Productive Living (Titus 3:9-14)

Life is short. And it gets shorter and goes faster every day you live. There is only just so much time to be productive and to serve the Lord. There is much along the way to distract. The world is filled with damaged people, including some who find their way, often temporarily, into the church family. Some of these folks have agendas and viewpoints that are a bit warped and not squarely in line with biblical teachings. It might be the outworking of some sadness in their lives that they do not understand or grasp fully. These people may be able to be redeemed through biblical warnings and sound doctrinal teaching. Others are simply perverse and are working under a sort of disguise, fulfilling some personal agenda and deficit in their lives. They are not deserving of multiple warnings and interventions beyond a first couple of efforts in setting the truth before them …

3:9 – But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

A part of living a productive life is to help enable those who have particularly committed their total time and energies to serving God and spreading the gospel message. Such workers have given up most of their ability to work in such a way to financially support themselves and are in need of the family of faith to help them in practical ways. Paul speaks to Titus about several of these folks (he and Titus being in this category largely as well), soliciting generous and practical support of those in service.

3:12 – As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. 13 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 14 Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.

15 Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.

As we have seen in all of these chapters of the Pastoral Epistles, we all have a part to play. We have gifts to use, and we have resources to help others serve better with their gifts. It is all about the advance of the gospel message through living godly and productive lives. How are you living for God today, and in what way are you advancing the Kingdom?

Advertisements

Doing Good – It’s What You Do (Titus 3:1-8)

Most commercials and advertisements are truly lost on me. Even after seeing a commercial many times and even memorizing some of the lines, I often cannot recall what is the actual product being sold. But that is not true of the GEICO clips, as I think they are very creative. If you’re a parrot, you repeat things (maybe that you shouldn’t), it’s what you do. If you’re Tarzan and Jane (a typical couple) you argue about directions, it’s what you do.

If you’re a person who is merely of this world, seeking only its pleasures and amenities, you are rebellious, contentious, inconsiderate and self-focused, it’s what you do. But if you’re consciously God’s child and an heir of eternity, you are devoted to doing good in the Lord’s name, it’s just what you do.

So if you are the latter rather than the former, act like the latter and not the former. Paul writes to Titus:

3:1 – Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

I don’t think there is a better summary of the gospel anywhere in the Bible than what is in this passage in verse five. You may recall an evangelistic emphasis we had a few years ago that we called “The 3:5 Project.”

Prior to the Lord’s work in our lives, there was a natural way of living that involved self-centered passions and pleasures. But then there was a radical change when God’s grace arrived upon the scene of our experience.

We tend to think, especially as entrepreneurial Americans, that one only gets what one works for, earns and deserves. That is honorable for basic life needs and responsibilities, but it will not work for eternal life. The deeds or works spoken of in verse five translates a word from Greek that describes what one undertakes to do … an enterprise or undertaking. The verse is therefore saying that there is no good set of things that we may undertake to do that can possibly save us. Rather, it is all a work of God to wash us from sin and renew us in His righteousness – the perfect standard.

This grace was poured out – literally dumped over us – by God’s grace. The result is that we possess a new status as an heir of eternal life. An heir is someone with rights and privileges that are not yet realized, but are guaranteed.

But all of this is not just an insurance plan or ticket of escape from hell. It is rather that a new devotion will rise within us to be different than before all of this happened, that rather we will live a life devoted to doing what is good … good works.  The works follow the salvation as a natural byproduct; they don’t precede salvation as a payment to obtain it.

If doing good as a lifestyle of devotion does not naturally follow and flow from our grace experience, it is symptomatic of something that is terribly wrong. It might be a lack of standing, or a lack of understanding, but it certainly should not involve just standing around. Understand?

Stubborn Facts (Titus 2:11-15)

Imagine you are listening to your favorite pastor-preacher (you know who that is, obviously) wailing away and building to a great crescendo on the theme of God’s greatness … listing all of creation from the beauty of the earth to the majesty of the heavens. And then, at the pinnacle moment of the sermon he breaks out by quoting the words of the 19th century Swedish poet Carl Gustav Boberg. You know the words!  Right?  Boberg?  Who?  What?  Yes, you do know. Again, at the climactic moment of the sermon, out comes …

“O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, ‘How Great Thou Art!’”

Every one of you would know what that was from – the hymn that is most often cited as the favorite in the western church for the past 100+ years.

