Text: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:4
Introduction:This morning I am launching a new preaching series called “Hot Topics.” Over the next four months or so, I will attempt to provide some biblical instruction regarding many of the moral choices we are being asked to make in our post-modern and post-Christian culture. Today, truth has been reduced to a very simple premise … that the intolerance of the moral values and ideals of others is the worst possible sin a person can commit. And what is more to blame for the presence of intolerance than anything else? Many would answer religion. Listen to these words by Oliver Markus Malloywho puts it as well as anyone: Religion is divisive. People kill because of it. I think one day religion will be seen as just as intolerant as racism. Often this accusation of a lack of tolerance leaves Christians in a difficult position as we seek to follow the Bible and apply its teachings directly or by inference to discussions of morality. It’s not uncommon for people to accuse believers of being uncaring and insensitive or old-fashioned and out of touch with the new world order.
That’s why it is with a little bit of fear and trepidation that I attempt to tackle this sermon series. Mind you, I’m not afraid to teach the Scriptures (which Christians know contains absolute truth) and make my best effort in applying them to these discussions. That’s my duty as a shepherd of the sheep for which I will give account to God (James 3:1 — Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness). I am concerned, however, that in doing so I may be viewed as lacking compassion for people who struggle with all kinds of temptations and the moral choices they make as a result. So, let me say from the outset that since the Bible declares God so loved the world(meaning the people living in the world) it would be sinful for Christians to take any other view. The real question is not “Should we love the people of the world?” but “What is love?” I would argue it is self-sacrifice to bring ultimate goodness to another? Certainly, we can all agree that love is not merely allowing everyone to follow their whims and wishes and do whatever their hearts desire so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. That response doesn’t hold up when we remember that we’re too interconnected to remain unaffected by the moral choices of others. So, perhaps the question we all ought to be asking ourselves is, “How do we determine what is ultimately good or evil, ultimately loving and unloving?”
Christians have an answer. We believe that holiness (being set apart from sin to live in obedience to God for His glory) and ultimate goodness go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other. The happiest and most satisfied people are those who are who growing in our understanding of God’s will for us and seeking to walk in it.
And how do we know God’s will, what He declares to be right and wrong? Well, since the ultimate source of ethical standards is found in in the character of God, Christians choose to go to the place where His character is revealed. And that, of course, is the Bible. It provides us with a pretty detailed summation of His attributes—the character qualities that tell us what He is most like. And since He’s the ultimate source of ethical standards, it would make sense that we would want to be like Him. This brings me to our passage for this morning whereGod reveals to us the power of the Scriptures to lead us into all truth. Now for the next twenty-five minutes or so, I invite you to join me as we look at2 Timothy 3:14–4:4.
By way of background, in the beginning of the chapter, Paul warned that evil men who opposed the truth were to be avoided at all costs. They attempted to deceive sincere people seeking to know the truth by demonstrating a form of godliness, but denying its power. These men were not able to get very far, because their folly was evident just as it was with Jannes and Jambres. Do you remember them? They were Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses and tried to reproduce the plague of gnats, but could not, and finally had to admit, “This is the finger of God.” — Exodus 8:18-19). Paul reminds Timothy that neither one of them is cut from the same mold. For they were called by God to wield the powerful and life-transforming truth of His Word just as Moses did. In our text Paul shares three vital purposes of God’s Word.
