I preached this sermon on the 7th of January. More than the Bible just being truth, it is God’s truth with power to tranform us into His image, to make us holy.
Text: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Listen to these stories and see if you can catch the common thread.
The Taco Liberty Bell. In 1996 the Taco Bell Corporation announced that it had bought the Liberty Bell from the federal government and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called up the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell is housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed that it was all a practical joke a few hours later. The best line inspired by the affair came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale, and he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold, though to a different corporation, and would now be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. In 1957 the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. To this question, the BBC diplomatically replied that they should “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
Sidd Finch. In its April 1985 edition, Sports Illustrated published a story about a new rookie pitcher who planned to play for the Mets. His name was Sidd Finch and he could reportedly throw a baseball with startling, pinpoint accuracy at 168 mph (65 mph faster than anyone else has ever been able to throw a ball). Surprisingly, Sidd Finch had never even played the game before. Instead, he had mastered the “art of the pitch” in a Tibetan monastery under the guidance of the “great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa.” Mets fans everywhere celebrated at their teams’s amazing luck at having found such a gifted player, and Sports Illustrated was flooded with requests for more information. But in reality this legendary player only existed in the imagination of the writer of the article, George Plimpton.
Instant Color TV. In 1962 there was only one TV channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. The station’s technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that thanks to a newly developed technology, all viewers could now quickly and easily convert their existing sets to display color reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their TV screen, and they would begin to see their favorite shows in color. Stensson then proceeded to demonstrate the process. Reportedly, hundreds of thousands of people, out of the population of seven million, were taken in. Actual color TV transmission only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970.
Nixon For President. In 1992 National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement, flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a practical joke. Nixon’s voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.
Left-Handed Whopper. In 1998 Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a “Left-Handed Whopper” specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously, according to the press release, “many others requested their own ‘right handed’ version.”
Did you catch the main theme? I think you did. We can easily be deceived. Last Sunday we looked at a passage in Galatians that spoke of the heresy that church believed, and the importance of knowing what we believe. This Sunday we’ll be looking at another situation in the New Testament where Christians were being deceived into believing one thing and acting differently.
The one question I have after reading these stories is, “What is the one thing that turned the situation around for those who had been deceived?” Truth. For us, that means an understanding that what the Bible says is true, and everything else is commentary. But when we say that God’s Word is true, what does that mean? To get a better grasp at this concept, let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5.
It says, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
So, I’m going to share with you some of the background of this passage. And hopefully once we understand what is going on, we’ll understand a little more about the truth of God’s Word.
The Church in Ephesus
Paul is writing to a man named Timothy, a man he had traveled with and trusted. Paul was in chains in Rome, awaiting execution. And he had sent Timothy to Ephesus, the place the book of Ephesians was named after. In Ephesus at this time the church was in dire straits. There were many in the church who were following Paul’s teachings about the gospel, about who Jesus was. And then there were those few loud people who disagreed. They wanted to be known as teachers and leaders in the church, but their teaching was far from orthodox. They denied a bodily resurrection, instead claiming that a spiritual resurrection had already taken place. They followed strict dietary laws and were ascetics, which means they believed all things physical, including one’s body, were evil and all things spiritual were good.
These people also practiced magic, seduced women into leaving their husbands, and were concerned with earning money as a way to spiritual success. Basically, they wanted to teach good theology, but their lives didn’t match up with their teaching. And in verse 13, Paul describes them as “evil men and impostors who go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Whether their intentions were good or bad, these people were deceiving people into believing they could talk one thing and live another. And this is serious stuff.
Paul’s Command: Continue in What You’ve Learned
Paul commands Timothy to do two things in the face of this ongoing deception within the Ephesian church: Continue in what you have learned and preach the Word. Why are these two things important in light of the heresy? Timothy couldn’t get caught up in the hype of these messed-up Christians. He had to stay focused on what he knew was true, and Paul was out to remind him of that. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy while he was in prison in Rome, shortly before he died. Timothy had been one of Paul’s closest and most trusted friends. Paul had even sent Timothy to Ephesus to stem the tide of this growing perversion of Christianity. Paul and Timothy trusted one another. And just think: these are Paul’s last words to him. Words that Timothy would remember more than any others. Words that Paul thought were significant enough to save until the very end. So, with Paul gone, Timothy’s main source of encouragement and strength had to be the Word of God. It had to be the Word of God.
Paul basically gives Timothy 3 reasons why he should continue in what he has learned (the gospel of Christ). And the first is found in verse 14. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.”
The first reason Paul could exhort Timothy to do this was because of their trust and good relationship. If Paul had just been a Christian leader Timothy had heard about but never met, Timothy could easily have been skeptical. He could have decided there were better ways of dealing with the situation, like taking matters into his own hands and making a mess. Paul tells Timothy that he knows from whom he learned it…the gospel. He knows the people who taught him…Paul, along with Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois, who Paul speaks of in chapter 1:5.