After Paul works through a list of the various categories of people in the church who need to serve one another to model the gospel truth, out comes this following paragraph that in the Greek language is very majestically and colorfully composed …

2:11 – For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

We can’t say for sure, but this summary paragraph of theological thought was probably not a hymn, but rather a baptismal liturgy. Imagine the scene of some recent converts in Crete – saved out of a wretched and coarse culture with a public commitment now to live for Christ – ready to be immersed, with the officiant reciting these words over them. The phrase would become familiar, and Paul recites it here as he encourages Titus to consistently remind the Cretans of the high purpose for life that they have in Christ.

But pastoral types like Titus – who is probably not a very old fellow – can talk and affirm truths all day long, but people have to listen and respect the message. To bolster the young man, Paul says to Titus …

15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

The message of the gospel that promotes preferring others above self is not always terribly popular. It is not only in the “Me Generation” that people like themselves more than others. Serving others at the expense of your own needs truly is counter-intuitive in a world where it is all about the survival of the fittest.

So Titus would be promoting an unpopular message that would land on the ears of the listeners as rather foolish and naïve. Add to this the fact that the messenger is a rather young fellow, and you can readily imagine the push-back and resistance. And so Paul says to Titus to be determined and authoritative, to be bold. Don’t let the hearers reject the message because it came from him, but rather to stand firm with the truth itself having the authority.

Again we stumble over a major theme of the Pastoral Epistles – that of timeless, objective truth. I am reminded of the great quote from one of America’s greatest statesmen, John Adams, who said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  He was not arguing for Scriptural truth on this occasion, but the principle surely applies. Don’t be afraid to stand for truth.

Preference Deference (Titus 2:1-10)

Building the multi-generational church has been the theme around Tri-State Fellowship now for more than a decade, and we have seen it happen. We are now quite a diverse congregation of all ages across the spectrum.

What motivated this theme? A first answer is simply the matter of preservation. There is a pattern of church life that, if unchecked and non-addressed, naturally flows toward a congregation aging in place. Over time, older generations dominate in numbers and ministry focus, and before long there is nothing remaining but older congregants. Eventually the church dies out.

But beyond mere practicality and institutional survival, the best church is one that has all of the generations within its walls and functioning in fellowship and service. This is the expectation we see in the New Testament. Each generation has strengths and liabilities, and the biblical picture is one of a pervasive attitude of service toward others at different stages of life and maturity. Everyone has a part to play in looking away from self toward others, and that will mean yielding personal preferences sometimes. It means that you won’t always get the worship style you want or to have everyone else walking life at the same place you are. You have to choose to exhibit what I have termed over the years “preference deference.”

Here in Titus 2 we see Paul giving some words of instruction for older and younger, men and women, and even those who lived is servile social relationships and circumstances essentially as slaves …

2:1 – You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. 2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

There is a sort of thing that happens when aging as a man, after having had to work hard to provide for everyone else. There may come a train of thought that says to get off that rat race, forget all the fetters that have bound you to schedules and routines, and just live for yourself for once! Paul says to teach that this is foolishness – that a temperate and respectful lifestyle is more valued now than ever. Don’t be the next “old fool.”

2:3 – Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Who doesn’t like a grandmother?  Older women have so much to offer to everyone, but particularly to younger women. Getting older in a church is not the time to retire from ministry. NO, it is rather the time to have the greatest of impact. Some para-church ministries like MOPS (Mothers of pre-schoolers) and CBS (Community Bible Study) have so profoundly modelled the truth of these verses.

2:6 – Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

My mother used to use a phrase about a young man who was living a bit riotously, saying that “he was sowing his wild oats.”  She even said that is the way my dad was when she met him! I’m still not sure what that actually means, but it is more than a bit common that young men are often slow to settle down into a responsible lifestyle. Titus was to encourage this, particularly by being a model of it himself. A highly responsible 20-something young man has great respect and opportunity. And being so because of eternal values is a wonderful model for the gospel message.

9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

Paul never taught any sort of view about overthrowing the master/slave relationship. As we’ve written on other occasions, this was not like our own history of abusive slavery in America; yet those in this indentured servitude relationship probably nonetheless longed for a better life. Paul’s focus was on something that was higher and bigger than all of these relationships, and that was the message of the gospel. Contented living, being servants to others, having an eternal values system – these characteristics are what would make the church and its message attractive.

So we need to think bigger. It is not about us and consumer choices in life and church service. It’s about a bigger message and Kingdom. It is about the gospel message and its progress. It is about always asking the question, “What can I give and how can I serve?” rather than the question, “Are my needs being met, does this place feel right, am I being fed?”

Liars, Brutes and Gluttons (Titus 1:10-16)

No, that title is not talking about the nature of politics today. Well, not specifically. More on that in a moment.

We might at times read the New Testament and learn of the great work of the Spirit in the advance of the gospel in the decades after the resurrection and think that it would have been a fascinating time to have been alive. Certainly there would have been some interesting experiences, though you might have been persecuted and executed by the Romans as well!

As we read the book of Acts and the Epistles, we see over and over – as we do in today’s reading – that there was a tremendous amount of oppositional and errant teaching. But you might say that there is a lot of bizarre and wrong theology promoted these days as well. And that is true. But it is different in several ways.

We live in an amazing time in terms of all of the resources at our disposal. As compared to the era of Paul, Timothy and Titus, we not only have the completed Word of God, we also have 2,000 years of commentary and scholarly research upon these writings. We stand on the shoulders of those who stood on shoulders.

Not a bit of this sort of resource was available to someone like Titus on the island of Crete. People were putting together their new theology about Christ and how that related to previous belief systems, be they religions of the time or a mixture with Jewish belief. The latter of these was especially common, with teachers bringing in some new teachings about Jesus while also promoting the necessity of Jewish traditions in order to be in right relationship with God. The end result was a gospel that was not good news at all, not being about grace and imputed righteousness, but rather about works and obligations. And add to this the common mix that those promoting these systems often did so with self-aggrandizing motives, leading Paul to write …

1:10 – For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

Man, that is all pretty rough! The Apostle Paul essentially called the natives of Crete a basket of deplorables – to use some modern parlance. Well, Cretans (sounds like some planetary people from Star Wars) were a pretty rough bunch. The quote that Paul uses is from one of their own named Epimenides, who summarized his countrymen with these words. And Paul agrees! In fact, there is a Greek word for lying and fabrications that comes from the word Crete … it is “cretizo.”  They would be known for this, perhaps like people from Missouri need to be shown things, or that people from Texas expect everything to be supersized. So this was the environment that Titus was sent to minister within, dealing with people who had been saved from such a rough background.

A criticism of churches over the years has been that they can be overly authoritative about their belief systems. And there are churches who choose to fight over items that simply are not significant in the big picture of things … not to the extent of parting ways over the divergent views. But there are certain teachings and doctrinal beliefs that are not negotiable, particularly those that are the essential components of the gospel message of salvation. That is what Titus had to deal with in Crete. And there is not a way to just say, “Oh well, we just disagree on the importance of the blood of Christ as a payment for sin.”  At this point, it was necessary for Titus to take a stand and break completely from those who taught significant error.

As we have seen over and over in these three letters, there are the nuts and bolts of the gospel message that constitute good teaching and need to be known and emphasized. There is no shortcut to understanding these truths. They need to be studied and learned, supported and taught, and defended from those who would water down the truth. It is all central to the faith and worthy of our most ardent attention and life disciplines.

Right Person, Right Place, Right Time (Titus 1:1-9)

As I write this, I just finished watching my beloved Baltimore Orioles end their season by losing a one-game playoff. They were on the edge of getting beaten multiple times during the game, but it seemed like the right player was used at the right time in the right place. That is, until the bottom of the 11th inning. It’s too painful for me to write about, but I find it incredulous that though the Orioles have arguably the best pitcher in the sport right now, he never appeared in this critical game.

God never makes this sort of mistake. He always has the right person in the right place at the right time. As we turn in our Nuts and Bolts series on the Pastoral Epistles to the third of three books – Paul’s Letter to Titus – we see in these opening paragraphs how God is a good manager of his personnel.

  1. Paul was the right person to preach the gospel.

1:1 – Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,

Paul lived during an incredible era of human history, and he knew it. He was also always totally amazed that he, a former persecutor of the faith, was given by God a most critical role of preaching and laying out the central truths of the gospel.

All of history, even from eternity past, had come to a focal point in the decades just before Paul wrote these words and travelled about the Mediterranean world establishing churches. Paul personally knew some of the disciples of Christ. Yet he was the one appointed to present to the world the hope of eternal life – the fulfillment of God’s plan from even before the creation of the world. And again, this “hope” is not of the sort we optimistically expect might happen, but rather it is the certainty of what will come to be.

