Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Power of God's Word (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 3:14-4:5)


If this were a creative writing class, and I were to ask you to write the most ludicrous news headline you could imagine, what would you write? If I were to let my imagination run completely wild and come up with the strangest possible notion, it would pale in comparison to this actual headline which I read a few weeks ago: “Lesbian bishop in Sweden calls for church to remove crosses and install Muslim prayer space.”[1] This headline encapsulates the changing religious landscape of our day and time better than anything else I have read recently. Though it represents what we might call “the lunatic fringe” of political correctness, we could provide ample evidence from our own daily news of seismic shifts in cultural ideologies affecting us all for better and for worse. To hear some people talk, these developments seem to have come as a shocking surprise. But in reality, they should not be surprising at all. We have had it on good authority that difficult days were coming.

In the first verse of 2 Timothy, chapter 3, Paul tells his young protégé that difficult times are coming. He tells Timothy in the first five verses of this chapter that men are going to become lovers of self and lovers of money; that they will be boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Yet in spite of all this, he says that somehow they are going to hold on “to a form of godliness.” We find ourselves living today in a world that can be characterized by all of these ills and evils, and yet never before in our lifetimes have people claimed to be more religious and more spiritual. Walk into any bookstore and browse the “Bestsellers,” and you will find numerous titles that deal with spirituality, many of which are written by those with nominal affiliation to Christianity. Our culture is holding on to a form of godliness, a kind of spirituality that is in fact spiritually and morally bankrupt. Our culture has ceased trying to be good, and begun looking for ways to feel good about being bad. Paul said it like this: people are “holding on to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.”

Today people are trying to build their lives and their society on some semblance of pseudo-godliness, pseudo-religiousity, and pseudo-spirituality which is completely void of power. But what is this power that has been denied so widely? The power to build a life, the power to build a church, the power to build a society is the power of God’s Word. We are living in the midst of a famine like the one spoken of by the prophet Amos, through whom God said, “Behold the days are coming when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.” What is most tragic about the famine of our day is that it is entirely self-inflicted. God has not become silent. His Word is more readily available to people today than ever before. But more and more people are choosing to build their lives apart from it, thereby denying the power of His Word.

The Bible is the Word of God. Paul tells us in 3:16 here that “all Scripture is inspired by God.” That phrase “inspired by God” translates one Greek word – theopneustas. The NIV captures it with precision here: “All Scripture is God-breathed.” This book is not like any other book. This book is the written revelation of God that He has given us to be our infallible authority and guide for all of life. And by and large it is ignored by many. The terrible irony is that it is not just the people “out there” who are ignoring it. This sacred treasure is being ignored by many inside the church today – in both the pew and the pulpit. And so what is true of the culture at large is also true of many churches today – they hold to a form of godliness, but by neglecting the Bible, they deny the power.

What is needed today in our culture is an awareness of the power of God’s Word. But the culture is never going to understand that until the church returns to that awareness. We live in difficult days, yes. But the days in which Timothy was living were difficult as well. And in the midst of those days, the apostle Paul declared with great force and authority that the only help and the only hope for that culture was the power of the God’s Word. And the same is true for us today. Why is that? Why, in the midst of our times, is the Bible our only source of help and hope? Three points jump off the page of this passage to inform us.

I. The Bible has the power to save our souls. (3:15&)

We first meet Timothy in Acts 16, where he is described as the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer in Jesus. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul refers to Timothy’s mother and his grandmother by name. His mother is Eunice and his grandmother is Lois. And Paul says that the faith Timothy has in Christ was first found in Lois and Eunice. We do not know when these ladies came to faith in Jesus, but it is not hard to imagine that they had been well taught in the Hebrew Scriptures, and when they heard the Gospel message proclaimed, they recognized it as biblical truth. They could see that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament and accepted Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives. Now, from early in his childhood, these two precious ladies had taught Timothy the things of God from the pages of Scripture, and upon coming to faith in Christ, they shared that message with him as well. The sacred writings had given him wisdom into God’s purposes and plans, and when he heard the message of Jesus Christ, he responded by turning to Christ in faith and was gloriously saved.

