Monday, July 2, 2018

Standing on the Word of God: the world of God in a world of woe (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

Kris and I had been married for about a year and living in Tauranga and a local Presbyterian Church was looking for an assistant minister/youth pastor. So we went to the church to check it out and sat close to the front and as the time for the service came round, a door to the side of the front of the church opened and the choir started to file in and as we were close to the front it took us a moment to realise everybody behind us had stood up. Now I’d been bought up in a Presbyterian church all my life and never experienced this, we must have been a very informal lot. But I’d been bought up right and thought that yeah it was the right thing to do, to stand up as women, particularly older women, entered the room. That is what these people are doing I thought. So rather belatedly we got to our feet. I didn’t really notice that after the choir came in that someone carried the bible in as well. Well, I ended up working at that Church for two years, and it took me a while to figure out what was going on was like at the beginning of our services people were standing because the bible not the choir was coming into the church and the standing was a symbolic way of acknowledging the importance and centrality of God’s word in our worship and our lives.

When I mentioned this experience to the eldership at that Church, they laughed, But they were gracious enough to change their practise so that the Bible came in to the church first, then the choir and in the printed order of service we told people that we stand and why we stand.

In the passage we had read out to us today from 2 Timothy chapter 3, Paul is encouraging Timothy to live out the reality behind that ritual of standing for the bible. To continue in what he has learned and been convinced about. He is to live by the gospel of Jesus Christ, that has been taught to, and modelled for him by Paul and the scriptures, what we call the Old Testament that he has learned from infancy from those wonderful women of faith, Lois and Eunice, his mother and grandmother.

We are working our way through what are known as the pastoral epistles, Paul’s letters to his co-workers in difficult pastoral situations, to learn about being Christian leaders, as we all grow into maturity and ministry in Christ. Paul’s encouragement for Timothy is for us as well in a world that is not conducive for our Christian faith that the way to keep going and growing is through allowing our lives to be saturated in, shaped and guided by, lived out of the bible, the word of God.

The passage starts “but you” and previously Paul had been talking about the false teachers in Ephesus and he had looked forward in time and seen that this would be a problem that would always face God’s people. That many in the world would continue to be hostile to the gospel. There would always be people who would reject good teaching and doctrine and focus on the love of money, and pleasure, that would have the outward form of religion but not be lovers of God. He lists a whole series of negative qualities like being unforgiving, slanderous conceited, without self-control. people who would be try and draw others away from the Gospel.

And with the words “But You” Paul tells Timothy to stand on the word of God in a world of woe. Paul is encouraging Timothy to live a different way. While we might see Paul’s description of the world as dark and a bit over the top, negative, his hope for Timothy and for his readers is that in Christ they will move in another direction, a way lead and guided by the gospel and scriptures, a way that results in Timothy and us being equipped for every Good deed in Christ. That is where this passage finishes.

Paul starts by reminding Timothy of what he has learned from Paul. Paul lists nine things that Timothy would have learned, his teaching, which would have been the apostolic proclamation of the gospel. In first Corinthians 2:2 Paul tells the church at Corinth that when he came to them he preached Christ and Christ crucified. All his teaching is Christ and how what Christ has said and done for us is to be lived out.  “ his way of life’, Timothy was to see that Christ likeness in the way that Paul lived his life. My purpose: Timothy knew Paul’s mission of proclaiming Jesus to the gentiles, because we also have experienced the risen Jesus Christ we are called to be witness of that to the world around us, because God desires all people to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Paul’s faith; in the pastorals the word faith has to do with that vertical relationship with God, Timothy would have seen Paul’s devotional life. Patience; A Christian virtue of persisting in the faith, the keep on keeping on of Paul.  Love; In the pastorals the out working of faith is love, sacrificial service to others. Endurance, again that perseverance in these things of Christ despite opposition, and Paul goes on to mentions those things in two ways. Persecutions: facing direct opposition because of faith in Christ. And Suffering, a word which encompasses a whole raft of hardships Paul has endured for the sake of the gospel. we might ask the question weather Paul is asking Timothy to follow him rather than following Jesus,  but in this list we see that Paul is saying that his whole life would reflect Christ’s life. Christ’s purpose, Christ’s, faith, patience, love endurance, Christ’s suffering. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul can say to his readers, become an imitator of me and thus become imitators of Christ. We have these things of Paul as well as we have the apostolic teaching in the gospels, we see the apostles lives lived out by the Holy Spirit in the book of acts, and the application of Pauls teaching for those who would follow Christ in the epistles to the churches. We have it in the written form of the New testament books and we too can know these things and become convinced of their truth.