The Word is our guide to lead us to Christ(2 Timothy 3:14-15 — But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus). How did Timothy learn about Christ? He was taught as a little boy by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, and, later by Paul himself. He knew, firsthand, the dramatic ability of the Scriptures to transform a life because God had used the Bible to draw him to Christ. “From the Old Testament?” you ask. Sure! Listen, Jesus said He was the way, the truth and the life in (John 14:6. If that’s true we would expect that the Bible (our source for truth) would proclaim that message throughout. And guess what! It does. Some of you may never have heard this before, but Jesus is found in every book of the Bible, including the thirty-nine found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Let’s start with the early parts of Genesis where we’re told that mankind was created by God in His image to have a personal relationship with Him. However, the first man and woman were tempted by the devil to become like God. They believed him and as a result rebelled against God, distorting His image in them and breaking their fellowship with God. That’s why He put in a place a plan (conceived before the foundation of the world– Hebrews 4:3) to redeem us from slavery to sin and deliver us from spiritual death through the offspring of the woman … Eve (Genesis 3:15– (God said to Satan) I will make you and the woman hostile toward each other. I will make your descendants and her descendant hostile toward each other. He will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel). This is a reference to Jesus Christ who was born of a woman without an earthly father and who came to destroy the devil and his works (Hebrews 2:14 — Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil; 1 John 3:8 – The Son of God appeared for this purpose – to destroy the works of the devil). This Jesus accomplished by atoning for our sins (Isaiah 53:6— All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all). And today we know our salvation comes to us through faith in Him. This is what Timothy learned from his grandmother and mother. From the law and the prophets, he learned enough about God, himself and the way of salvation that he was able to come to faith in Christ. That is the power of the Word of God. It can make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. People will not come to God by the persuasive arguments of men and women. They will come only when the powerful Word of God is shared by His servants. Illustration: A physician went to hear D. L. Moody. Although he had not planned on such a result, he was converted. When asked the reason for his change of heart, he said, “I went to hear Mr. Moody with no other idea than to have something to laugh at. I knew he was no scholar, and I felt sure I could find many flaws in his argument. But I found I could not get at the man. He stood there hiding behind the Bible and just fired one Bible text after another at me till they went home to my heart straight as bullets from a rifle. I tell you, Moody’s power is in the way he has his Bible at the tip of his tongue.” That’s what the Scriptures can do … lead us to a life changing relationship with Christ that lasts forever.
The Word is our moral compass to do what is right(2 Timothy 3:16-17 —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). Scripture is God-breathed, meaning that it comes from God with a purpose and is to be taken seriously. God gives us the Bible to lead us into the truth about everything that matters. Here’s what Paul says about it:
- The Word teaches what is right. This is what the apostle means when he says it’s profitable for teaching. This is how God tells us what life is all about. He reveals what we should believe and how we should live. This is what Psalm 119:44 “Your statutes are forever right. Give me understanding that I may live.”
- The Word rebukes what is not right. That’s the idea behind the word ‘rebuke.’ It means to ‘convince or convict.’ The Bible is the primary tool of the Holy Spirit to convict us of guilt with regard to sin, righteousness and judgement (See John 16:7ff). No wonder the Scriptures tell us that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit (See Ephesians. 6:17). Whenever you or I, as believers, do something we know is morally wrong, it is the kindness of God working by His Spirit that convinces us of the wrongness of our thoughts or actions and leads us to repentance.
- The Word tells us how to get right.The word means to ‘restore to an upright and right state.’ It’s the expected result of coming under the conviction of God about our sin. We loathe the separation that sin brings and so repent of it. This involves not only confessing (admitting) our sin, but re-ordering our lives so that we make every effort not to do it again.
- The Word tells us how to stay right. This is the idea behind the phrase, “training in righteousness.” We learn to do the right thing as opposed to the wrong thing by immersing ourselves in the Scriptures. It’s the means by which God directs us so that we can continue to do what is right and avoid a moral meltdown. Illustration: The University of Pacific Reviewoffers a chilling description of the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear disaster. There were two electrical engineers in the control room that night that were simply playing around. They were performing what was later called an ‘unauthorized experiment.’ They were attempting to see how long a turbine would continue to spin when the power was cut. This is a very dangerous thing to do because the reactors are very unstable in their lower ranges. To do this they had to override 6 separate computer alarm systems. With each, the computer would issue a strong warning…Stop! Dangerous! Go no further! One by one, rather than heeding the warnings, they shut off the alarms and kept going. The results: Nuclear fallout that was recorded around the world and deemed the worst industrial accident to have ever occurred. The Bible functions as a warning system as well. Stop! Dangerous! Go no further! When we heed it, we remain free to do the good works which God has in store for us and avoid any serious missteps along the way. (So far, we’ve said that God’s Word is our guide to lead us to Christ and it is our moral compass to do what is right. Here’s a third use).