The Bible is very clear that there is only one way for a person to be saved, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; NO ONE comes to the Father but through Me.” But one does not arrive at a personal decision to receive Christ by his or her own human reasoning. In fact, often the wisdom of this world stands in the way of one coming to faith in Christ. Humans have never had more access to information and education than they do today. A couple of college courses, a few good books, and a few hours on the internet can provide someone today with an education that our ancestors never imagined possible. But all the wisdom accumulated is really foolishness if it does not point us to Christ. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that the world did not come to know God through its wisdom, but rather, God determined to destroy the wisdom of the wise and rather save humanity through a message that the world around us by and large thinks is foolish. The message is Christ and Him crucified, and it is, according to Paul, foolish and offensive to those who hear it. But this is the message of the Bible. When Paul summarized the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, he said that it consists of the facts that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Notice the repetition there: According to the Scriptures!!! The power to make men right with God was not found in Plato’s Academy or in Alexandria’s Library. It is not found by accumulating academic degrees or traveling the world. One could read every book ever printed and not find this power, this wisdom, in any of them except one. This power to save was and is only found in the Bible. Only therein do we find the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “My word … will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it out.” When the truth of the Bible goes forth, the Spirit of God works powerfully through the Word of God to turn lost sinners into saved saints. Satan is fully aware of this truth, and it seems in recent days he has been hard at work to lure Christians and churches into a snare of trusting other things to save the souls of human beings. As we witness the exponential growth of sister churches, Satan capitalizes on our sense of envy and tries to convince us that we will see great numbers of people come into our church if only we change our music style, employ a more savvy marketing strategy, or offer the latest programs. We may draw a crowd with those things, but unless the Spirit works through the Word to move upon the hearts of these individuals, that crowd will remain lost in their sins, eternally hopeless apart from Christ. Recent surveys and statistics have shown that many inside the church today live no different from those who never darken the doors of a church. John Piper commented on these statistics by saying that they do not indicate “that born-again people are permeated with worldiness," but rather "that the church is permeated by people who are not born again."[2] This should come as no surprise to us when, one-by-one, churches have abandoned the soul saving power of the Word of God and resorted to unbiblical means of marketing and salesmanship with a view only toward growing their crowds, their buildings, their budgets and their staffs. If we have a view toward seeing souls saved as people come to know Christ as Lord and Savior, then we will cling to the powerful Word of God and trust God to work through it to accomplish His purposes. 

Most of you know that before I became a Christian, I was an atheist. You may also know that my Masters Degree concentration was in Christian Apologetics. So, often I am asked, “What did the trick for you? What argument did someone share with you to win you over? What can I say to my lost friend to get them to believe?” And most are dumbfounded by the simplicity of my answer. Two words: “The Bible.” I came to faith in Christ as I simply read the Bible. I didn’t make a decision to start believing in God or trusting in Christ. Rather, faith began to arise within me. I discovered myself believing what I was reading. Suddenly God and the Lord Jesus Christ became living beings in my awareness. Faith “happened” within me as I read the pages of God’s Word.

I don’t know of any other way for a person to be saved than to confront them with the Word of God about Christ and let the Holy Spirit do His work of regeneration in their hearts. Do you have a lost friend, loved one, neighbor, coworker that you have been trying to reach? How many times have you lovingly shared with them the Word of God? Have you given them a Bible? Have you challenged them to spend time reading the Bible or offered to study it with them? True saving faith, Paul says in Romans 10:17, comes by hearing; and hearing by the Word of Christ. We read in 1 Peter 1:23, “You have been born again, not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” Or as Paul tells Timothy here, “the sacred writings … are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

II. The Bible has the power to sanctify our lives. (3:16-17)

Graduation services are joyous occasions that mark the completion of some level of a person’s educational journey. At the end of the ceremony, often students will hurl their caps into the air in celebration of the fact that it is OVER! However, I have always found it interesting that graduation ceremonies are called “Commencements.” To commence is not to end something, but to begin something. The end of one’s educational pursuits marks the beginning point of the rest of his or her life when they must put into practice the things they have learned. We are mistaken if we think graduation is the end; it is actually a new beginning. We often make a similar mistake when it comes to thinking of our Christian lives. When a person finally comes to faith in Christ, often we lead them to believe that they have reached the end of the road. Many people in many churches have been saved, but never taken one step toward spiritual maturity. They think they have come to an end, failing to recognize that they have embarked on the beginning of a brand-new life. 2 Peter 3:18 commands us to “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.” The Great Commission, as you well know, is not a call to simply make converts, but rather to “make disciples.” Therefore, the church of Jesus Christ must take this task of becoming and making disciples with all seriousness.

A disciple is a “learner,” a person who begins to actively follow Christ in the way he or she lives and thinks and speaks. The theological term for this is “sanctification.” At its root, it carries the idea of being set apart. Sanctification is a work that the Holy Spirit begins to perform in our lives at the moment we come to faith in Christ. He graciously and gradually shapes us into Christ-likeness, so that as we live for Him and serve Him others see Christ in us. And how does this take place in our lives? It happens as we immerse ourselves in the Word of God. Jesus prayed in John 17 that the Father would sanctify the followers of Jesus in the truth, and He said, “Thy Word is truth.” The Bible is the truth which sanctifies us. Paul says here not only that the Scriptures are able to make a person wise unto salvation, but they are also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

