Living Hopefully In A Hopeless World (2 Timothy 3:14-4:4)
The greatest teachers any of us have are teachers who not only tell us the truth, but who live out that truth, casting a vision of God’s goodness.
As we read the words of today’s scripture, it’s important to know that Paul (the author of this letter) is quickly approaching his death. Directly after today’s passage he tells Timothy, “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6b-7). Then Paul pleads for Timothy to visit him soon, but there’s no certainty that Timothy will get there before Paul’s death. Thus the words of Paul recorded here are potentially the last words that Paul will ever communicate to Timothy whom Paul (a man without children) has referred to as “my true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). In this passage, Paul is “passing the torch” to his heir, charging him with the work of faithfully carrying the gospel to the next generation.
We all hope that our lives might end painlessly in bed surrounded by loved ones, reminiscing over a legacy in which we’ve made the world a better place. Paul is not so lucky. He is spending his final days in a prison in Rome abandoned by many that he had considered faithful and describing a world that is getting worse, not better. In which people are “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” Knowing that Timothy will be sent into this godless environment, Paul thinks it is important to pass on the following words to his spiritual heir.
“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 complete, equipped for every good work. 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.”
Timothy lives in a world that sounds a lot like ours. One in which many people construct a faith which is to their benefit, but who abandon their faith when it requires a price to be paid. A world in which people who claim to carry the message of Christ are committed to self-interest over and above the interests of others. In such a world, where do we seek truth? Paul says that Timothy can trust him because Timothy has seen how he lives. Timothy can know from experience that Paul does not only proclaim the name of Jesus, but he lives like Jesus too. The greatest teachers any of us have are teachers who not only tell us the truth, but who live out that truth, casting a vision of God’s goodness.
Paul also appeals to the scripture. He tells Timothy the gospel he has shared with Timothy is the culmination of God’s story through scripture. In attempting to describe the nature of scripture to Timothy, Paul makes up a word putting together the words for God and breath. Modern interpretations use anything from the word “inspired” to the more literal “God-Breathed”. While Paul invents a new word here, he’s drawing on an ancient image from the book of Genesis. In Genesis, God forms Adam from the dirt then breathes life into him. Here Paul is saying that God breathed life into the Scriptures and they will accomplish the task he’s always intended them for. Thus Timothy is to use the God-breathed scriptures to help his people determine what is of God and what is false.
Despite the importance of the Bible, knowing the Bible alone isn’t enough to determine what is of God. Paul’s own life testifies to this. Before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul (then known as Saul) persecuted the church, jailing some and killing others. Paul’s sinful murder of Christians was behavior that flowed out of a faith developed over years of careful study of the scriptures. When he tells Timothy to “Preach the word”, he means more than simply “preach Scripture” (for that is what Paul was doing before he repented and gave his life to Jesus). Rather, Paul means, “Preach Jesus”. The Bible says of Jesus “The word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Our commitment to God’s word requires that we see Jesus at the center of God’s story.
So what in your life doesn’t line up with Jesus?
• Your relationship with your family?
• Your relationship with your significant other?
• Your relationship with money?
• Your relationship with drugs/alcohol?
• Your relationship with your neighbors?
• Your relationship with your enemies? (hint: they might be your neighbors)
If anything doesn’t line up with Jesus (who is the Word of God) let God’s word convict and correct you. Let God train you in righteousness so you can be ready for all of the good work he’s calling you to. Know that as you share your story of a life transformed by Jesus, you will be doing exactly what he’s called you to do, whether others hear it or not.