- The Word is our response to things untrue(2 Timothy 4:1-4 — I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myth). Paul concludes with a solemn and sacred charge to Timothy to preach the word, especially in light of the fact that he knew a time was coming when people would not endure sound teaching. Because God judges both the living and the dead, he was to have a sense of urgency in entering the public forum for the purpose of bringing clarity and truth to people prone to wander away from it. Paul instructed Timothy to reprove, rebuke(addressing the negative aspects of sin) and exhort(addressing the positive aspect of repentance) his hearers. He follows with a bit more instruction.
- He was to be ready with a response(be readyin season and out of season).This is Paul’s way of saying there is no bad time to share God’s Word with others. Especially when the stakes are so high in dealing with the eternal destinies of his audience.
- He was to be patient in his response(reprove, rebuke and exhort with great patience). The word patient means ‘to suffer long’ and is used to describe love in 1 Corinthians 13. The point is that truth is always to be presented in love and tender care for those on the other side of the argument.
- He was to be intelligent in his response. That’s what the word “teaching” implies at the end of verse two. The idea is that we would commit to careful study of the Bible so that we’re prepared to give a thoughtful, well-articulated and biblical response to commonly accepted beliefs that are not true.
Conclusion– So you can see how important the Bible is to point people to Christ, to function as our moral compass and to provide us with a response to those with other views. A few years back, I had a young man who was just finishing his first year of college ask to meet with me. His family was a part of the church I was pastoring, yet he was beginning to question some of his previously held beliefs. To his credit, he wanted to discuss them. A few minutes into our conversation he revealed that he no longer believed in the sanctity of human life or in the sanctity of marriage defined as one man and one woman freely committed to each other as companions for life. I knew it took some courage to say these things to his pastor, so I thanked him first for his honesty and openness. Then I did my best to demonstrate from the Bible that life begins at conception and that only God and His agents (i.e. governments – See Romans 13) have the right to take it. Then I talked about God’s design for marriage which is consistent throughout Scripture. I must not have been very convincing however, because he only seemed to dig in his heels a little more. After about thirty minutes, I finally said, “Buddy, I get it that you are beginning to question whether or not the Bible speaks with any relevancy to today’s moral issues. I still, however, believe it does and so it remains my moral authority. The question I have for you is, “What is your moral authority?” He looked puzzled so I explained. “How do you decide what is right and wrong?” It was obvious that he had not thought about it very much. At first he said, “Whatever society as a whole determines is right and wrong.” So, I asked him if Hitler was right in exterminating six million Jews since most of Germany bought into his strategy of the ethnic cleansing of inferior peoples. He said, “No,” and then immediately followed up with another perspective. “I believe people are free to determine right and wrong for themselves and live any way they want to so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.” Again, I responded, “Do you really believe that our personal moral choices never negatively impact anyone else? We are way to interconnected for that to be the case. If two fifteen-year-olds decide to have a baby, won’t the baby suffer simply because they are not emotionally mature enough to succeed as parents?” We talked for a while longer, and finally I said this: Look, I understand that at this moment you’re questioning your former belief that the Bible tells us the best possible way to live, something that I hold to. Here’s the difference between us right now. I have a source of authority that I can go to at any time to figure out what God wants us to do and what choices He wants us to make. This authority will never change. It has been the same for thousands of years and will continue to proclaim the same message until the end of time as we know it. You, on the other hand, have an ever-evolving authority, predicated on what people want for themselves. Suppose that some day society decides that the greatest good is to kill half the people to make the world more accommodating to the rest of the population. Could you support that? What if you were one of the ones to be terminated? Would you have any basis for arguing against it.
Christians can make that argument because the Word of God that leads us to Christ also becomes our moral compass and guides us in our response to those who see things differently. That’s worth a lot to all of us.