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.
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
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
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
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
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
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj