What a great month! It’s been such a blast looking back at the last 30 years of Grace.
Have you seen all the videos we’ve been posting from Grace’s history? It is so cool to see who we were and to think about who we’ve become.
Well, today is the final week of our 30th anniversary series. And we’re looking one more time at the books of 1st and 2nd Timothy, to hear what the Apostle Paul had to say to his protégé, Timothy, as he carried on the mission of God for a new generation.
Today we’re going to talk about Timothy’s primary responsibilities in Ephesus. To be a teacher. To teach Scripture, to teach truth, to teach about the good news of Jesus.
This wasn’t an easy job. Not only was he up against false teachers, who were spreading lies and mistruths, but his own congregation was drifting all over the place. He had work to do.
Let’s take a look at what was going on and see what we may be able to learn for our own ministry. Please turn with me to 2 Timothy 3, Page _____
Here’s how Paul puts it in a laundry list of challenges.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!
There you go, Timothy. Good luck with that!
At first glance, it feels a bit like is just being extreme for dramatic effect. Like he’s describing culture in Ephesus as this den of evil.
But if you go back and think about that list, you realize it’s actually not that hard to imagine this happening back then… Here’s why: because this list looks an awful lot like what is going on in our culture today!
We love ourselves. We love our money. We elevate boastful leaders. We’re ungrateful. Nothing is sacred anymore. Spend 5 minutes on Twitter and you’ll see: we’re cruel.
You get the picture. This is not an extreme list. This is essentially describing America in 2021. And, I hate to say it, but it’s not just out there in “the world.”
In a lot of ways this is what’s happening in the Church in our country. We talk about the ‘credibility gap’ growing…
We seem to love only ourselves & our money. We are prideful. How often do we slander one another?
I mean, look at verse 5. How many in the Church today act religious, but aren’t actually living in the Holy Spirit’s power at all? All branch, no fruit.
So this is what Timothy was facing in Ephesus, and these are the exact same things we’re facing in the Church today. These are “difficult times,” as Paul says in v.1.
So how is Timothy supposed to navigate all of this? How are we?
Well, remember, Timothy was a teacher. He had a job to do.
Even though he was leading in a time of selfishness and slander and false teaching, Timothy’s responsibility was to teach God’s truth - to spread the gospel/the good news of Jesus - and to help it take root in the church, no matter what was going on around him.
That was his job. It’s our job as well. So how is he supposed to do that? How are we? Let’s keep reading.
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.
Alright, there’s a lot here. But let’s start back in verse 14.
“You must remain faithful to the things you have been taught.” He’s reminding Timothy, “Yes, things are difficult, but you’ve been trained for this. You’ve been taught the truth.”
Or, as I put it a couple of weeks ago, You have what you need to carry on!
In this case, v.15, “you’ve been taught the Bible since childhood. By your mother, by your grandmother, by me, Paul. You know the Holy Scriptures.”
And for Paul, these sacred texts are the key to everything. Why? Because, v. 16, “All Scripture is inspired by God…”
Let’s talk about that phrase. Literally in the Greek Paul uses a compound word that’s only found here in the Bible. It’s possible Paul made the word up. He says Scripture is:
θεόπνευστος theopneustos - “God-breathed”
Theo means God and pneuma means breath or spirit.
He’s suggesting that all of the Bible has God’s Spirit breathing through it. God’s presence and intentions for the world are weaving through these pages and we have access to it!
Now, for Paul and Timothy, when they talk about Scriptures, they would have only been referring to what we call the Old Testament. Since the New Testament was still being written.
So he’s talking about the Hebrew Bible.
According to Paul, these sacred writings - the Old Testament - lead directly to the person of Jesus Christ. That’s what the whole storyline is about.
And Christ, we believe, is the ultimate self-revelation of God in history. You want to know God? Look at Christ. You want to know Christ? Look at the Bible.
That’s how Paul saw the Old Testament.
And we believe that the New Testament - including this very letter - is also God-breathed (inspired) because it testifies back to the person of Jesus Christ - God’s ultimate self-revelation.
One testifies forwards, the other testifies back. In both cases, God’s Spirit has inspired these words (v.16) to teach his people what is true, to correct us, and to guide us. So that we can look like Christ.
Timothy, you’ve got what you need to carry on.
This is interesting. Look at verse 17. Paul says God uses the Bible to prepare and equip his people… to do what? To do “every good work.”
That should ring a bell for you if you’ve been around Grace for a while. It’s the same phrase he uses in Ephesians 2:10 (probably the most quoted verse at Grace over the last 30 years).
We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Good things - good works… it’s the same phrase in Greek.
Scripture equips us to do what we’re here to do. To understand and carry on the mission of God. To use our God-given gifts to heal this broken world.
So, this is what Paul wants Timothy to remember. Remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You have what you need to carry on.
In these “very difficult times,” as Paul says, remember:
The Bible will guide you.
So that gives us a great foundation. A reminder that, just like Timothy, we have what we need right here.
