fish6.gif - 0.8 K

A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

II Timothy 3
March 24, 2013 - Palm Sunday

         An arrest, a beating, a smeared reputation, or a lost job are all ways in which God’s truth is suppressed by both civilian and government forces around the world. Our attention is grabbed by stories like that of Kay’s friend in Pakistan. She was forced to marry and convert to Islam and has now disappeared.

         Opposition to Christian truth has been part of the story of our faith since the beginning. We heard it this morning as Pharisees tried to get Jesus to silence the crowd who were praising Him as King on Palm Sunday. And we hear it as we turn to our Around the Word text for today, II Timothy 3 and read in verse 8 about those who oppose the truth.

         That verse takes us even further back to the Exodus, chapter 7, when Egyptian magicians opposed Moses, counterfeiting miracles God was doing with their own magical techniques. The Old Testament doesn’t tell their names, but Jewish tradition called them Jannes and Jambres. They opposed the truth by setting up their magical arts as a way to deny the power of God who wanted to set the Israelites free.

         As Paul writes to Timothy in the pagan city of Ephesus, he is very aware of those around and within the Christian community who have and will oppose the truth of Jesus Christ. He may have referred to the Egyptian magicians because as we learn in Acts 19, Ephesus had many practitioners of magic and some of them had become Christians.

         Yet even though opposition to God’s truth was an ancient story and part of Jesus’ and Paul’s own experience, he pictured it growing worse as time went on. Verse 1 of our text speaks of “distressing times” in the last days, followed in the next few verses by a descriptive catalog of the character of people in those times.

         Read through it and tell me if it doesn’t fit our times and many times since the coming of Christ, “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Watch the news, read the paper, surf the Internet, and it feels very much like Paul described our own time.

         We could have a dozen sermons on that list, asking how it fits our own circumstances and own characters. Has an emphasis on self-esteem taught us to be lovers of ourselves? Has the success of capitalism trained us to be lovers of money? Have we raised generations of children who are boastful, arrogant, abusive and disobedient to their parents? It would be easy to talk about unholiness and inhumanity and brutishness in relation to the news that a 17 year old boy in Georgia wounded a mother then shot her baby in the head.

         When we hear such sickening news it is tempting to suppose our own era is unique, worse than ever before. Surely, we suppose, Paul was talking about us and we are living in the last few years of the world. Yet an honest survey of history will reveal that human inhumanity and brutality is hardly new or worse now.

         I don’t want to make this message into a warning that we are in the end times. Yes, we see and hear much of the kind of moral decay that the first part of II Timothy 3 warns about. But every century, every generation, in every nation could make a case for the dubious honor of living up to Paul’s description here.

         No, I would instead like to consider where Paul goes with this list of evils. The last item is in verse 5, “holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.” Paul points to a fundamental deception about human sin, a willingness to not only do unspeakable evil, but to hide it beneath an outward appearance of goodness, even of godliness.

         In Paul’s time, in the Roman empire, the killing of babies, particularly girls, was a generally accepted practice whenever an infant was unhealthy or unwanted. Recent evidence from tiny skeletons found at an archaeological site in England suggest the practice of infanticide was spread throughout the Roman world. The only difference today is that we’ve perfected our medical technology enough to mostly kill babies before they are born rather than after.

         We’re all horrified at the thought that a teenager could look a baby boy in his tiny eyes and shoot him point blank. But we don’t give much thought at all to the fact that for four decades our medical and political system has allowed the quiet, unnoticed killing of over three thousand babies every day. We passed the fortieth anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision two months ago. Our currency proclaims, “In God we trust,” but our treatment of the most helpless people among us says just the opposite.

         Paul is concerned with the kind of spiritual condition that allows such self-deception. We may be a little put off by the fact that in verse 6 he zeroes in on “silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires.” But what he says about them in verse 7 is an indictment that really has no gender bias, “who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”

         We now live with information literally at our fingertips. Guys in the locker room don’t have to debate who won NCAA March tournaments five years ago. One of them pulls out a smartphone and finds the answer in a few taps. You can check the facts on abortion I cited earlier or anything else in the same way. We are capable of always being instructed. The question here, the question for today, is whether we ever arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

         The problem described in verse 7 is often understood as a virtue today. A claim to have arrived at the truth is regarded with suspicion. It’s arrogant or boastful to think you actually know anything about God or morality. Instead of a knowledge of the truth, we cultivate open minds. We want to be fair-minded, always ready to consider every opinion, to give every point of view a hearing.

         But as G. K. Chesterton tells us, an open mind by itself is of little use unless it helps us arrive at truth. In his autobiography he says, “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” It’s well and good to consider many opinions and viewpoints for awhile. It’s total foolishness to keep considering them forever and never come to any conclusions.

         In verse 9, Paul says what Jesus said in a different way to the Pharisees on Palm Sunday. Paul says about the those who oppose the truth that, “their folly will become plain to everyone.” Jesus told the Pharisees who wanted to silence the truth about His kingdom that it would be spoken even if the stones upon which Jerusalem was built had to do the speaking.

         Paul recognized that the truth is going to be opposed in all sorts of ways. There’s the direct sort of violent opposition that Paul and Kay’s friend in Pakistan and many, many Christians down through history have experienced. Christians will be jailed, churches will be burned, and Bibles will be banned. In verses 10 to 12 Paul mentions his own persecutions for the truth in several places, but also his confidence that God would both rescue him and make sure that the truth was spoken.