  1. Titus was the right person to serve in Crete.

1:4 – To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

All of the exact challenges about local church ministry in Crete are not given, but (as we’ll see in subsequent passages) reading between the lines would seem to indicate that it was not an easy task. It would appear that Titus was given this task because he had the requisite skills of wisdom, administration, firmness, kindness and tact.

We might think of these churches on this island as a group of adolescents – more than mere infants and children, but not quite ready yet to launch into the adult world of independence without some guidance and oversight. Paul’s time on the island of Crete was apparently not as extensive as at some other locations, and hence they would not have benefited nearly so much from his presence and preaching. Paul needed someone to represent him and the truth, and Titus was his guy – the right person at the right place at the right time.

  1. Godly elders are the right people to lead the local church family.

1:6 – An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Without doing an extensive laundry list of these qualifications for church leaders, let us take from it the very clear teaching that character evidenced by a record of life disciplines and wisdom was entirely necessary for leadership. This is especially true in the church, though character qualification is a part of all good leadership, as we are hearing much talked about in our current political climate. Nothing can make an institution, particularly a church, come crashing down faster than morally impure or inept leadership.

Notice that leadership involves the multiple components of what one knows, how one lives, and what sort of personality and character traits are present in how one carries himself publically. It is not enough to just be well-informed and educated about truth. It is not enough to just be a nice and likeable fellow. It is not enough to just quietly live in an honorable way. There is the need for a combination of these varied elements for those in church leadership.

In reading today, one might say “I’m not an apostle or the appointee of an apostle, and I’m not an elder in the church, so what does this passage say to me?”  Certainly the character qualities of church leadership are worthy goals and aspirations for all of us at any stage of life. We never fully arrive, but we can fully strive. And beyond that, we know from all of Scripture that the Lord has a perfect place for everyone – the gifts of the Spirit and the necessity of the whole body with all of its members to function well, etc. Whoever you are, whatever stage of life, when you walk with the Lord he has a way of making you the right person at the right place at the right time, over and over in life.

empty-road

Bad Actors and Good Actors (2 Timothy 4:9-22)

I always knew it would be true that looking back on years of ministry would produce many different perspectives than when I was a seminary student / first-time minister in a church. I could see that from the reflections of the older guys on our eight-member pastoral staff in my Dallas church.

Now, 35 years later, I can look back and have many of those same thoughts. It is a mixed bag of reflections. Along the way there have been so many amazing experiences of God’s work in peoples’ lives and of watching tremendous growth. But sadly, also, there are some who worked diligently and well for a season, but who walked away from endurance in the faith to live rather a simple, albeit less complicated life, I suppose.

Thirty years ago in my New Jersey church I did an intense discipleship program with five other guys my age – young adults with young wives and multiplying numbers of babies. Now, three decades later, three of those men are primary leaders in that church and another continues to serve faithfully in another part of the country. But the final member of the group has walked away from church involvement and expressions of faith, and I’m not sure what he truly believes in anymore … likely he is not sure either.

So on one hand, I rejoice; but on the other hand, I grieve the loss of this once-close associate who even served as an elder. I could beat myself up and wonder what I did not do to resource this fellow. But a passage such as we read today tells me that this mixed result is not rare, and if it happened to Paul’s disciples, it could happen with my own…

4:9 – Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.

14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.

16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

So what happens that things go all wrong in the lives of some people, as we see in this passage? How does this occur? Even commonly. Even around the Apostle Paul?

  1. There are those who defect when the going gets difficult – the many who were afraid of identification with Paul, the prisoner
  2. Some fall prey to a love of this world – Demas
  3. Some show their true allegiance by working for the other team – Alexander

All of this defection from the faith could be very discouraging for the minister of the gospel, but it is not the whole story. Just as with Elijah, when he thought he was the only one remaining who was faithful to God, the Lord spoke to him and essentially told him to shut up and stop whining, that there were yet 7,000 in Israel who had not sold out to Baal (1 Kings 19). And Paul and Timothy had many remaining who were encouraging to them and enduring service for Christ in this sin-soaked world …

4:19 – Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. 21 Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters. 22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.

