The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Faith’s Foundation: What You Have Learned, Continue
Proper 24, 17 October 2010, Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:2a) Amen.
St. Paul continues his second letter to Pastor Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed…
That’s the main point of the text before you this morning. Let’s put it in chronological order for discussion.
1. What: The Biblical content of the Christian faith.
2. You have learned and have firmly believed: Your contact with Jesus and His salvation in His Word.
3. Continue: Keep on learning, believing, and doing.
We’ll examine these three points from the text.
What. What is the basic message of Christianity? Christ Jesus came to save sinners. The word ‘salvation’ is prominent in our brief Biblical text. The name ‘Jesus’ means Savior, for, as the angel said, He will save His people from their sins. That means we need to confess that we are sinners in order to get the benefit for sinners. Sinners sin. If you deny your sins altogether, or even just your favorite, you have no need for Jesus, do you? Jesus came to save sinners. You are a sinner, but if you say that you’re not, you have removed yourself from the people Jesus came to save.
Don’t think you’re a sinner? Don’t think your sins are that bad? Think somebody else is a much worse sinner than you? Try this. Examine your life according to the Ten Commandments. Go one by one. Think about all the possible ways to break each commandment. If that kind of exercise won’t humble you, nothing will. You will actually have something to confess to God, privately before your pastor, or in preparation for Divine Service. Here’s one example.
_You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
Have I told the truth in court or in school before authorities or before my parents when I knew the truth?
Have I been afraid to bear witness when I knew the truth and it was necessary to speak up against a wrong-doer or to speak for a victim?
Have I gossiped, delighted to tell others about the faults or mistakes of another, excusing myself especially by saying that I spoke only the truth?
Have I gone to others to make peace if I wronged them or they me, or to correct them if I knew of their wrong?
Have I flattered others, or put on a front to make them think of me differently from what is true?
Have I slanted stories to my benefit or deceived others by withholding some evidence of the story?
Have I found ways gladly and willingly to explain, in the best possible way, those words or actions of others that hurt me?
Have I defended my neighbor when things said about my neighbor have made others think badly about him or her?
Have I learned to hear with the weaknesses and faults of others, covering their shame?
Have I been faithful in keeping the secrets of another’s heart entrusted to me in confidence?
If that kind of exercise won’t humble you, nothing will.
Not only did Jesus save us from sin, but He has also saved us from death and the power of the devil. Christ Jesus came to save sinners. That has been the message of Jesus and His disciples for 2,000 years.
Throughout those 2,000 years, the Biblical message has remained constant. False teachers have come and gone, leaving false teachings behind. Some false teachings persist to this day. None has ever prevailed against the entire Church. Some parts in some places fell away, following one falsehood or another, put the Lord has preserved a remnant of His people.
The Lord has always preserved some believers to carry on. Things looked bad as Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac at the Lord’s command, but the Lord preserved Isaac. Joseph was sold into slavery, but was able to rescue his family, who became the Twelve Tribes. Things looked bleak in Egypt, in the Wilderness, and during the time of the Judges, but the Lord continued to raise up faithful leaders. During the reign of the Kings, Elijah complained that he was the only one left, but the Lord had reserved 7,000 faithful. The Northern Kingdom was defeated. Judah went into exile. But the exiles returned to rebuild Jerusalem, the Temple, and their hope in the promised Messiah.
And then He comes, Jesus of Nazareth, the nation of Israel reduced to one faithful person. In Jesus, there was a new Israel. He had His Twelve disciples. And then there were more than twelve, men like Barnabas, Paul, Timothy, Titus.
The Church suffered under Roman persecution. Then, in the fourth century, Christianity was no longer illegal. The emperor was a convert himself! Much later, the empire fell. The public worship of the church was now in a language most of the people, even some of the priests, didn’t really understand. Abuses crept in. Pastors were forcibly separated from their wives. The chalice was taken away from the laity in Holy Communion. Sometimes, people only saw the host, the Body of Christ. And to top it all off, the leadership needed a fundraiser, so certificates of forgiveness were sold. Many in the Church, from local pastors, to monasteries, to the Roman Pope, forgot the “what.”