As we use the Bible in our lives and in our church, we are using God’s chosen means of teaching. The Bible teaches us the right way to think, the right way to believe, the right way to worship and live. As we are taught by the Scriptures, a foundation is laid in our lives to build upon for Christ. Paul also says that the Bible is God’s chosen means of reproof. All of us will fall short and sin as we go through life, and we need to be shown where we are in error. The Bible does this for us. As we read it, it reproves us, showing us our sin. When we read it, it is like looking in a mirror. We see ourselves as God sees us, and we see those areas where we need to change. Next, Paul says that the Bible is profitable for correction. It isn’t enough just to know where we are wrong – we need to discover how to make those wrongs right. We need correcting. As we study God’s Word, we find the way to do just that. And then Paul says that the Bible is God’s chosen means of training in righteousness. It does not merely show us our errors and how to correct them, but it trains us to live in such a way as to avoid those errors in our lives as we live for Christ. As we study it, we are trained in righteousness, equipped to live in the way God intends for us to.

Over the last three weeks, I drove 2,251 miles in a rental car around California and Arizona and hiked a hundred miles or more in some amazing places. On our visit to Yosemite, we set out on a thirteen mile hike that turned into a twenty mile hike. How did that happen? Well, we began in the visitors center looking at a map of the trail. The map taught us the way to go. But along the way, some portions of the trail were washed out by flooding, and directional signs were nowhere to be found. We found ourselves in one place where a volunteer was manning an information station, and asked where we were and how to get where we wanted to be. The volunteer reproved us – he showed us where we had gotten off the trail and where we were in relation to the trail. By using a GPS map on my phone, I was able to plot a course back to the trail to resume our hike, so I was corrected – set back on the right path. And once we did that, we were able to spot the major landmarks to look for on the trail in order to prevent wandering off again. Those landmarks trained us in right hiking, and helped us to avoid errors in the future. Friends, this is what the Bible does for us as we discipline ourselves in the regular study of it. Just as the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring us to salvation, so He continues to work through the Word to make us more like Jesus. The Bible teaches us, reproves us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness.

The end result of this is that we are “adequate, equipped for every good work.” You see, along the way as you grow in Christ, someone is going to come along and say, “Hey, we need someone to teach 3rd Grade Sunday School,” or “We need someone to assist us with snacks in Vacation Bible School,” or they may say, “We’re going to take a mission trip to South Asia and we’d really like you to go along.” They might say, “You know we’d like you to serve on a committee.” Someone may come along and say, “Tomorrow night, I’m going to go visit my lost friend to share Christ with him. Will you go along with me?” For most of us, when we hear those words, all we can think about is how inadequate and ill-equipped we are to do those things. You might think, “I’m not a theologian. I don’t know anything about church administration. I am a picky eater, I can’t go to South Asia. I don’t know what to say to a lost person.” So on and so on, we make excuses for ourselves and try to find a way out. We live in defeat and feel useless and spiritually inferior. But if we would devote ourselves to the understanding of God’s Word, the Bible, Paul says here that we will not be inadequate, but adequate; not ill-equipped, but equipped; and not just for some small menial tasks, but for every good work.

The church is an amazing thing, you know. God has pieced us together according to His sovereign purposes. And He knows what this church has and what this church needs. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul likens the church to a human body. Just as in our bodies, every part has a role to play for the healthy working of the body, so it is in the church. You have a part to play in the service of God. You are growing in discipleship as the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to perform His work of sanctification in you, and He is equipping you, making you adequate to do your part. And when every member does his or her part in the church, it is a beautiful, God-glorifying thing. And the power to make it all happen is found here in this book – God’s Word, the Bible.

III. The Bible has the power to transform our culture (4:1-5)

Remember the condition of the culture that Paul warns Timothy about in verses 2-5 of Chapter 3. People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power. Although Paul says that this will come about “in the last days,” he makes it clear that these days had already begun. It is obvious that he does not have in mind some unknowable time period hundreds or thousands of years in the future, for he tells Timothy in 3:5, “avoid such men as these.” These conditions were already around at that time. And in order for people to cling to this empty form of religion and spirituality, he says in 4:3 that they will “not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” If this is not an appropriate description of our own culture, I don’t know what is. The most popular so-called Christian preachers on television and in some of America’s largest churches today are those who do not address the important subjects of sin and salvation, but rather focus on happiness, purpose, success, health, wealth, and prosperity. This sounds so nice, doesn’t it? But it is not sound doctrine. It is the tickling of people’s ears, telling them what they want to hear. It is mythology, not theology.

So, we see from these descriptions given here in this text, that for all the change that’s taken place in the world in the last 2,000 years, some things haven’t changed all that much. The human depravity that affects our culture is the same that affected that of Paul and Timothy’s day. Yet in the midst of these conditions, what advice does Paul give this young pastor? Does he tell him that the solution is electing proper leaders to government positions? Hold a public demonstration? Get a petition going? Withdraw from society altogether and cluster up in holy huddles to avoid being contaminated by the world? No, rather, Paul gives Timothy one charge. In 4:1-2, he says, “I solemnly 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!” Timothy was admonished by his mentor to confront the ills of his society by boldly proclaiming the inspired and authoritative Word of God.

