Rev. Bryn MacPhail
2 Timothy 3:1-17
In chapter 2, verse 15, Paul gave Timothy, and he gave us, 3 exhortations for standing firm as Christians. The first exhortation was that we must put God first . God’s approval, above all human approval, should be our greatest concern. Paul’s second exhortation was that we must not be ashamed of the Bible . As society launches continued assaults on the veracity of Scripture, Christians are called to depend on the Bible as our standard of truth. The third exhortation Paul gave us was that we must learn to handle accurately God’s Word .
I trust that most, if not all of you, will agree that Paul’s exhortations to Timothy can be helpful to us as well. The question is, what will motivate us to apply Paul’s counsel to our own life. Timothy’s motivation was that he was ministering a city filled with false teachers. Timothy needed Paul’s counsel to survive their doctrinal attacks. What is going to motivate us today to heed Paul’s instruction?
“Realize this “, Paul says, “in the last days difficult times will come “(3:1). An even better translation of the Greek would be, “in the last days dangerous seasons will come “. Learning and understanding God’s Word was necessary to help Timothy withstand the assaults of the false teachers, and it is even more vital for us who live in these “dangerous seasons “. Not only is the text before us today relevant, but it is even more relevant today than it was in Timothy’s day. We learn this from Paul’s prophecy to Timothy in verse 13, that “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse , deceiving and being deceived “.
In 2Timothy, chapter 3, we see that understanding the Bible is so important because of the danger of the seasons. Understanding and applying God’s Word is vital to maintaining a Christian witness in an increasingly unchristian age. When I think of the religious and moral decay of our society, I do not merely picture Third World massacres, high school shootings, and higher abortion rates. Paul describes, not only, “evil men “, but also “impostors “(3:13) contributing to the decay of society. The shift away from God’s Word is often a subtle shift–a shift that can only be noticed by those “handling accurately the word of truth “(2:15).
What does this ‘subtle shift’ way from God’s Word look like? Paul gives us a list of ungodly traits in verses 2 through 4: “men 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 “. It is unfortunate, but I think you will agree when I say, that this list is only too realistic.
The first trait Paul mentions is that “men will be lovers of self “(v.2). Presbyterian Pastor, James Montgomery Boice, asserts in his recent book that, “Preoccupation with self is the chief sin of the modern world”(Boice, Here We Stand , 175). Many advertisers have utilized this preoccupation with self to sell their product. One example that immediately comes to mind is the McDonald’s slogan, ‘You deserve a break today’. Preoccupation with self is evident in sayings we hear almost everyday, ‘What’s in it for me?’, ‘My needs aren’t being met’, ‘What have you done for me lately?’, and the number one reason given by those seeking a divorce, ‘I’m not happy’.
I agree with theologian, Donald Guthrie, who asserts that the first two ungodly traits given by Paul, “lovers of self ” and “lovers of money “, are the basis for the rest of the ungodly traits. The subsequent list of vices is ‘the natural fruit’ of one who is primarily concerned about self, and about acquiring material advantages for self'(Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles , 156). ‘Moral corruption’, Guthrie argues, ‘follows from love falsely directed'(Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles , 156).
How is this a ‘subtle shift’ away from God’s truth? Our society commends and rewards those who look after themselves, yet Jesus insists on just the opposite in Matthew 16:25: “whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it “.
The Christian life is not about loving yourself, it is about loving Christ . The mysterious reality in this, however, is that when we deny ourselves and love Christ more than anything, it is us who ultimately benefit. Jesus promises us that “whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never thirst “(John 4:14). Those who depend on Christ have all they need.
The people of Timothy’s day, and certainly the people of our day, have the order reversed. We think ‘me first’ and ‘God second’. Every time we skip church to do yard work; every time we postpone our Bible reading to do household chores; every time we fail to pray because we ‘are too busy’, we demonstrate that God is not first in our life. We demonstrate that we are more like the people Paul is describing than we would like to believe. We are not blatantly evil, but we have made the ‘subtle shift’ from His Word–we are like those who Paul describes as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although (we) have denied its power “(v.4, 5).
The people Paul describes here have not completely denied the value of Christ. They are likely attending church as we are–but Paul says they are “holding to a form of godliness “–their religion is like an empty shell. These people want some of the benefits of being a Christian, but they have denied the “power ” that animates the Christian faith.