As I think about the last 30 years of Grace, I see this truth lived out in so many ways. We have always been dedicated to Scripture. To allowing the authority of this book to shape and guide us.
And nothing about that is changing in the next 30 years. These words will equip us for the road ahead.
With all that said, in the rest of this passage Paul gives Timothy (and the church in Ephesus) two important reminders about engaging with Scripture in difficult times. And I want us to look at them because I think they are very relevant to us.
The first is this:
Be prepared to use them well.
In verse 2 of chapter 4, Paul says “Preach the Word of God. Be prepared (the word could also mean ‘persistent’), whether the time is favorable or not.”
In Ancient Greece and Rome, people loved rhetoric - or the art of debate or the spoken word. This was entertainment back then!
And they understood that if you wanted to be the most persuasive, you had to know your audience and wait for just the right time to speak so you could wow them with your intellect and wit.
Hold back until the time is favorable.
But here, Paul is ignoring conventional wisdom and saying, “Timothy, don’t wait. You speak the truth and you speak it now, whether it’s popular or not.”
The message of the gospel is too important for you to wait to dazzle your audience.
Now call me crazy, but I tend to agree with the Apostle Paul, here.
We could preach at Grace in a way that is way more favorable for this self-focused time.
We could dumb things down, we could keep things shallow, we could avoid controversial topics… We could preach listicles every week (“5 top tips for being happy”).
But instead, what do we do? We dig into the Scriptures! In the last two years we’ve done deep dives into the books of Acts, Micah, Philippians, Isaiah, Matthew, and Exodus.
Last February we did a six-week series on the law of Moses. That’s not going to draw a crowd.
And we talk about stuff that makes people uncomfortable. We bring Scripture to bear on the realities of our changing world.
It’s why we talk about racism, and sexual abuse, and anxiety, and the environment, the dangers of prosperity…
Because “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful…” It can equip us for the good work we are here to do, but only if we’re asking the right questions of it.
If we are the light of the world - if we in Christ represent God’s best intentions for humanity - then we had better be darn sure we understand how he feels about the things our world is facing.
That’s why we go deep. Why we go there. In our sermons, in our small groups… That’s why we ask the hard questions and avoid shallow answers. Because it doesn’t matter whether the time for these conversations is favorable or not.
We are going to seek the truth. We are going to be prepared to share the love of Jesus accurately in the midst of a changing world.
Grace Church, we’re going to preach the Word of God. We are here to serve, not to dazzle. Let’s be prepared – let’s be persistent in that.
The second reminder, or caution, that Paul gives to the church is this:
Be wary in where we seek the truth. Be watchful, be cautious, be skeptical even.
In v.3 Paul says, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.”
I love that phrase. Itching ears. People have got an itch for knowledge and they’re looking for someone to scratch it. It was happening in Timothy’s world. And it is definitely happening today.
People in our culture, in our time, in our church, are looking for teachers who will tell them what they want to hear.
And thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find. If you want to believe any viewpoint, any opinion, any conspiracy theory… You can find someone who seems like an authority who will tell you why you’re right.
Be wary. Confirmation bias is very powerful. And I know you’re thinking, “yeah, those other people need to change…” I’m talking to you! There are teachers out there who will tell you exactly what you want to hear.
I’m under no illusion. There are thousands of better preachers than me out there. More intelligent, more compelling, better dressed, better hairline, and ones who will speak with far more confidence and authority than I do.
Here’s the deal. Go ahead and listen to these teachers if that’ll help you grow in your faith.
But if you’re going to do that, please be wary.
Always ask yourself, “am I moved by this message because it’s truly from the Word of God? Or is it because it’s exactly what I wanted to hear? Does it make me feel good or does it make me more like Christ?”
Be wary of the teachers you listen to.
And you know what? That applies to me and the rest of the teaching team, too.
I am so concerned with our cultural tendency to elevate and practically deify our leaders.
I don't ever want you to get to the point where you just believe everything I say because I said it. I want you to chew on the things I'm preaching and wrestle with them and talk about them.
If you've got concerns or questions, I want to hear them. I want to work through them together.
Be wary. Use your head. Listen to the Spirit. Don’t just believe something because someone sounded passionate when they said it.
You do that, and I’ll hold up my end of the deal.
I will do everything in my power to fulfill my calling in this community. As a teacher like Timothy.
I will dedicate my life to the study of this book. I will work hard to apply the truth of Scripture to our world - to your world - with integrity.
And I will always submit myself to the spiritual authority of our governing board.
I commit to do all of that. But I am not infallible. None of us are.
Be wary. Because we are living in a time of itching ears…
In v.5 Paul tells Timothy, “you should keep a clear mind in every situation.” Literally, be sober.
Well let me tell you, looking ahead at the next 30 years of Grace and knowing what we are up against in these difficult times… It is sobering.
But I’m not discouraged. In fact, I’m excited. Because like Timothy, we have what we need to carry on. We have the God-breathed words of life at our fingertips.
This book will guide us and shape us to be like Christ.
So, Grace Church, let’s
2 Timothy 4:5
Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.
The path ahead is uncharted, but God will show us the way…