Which Kind of Character Do YOU Want to be? Certainly nobody is going to say, “Yes, now that you lay out those categories, I really think God wants me to serve as an obstacle to ministry!”  But how can you be a positive factor?

Start by being a good worker bee; that is a worthy goal. Support others and help wherever you can, and personal opportunities to maximize your gifts will come your way. See your resources as a stewardship from God, not allowing large numbers of dollars and other indicators of material success to become a root that holds you down, but rather to see your resources and their use as investments for the kingdom eternally. And that way you can have your resources today, and have them pay off forever!

There is no way around this other than to understand that we are all a cog in a big machine, or workers in the vineyard, or members of the same team, or parts of one body … choose your metaphor.  But being involved intimately as a way of life leads us to living ultimately a productive life.

Living a Better Story (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

When I was a high school cross country coach, I would take the occasion of the first long bus trip to an away meet to have a talk with the team. I would ask the question, “Why are we doing this; why are we participating in this sport this season?”  And I would get answers like, “to win today … to win the county championship … to win the conference championship!”  And I would say, “Yes, yes we going to do those things, but there’s more.”  And then someone would think really, really big and say, “We’re doing this to win the state championship!”  And I would say, “Yep, we’re planning on doing that, but that’s not the biggest reason.”  What?? What’s bigger than that?  And I would say, “We are doing this so that you will have, during your teenage years, an experience in setting goals and achieving a series of small victories that lead to bigger victories. You will learn discipline, endurance through hard times, and the reward of accomplishment from hard work. And this will make you fit for living life, for getting through college, for having a career, for handling crises like a cancer diagnosis with a family member or something of that gravity. We’re doing this so that you learn how to live life like a champion.”

We all need a bigger story to live for than simply finding happiness, something that we all know is rather illusive and very fleeting. Rather, what we really need is a bigger picture … a grander story. And the Scriptures teach us that this bigger and better story is to live for and serve God, yielding eternal satisfaction.A photo by Joanna Kosinska. unsplash.com/photos/B6yDtYs2IgY

As Chris stated in his fabulous sermon on Sunday, we can get to the end of life and look back with satisfaction, or we may sadly reflect on a life tinged with regret. Another way of saying this would be: It is a terrible thing to spend all of life climbing the ladder of success, only to get to the top and find out it is leaning against the wrong building!

Even secular research says if we choose mere happiness as the goal of life, we’ll not find true purpose and meaning.

As we go to 2 Timothy 4:1-8 in our reading today, rather than rehash Chris’ sermon and points from this past week, let me give you another (and similar) exposition from his pen and from a devotional on this site a couple of years ago. Chris wrote the following …

Your average preacher is the spiritual equivalent of the TV weatherman.  He pays enormously for an academic education, then he gets put in front of an audience that expects him to be entertaining—and gets furious when he tells them something they don’t want to hear.

Paul understood this.  This is why he tells the young pastor Timothy to press in, because times are tough and there will always be rivals.  In his letter to this young pastor, Paul writes:

4:1 – 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: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.3 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, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

What was the danger?  Paul knew that Timothy would face an era where people turned from God’s truth to instead embrace a seductive lie.  Itching ears?  By that he meant that sometimes our “felt” needs outstrip our deeper, spiritual needs.

I hope you recognize that this danger is no less real today.  Go into any bookstore—even the Christian bookstore—and you’ll be confronted by a wall of self-help teachers that offer advice on finance, dating, weight loss, and anything else you can conceivably think of as leading to personal happiness and fulfillment.  With itching ears and greedy stomachs, modern day Christians have unrepentantly devoted themselves to a curious blend of spiritual platitudes and consumerist delight.

Why is this so dangerous?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy?  But that question only assumes that my deepest problem is unhappiness.  If my deepest problem is financial, then financial planning is my surest savior.  If my problem is singleness, then dating advice becomes my gospel.  If my deepest problem is low self-esteem, then a self-help manual works wonders.  But the gospel says that my deepest problem isn’t a lack of personal fulfillment, but the excess of personal fulfillment.  What the Bible calls “sin” is a form of self-indulgence, self-interest, self-absorption.  And the only true remedy for that is the gospel.

