II Timothy 3:14-17 As For You November 4, 2012
Today we’re looking at one scripture that has been formative for this church. We chose it as part of the process last week, as we chose 13 scriptures that are important to us as a group.
And I think I know at least one reason we chose this scripture…because we take scripture seriously here, and these verses speak to that.
But I also know that many of us have had negative experiences with verse 16 in particular.
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”
For some of us, this verse has been used like a flint stone, to put a sharper point on another verse that someone was using as a weapon, to make one point or another.
We’re really good at lifting verses out of their contexts and using them like ammunition in whatever battle we find ourselves in.
And it’s true, that people can pick a verse at random to defend their position, and then use 2 Timothy 3:16 as a way of supporting their particular interpretation of whatever scripture is in question.
I don’t think that’s why we chose this verse.
…But then again, it’s nice to know it’s there in a pinch, right?
I say all that to simply acknowledge that there those of us here who love this passage from 2nd Timothy, and there are those of us here who haven’t found it to be helpful.
But before we get into an argument about who’s right or wrong, I think we need to do just a little more homework about why it’s here, what Paul might have meant, and what it means for us today.
And to do that, we need to start with asking ourselves what exactly 2nd Timothy is.
First and Second Timothy are often called “Pastoral Epistles”, along with Titus.
What that means is, they were written to individuals, rather than whole churches like the other letters that we have.
And I know that in the Bible, the order of the books goes First and Second Timothy, then Titus. It makes sense to put them in that order.
But it can be a little confusing, because you can start to think they were written in that order.
In all probability, Paul wrote first Timothy, then he wrote Titus. He probably wrote those two letters as a free man.
And then he was put in prison for the last time.
He was put on death row, so to speak, and he knew it.
And then he wrote 2 Timothy.
So when we read 2 Timothy, in a way, we’re reading Paul’s last will and testament.
These are the things he chose to pass on to his most beloved and trusted friend, Timothy (whose name, by the way, means “One who Honors God”).
I take that to mean that the things he writes in this letter are be applicable to everyone who seeks to honor God with their lives.
So it’s a letter from jail…and it’s the last letter that Paul will write before his execution in Rome.
That’s a little bit about the context.
Paul is in jail at the end of his ministry, actually at the end of his life.
And he chooses to write a letter to this guy named Timothy.
So who was Timothy?
Well, if 2 Timothy is Paul’s last letter, 1 Thessalonians is the very first one.
Actually, 1 Thessalonians is the oldest book in the entire New Testament.
It’s even older than the gospels as we have them.
And in the very first verse of first Thessalonians, Timothy shows up, along with a guy named Silvanus.
So we know that Timothy was there at the very beginning of Paul’s ministry, and from this final letter, we know they stayed together right up until the end.
They had shared a long and fruitful ministry together. They had planted churches across an unbelievable amount of geography for that time.
Paul had been through years of beatings, prison terms, travel, shipwrecks, and finally as his life is draining away to the final drop, here he is, writing to his most trusted and beloved companion, Timothy.
So we know that Timothy was Paul’s most loyal companion through all the years of his ministry.
But we have enough in scripture to uncover a little bit more about Timothy, too.
See, good Jewish mothers, back in the day, they would kind of brag about how early they were teaching their children the scriptures and the traditions of their people.
They would say they had been teaching their children the stories and the traditions from the age of being swaddled.
It was a sign of pride to have taught your children the ways of the faith from their earliest breath, so that even if they forgot their own name in old age, they would not forget the scriptures, which told the stories of their God.
And there’s evidence to suggest that Timothy wasn’t raised in a home such as that.
His mother was possibly Jewish, but his father was probably Pagan.
In Acts we’re told how Paul circumcised him in order to silence Jewish opposition against him.
So it seems that, even if his mother was a Jew, she didn’t take her religious commitments very seriously. Timothy wasn’t circumcised, and a “good” Jew wouldn’t marry a Pagan anyway.
