The Truth

As we look around us today at our country, at Tyneside, at the churches - what concerns us the most as Christians? What do we see? What do we understand and what are we doing? As Paul lies chained in his prison cell writing this section of his letter what is he most concerned with? What does he see and want us to understand? His own condition? Well he is lonely as chapters 1&4 make clear and he wants Timothy to come quickly to visit him. But that is not his main concern here. No. His chief concern here is the future of the gospel, the church and the truth as he sees the evil of the times and the timidity of Timothy. That the church and its leaders stand firm in the faith and hold to the truth of the gospel, and continue to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus and continue in the gospel in the face of persecution, false teachers, deceiving evil impostors who will go from bad to worse, terrible times which there will be in the last days. And he wants us to see and understand this and respond appropriately. Look at v.1 of 2 Timothy 3. Paul writes:

"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days".

Understand this: there will be perilous, dangerous, hard to deal with, even savage times for the church in the last days, for those standing firm in the truth of the gospel. Opposition to the truth will not go away. We will face opposition if we stand firm in the gospel of Christ. When are these last days? The last days include the present because the last days were actually ushered in by the coming of Jesus Christ (Heb.1:2). We are living in the last days now. Therefore 2 Timothy 3 is a description of the present (v.5). Paul here depicts the whole period between the first and the second coming of Christ. As Calvin puts it, "Under the last days Paul includes the universal condition of the Christian church". So we shouldn't be surprised by terrible times, times of stress and pressure for Christians. (cf. Daniel 12:1) But we must be prepared, standing firm and holding to the truth of the gospel. Why will there be terrible times in the last days? From vv.2-9 we see that these terrible times will be the result of the activities of evil men, evil people. There will be men in the church who oppose the truth - and don't we see that today? Men of depraved minds, says v.8, people who are outwardly godly but powerless - imitation Christians who worm their way into homesFallen, evil men, men whose nature is perverted, whose behaviour is self-centred and godless, whose mind is hostile to God and who spread evil, heresy and dead religion in the church. And isn't our era one of theological and moral confusion, of opposition to the truth, even of apostasy in the church? Do we understand this? So how are we to be prepared and to respond, to contend for the truth of the gospel, to continue in the gospel, to stand firm in the faith and to build up the church in terrible times, in these last days? Well Paul gives Timothy and us three instructions to obey in order to remain faithful and effective during terrible times. And those three instructions are my 3 points: Have nothing to do with the false; Follow those who are true and Continue in the Gospel. So firstly: First, HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FALSE vv.2-9 Now Paul is not saying here that we are not to spend time with unbelieving sinners. Look at v.5. Have nothing to do with these evil men, these opponents of the truth in the church, these false teachers and their false beliefs and actions. Turn away from them. Keep away from them. Avoid them, says the original. Distance yourself from them. Don't get taken in. So who are these evil men, these evil people who are responsible for and characterize these terrible times in the last days? What are their characteristics? What is their morality, their religion and their recruiting style? Look first at their moral behaviour in vv.2-4.

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, {3} without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, {4} treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