That is why I can say, unashamedly, that Christian fellowship is far more important than the fellowship you get anywhere else. Christian fellowship is far more important than the fellowship you get from euchre night, it is more important than the fellowship you get at the coffee shop, more important than the fellowship you get from a sorority or a lodge, and more important than the fellowship you get from playing on a sports team. The only way you can reduce Christian fellowship to the level of these other things is by denying the “power” that animates the Christian faith.
The people Paul describes as “holding to a form of godliness ” are those who have treated the Christian faith like a buffet. I fear that this approach is the approach of many professing Christians today. Not wanting to submit to all of the standards of the Bible, Christians today have developed a faith that chooses and appropriates the aspects of Christianity that suit them while passing over that which does not fit their spiritual goals.
This is not the way the Christian life is to be lived. The water Jesus provides does not need to be poured through a Brita filter. The water Jesus provides is pure. Why is it that, when Jesus offers us pure water to quench our spiritual thirst, so many of us end up choosing the swamp water from TV sitcoms and morally suspect romance novels?
The apostle Paul states the obvious in verse 9 when he says, “But they will not make further progress “. Christians who feed primarily on what the world provides should not expect to make any progress in the Christian faith .
So what is our alternative to the swamp water the world offers? Paul points to “the sacred writings ” of Scripture(v.15). What can “the sacred writings ” of Scripture do for us? Paul says, in verse 15, that Scripture is “able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus “. Did you catch that? The Bible doesn’t simply give us wisdom for living–the Bible gives us “the wisdom “. The Bible is able to give us “the wisdom that leads to salvation “. The ordinary path of salvation is through reading the Bible and hearing the Scriptures preached, not through watching Seinfeld re-runs and soap operas.
The first thing the Bible does for us is that it leads us “to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus “. What else is Scripture good for? Verses 16 and 17 provide us with the answer: “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work “.
The Bible, first of all, leads us to salvation and, secondly, the Bible leads us to sanctification. In plain English, the Bible not only introduces us to Christ, but it also equips us to become like Christ . This is why we were created–to know Christ. And the goal of life is to become like Christ. The Bible, “all ” of it, leads us to these ends.
Sadly, very few people live their lives with these ends in mind. Sadly, many people believe the bumper sticker that reads, ‘The one who dies with the most toys wins’. The truth, however, is that, ‘The one who dies with Christ Jesus wins’.
I suspect that we all would admit to, at least some of the time, choosing worldly endeavours over spiritual nourishment. The question is, why do we choose these things over the spiritual nourishment of God’s Word? Why do we prefer going shopping over to going to church? Why do we prefer listening to the radio over listening to the preacher? Why do we prefer talking to friends on the phone over talking to God through prayer?
Pastor John Piper has an excellent answer to these questions when he asserts that ‘the power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier'(Piper, Future Grace , 334). This rings true in my ear. The reason I can choose watching a hockey game over spending time in prayer is that I mistakenly think I will enjoy watching hockey more than prayer. I mistakenly think watching hockey will make me happy. Yes, I do enjoy watching hockey and watching it does make me happy, but that happiness lasts only as long as the TV is on. When the game is over, so is my happiness.
By contrast, the spiritual disciplines the God requires of us bring enduring joy and peace. When we believe this, in faith, we will be satisfied with Christ. We all want a life full of meaning and purpose, a life filled with joy and peace. The question is, what do we trust to provide us with these things? Do we trust in social clubs, friendships, hobbies, and sports to provide us with these things or do we trust in Jesus to provide us with purpose, joy, and peace?
Our chief error is that we believe that money, power, and human relationships will make our future happier. The truth of Scripture, however–the truth of 2Timothy 3:16 & 17–is thatGod will make our future happier . In order to believe in this reality–that God will make our future happier–we must commit ourselves to God’s Word. The role of the Bible is to feed our appetite for God .
Our problem is not that we are committed to family, our problem is not that we enjoy playing sports, our problem is not that we enjoy working outside–our problem has to do with our preference . Our clearest rebuke comes from the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me “(Ex. 20:3). God is not talking about competing deities here–He is the only God of the universe. In the clearest of terms, the First Commandment tells us to prefer God over all things . The good news is that when we prefer God, we are gaining the most excellent thing imaginable.
At the end of the day, you have a choice to make. In our society, there is no end to the number of products, activities, and philosophies that promise happiness. Jesus, to the exclusion of these other things, also promises to satisfy our thirst(John 4). Not only does Jesus promise us eternal life(John 3:16; 2Tim. 3:15), but He also promises us abundant life(John 10:10; 2Tim. 3:17) The promises of the world, or the promises of Christ–which will you choose?