Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sermon: 2 Timothy 3:1-17 Know the Message

I want to ask you a question this morning. What is it the church needs to do in these changing times? There's not doubt about it that things are changing very rapidly all around us. The past century was one of amazing technology and development. Things are vastly different to when our grandparents were children themselves. Communications, working patterns, education - all are changing. The question is, should the church be changing its message to fit in with the times?

Some in the emerging/emergent church are saying precisely that. Because things have changed to much, the church needs to change the message it once proclaimed, so that we can fit in better with a new society, enlightened, multicultural, influenced by reason not superstition.

This morning, though, as we continue to think about Bible Sunday, we come to the apostle Paul writing to a younger church leader, Timothy. Paul knows that he is near the end of his life; he's now in prison again, the time is short, and soon he will be killed for being a Christian. Timothy seems to be shy, fearful, so Paul is writing to Timothy to encourage him. Here, in chapter 3, he tells Timothy to know two things - know the times, and know the message.

Know the times

The times, they are a-changing, and yet there's a sense in which things are still the same as ever. We have increased mobility, wealth, possessions, education, and yet things are as they ever were. Sin continues unabated. In the early part of the chapter, Paul describes a catalogue of sins, a litany of wrongdoing, which will be the case in the last days. We're in the last days - we have been since the resurrection - so this is what it looks like when sin continues unrestrained. Alongside the worsening morals of the world, we also have the threat of false teachers, leading people astray.

Do you remember the theme song that brought New Labour to power in 1997? The D:Ream song 'Things Can Only Get Better'. Thirteen years on, as we reflect on the Labour years under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, we can't really say things have been getting better. If anything, they're getting worse. This isn't a political point - the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats won't be able to change the hearts of the population of the UK. Sin will continue. Just look at your newspapers or TV news. Death, violence, rioting on the streets of Belfast. Sin continues.

Notice the contrast in verse 10 though. Paul is saying that Timothy is to be wise to the times, realising the world he is working in, but not to copy their example. Instead, he writes 'You, however...' Don't follow the wicked world, but copy Paul's example, his faith, love, patience, conduct and all the rest, including persecution!

It's a strange inclusion, isn't it? Paul promises Timothy that he will face persecution - indeed, everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. What a promise! Yet it's what we should expect - precisely because we know the times, we know that the world is living in rebellion against its Maker and King, so that if we stand up or stand out for Jesus, then we'll attract some opposition.

Know the times, and be prepared to stand up for Jesus.

Know the message

But as well as recognising the times, Paul also urges Timothy to know the message he has been entrusted with. Again, at the start of verse 14, notice the contrast. 'But as for you...' The evil people will go from bad to worse, but as for you, continue in what you have learned and believed. Don't change the message - hold firm to the gospel.

Paul reminds Timothy that he has been acquainted with the sacred writings since childhood - which are able to make you wise for salvation in Christ Jesus. The Scriptures are the power of God for salvation, as they point to Jesus. Back in chapter 1, Paul mentioned Timothy's granny Lois, and his mummy Eunice, both of whom were Christians already, and had brought him up to know the Bible (the OT, of course, teaching and training him. Parents and grandparents, here's a call for you to be passing on the faith, teaching your children and grandchildren as you have opportunity.

The Scriptures, Paul says, are God-breathed - the word coming out by the breath/Spirit, just as my words are coming out of my mouth along with my breath. They are given by God to teach us about him, to correct false notions we have about him, and to train us in righteousness.

Our message must not change - we must continue to hold fast and preach the gospel contained in the Scriptures - God's revelation of his Son, the Lord Jesus. How we present the message may change, but not the message itself.

Let's take seriously today Paul's call to know the times we live in, but also to know the message that can turn sinful people into saints; rebels into redeemed people; lost into found.

This sermon was preached at the Midweek Morning Prayer in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Wednesday 27th October 2010.

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