You see, the greatest problem within the walls of today’s church is that we’ve assumed the gospel to be elementary when it should be elemental.  We’ve assumed that the God has saved us from hell, but fail to recognize the ways he has saved us for new life.  And when we minimize that, we’re left to thrive on the petty dalliances of consumerist religion.  What today’s church needs is not a change in her substance, but a return to it.  To refocus our eyes on the beauty of Jesus and his message of forgiveness and transformation.   To realize that when—not if—we fully understand the exhilarating, electrifying joy that comes from knowing Christ, that our so-called needs and “itching ears” will seem trivial by comparison.

Paul’s letter to Timothy was the last that would appear in the New Testament—and most likely his final before being killed in Rome.   Paul faced this inevitability with courage, with conviction, and with words of encouragement for the rough road ahead:

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

If we care deeply about others, it naturally means caring less about self.  Often people struggle to find a church that “meets my needs.”  But such an approach treats faith as if it were a series of projects, self-improvement schemes with Jesus as the means and self as the end.  But Christianity says that religion isn’t something that you can master; religion is something that must master you.  And so if the gospel is true, I find hope and purpose and joy in Christ alone—and not the cares of my earthly appetite and itching ears.

Thoroughly Equipped (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

Over the last decade I have occasionally been called upon at the Antietam Battlefield to provide interpretive work for guests who come. I’ll meet up with various sorts of groups ranging from families to busloads of students or historical associations. The past two years have also involved a number of occasions of hosting groups of cyclists, since I’m the youngest (probably not quite true) and most athletically-fit (might well be true) of the 25 or so guys who do this at Antietam.

There are two primary outfitters who bring bike groups to the Battlefield, so I see the same sponsors each time and have gotten to know them now. They always have a guy who rides along, while another guy drives a van pulling a larger trailer with all the extra gear to the ending spot.

I have really high quality bicycles that very, very seldom cause me any problems. However, it seems that if I’m going to have a flat tire, have the chain fly off, or need a major gear adjustment, the problem always appears to happen when this one particular fellow is there with a group. It is very embarrassing for me. But this guy always has exactly the tools and gear he needs with him in a pocket or pouch to quickly fix anything that goes wrong. I find it amazing as to what he has right at hand, and am amazed also at how quickly he knows what to do and gets it done. It has become a joke that I bring my bicycles each time to get them fixed while he’s there.

photo credit: Unsplashed.com

photo credit: Unsplashed.com

The illustrative point I’m making today is to tell this story that pictures a person who is fully equipped for any circumstance. I always admire a person like this who, in whatever field of endeavor, is never caught off-guard, but rather has the knowledge and resources to handle any contingency. And Paul is essentially telling Timothy in today’s reading that his young disciple can be fully equipped for any situation of life, by knowing and using the resource of God’s Word …

3:10 – You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 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.

Paul can reference his life and resume without being arrogant. Writing from a prison, likely facing execution, his life story had a lot of chapters, and he had been faithful in the midst of all that had happened to him and through him (like getting stoned in Timothy’s hometown of Lystra, etc.)  I’ll not include it here, but read Acts chapters 13 and 14 about Paul’s experiences in these listed cities of Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. The opposition was relentless, going from town to town, but God’s power through Paul was greater than anything thrown at him.

Though Paul does not use the word “pattern” in this paragraph, it is used multiple times in these Pastoral Epistles to talk about how Paul’s life and teaching was a form / pattern / outline / paradigm that Timothy (and Titus) could use in ministry as younger leaders of the next generation. Paul lists seven positive patterns, BUT, he then comes to a pair of words you would not expect in a list like this: persecutions + sufferings. That would not seem to fit!!  That’s bad stuff; the first seven things were good things.

But persecution and suffering is par for the Christian life. If you don’t have some of it, you’re either living in an unusual environment, or you are living in a way where your faith is not terribly obvious to others.

Paul again exhorts Timothy with his most common theme of continuance and endurance.  Just keep moving. That is what I would tell runners when I was a distance coach and when things were falling apart for a runner. Keep moving. Soon the distance is covered, the race will be finished, and often the difficult moment will pass.

Difficult times will come, but the disciplined follower of Christ has the resource of God’s Word to get them through any contingency. Such a disciple needs to stay connected to the objective truth and be informed by its wisdom and by the bigger picture of life that the Scriptures teach.

Does not this passage especially motivate you to a very specific, intentional and active – even lifelong – pursuit of knowing and growing in the truth of God’s Word? Can you ever get to the bottom of it? Can you ever know it all?  Of course not! So does that not mean you should always study it and be expanding your knowledge and wisdom? Yep. That’s how you get thoroughly equipped!