         Verse 12 actually makes a correlation between living a godly life in Christ, a life committed to the truth, and suffering persecution. One leads to the other. As our philosopher friend Eleonore Stump suggests, and as I think Kay’s Christian friends in Egypt and other places might say, maybe we ought to wonder how godly we are if we’re not experiencing any persecution.

         God’s truth will get us into trouble. Whether it’s a family member who doesn’t care for our faith or an employer that wants us to do business dishonestly or our own sinful nature that won’t accept the truth, it will be a struggle to live a godly life in keeping with the truth.

         We get into trouble as we hold to the truth, because, as Paul says in verse 13, “wicked people and imposters will go from bad to worse.” That’s what the Pharisees who challenged Jesus did during the days we are remembering this week. They went from the bad of telling Jesus to silence the praise of the crowd, to plotting to kill Jesus and silence Him.

         So even though every age has its own horrendous evil, and we can’t say that our time is necessarily worse than centuries before, there is a progression in the doing of evil. It’s a progressive corruption of the souls of those who reject and distort the truth, making them go from bad, like simply saying what is false about God and Christ, to worse, such as actively persecuting those who follow Christ. That’s what has happened in places like Pakistan and China, and what could happen anywhere.

         Paul ends his warning about wicked imposters by saying that they while they are “deceiving others,” they themselves are “being deceived.” Last fall’s movie “The Master,” is loosely based on Ron Hubbard’s development of Scientology. I haven’t seen it, but I understand there is a line in the film where the cult’s leader is said to be “making it up as he goes along.” Hubbard started out as a science fiction writer, but began to believe his own stories as he made up a pseudo-scientific philosophy and turned it into a religion.

         There’s a warning in that for all of us, whenever we want to make Christian faith into something we like better than the original. I don’t know how many people I’ve met who tell me they read the Bible or that they are very “spiritual,” but they don’t have any use for various parts of Christian faith, whether it’s the Trinity or the miracles of Jesus or the morality of the Bible. Instead of believing the truth handed down by the apostles, they go from bad to worse, being deceived.

         Verse 14 gives Timothy and all of us the antidote to both deception and self-deception. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed…” Paul goes on in verses 15 and 16 to make clear that he is talking about the Bible, about Scripture. That’s where Timothy and every other Christian goes to learn the truth, about God, about ourselves, and most of all about Jesus.

         One of the reasons we’ve done our Around the Word in 90 Days journey this spring is that even we Christians aren’t as well acquainted with Scripture as we used to be. We say we believe it, but there are many indications that we don’t know it all that well. Covenant people were known as “people of the Book.” We would like that to still be true, as it was for Timothy, that we have “known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

         I haven’t seen much of it, but some of you may be watching the History Channel’s mini-series “The Bible.” Tonight and next week they will finish the story of the Gospels, including today’s Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem and next Sunday’s glorious account of Jesus’ resurrection.

         It’s wonderful that about a quarter of those who’ve viewed “The Bible” mini-series, about 2.5 million people, are non-Christians. One can only hope that they like some viewers of “The Lord of the Rings” will turn from the movie to the real thing, to the Book. We’ve asked ourselves to read ninety chapters of the Bible with a similar hope that we will now want to read the whole thing, the whole true story.

         II Timothy 3:16 is probably the next most important 3:16 verse in Scripture after John 3:16. We know “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” but it’s also really good to know that all of the Bible, “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.”

         In other words, it is Scripture that addresses the problems the chapter began with, that resistance to the truth, that deception and moral corruption which characterizes our age and every age. Scripture is what equips us, as verse 17 says, to do good work in evil times.

         We’re worshipping here in this building this morning because almost all of you have contributed in some way to housing ten families for a week in our sanctuary, by volunteering to serve a shift or by giving an offering that helps pay for the heat or both. I believe we’re only doing that because we’ve read the Book. We’ve learned who Jesus is and how He loved and served others and we want to do the same.

         We don’t have a religion we can make up as we go along, because our faith is true. And if our faith is going to remain genuine, we must keep going back to the place we find that truth, to the Bible.

         Just recently Christianity Today magazine interviewed Brother Andrew. Some of us who are older may remember his 1967 book God’s Smuggler. As a young man from Holland, Brother Andrew became convicted that everyone needed the opportunity to hear about, to read about Jesus Christ straight from the source. He began smuggling Bibles behind the “iron curtain,” into Soviet block countries.

         Like Jesus speaking to the Pharisees or Paul instructing Timothy, Brother Andrew simply trusted God for how it would turn out. He refused to be deliberately deceitful. As he carried Bibles and Christian literature over a border, he would leave copies in plain sight on the dashboard where guards could see them. And God would get His truth through.

         Brother Andrew is 85 today. He’s turned his attention to the mideast. He still believes people need to read and hear God’s Word, to meet Jesus Christ in Scripture. And Brother Andrew is still trusting God, rather than human power, to make it happen. His one big request and sadness in his interview was that some western Christians want to kill terrorists, while he wants to share Christ with them. He talked about friends he had made in Gaza and said that he won’t be able to tell them about Jesus if someone kills them first.

         The truth from Scripture we are remembering this morning is that Jesus rode into Jerusalem acclaimed as King, but refused to accept that power, refused to mount a revolution and overthrow the Romans. Instead He came to die on a Cross, trusting God to get the truth out, trusting that God would even make the rocks talk if need be.

         May you and I be equipped, like Jesus, like Paul, like Timothy, like Brother Andrew, like all the men and women who have read this Book. May we refuse all the deceptions of money and power and violence, and base our lives on this book, base our hope on the fact that Jesus Christ has died and has risen and that His truth will always endure.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated March 31, 2013