"You can be sure…"
2 Timothy 3 vv 10-17
"In this world," American Benjamin Franklin once said, "nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes"!
Well, Paul, who wrote this letter of 2 Timothy, would disagree. In our passage tonight he tells us there are 3 things that you and I can be sure of.
So let's pray and ask God to help us understand what they are, and that we would hear his voice as we read his word. Let's pray.
Paul wrote this letter to his dear friend and colleague Timothy, urging him not to give up, but to keep going.
Do you remember? Timothy was the pastor of the church in Ephesus. And being the pastor of the church in Ephesus wasn't easy. There were false teachers around. Some people didn't like the truth that Timothy was preaching to them. In fact preaching the gospel and being a faithful teacher was going to mean suffering for Timothy. And last week Paul warned him that the situation wasn't going to get better, it would only get worse.
Look at 3.1-5, The 'last days' are the days before Jesus comes back. Which is the world that Timothy lived in and it's the world that we still live in today. And Paul says in these 'last days' people will be "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." That's a pretty accurate description of our world isn't it?
"…lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive…disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control…"?
That describes the world around us, doesn't it? Of course, sometimes, sadly, that describes us as well. But the difference between Christians and non-Christians, is that we also love God. We know what is good, we love what is good, we want to do what is good,…even if we fail to do what is good sometimes. And being like that, being a Christian, loving God and loving what he says in good makes us different to the world around us.
The people around us who don't know God, Paul says in v3 are "not lovers of the good" They are lovers of pleasure, not lovers of God. So what does that mean for those of us who do love God?
Well, look at v10…Timothy had travelled with Paul for years. He knew what Paul did and what he said and his way of life. And Timothy knew that living that way had meant (v11) When Paul had preached about Jesus in Antioch, the Jews in that city became so angry that they chased him out! He moved on to the city of Iconium and, as we heard in our first reading, the same thing happened to him there. So Paul moved to the next city, Lystra, but the Jews who had chased him out of Antioch and Iconium followed him and stoned him until they thought he was dead! Now, why does Paul remind Timothy of all of that here? Why does he bring up those unpleasant memories now? Because, he says in v12,
Paul tells Timothy, and all of us who are Christians living in the 'last days'
You can be sure that persecution will come, v10-13
You and I live in a world that loves pleasure, and hates God. So if we love God, then at times, Paul says, the world around us will hate us too. Persecution will come. And we get a clue as to what that persecution looks like in v13. Paul mentions two groups of people who bring persecution, 'evil men' from outside the church and 'imposters' inside the church. There are some people who simply hate Christ and Christianity and Christians. Guys at school, teachers, professors, colleagues and neighbours, who, when they find out that you are a Christian will go out of their way to make your life miserable. They ignore you, they tease you, they make you the butt of their jokes, and they do everything they can to make you and your faith seem ridiculous. They are 'evil men' who hates Christians. And in extreme situations, they are even willing to kill people for being Christians. 5 years ago, news of Christians being killed for their faith seemed rare didn't it? But today, it's not unusual to hear about the Islamic State or Boko Haram or some other extremist group targeting Christians is it?
In 2012 1,201 Christians were reported to have been killed for their faith worldwide. In 2013 1,213 Christians were killed for their faith in the country of Syria alone. During the same year 612 Christians were killed in Nigeria, 88 in Pakistan and 83 in Egypt. And that's just the cases that were actually reported to the police.
There are 'evil men' in our world.
And there are also 'imposters'. People who persecute the church and attack Christianity from within.
Do you remember Hymenaeus and Philetus the false teachers Paul mentioned in 2 v 17?
Paul said that they had wandered away from the truth, and they "destroyed the faith of some." There are some people within the church, even some who claim to be teachers and leaders in the Church, who don't love God they love themselves. People who say that some bits of the Bible are still relevant today, but that lots of it is out of date. So they pick the bits they like, and ignore the bots they don't. They are imposters
They persecute the church from the inside and they destroy the faith of some. And Paul says we mustn't be surprised when this happens. We mustn't be surprised when 'evil men' hate us or 'imposters' try to trick us. You and I should be on our guard and expect persecution. Because v12
So where is the persecution in our lives? Where is it in Gateshead, today? Well, I want to come back to that in just a moment. The first thing Paul wants us to be sure of is that persecution will come.
You can be sure of what you believe, v14-15
Persecution tests us. It challenges what we believe and it challenges whether or not we really believe it.
And so Paul encourages Timothy. In these last days we will face persecution, but we can also be sure of what we believe. He gives us 3 reasons why we can be sure. Firstly he reminds Timothy that he has been
1) Convinced of the truth. Look at v14
Just think for a moment. How long have you been a Christian? How many months or years has it been since you accepted the Bible's message that you are a sinner who faces God's punishment, and that you can be saved by putting your faith in Jesus? How long has it been?
Now let me ask you.
In all of that time, how many times have you found mistakes in the Bible?
How many times over those months and years has God failed to keep one of his promises to you?
How many times have you found the Bible to be wrong in its description of the world around us or our hearts inside us?
Let me be so bold as to answer those questions for you.
The answer is never, isn't it?
I'm sure that over the years other Christians may have let you down. I'm sure that at times the church has let you down as well. I'm sure over that during that time you've had doubts and questions and fears. And I have no doubt that over that time you've sinned and got things wrong. Just as I have.