Challenging Times and Culture (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to convince anyone reading this that we live in a strange and perilous age. While we remain largely the recipients of many blessings and creature comforts, there is a super-abundance of evil in the world, near and far.

Some Christians are convinced that these have to be the last days. But my parents thought they lived in the last days. So did my grandparents in the run-up to World War II. My guess is that throughout every era of church history there has been some cumulative feeling that evil is advancing and the world is falling apart. The first century church thought they were living in the last days and had every expectation of the second coming of Christ.

So were all of these folks wrong about the last times? The answer is “no.”  The Scriptures use this phrase in a couple of different ways. The last days began after the completion of Christ’s work and ascension. The next “big thing” is that he is going to come again, and all the time between is the last days.  Yet the words are also used with a tone, such as we see today in this passage, to talk about the days at the very, very end of this entire period of time, however long it may be. Every generation of the church has looked for and longed for the coming again of Christ. In many, many different times and eras over the past 2,000 years, there have been circumstances and events that would surely seem to indicate that Christ’s coming simply has to be soon.

But it is a reasonable position to believe that we may indeed be living in the last of the last days, as this chapter surely sounds like the era in which we live …

3:1 – But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 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— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

3:6 – They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

The list of 18 negatives about the conditions of the last days is much more interesting when read in the original Greek language, as many of the words sound alike and have an interesting ring to them in connection with one another – all of which is lost in the translation to English. To try to illustrate it, it would be like saying in English that someone is malicious, malevolent, maleficent, malodorous and maladroit – all of those “mals-” colorfully describing a bad person with bad qualities who also smells bad!

The first two phrases set it all up and summarize what is to follow – lovers of self / lovers of money. And the final two phrases summarize what preceded, also sounding much alike – lovers of pleasure, not lovers of God.

Each of these “lovers” phrases is actually one Greek word each beginning with “phileo” – the word for love, as is Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love … or philosophy, the love of wisdom.

Just look again at that complete list and think through the news events of the past week – local / national / global – and all of these terms come to mind as descriptors of our world.

Having a form of godliness … We often hear that people today are religious, just that it is not based upon the traditional truths of Scripture. Everyone has a faith system that shapes values and worldviews. The problem with the “people of the last days” crowd is that they base their faith in themselves and their own passions, desires and ideas, rather than in an objective source from the outside. That kind of objective moral code is in this era rejected as oppressive.

Gullible women … What is this saying? That women are intrinsically gullible and the source of most problems in a church community?  No.  Paul selected a term (literally “little women”) to project the most vulnerable people imaginable, the easiest to take advantage of and deceive. Be they men, women, young, old – these are folks who lack an intelligent foundation and moral code for living. They are not tethered to anything, and therefore they can be easily swayed and used, especially when the errant teaching feeds their simple minds and perverse desires.

Those doing the deceiving are spoken of as “worming their way” into the lives of gullible people. It is a good translation of a person who is conniving and deceitful without being obviously so whatsoever. They are the ultimate snake oil salesmen.

Who are Jannes and Jambres?  Though not in the Bible, Jewish traditions and writings list them as among the magicians who opposed Moses and to some extent (by Satanic powers) replicated some of the miracles Moses performed to get Pharaoh to let the people go.

“… always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth” – These folks never arrive, though they talk like they have. And when it seems they have a cogent message, if you hang around long enough, they will contradict something earlier as the circumstances change. You can’t have it both ways, but they want it both ways.  This means they are driven by immediate circumstances and the associated feelings, rather than being informed by any sort of timeless truth.

Given enough time, they tend to hang themselves and become obvious as frauds, but in short windows of time they can do much damage. These folks have never been rare in church circles. They are interested in some of the big ideas of the gospel, but the details are odious to them – details about things like serving others and taking up the cross of suffering, etc.

But we need to understand that these people WILL be around the fringes of church communities. It is the nature of ministry. It will happen, and it is not a mark of a church having done something wrong; and it could be just the opposite!

Did you ever play a game where the rules were constantly changing? That is the way it is with errant teachers. They do not have a solid and objective truth and foundation upon which to live and teach. Therefore, in the end, all they do is create trouble. But they don’t last; God’s Word lasts … forever. We would be lost without an objective truth and foundation. And we can be pretty sure that this is what Paul is going to go on to say in the following paragraphs!