The list reads like a description of pagan society, but remember these people are within the visible church. So Paul, reflecting on the evils of contemporary society, lists vices zeroing in on the false teachers. Essentially their love is misdirected. Look at v.2 again. "They will be lovers of themselvesrather than lovers of God" (v.4). Instead of being first lovers of God, they are lovers of self, lovers of money and lovers of pleasure. Recently a clergyman in the Midlands made £200,000 in 5 years by charging for wedding and baptism interviews. If people are primarily lovers of themselves, of money and of pleasure then they will be boastful, proud and abusive. According to 1 Timothy 6:10 the false teachers at Ephesus were lovers of money. They were also boastful, proud and abusive according to 1 Timothy 1:7 and 6:4. They were disobedient to their parents by not providing for them and therefore ungrateful and unholy (1 Timothy 5:8). False teachers are without love, v.3, which means lacking normal human affection whether in the human or the church family and along with unforgiving suggests a breakdown in relationships and an unwillingness to be reconciled. False teachers are also slanderous as they were in Corinth towards Paul (cf. 1 Timothy 2:11; Titus 2:5). And in being without self-control, brutal and not lovers of good they are the opposite of what elders should exemplify according to Titus 1:8. Treacherous (v.4) means they stop at nothing to gain their ends and they are rash and conceited too, again a characteristic of false teachers according to Paul in 1 Timothy 3:6 and 6:4. The list finishes in v.4 as it began in v.2 with misdirected love and asks about the true motives of what people really love and live for: they are "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God". So, in truth, these people lack real love, they fail to love good and God. They are lovers of themselves. And these lovers of themselves still get into the church today. You may remember the scandal in Sheffield over the NOS where Chris Brain, who just had to have the clerical robes used in the film 'The Mission' for his ordination service, led his followers astray and away from Scripture, taking Archdeacons and Bishops with him, and abusing sexually and in other ways his closest women disciples. And he was allowed fast track into the Church of England, straight from a shortened training to being a vicar. But Paul tells us to have nothing to do with such people. Which brings us on to the religion of the false teachers (v.5). It is false religion. They have a form of godliness but deny its power. These people might sound pious but in fact it is all an outward show with no inward reality. They learn to imitate the external behaviour and words of Christians, get involved in all the activities and look ultra religious but they lack true spiritual power. Like the problem of immorality invading Judah's religious observance as we heard in that Isaiah reading and like the Pharisees they preserve the outward form of religion but deny the power of it. They have form without power, religion without morals, faith without works which of course is dead, says James. Have nothing to do with such counterfeit religious people. These religious charlatans also try and recruit (vv.6-9). They try and recruit by the back door and in underhand ways. The look for easy prey. They remind us today of various cults or religious racketeers, of the Jehovah's Witnesses. "They worm their way in to homes and gain control over weak-willed women who are loaded down with sins and swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." Here in Ephesus some women were easy prey. Those who were unstable, guilt ridden and torn by lust, morally and intellectually weak became victims of the false teachers. The charlatans played on their guilt and fears and their willingness to listen to any teacher. They fed their curiosity but could not bring them to the freedom of the gospel and were no doubt paid handsomely by the foolish women. No wonder Paul says have nothing to do with these false teachers. In their spurious teaching the false teachers, who have depraved minds and are not approved workmen, use deceptions to oppose the truth of the gospel (vv.8-9), just as Jannes and Jambres, Pharaoh's two chief court magicians (Exodus 7:11), had used sorcery to withstand Moses. The Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchtower magazine and their One World translation of the Bible, both of which oppose the truth of the gospel, can deceive the morally and intellectually weak. But (v.9) to the vast majority their folly will be clear and they will not get very far. Just as Jannes and Jambres were exposed when they could not imitate the miracle of the lice in Exodus 8:16-19. For Paul God's truth will win out. He can't see these false teachers triumphing. God will preserve his truth in the church. However as we have seen and as the Church of England's Article 26 puts it: "in the visible Church the evil is ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments". Where God has sown wheat, the devil has also sown weeds. Timothy is to have nothing to do with these evil people and not get taken in but rather he, like you and me, is to be different, to stand firm in the faith, to stand alone if necessary, to follow those who are true and continue in the Gospel. So secondly: But as for you Secondly, FOLLOW THOSE WHO ARE TRUE vv.10-13 The first great motivation and example for us as Christians is Jesus and his life and it is vital that we follow him who is the truth. Also Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1 says, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ". Here in v.10 the word translated as "know all about" is a discipleship word used by Greek philosophers to describe the imitating of teachers by disciples. Literally it means 'study carefully with a view to reproducing'. Paul then lists what Timothy has been following and should continue to follow and what we must imitate in contrast to the list of vices of those who are false teachers. Look at vv.10-13:

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, {11} persecutions, sufferings--what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. {12} In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, {13} while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

