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  2. 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

    What can we do about a world gone bad? To find out how to cope in a world gone bad, Timothy turned to the apostle Paul for advice and direction. Paul responded in 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and centered on one main theme: Preach The Word.

    What can we do about a world gone bad? Students are increasingly disobedient and disrespectful. Their parents have been divorced and make excuses for their kids or don’t care. Twenty-somethings seem unrestrained in their pursuit of personal pleasure and parties. Middle-agers are ungrateful for the hard work and heritage handed to them by previous generations. Senior citizens press the default ‘no way’ button with anything involving change and are unwilling to contribute anything except bitterness and complaints. What can we do about a world gone bad? That’s what Pastor Timothy and the members of the congregations in and around Ephesus in the first century A.D. were asking. With all the best schools, the best libraries, and the top scholars, researchers, and consultants near at hand, it seemed to them that the world was getting worse. In addition, some educators were reinforcing the problems by teaching people, “The main object of life is to satisfy your own desires. So, step on anybody any way you can in order to get ahead.”

    To find out how to cope in a world gone bad, Timothy turned to the apostle Paul for advice and direction. Paul responded with this letter and centered on one main theme Preach The Word.

    Because “The Word” has an unusual author

    It is not strange to hear people who are concerned about the evils in society say, “All we have to do is make sure everyone gets a good education.” Of course, a good education hinges on having good teachers, and good teachers themselves are continually learning from experts who author books to share their expertise. Some textbooks become so popular and so famous that they are known not by the book’s title but by the author’s name, at least that was the case way back when I was in school. I don’t recall the titles of the history books we used, but every sophomore in our little high school had a Breasted history text and nearly all of my college classmates studied from Heichelheim & Yeo and Strayer & Munroe. People like Breasted, Heichelheim, Yeo, Strayer, and Munroe were experts in ancient and medieval history. Information gleaned from their books was reliable and solid because the authors were well-known authorities. But, as you might expect, sometimes experts disagree. There’s always the possibility that new research will dig up new information and lead to a rethinking and rewriting by new experts. If that can happen in the field of history, what about biology, chemistry, linguistics, and a host of other subjects? Education is important in trying to solve some of the problems of a world gone bad, but education based on what today’s experts have to say may have to be replaced by what tomorrow’s experts have to say. Wouldn’t it be frustrating – no, downright alarming – if what we need to know about our relationship with God here on earth and how to get to a happy hereafter were based on questionable authors?

    But that is not the case. We have answers to life’s biggest questions based on a book with an unusual author, one who never errs and who doesn’t shift around like a shadow. All Scripture is God-breathed. In a miraculous way God himself breathed into various writers the actual thoughts and words he wanted to be recorded. The Bible is God’s own book in which he reveals what he is like and how he connects himself to people so that we can cope with life in a world gone bad and live with the certainty that he has given us life in the world to come. And the center, the core, the heart of the entire Holy Scriptures is Jesus. What he did for us – trading places with us so that he not only felt the pressure of trying to do everything right but did it and took the heat from God for our failed attempts at doing things right – makes life worth living now and makes life eternal real. That’s why Paul’s main message to Timothy and to us was, “Preach the Word,” that is, proclaim all of what the Bible says because all of the Word points to Jesus. And you can count on it being reliable because this book has an unusual author, God himself, who won’t change his mind or shift his opinions about you.

    Because “The Word” has unique power

    Authors of textbooks aim at our brain so that they can stuff information into the two and a half pounds of pinkish-gray jelly between our ears. Novel writers usually take aim at our heart. A murder mystery might make us afraid. A love story might make us happy. A war story might make us angry or sad. It’s also true that an author might write several books, none of which get published because they are perceived to be duds, not very effective in touching either the reader’s intellect or emotions. God’s Word affects both the head and the heart, and God’s Word is not a dud.

    Could you imagine a surgeon removing the tip of a tumor and not addressing the root cancer underneath? Can you picture someone scrambling up a steep sand bank and always sliding down? Can you picture someone lost in a maze, bumping into corners and not finding the exit? Timothy wanted to help the Christians in and around Ephesus identify the root of their problems. He wanted them to be able to stand on solid ground and peer over the embankment all the way to heaven. He wanted them to sort through the maze of mixed messages sent out by false teachers who were leading believers away from God. So Paul wrote, “The time will come when people 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.” That’s why Paul told Timothy, “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because … from infancy you have know the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Bible doesn’t just convey religious head knowledge. It has the unique power to rock our core. It exposes the hurtful ways we treat friends and co-workers and sometimes even family members, the grudges we bear, the different shades of green we turn in envy when someone makes more money than we do. It reveals the error of our sullen silence when we don’t honestly convey our feelings, causing relationships to stagnate and fall apart. It uncovers the skeletons in our closet which cause us to awake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. We shiver at what God says in his Word concerning what we deserve – a push into a pit from which we can never get out. But then the Word made flesh comes to us through the words of this holy book and says, “Do not fear … do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over your with singing”(Zephaniah 3:16-17). That’s when our lower lip starts to quiver, and the corners of our eyes get a little moist from tears of joy because the Word of God tells us that the Maker of all, the Master of the universe, loves me and loves you. That’s what Paul meant when he said that holy Scriptures are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. In answer to Timothy’s concern, “How can I help people cope in this world gone bad?” Paul stated clearly, “Preach the Word because it has the unique power to transplant into us all the great things Jesus did so that we are declared right with God. That good news fills our hearts with joy and gives our life meaning and purpose.”

    Because “The Word” has a useful purpose

    The primary purpose of this holy book is to rescue us from the ravages of sin by hiding us in the mighty fortress of Jesus’ love. But the Savior does not want us to cower behind those fortress walls, curled up in a fetal position, biting our nails, praying fervently that the messes in this world and in our life will just pass by so that we don’t have to deal with them, and adding the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, soon – very soon!”

    Timothy and the people of Ephesus needed a fortress for their faith but also needed direction for their life to step out of those fortress walls with confidence and purpose. So Paul wrote, “All Scripture … is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the person who belongs to God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” … Be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” Sally didn’t go to church because of bad experiences she had with “the institutional church.” But a friend told her that Jesus’ love is so wide that it’s big enough to cover all sins of all sinners. Now Sally is on her church’s evangelism team. Bob made a mess of his life – drugs and alcohol. But Jesus pulled him out of the pit he was in. Now Bob is helping others who are where he had been. John and Jill were just about ready to give up on their marriage. But Jill’s sister-in-law said, “You’re both wrong. You need to take your sins to the cross of Jesus. His blood washes them away, and if he can forgive your sins, he can surely help you work on your marriage.” Now they are recommitted to a lifetime of love. Tom and Mary had questions on how to get their kids to learn important values in life. Their neighbors told them about a Lutheran school nearby. The whole family is in church every week now, and they have moved up from the Cheerio rows in back because the kids are actually paying attention. Joe never had enough dough. But Jesus snagged his heart, and Joe’s wallet came along for the ride. Now he’s known as generous Joe. At our fingertips we have a resource that not only describes riches of God’s love but empowers us.

    I once heard someone say that he did not think the Bible was relevant for our real, contemporary world. But Satan still uses the same bag of lies which he used in the Garden of Eden and with the Christians in Ephesus. But the Bible is still God’s truth and God’s Word counters those tricks and paves the way to heaven. What can we do about a world gone bad? Preach the Word – preach Jesus! Amen.

    Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (http://www.gracedowntown.org) on July 19, 2009

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