We thank God for Dr. Martin Luther and the Reformation of the Church that the Lord brought about through him. We are called Lutheran Christians because Luther pointed us back to Christ. Christ Jesus came to save sinners. He went back to the Source, God’s Word. Luther read about the gift of salvation in Romans: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
We do not revere Dr. Luther as some inappropriately pray to Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, or look to Joseph Smith for new, different, so-called divine revelations in addition to the Word of God. We simply thank God for Dr. Luther and our Lutheran forefathers who wished to return to the Word of God, remove abuses within the existing Church and her congregations, and retain things like liturgy, music, vestments, that were useful for teaching and preaching Christ and Him crucified for your salvation.
You have learned and firmly believed. (Most of) you have received Christian baptism. You have been taught the basics of the faith, and your presence here and regularly at Bible Classes show that you continue to learn and receive the Lord’s good gifts. You have learned. How have you learned? From what have you learned?
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
Paul reminds Timothy to consider from whom he learned about Jesus. His father was not a Christian. He was Greek. The responsibility of bringing up Timothy in the Scriptures, the discipline and instruction of the Lord, was left to his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois.
From childhood, Timothy had been acquainted with the sacred writings of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. Perhaps a better translation would be “from infancy.” The Greek word for child is also used to refer to the unborn John in his mother’s womb. It can to refer to a very young person anywhere up to about 5-7 years old. All of these ages are well before the unbiblical so-called “age of reason” or “age of accountability.” Since he was born, Timothy was taught by mother and grandmother at home, brought to the services of God’s house, and raised in the Lord.
We underestimate our children. We underestimate our young adults. Two-year-olds can learn the Lord’s Prayer. Our young people can and should learn the Ten Commandments and Creed by about the time they learn how to read. Think how much fun Confirmation Classes could be if no one had to argue about the basic memory work any more, because they’d already learned it!
Our young adults need to be prepared for what they find beyond these walls, beyond Sheridan County, beyond Wyoming. We need to teach them about how to pick a future spouse, how to use the Word when confronted with other religions and other moralities at college. We need to give them support and encouragement now in regular Bible Study, Church attendance, and Communion. If we don’t help them, who will?
How do we equip them? We use the Word. The sacred writings [of the Holy Bible] are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
But our young people aren’t the only ones who need to be equipped. We all do. A Pastor needs to be in the Word daily. That is the source of all preaching, teaching, singing, praying, and pastoral care. Based on maturity, Christians need to be challenged to grow in the Word. Continuing Education is essential. If it takes learning New Testament Greek, so be it! If it means reading through the whole Bible for the first time, God will bless that. If it is something as simple as watching an hour less of TV a day in order to be in the Word, why not do it?
Even revising our work schedules to prioritize Bible Study and Sunday Worship shouldn’t be seen as a big sacrifice. Which is more valuable, treasures on earth, or treasures in heaven? People throughout history and today around the world are dying for the opportunities that many of you take for granted!
If you’re not in a regular Bible Study at church, why not? Is your reason one that holds up before the Lord’s eyes? I will continue to encourage our congregational leaders to be active in strengthening their faith so that their faith may not grow weary while they serve.
Every week has a Sunday. If you don’t plan to come to Church every Sunday, why not? If something–anything—has a higher priority in your life than the Lord and receiving His gifts, that thing can be an idol, a false god to you, displacing the Lord. People can rationalize excuses, by either making them or hearing them. God is not mocked. He knows our true motives. Never forget that He saves us even from the sins of neglecting His Word and His Gifts in the past. Then, He calls upon those given His salvation to continue. That’s you!
Continue. The Word equips Christians for every good work. Not only does Ephesians Chapter two explicitly teach that faith and salvation are gifts and not earned, but it shows that good works are the fruits of faith. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We should walk in good works. We should continue in what we have learned and believed from the Word. After all, if you don’t know what’s in the Bible, how can you possibly live it out? One wouldn’t know “what” to continue!
Let’s think about things from a medical perspective. You’ve all heard of people who, at one level or another, neglect medical care or advice. We think of them as eccentric, or, depending upon the seriousness of the matter, playing games with life and death. Consider how you would react to the following.
A few people avoid going to the doctor or dentist at all costs. Here’s the excuse: “If I go, the doctor will give me bad news. He’ll tell me I have this-or-that.” Does staying away from a doctor change the reality of your health? No. How would you try to help someone like this that you care about?