So Paul lists ten points for Timothy to imitate and what a contrast they are to vv.2-9! My teaching - the gospel. My way of life - his Christian discipleship. My purpose - his driving passionate purpose to serve the Lord and glorify him. Faith - his faith in Christ and his faithfulness to Christ. Patience - his patience with those who irritate and struggle. Love - his love for the Lord and his neighbour. His endurance - his patient endurance of trials and perseverance. His godly life in Christ - his moral conduct which will lead to us being persecuted. Paul was stoned and left for dead at Lystra which Timothy witnessed. His sufferings for the gospel. Timothy was not to give up in the face of troubles and neither should we. The Lord rescued me from all of them, writes Paul, not from being attacked or having to suffer but from death. And lastly Paul contrasts persecuted Christians with evil men and impostors (v.13), the false teachers. The true will progress from one degree of glory to another, the false will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. The characteristics of a true teacher then are that, like Paul, their lives are open for all to see, they teach true doctrine, they practice what they preach, they are willing to suffer and their purpose is to glorify God. Who are we following? Are we following Christ and his Apostle Paul who is a model of commitment and godly living? Thirdly and finally Paul instructs Timothy and us to Thirdly, CONTINUE IN THE GOSPEL vv.14-17 Again Paul urges Timothy to be different from the false teachers. But as for you, v.14, "continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of", the truth of the gospel, the truth of the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, v.15, again in contrast to the evil men and impostors who will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived, v.13. The evil men go on whereas Timothy is to continue in what he has learned and believed. Today in the church there are radicals who think of themselves as progressive or going on with a new theology and a new morality. John warns in his second letter (2 John 9) that "anyone who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God", and "let what you heard from the beginning abide in you for then they would abide in the Son and in the Father". Don't be deceived. Instead continue in what you have learned and become convinced of - the original apostolic message. Why? For two reasons asserted in vv.14 and 15. "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 faithin Christ Jesus". He learned it - the gospel - from Paul and he had confidence in Paul's authority. And from childhood he had been instructed in the OT Scriptures by his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois. Scriptures which taught the same gospel as Paul. The holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (v.15). The gospel we believe is the same and has the same double authentication. So we too are to continue in what we have learned and have become convinced of with confidence, whatever persecution that might lead to and whatever new gospels are spread around. And just as Timothy had the benefit of being taught the Scriptures since he was a child we are to teach it to our children. Elsewhere in 2 Timothy we are also to guard the gospel, to entrust it to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others (2:2) and preach it (4:2). Vital for the future of gospel ministry. Continue in what you have learned - "All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so thst the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (vv.16-17). Last but certainly not least Paul asserts some fundamental truths about the Bible, about its origin and purpose. Look again at vv.15-17. First the holy Scriptures lead us to salvation. We are not saved by believing the Bible (John 5:39), but by trusting the Christ who is revealed in the Bible. Who needs to do that this evening? To trust Christ. You've been reading the Bible for a while and learning about Jesus, his death on the cross to pay the price for your sin and his resurrection from the dead, but you now need to repent and trust Christ to have eternal life. Perhaps you've been involved with false teachers in the past. Look at 2 Timothy 2:25-26 READ. Second, all Scripture is God breathed. All Scripture is inspired by God. And so all Scripture is useful or profitable for teaching the truth and refuting error and for training in righteousness. Do we want to overcome error and grow in truth and overcome evil and grow in holiness? Then we must turn to God's Word. We must read it, study it, hear it preached and taught. So that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Are we thoroughly equipped for God's work? In these last days when there will be more and more deception and imitation will we be able to tell the true from the false? Then get to know the Bible and obey it which will equip us. It is the Word og God that equips people to do the work of God. To conclude. How relevant is Paul's message in 2 Timothy 3 to our pluralist and permissive society today. We see the evil around us in society. A society which tolerates every deviation from Christian standards of righteousness and truth, and whose ethos has crept into the church. Where the gospel is often not taught in this country, where the truth of the Bible is not always acknowledged and where often Jesus is not believed to be the only way, the truth and the life. The false teachers, imitation and nominal Christians are still around in the church deceiving and being deceived. We like Timothy might feel timid in the face of such and their opposition, perhaps especially so as we stand alone for the truth at work or college or school, when the pressure to conform is strong. But as for you, Paul says to us, stand firm. Don't worry if you're young, or inexperienced or timid. You have followed my teaching. Continue in what you have come to believe. It is true. All Scripture is God breathed and useful. Even today in the midst of difficult times, it can make you complete and it can equip you for God's work. "Let the Word of God make you a man of God. Remain loyal to it and it will lead you on to maturity." (Stott)

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