So when Paul writes this about continuing in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it…he’s probably not talking about Timothy’s mom.
He’s talking about himself.
It’s no wonder he calls him a son.
Our faith is all about all kinds of adoption.
So that’s a brief overview of the who and the why of 2nd Timothy.
And it might help us read the verses we’re looking at today, and to see if they’re applicable today, if we go back a little bit earlier in what he’s writing, to the beginning of chapter three.
That’s where he warns his beloved son, the one who he’s counting on to carry his torch when it’s finally extinguished…he warns him against false teachers.
He says that distressing times will come, “for people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, (is any of this applicable to presidential politics?) [they’ll be] disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable (I’m not exactly sure what that means), [they’ll be] slanderers, profligates (That’s another one I’ll have to look up later), brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.”
Don’t you wish Paul would just speak his mind sometimes?
AVOID THEM!! He says to Timothy.
Avoid the False Teachers…the ones who teach what they do not know…the ones who promise what they can’t deliver.
These are going to go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived…that’s just how it’s going to be.
“But as for you,” he says… “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed”.
Continue in the Truth…for in the Truth there is no deception.
“Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.”
The world is going to keep doing what the world does.
Paul is saying that the deceivers are going to continue deceiving, and they’re going to continue being deceived.
But he writes… “as for you…you who seek to honor God…you continue in the Truth you have learned.”
You continue in the Truth that has very literally shackled me and taken me prisoner.
The Truth that is leading me to death…but also, mysteriously, into life!
We’re two days away from a presidential election that many people are saying is the single most pivotal event in American history…possibly even in global history.
I’ve been told, time and time again, that our very way of life hangs in the balance as this particular election draws near.
The rhetoric doesn’t just suggest that this race is bigger than politics.
It screams that you and I are on the hook.
That we are responsible for the health and well-being of our nation.
And it goes on to scream…even more loudly…
that choosing sides is the only option we have to control the outcome.
…That One Guy is Good
And the other is Bad.
Not just Bad…
But rather, Evil.
And so, the campaigns scream and yell and holler and thump their chests.
They tend not to tell us how good their guy is.
They rather tend to tell us how evil the other guy is.
And we might almost start to believe them.
We might almost start to believe
that we’re on the hook for the health and the well-being of this nation.
We might start to believe
that the measure of a church is how willing the leadership is to choose a side.
We might want to be told which choice is good, and Christian, and Proper.
And which choice is bad, or evil, or Pagan.
And if you’ve been coming here on Sundays, and if you’ve been looking for those kinds of statements from this church, then hopefully you’ve noticed that we haven’t endorsed anyone.
We haven’t passed out voting guides.
We haven’t talked about “Taking Back America”.
We haven’t posted anybody’s political agenda on the bulletin boards.
Indeed, the most we’ve done is plan a communion service.
Along with more than 700 other churches
in all 50 States
representing more than 25 denominations.
Not because we’re interested in baptizing the political process
or the outcome of this election.
But rather, because we in the church are more than a vote.
We are the body of Christ.
And this election is literally making the body turn against itself.
It’s literally making us sick.
You want to hear from the pulpit, which side is Pagan, and which side is Christian?
I’ll tell you.
The State is Pagan.
The church is Christian.
The only Christian nation in the world…is the church.
It’s been like that since the time of Jesus.
And if you want to know what the Christian response should be to the Pagan government…even when the Pagan government wants your vote…you should look to the cross.
Or you could look to the Roman Jail
Where Paul was writing this letter
Saying “All Scripture points back to Christ.”
Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
The Christian way is the way of suffering for your enemies,
and loving them even as they drive the nails through your hands.
Even as they imprison you
I’m not saying don’t vote.
I’m saying don’t –ever- call it “the” Christian vote.
Rome will always be Rome. Don’t expect otherwise.
But as for you…
Continue in what you have learned, knowing from whom you have learned it.