But in all your months and years of being a Christian has God ever let you down? Has his Word ever proved false? The more we learn and the longer we live as Christians, the more the evidence and our experience convince us that it is true.
The second reason we can be sure of what we believe is because of
2) The lives of those who taught us
Look at v14 again. As a child Timothy had been taught about faith in Jesus by his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice. When Paul met Timothy, Timothy decided to leave home and join Paul. And the next few years Timothy was taught by Paul. And now Paul says, when you're facing persecution, when your faith is feeling weak. Timothy, remember the people who taught you. There are times when I can almost hear the devil whisper in my ear… 'really, Dim.' 'Is this really true?' 'Are you sure that God exists?'
There are times when those thoughts creep into my mind and I find myself beginning to think... 'What if I have got it wrong?' 'What if God doesn't exist?'
Those are troubling thoughts. But one of things that I do when I feel like that is to remember the people who've taught me about Jesus over the years. I remember Mark and Anthony the pastors of my church who first taught me the gospel as a teenager. I think of my friend Gordon, who first sat down and read the Bible with me. I think of my family and my friends who also believe in Jesus and live with him as their king. And I think to myself, 'they're not crazy!' Those are good people and smart people and loving people and they love Jesus.
In fact, they are the best people and the kindest people and the most loving people I know, and they love Jesus. When your faith starts to wobble, remember the people who taught you gospel.
Now I know that not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is kind and loving. And sadly, sometimes the very people who God used in the past to teach us about him have themselves turned away from him.
That is a sad part of the broken world we live in. But that doesn't change the fact that the best people I know are the people who love Jesus the best. And when my faith is shaken, remembering my Christian teachers and friends and family gives me strength to be sure of what I believe.
Thirdly Paul says, 'Timothy you can be sure of what you believe because
3) You know it's true.
Look at v14-15 again Timothy, you know that you can only be saved through faith in Jesus, in fact you've known it since you were a child. You can be sure of what you believe…because you know it's true. Now that seems like a strange thing to say doesn't it? That seems like a circular argument. You can be sure of what you believe because you know it's true! But the more I've thought about it this week, the more important I think I this is. You see, very often the persecution that we face as Christians, and the things that shake our faith and make us wonder if we really want to carry on following Jesus, is not physical persecution from 'evil men' attacking us, and it's not theological persecution from 'imposters' trying to trick us.
I think the persecution that we often face, and that we face today in Gateshead, is social persecution. The persecution that we face comes in the form of mocking words. We don't face losing our lives for being Christians in Gateshead, but we do face being laughed at. Following Jesus doesn't mean we'll be separated from our families, but it might mean we lose some of the people who we thought were our friends. I suspect the most common reason people give up on Christianity, the reason they stop following Jesus is simply because it becomes too hard. We get tired of being the butt of all the jokes. We get tired of missing out at work because we don't go on the nights out, and keep quiet when everyone else is joking about whatever it is they got up to on the weekend. We get tired of being different and being marginalized, and being described in the papers as being intolerant and old-fashioned and bigoted. And so we quietly give up going to church. And eventually they stop believing at all.
We haven't been physically threatened, we haven't been convinced that what the Bible says is false.
We just got tired of being different. So Paul reminds Timothy that he knows it's true. We have been made by God, we do need to be saved and the only way to be saved is through faith in Jesus Christ.
'Timothy, you've know that since you were a child.'
You can be sure that persecution will come. But when it comes you can also be sure of what you believe.
And then Paul adds one more thing that we in the 'last days' can be sure of,
You can be sure that the Bible is all that you need, v16-17
Look at v16-17 Paul tells us two big things about the Bible in those verses. The first is that it is breathed-out by God. Listen to 2 Peter 1 v20-21
"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
Do you see what it says? The words of the Bible were written down by men, but the words that they wrote are God's words, not their own. The words of the Bible are not just inspired by God, they are, if you like, expired by God…breathed-out by him.
And because the words of the Bible are the words of God, then in this book we have everything we need to live life.v16-17
Now we could do a whole sermon on those verses. They are rightly the most famous verses in the book of 2 Timothy and they are packed with wonderful truth. But why does Paul write them here? Why now? Well I think it's because he wants Timothy and us to know that when we face persecution and when following Jesus is hard, we can be sure that the Bible contains everything we need. If we're living our lives obeying God and following his instructions to us in the Bible, then even if we're facing persecution, even when we're facing persecution, we're not missing out. Give in to persecution, give up on the faith, turn your back on God and what are you left with to guide you through life? You are left with the wisdom of the world around you and the advice of Jiminy Cricket! Give in to persecution, give up on the faith and turn your back on God, then you are left with the dubious morals of the press, public opinion and your conscious as your guide. But if you hold on to the faith when persecution comes. If you hold onto what you've become convinced of, And are strengthen by remembering those who taught you, And hang on to what you know is true. If you place your life in God's hands and trust in God's word. You can be sure that God himself will guide you through this life giving you everything you need.
Brothers and sisters. You can be sure in this life that persecution will come. But you can also be sure of what you believe, And you can be sure that in the Bible you have everything you need. To guide you through this life, and lead you into the next.
Let's pray that God would help us be sure.