Some acknowledge that doctors and medical care are good things. But they still don’t go. What help is it to say something is good, but deprive yourself of its benefits through inaction? We wouldn’t want that for any loved one.
Some make it to the doctor’s office and get a diagnosis. “You have heart disease.” “You have a kidney stone.” “You have macular degeneration.” If your friend says, “No I don’t!” does that change the reality? Of course not. There are serious consequences to heart disease. Kidney stone pain can’t be denied. Nobody wants to go blind. Denying the truth doesn’t make it go away. You can pretend to create a new reality, but it’s merely a fairy-tale world of make-believe.
Suppose a person leaves the doctor’s office with a prescription or some other plan of treatment. Say that person takes the prescription, frames it, and hangs it in a place of honor at home. “You see, I just respect that doctor so much…” the person tells you. You’d think they were nuts! Prescriptions aren’t for framing! They’re for using.
Our reluctant medical case finally decides to take your advice and gets the prescription filled. Once. That’s it. They tell you, “Well, since I went in last month, I figured I’m good for this month too. After all, I’ve already had quite a bit of that medication forced down my throat. Do I really need to keep taking it?” By this point, you’re frustrated to the point that you’re wondering what you’ll need to take to continue to put up with this person self-medicating him or herself.
Why this story? We’re familiar with the medical world. We talk about the weather, our families, and our illnesses. And, we all would have a problem with this kind of a family member or friend rejecting sound medical advice and treatment. Why this story in church? Because we have all heard the spiritual versions of this story and for no good reason, the excuses don’t bother us as much as they should.
A few people avoid going to a Church or a pastor at all costs. Here’s the excuse: “If I go, the pastor will give me bad news. He’ll tell me that I’m a sinner and what I’m doing is sin. He’ll tell me I need to be in Church.” Does staying away change the reality of your sin or its eternal consequences? No. How would you try to help someone like this that you care about?
Some acknowledge that pastors, Christians, and churches are good things. But they still don’t go. What help is it to say something is good, but deprive yourself of its benefits by laziness? We wouldn’t want that for any loved one. There’s a reason why “laziness” is listed among the seven deadly sins!
Some make it to the pastor’s office and get a diagnosis of their sin. “You have a problem with gossip.” “You can’t continue to live together outside of marriage.” “You need to repent.” If your friend says, “No!” does that change the reality? Of course not. There are serious consequences to sin. Some consequences in this life are so painful that they can’t be denied. Church discipline isn’t pleasant for anybody. Nobody wants a loved one to go to hell. Denying the truth doesn’t make it go away. You can pretend to create a new reality, but it’s merely a fairy-tale world of make-believe.
Suppose a person leaves after a Sunday service with the knowledge that Christ Jesus came to save sinners, that Jesus won salvation on the cross, and that salvation is delivered by the Holy Sprit through the biblical Gospel, Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion. Say that person takes their Bible off the shelf, out of a drawer, sets it down in a place of honor, and still refuses to read it. “You see, I just respect that Bible so much…” the person tells you. Bibles aren’t for display! They’re for using.
Our reluctant church visitor finally took your advice and came with you. Once. That’s it. They tell you, “Well, since I went in last month, I figured I’m good for this month too. After all, I’ve already had quite a bit of that God-stuff. I was forced to go as a child. I’ll think about coming back.”
Human beings often self-medicate when it comes to religion. We seem to have a “you can’t get something for nothing” attitude. After the fall, some of the first families forgot about the one true God and His promise of a savior. They came up with polytheism and works righteousness. That’s why there are so many false religions in the world.
We’re familiar with the medical world. We talk about the weather, our families, and our illnesses. And, we all would have a problem with a family member or friend rejecting sound medical advice and treatment. Why is it that the excuses don’t bother us as much as they should when we hear the spiritual version of this story?
What does Paul advise young Pastor Timothy? What are pastors and believers to continue to do today?
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
As we prepare for Reformation Day on October 31st, let us continue in the footsteps of the Christians before us from the Apostles, to the early Lutherans, to those behind the formation of this congregation over 100 years ago.
Repent. Be forgiven. Rejoice in your salvation. And come to Church where the Lord has good gifts for you. Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed…Amen.
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (2 Timothy 4:22) Amen.