This sermon was preached at Mountainside in Auckland on the 20th October, 2019
2 Timothy 3:14–4:5
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His Kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
In the seventh century, before Christ, during the reign of King Josiah, the law of God had become hopelessly mixed up with popular opinion. Idolatry was flourishing; contempt for God’s Word and teaching was common. There was little or no resistance to moral erosion (much like today).
Josiah, the king, was worried. He wanted to be a good king, and he was. He wanted to lead God’s chosen people out of spiritual darkness so he went to the Temple looking for help.
But, in the 7th Century B.C. the Word of the Lord was not being read or taught – it had been hidden away! Josaiah wanted to follow the faith of his ancestor, King David, and began the restoration of the Temple – renovating and rebuilding.
At last the high priest, Hilkiah, said to Shaphan, his secretary during the restoration of the Temple, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 22:8).” And it was returned to its rightful place in the life of God’s people.
Where is the Word of the Lord today? Is it hidden away in the back of your bookshelf?
St Paul highlights in his letter to Timothy the importance of the Word of the Lord …to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Today many people, even in the church, are ignorant of the beauty, wisdom and value this Word of the Lord.
All that Timothy had learned and had become convinced of was never lost to him because he had been instructed, first of all by his mother and grandmother, and then by St Paul. He was constantly learning.
Generations since have hung on every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God – the Bible. But now, for many people today the Word of the Lord has been forgotten.
Less than 10% of New Zealand’s population remember the Word of the Lord to honour the Sabbath Day and keep it holy here in New Zealand. Well done to all of you who hang on every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
The Word may be forgotten by many, “Yes!”. But lost, “No!” God brings His Word into the world to refresh and renew it, to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Every Sunday, your pastors and lay readers and lay preachers, and during the week, your Bible Study leaders refresh and renew you in the Word under the Holy Spirit’s guidance. You grow in the Word as you read and study it.
The Thesis of Agreement, the founding document of the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand in 1966, begins with these words:
We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the infallible Word of God, written by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16) by the holy men of God. 2 Peter 1:21, as the Spirit gave them utterance, Acts 2:4.
We believe that the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are the infallible and only source and norm of Christian doctrine and the sure and authoritative guide for life and practice. 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Corinthians 14:37; Psalm 119:160 etc.
We agree that for church fellowship the uniting Churches must be one in the acceptance of the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as the inspired Word of God and as the only and true source, norm, rule, and standard of all teaching and practice in the Christian Church.
The Old Testament referred to by St Paul as the Holy Scriptures was foundational and has been built upon by the witness of the Apostles from whom we have the New Testament. St Paul affirmed the Divine authorship and authority of the Scriptures.
He says they are useful for teaching – that is, giving information regarding God’s will for the salvation of young and old alike, all humankind – for making us and preparing us for eternity with God.
St Paul also says the Scriptures are useful for …, reproof – that is, for rebuking error and exposing sin so that we can see the need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
The Scriptures are also useful for …, correction – helping us to stand up straight again when we bend to the temptation of the world, the devil and our old sinful nature so that, like St Peter who denied Jesus three times (John 21:15-19), we might confess Jesus as Lord after we have been unfaithful to Him and be restored by His grace.
Following on from these St Paul says the Scriptures are useful for …, training in righteousness – so that where teaching, reproof and correction have been effective we might then learn how to live godly lives according to the will of God.
So, we are encouraged to move forward in the Word, confidently in the work of ministry even while facing opposition. Our text today especially applies to pastors and teachers in the Church but is also generally applicable to all Christians – to you who are Christ’s representatives in and to the world.
When you were born you were not left to your own devices. So too when we are born again in Baptism, we are not left to our own devices to make our own way in life – God gives us instruction, just as a parent trains up a child in the way that he or she should go, an apprentice taught his or her trade, a parent learning through the various stages of their children’s development.
In fact, in learning from God’s Word, applying the Word to our own lives, we model to our children and grandchildren the kind of lives God wants for them too.