He tells him in 4:5 to do the work of an evangelist. This doesn’t mean that Paul expects Timothy to get a TV program, or to use a lot of hairspray and ask people for money. NO! This word evangelist has as its root the word evangel, the Greek word for “Gospel.” It is as if Paul is saying, “Brother Timothy, I know the world around you is going to hell in a bucket, but the only hope for changing it is for you to proclaim the message of salvation to everyone you know.” And as Paul has already said, that message of salvation is found where? In the Bible. So he tells him Preach the Word!

Are you concerned about the problems of the culture around you? Immorality, addictions, a breakdown of the family, increasing vulgarity and perversion, the disappearance of any sense of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, the seemingly growing tolerance of evil as good, and the increasing categorization of good as evil – do these things concern you as Christian people? I hope so. They concern God, they should concern us too! So what are we going to do about it? You know, if you walk into a dark room, you can do three things. You can say, “Well, so what? It’s dark. Big deal, I’ll just learn to adapt to the darkness.” Or you can complain about it: “Why is this room so dark? I hate darkness. I wish it weren’t so dark.” Or you can do something else: you can turn on a light. And so in our culture, we can just adapt and go with the flow. Or we can gripe and complain about it. Or we can do something about it. But what? Paul told Timothy what to do, and that advice is just as fitting for us today – Preach the Word. Be an evangelist. The ills of our society are not the core issue; they are symptoms of a disease. And that disease is lostness. People act the way they act because they are what they are. So what can we do? Present God’s word to people and share the Gospel of Christ with them. The culture will only change as individuals are changed, and individuals are only changed by the Gospel. 

Do you believe that the faithful proclamation of God’s word by the people of God can change this city, this county, this state and nation? Consider this: In the early part of the 1500s, the city of Geneva, Switzerland was a wicked place, widely known for rioting, gambling, indecency, drunkenness, adultery, and so on. It was said that every third house in Geneva was a tavern. There was a prominent “red-light district,” and people were known to run drunk and naked through the streets shouting blasphemies against God. No matter how the city council of Geneva tried to curb this activity, it continued and worsened over time. In 1536, a man named John Calvin came to Geneva as the pastor of the reformed church there. And John Calvin began to preach the Bible straight forward; verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, every single day of the week. After a very short while, this began to get on people’s nerves. Eventually, the city council banished him from the city. Over the next three years, the conditions in Geneva got increasingly worse, until the city leaders decided to beg John Calvin to return to his ministry there. In 1541, Calvin came back to his church in Geneva and began preaching again day-by-day, picking up in his preaching at the point he left off three and a half years earlier. And gradually, change began to occur in that city. As people sat under the faithful teaching of God’s word, lives were changed, and as a result the city was changed. There were sweeping moral reforms, regulations were adopted for safety and sanitation, the economic infrastructure was overhauled so radically that Calvin is sometimes called the father of capitalism. That once wicked city was transformed as the Bible was proclaimed every day, and as a result, hundreds of missionaries were sent out from Geneva to the rest of the world, impacting many other cities and nations as well including those earliest settlers of our own nation.  

These are difficult days in which we live. The culture is in need of transformation. And the power to transform it is found in the Word of God. Souls are lost and in need of salvation. And the power to save them is found in the Word of God. Christians are living defeated lives of spiritual immaturity. And the power for their sanctification is found in the Word of God. So today, if you find yourself in one of those categories I would point you to the Bible as God’s solution for your needs. Perhaps you find yourself today lost in sin, being swallowed up by the sinking sand of this godless society. The Bible tells us the wonderful message that Christ died for your sins and rose from the dead so that you could be forgiven and made righteous before God and receive eternal life. I pray that as you have heard this Word today, God’s Spirit may have begun to deal with your heart about your need to be saved. Perhaps you are a Christian, but you know that you have not made much progress in discipleship. You have not spent time in the Word to allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate a Christlike character in your life. Would you allow God’s word to have its full effect in your life by recognizing it as the solid rock on which God wants you to build your life? And then as a church, we need to consider, what would you have this church built upon? Will you have it built upon a style of music, or a slate of programs, or the personality of some leader, or will you rather have the church built on the solid rock of God’s powerful word? Every member of the church must be united in that commitment and must hold one another accountable in keeping the church anchored to the rock of the Bible. And as the church is anchored on the Word of God, and every believer is built up by it, and we begin to proclaim it far and wide, lives will be changed, families will be changed, communities will be changed, societies will be changed, and nations will be changed. This is the power of the Word of God.

[1] Accessed June 22, 2017.
[2] John Piper, Finally Alive (Christian Focus, 2009). 

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