Paul expands on his sufferings by mentioning three specific instances, from his first missionary trip. Antioch, (acts 1313:52) where the believers were persecuted, life was made hard for them,  Iconium (Acts 14:1-7) where Paul and Barnabas were threatened with death, Lystra,(Acts 14:8-20) where Paul was dragged out of the city and stoned and left for dead. Paul may have used these because they would have been known to Timothy, as Timothy was from Lystra, but also because they encompassed a whole spectrum of different persecution and suffering, tough treatment and discrimination, threats and actual physical violence. But in all those things Paul can say he experienced God’s help and rescue, he suffered but Christ lead him through and in each place a church was established which Paul would later go back to encourage. He then opens the idea of suffering from his own life, to the paradox of God’s people in history, that those who wish to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted, while those who do not will prosper. This has been what God’s people have wrestled with, why do good people suffer? It’s the basis of much of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament like the book of Job, and in the psalms and even in the prophets like the book of Habakkuk, where the prophet wrestles with God using the Babylonians as the instrument to judge Israel. Christ told his followers that it would be the case, if they rejected and persecuted Him, they would do the same to Jesus followers. The hope was that we can and do know God’s help and rescue, and God’s purposes and mission are not thwarted.

Then Paul again focuses back on Timothy, But you he says at the beginning of verse 14, continue in what you have learned and been convinced of. Timothy had come to believe in Jesus Christ and through Paul knew what it was to follow him and this is Paul’s encouragement that Timothy would keep on in that way. He encourages him to do so because he can rely on the people who have bought him to that place. For Paul has taught him the gospel and he has known the scriptures, because his grand mother and mother have taught it to him since he was an infant.

Paul now moves to speak to Timothy of the importance of the Holy Scriptures, for Paul and Timothy that would have been the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament. The question is often asked about the connection between the old testament and the New for Christians. Often people will see the Old testament as not as important or relevant. The God of the Old Testament is this angry God, or as one teenager put it “ it’s about god before God became a Christian’. But here Paul, tells us that the scriptures of the Old Testament can make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The Old Testament sets the God frame for us to understand Jesus Christ, his incarnation and mission, it points us to Christ he is the high point of that story of God and his people, and we are to view those scriptures through the lens of Christ. In the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:17 Jesus says “I did not come to do away with the law or the prophets but to fulfil it”.

In verse 16 and 17 Paul goes on to tell Timothy how the scriptures are useful. They are verses that are most often used as proof texts for the inspiration of scripture. That the bible itself claims to be God’s special revelation of himself. Paul uses a special word and says that “all scripture is God-breathed”, it’s God word because in a process we are not totally able to comprehend, it is the breath of God through the hands of humanity. Of many people writing a library of different books, and editing and discerning what is inspired over a thousand year period. I wonder if Paul used this word we translate God breathed to differentiate the Hebrew cannon of scriptures, the books that the Jews had discerned were inspired from the myths and geologies that in 1 Timothy 1:4 he said the false teachers used and got obsessed with. Down through the years what God breathed, and inspired means has been the matter of much theological debate and differing opinions.  But being God breathed means they can be trusted to give us the truth we need about God and how to live our faith in God out…

When it comes to the books of the New Testament, there came a time when the church had to decided what it believed of the many writings, about Christ and of the apostles were inspired and authoritative and trustworthy. A man called maricon thought that as Christians we shouldn’t have anything to do with books that were tainted by Jewish though, so he claimed that we could only trust most of Luke’s gospel and Acts. The church had to sit down and work out what it believed was god breathed, one of the criteria they used was that it came for a trustworthy people, as Paul tells Timothy.

The fact that it is God breathed is what makes it useful for us. Paul used four words to describe what it is useful for. Teaching; its content tells us of God, the father, son and Holy Spirit, it tells us of god’s relationship with his people, God’s care and God’s love and God’s righteousness, God’s purpose and kingdom. It tells us God’s story and how we fit into that. It is useful to “rebuking”, it shows us where we are going wrong, we often think we read scriptures but the bible reads us, as God is light it shines in our lives and reveals the shadows and dark places that need be sorted. It is useful for “correction” the rebuke is the stop of repentance and correction is the guiding one back on the right path, like an illness it is the remedy by which we are  made well again. Bought back to the right path. Useful for Training in righteousness, teaching talks of right belief, right doctrine, training in righteousness is about right practise as well: Faith with its out working in love… as we have heard through the pastorals. The end result of this is that the servant of God, the person committed to Christ, will be equipped for every good deed. For maturity and ministry in Christ.  As Jesus said “if you love me you will keep my commandments”.

At the beginning of our services we stand as the bible is bought into the church and at the end of our service we stand as it is taken out into the world ahead of us, that’s just tradition it is a symbolic way of acknowledging the centrality of the scriptures of the new and old testament in our worship, what we do in here, and our lives, what we do out there. The challenge and the call of the scripture we had read today is that it goes beyond symbolism, that it becomes a reality, that everything we do and say and hold to be true comes from God’s word, our lives are saturated and lead and guided, rebuked and corrected, influenced by God breathed scripture. It means we have to let it influence us, more than media and the messages of this word, it’s and essential part of our day, we need to study it, one of the best ways of doing that is being part of a small group where we have people who can help us wrestle with it and be alongside as we try and put it into practise, part of our strategic plan is that we want to develop small groups for our congregation. That it is at the fore of our thinking and core of our doing. It is the means by which we are able to stand in and with Christ.

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