It makes a real difference knowing and trusting your brothers and sisters in Christ. How often do you talk with someone else who’s sitting in the pew next to you about a certain situation, get their advice, and follow it? Probably much more often than you do when you turn on INSP and hear a preacher give a message. Why is that the case? Because you know the people you’re sitting with.
The second reason Paul could tell Timothy to preach and continue in what he learned is because Timothy has known the Holy Scripture since infancy. Not only does he know Paul, but he knows the Scripture. His mother was Jewish and his father was Greek. So he was taught Scripture by his mother just like any normal Jewish boy was. He knew Scripture inside and out, having memorized the Torah as a boy.
I just listed these two as separate points, separate reasons. But in reality, for Paul and for us, they must be combined. You cannot separate one from the other.
It’s like the story of the woman who was cooking ham, and got to the part of the recipe that said, “Cut both ends off and stick in the oven for…” And she wondered, “Why do I need to cut the ends off?” So she called her mom, who had given her the recipe. “Mom, why do we cut the ends off the ham?” Her mom replied, “I don’t know. That’s just how my mom always did it.” So she called her grandmother and asked the same question. “Oh, I only cut the ends off because my pan was too small to hold the whole ham.” Sometimes we continue to do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done. The woman trusted her mother, and so she followed the recipe, just like Timothy trusted Paul. But she assumed that because her mom said it, it must be true.
And here’s the point: It’s great that we trust people enough to listen to them. But sometimes people get it wrong, even unintentionally, and so we must go back to the source. We must go back to the Bible itself. Paul reminds Timothy that he has known Scripture since being a kid on mom’s knee. Timothy not only had Paul as a witness to the truth of Scripture; he also had Scripture itself. And that’s the key.
Too often we rely on other people to spoon-feed us God. We rely on the pastor to tell us everything we need to know. And God calls us to look for ourselves as well. Look for yourself, and listen to a group of Christians talk about Scripture. Don’t only rely on their testimony; don’t rely only on what you read.
If you rely on only one or the other, that’s how cults get started. I just watched NUMB3RS last night. And they were tracking down a man who claimed to be sent by God as the true apostle. He formed a community where he kicked out all the males and slept with the women, saying salvation comes through marrying him. And he married 72 women. In the end, in a shootout with police, he killed his followers and let himself be captured.
The people that listened to that man alone became part of his cult. And that man listened only the Bible, misinterpreted it, and started a cult. You must have both together.
Timothy can preach the Word and listen to Paul because he knows Paul and he knows Scripture. The third reason he can do this is because of the characteristics of Scripture. Now most people like to quote verses 16-17 as a way of saying, “Scripture is totally accurate. God breathed it. We can trust it.” And that’s good. But they’re using the wrong verses. Look closer at verse 15 with me. Paul describes Scripture as “holy.” And the word he uses here is not the normal word used for holy. The normal word denotes being set apart by God, being sanctified. It’s a word the Wesleyan Church emphasizes. But this word is different. This word is almost always translated “temple” in the NT. Jesus is at the temple clearing it out, the disciples preach there, you make sacrifices there. The temple. And what it literally means is “something filled with divine power when it’s been consecrated to God.” And that makes sense. Jews believed that God dwelt in the temple, in the Holy of Holies. But when Jesus died, the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn, symbolizing God’s Holy Spirit going to dwell in men. And here Paul uses this word to describe Scripture as holy in the sense that God has filled it with divine power. God and His Holy Spirit bring to life these words.
We take this to mean that Scripture is inerrant. It is without error, inasmuch as the writers intended. And God speaks through these words to our hearts, to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us in righteousness. We say God’s word is true because we’ve seen the power it has to change us.
I could write an autobiography and have you read it. It would be true, but it wouldn’t change you. You might laugh, might cry, might think, “What was he thinking?” but you won’t be transformed. That’s what makes the Bible different from any other book of truth: It’s God’s tranformational truth.
Part of being transformed into the image of God means we act like Him. Paul says that Scripture is useful for all these things in order to equip us for every good work. It teaches us who God is, it rebukes us and convicts us of our sin, it corrects us and straightens us out when we go off on tangents, and it trains us, just like a father trains his child to grow up to love God. And from all of this, we are then able to live like God has called us to live.
That was the issue for the people in Timothy’s church. They wanted to teach some of the things in the Bible, but didn’t want to live like it. Paul tells Timothy you cannot hold God’s Word to be true and live like its not.
And that’s the issue for us today. We can say we believe God’s Word to be true, but unless we read it and allow God to meet us in the text, to shape us into righteous men and women, then the Bible is just another book.
What are some ways you know that God has transformed you, specifically because you read the Bible? How have you been equipped for good work? Do you know your spiritual gifts? Are you using them to build the kingdom?
If you can answer those questions with a “yes,” continue in what you have learned. If not, start learning. Start reading the Bible. Pray and ask God to show you what He’s trying to communicate. Pray that you would be open to His work in your life. He really wants to change you, and He wants to do it through His Word, His truthful Word.