When we hear the way people complain about how the world is going to “hell in a handcart”, “morals are slipping”, environmental doom is upon us, “dog eat dog” kind of way, we are actually hearing of the need and urgency for the world to know what the Scriptures contain and the answers Jesus has for humanity.
Jesus’ Word must be heard. We all must be ready at all times, in season and out of season,… That is, when it’s fashionable to proclaim Jesus and when it’s not fashionable.
We’re to bring God’s Word of judgement on sin, to expose erroneous behavior and attitudes, to let this Word convict the heart of sin so that the need for Christ can be exposed and the need for God’s grace which leads to repentant hearts and lives can be proclaimed.
In a general way, sin can be exposed publicly, as it is when the media highlight the high rate of domestic violence in New Zealand. When this is done the individual may remain unmoved and not recognize the sin in their own lives as they use verbal, emotional and or even physical violence against those they are close to.
Direct, personal naming of the offence to an individual perpetrator is often necessary before the offence can be dealt with by the individuals concerned and God’s forgiveness offered. We are called to proclaim God’s Word in a manner worthy of our calling … with all humility and gentleness … as St Paul tells us in Ephesians four.
For example it wasn’t until Nathan the prophet confronted King David in 2 Samuel 12:7–13 with the history of God’s goodness to David and then David’s sin of murder and adultery that David was led to say, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan could reply “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.
The right use of the Law of God to show sin for what it is, is important. Once aware of sin, we can then the offer God’s grace, won for us when Jesus died on the cross to pay for all sin. The Holy Spirit brings the Gospel to heal and restore the sinner.
All this, and how to apply the Word of the Lord appropriately has to be taught and learned. This process of learning and applying the Word needs patience – we are slow learners – as witnessed to by the fact that we continue to sin.
We all need the continuous application of the Word, just as in the work place ongoing training is continually offered to help prevent accidents and increase efficiency.
Added to this is the urgency of people’s need for God and His Word with the difficult times which lie ahead as we are warned of in the Scriptures: For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.
Even today, people claiming to be Christian deny the resurrection of Jesus, saying that the Scriptures are myths and legends to illustrate an intellectualized spirituality.
This false teaching is much like that in the early church Gnostic heresies which we are warned about by St Paul who says …to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
The problem is not with the Gospel and sound teaching but with selfish and self-destructing spiritual curiosity which will probe where God says we shouldn’t.
Those who desire to satisfy their itching ears who want a ‘nice Jesus story’ which doesn’t challenge sin and false teaching remain idle in their faith, only willing to listen to teachers who say what they want to hear and not what God wants them to hear.
These people set themselves up as their own God and become idolaters as St Paul says: 2 Timothy 3:2–4 (NIV) 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—
We are to be, as St Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:6–8 (NIV), 6 … awake and sober…, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
We should not rush to follow new theological trends, but test them against Scripture and sound teaching. You know the story of the “Emperor’s new clothes” where the Emperor was sold on an invisible set of new clothes and in his folly ended up naked and embarrassed when a child says, “He’s got no clothes on.”
When Christ returns we don’t want to be found with “no clothes” because we listened to empty theology and spiritualized nonsense which reduces Jesus to a myth or legend.
Suffering for our faith is to be born in the knowledge that Christ gives us the victory.
When we as Christians become comfortable and complacent about our knowledge of the faith, when we are not spiritually fed and nurtured or are consuming the wrong spiritual food we are at risk of eternal separation from God.
In the spiritual supermarket of the world we need to be aware that like much processed food there are additives to make error more palatable and there is processing which depletes what is most valuable in the way of nutrients. The flavour may be artificial, giving a false sense of wellbeing.
So it can be with faith which departs from that which has been handed down to us from the Prophets and Apostles – from God Himself.
Beware of faith and teaching which has been “pimped up”, “tanked up”, “revised”, “remodeled” and or ‘adapted” so that it is no longer beneficial and only provides what suit(s) our own desires, … which our itching ears want to hear.
As St Paul exhorts Timothy so also I encourage you all to, …continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,..., keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.