human welfare. The helping professions (teachers, doctors, social workers, etc.) are all ready disguises for the evil person who wants to present himself as harmless and trustworthy. The simple reality is that a person will cloak themselves with their opposite. If they are a pedophile, they may become a Scout leader, a teacher or a priest. Or a clown for kids' parties. It gives them close access to their preferred prey and the advantage of the trust and authority these positions offer. A woman who gets her kicks controlling and abusing children may become a foster care parent. Examples are legion. Because most religious people are decent, religion is another place evil can hide itself. So don't think that all religion is bad because some wolves use it to hide in and then savage the sheep. That would be simplistic and irrational thinking.
One reason I believe that Paul is essentially describing what we would call a malignant narcissist is due to his instruction on dealing with them. You and I know that malignant narcissists are unreformed and unreformable. They crossed a line someone in their dark past beyond which there is likely never a chance they will go back. Malignant narcissists fully justify and excuse all of their evil behaviors. They have turned their unrighteousness into righteousness in their own eyes. They call evil good and good evil. This is a sin there is little chance of coming back from. The reason is obvious when you think it through. The Bible makes it clear that people are convicted of sin because of the work of God's Spirit, John 16:7-8 for instance. If you come to the point where you start calling good evil then what are you going to do when the Spirit tries to convict you of sin? You will call His work "evil". When you discern the working of God's Spirit as being the whispering of evil...you will reject any chance you had that the Spirit can turn you from your ways. Constantly and persistently rejecting the moving of the Spirit on your heart will convince the Spirit to leave you alone. He is left with no way to reach you. That equates to being unredeemable. It is the unpardonable sin. When you have twisted your sensibilities to the point where you call light darkness then you will discern the light of God shining on your heart as an evil impulse. You leave even God with no way to reach you at that point. The only sin that can't be forgiven is the one you won't confess to.
Back to Paul's instruction concerning the churchified narcissist:
"...from such people turn away!"
Obviously, Paul doesn't want us to hold out that we can convince such people to turn away from their wickedness. It isn't our job to reform them. It isn't our job to hang around while holding out hope for their reform. It isn't our job to stay in close proximity to them as if our love can somehow separate them from their wicked ways. Paul is unequivocal and crystalline clear. "From such turn away!" (KJV ) Some reasons for this instruction can be found here, and here.
The Biblical model of church structure is based on the model of the family. Instruction to the church as to discipline, instruction, etc., can rightly be applied to the family. If the family narcissist pastes the "Christian" label to themselves it doesn't mean you have to pretend along with them that they are one when their behaviors consistently conflict with their profession. The narcissist "Christian" loves to pretend they are immune to accountability because they are a Christian. Passages like 1 Cor. 5:12-13 prove they are more accountable to us because they have assumed the name of Christian, not less. If the Christian is a family member, they are doubly accountable for their bad behavior. Not twice as unaccountable--as they would have you believe.
1 Tim. 3:1-5 is solid Biblical counsel to go "no contact" with those who persist in being evil. Ignore Christians who ignore this counsel. They haven't "known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation..." (2 Tim. 3:15)
Paul instructs Christians that the peril of end times will largely be because of evil persons disguising themselves as being godly. The course of action in such peril is to walk away. The concern shouldn't be for the salvation of such individuals; the issue becomes your salvation both temporal and eternal. Save yourself, your family, your church by turning away from those dedicated to their evil agendas.
Don't condone evil by standing by it, by supporting it. When you tolerate evil persons you telegraph to others that you approve of them. Don't lend your good reputation to such a base character. Don't let the reprobate hide himself by virtue of your lending your Christian name and support to him. You will join in his blasphemousness if you do so. What is blasphemy? Taking the Lord's name in vain. The true spirit and weight of the third commandment to not take the Lord's name in vain has more to do with besmirching God's name ("name" is synonymous with "character" in the Bible) than it does with swear words. To make this commandment about swear words is to trivialize something very much more serious. To take on the Lord's name (i.e. call yourself a Christian) in vanity means you take His name but not His character, therefore, you misrepresent His character to others. One of the characteristics Paul mentioned in the list above is blasphemy. Claiming to be God, or claiming His divine attributes, or claiming His name but living in contradiction of His character are all under the purview of blasphemy. Letting some malignant narcissist borrow your good Christian name (in addition to their taking on God's name) in support of their own reputation is dangerous business for a sincere Christian. The evil doer hiding under the name of Christ is guilty of blasphemy. Don't get caught in it along with him. From such turn away...or you end up participating in his evil.
And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men! Touch nothing of theirs, lest you be consumed in all their sins.” Numbers 16:26 NKJV