Monday, October 18, 2010

Sermon on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, "God-breathed"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. “The time is coming…” the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, a young pastor. “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.” Well it shouldn’t take much convincing for us to realize that that time is now here. We already live in the time Paul described, where people will not listen to or tolerate sound teaching, but gather around them teachers that will say what their itching ears want to hear. Today Paul’s words to Timothy call us to make sure we are listening to the God-breathed Word of holy Scripture, which is vital for our spiritual health today. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

So are we really living in “those times” when people won’t listen to sound teaching, but chase after myths? Just like a fish isn’t aware of its watery environment, and humans or animals aren’t usually aware of the air they breathe, so also we can become unaware of our environment. If the water we’ve always been swimming in is polluted, or the air we breathe has always been polluted, we might never know it until we’ve swam in pure, fresh water, or breathed deeply of clean, fresh air. A child growing up in smoggy LA might never realize how bad the air was until they traveled to the mountains or the country and breathed the fresh air. In the same way, many people today don’t realize the polluting and corrupting influences that are part of our everyday environment. We don’t often realize how many harmful ideas and behaviors fill the “air” we breathe, until we have heard and fully embraced the truth. The world is very effective at teaching us all kinds of unhealthy things, and this instruction of the world begins incredibly early.

In an opposite way, Paul describes how for Timothy, his instruction in the Bible and the things of God began in his childhood—literally from infancy. As a side note, it’s interesting that the Greek word brephos that is translated childhood or infancy, is used to refer to both a child already born, and also to an unborn child. This is interesting because we don’t often think about the faith of an infant (born or unborn!) and the ability of God’s Word to work on them even at such a tender age. But Paul contrasts the healthy Word of God that gives life with the unhealthy false teachings and myths that people with itching ears will want to follow. People will not endure, tolerate or put up with the sound teaching of God’s Word. Again to gather some additional insight from the original Greek language, the word “sound” in v.3 is literally healthy. And that should make a lot of sense because the true doctrine or teaching of God’s Word is sound, healthy, and whole. It gives life and it gives wisdom, as this passage teaches.

By contrast, false teaching, or teaching that is inaccurate, mixed with impure and/or untrue ideas, is unhealthy and unwholesome. Like polluted water or air, it’s not healthy to drink, swim in, or breathe, although you might survive for awhile in it. A person might survive for awhile with false teaching, if they cling to the elements of truth that are mixed in with impure things, but ultimately unhealthy, false teaching puts you in spiritually bad health, which can even destroy faith.

Part of the unhealthy environment we live in today is the constant drumming into our ears that “Nothing is sacred, nothing is holy.” This might be one of the things that is most invisible to us as Americans. The statement that “nothing is sacred, nothing is holy” is largely a reaction against religion. It’s saying that nothing deserves special reverence or worship, nothing should be treated with special honor or respect. Sacred or holy means “set apart,” as for a special purpose or use. The opposite of holy is that which is common or profane, although that still won’t define what is “holy” for you. To say nothing is holy is to say that everything deserves to be treated as ordinary and common. God’s name is most highly guarded as Holy in the Bible, and to profane God’s name and use it as a curse word or use it to speak evil is one of the worst offenses against God.

Against the tide of worldly ways of thinking, against the polluting stream of disrespect for God’s holy name and the things that He has made holy, we must stand and confess that His holiness is real. That God is holy, and His Word is holy. That God makes His people holy through His Word. Our reading in v. 15 says that Timothy learned the sacred (or holy) writings from infancy, and that these holy writings—what we call the Bible or Scripture or God’s Word—that make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ. Verse 16 affirms that all Scripture is God-breathed. This holiness of the Bible is something that is lost on the world today—even lost on many who call themselves Christians. There are many who do not consider the Bible as a book set apart from all others, containing divine truth, and deserving of special honor and respect.

From the Reformation 500 years ago till now, Lutherans have always emphasized the special importance of God’s Word as Holy and above all other books, writings and teachings by using the phrase “Scripture alone” or in Latin, sola scriptura. We confess that the Bible alone is our authority for faith and life. We say with Jesus that God’s Word is Truth. All of our teachings must be conformed to God’s Word, and anything that contradicts God’s Word is unhealthy and false. We bind ourselves to God’s Word alone, to have our lives and words be examined and judged by it. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, our national church body, has from its inception in America over 150 years ago, held Scripture alone to be our authority. While the history and people of our church body have been far from perfect or sinless, we’ve held to the Holy Word of God against continually increasing pressure from both inside and outside the church to conform to the world and its lowering of the Word of God.

To various degrees, Christian churches, even Lutheran churches have been abandoning God’s Holy Word in exchange for teachings that suit their own passions. A year ago the largest Lutheran church body in the U.S. (not our own), the ELCA or Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, voted to approve the acceptance of homosexual unions as equal to marriage, and approve the ordination of homosexual pastors. One might ask how they could do this and stray so far from the truth of God’s Word, that clearly teaches homosexuality is sin. From the Bible, it’s unthinkable to elevate homosexuality to an equal level with marriage.

The way this happened in the ELCA and in so many other church bodies is that the Holy Word of God has been pushed from its place of honor and authority to become common and ordinary. Itching ears wanted new teachings that would suit our own passions and sensibilities. While they might say that the Bible contains truth, they would not affirm that all of the Bible is God’s truth. The one slogan of the Lutheran Reformation that was conspicuously missing from their official statement on accepting homosexuality was “scripture alone.” Of course they couldn’t claim that they held to Scripture alone when that very book condemns this sin. Our church, the LCMS has urged them to reverse that tragic decision, which basically elevated man’s opinion over God’s Word. Man’s ideas of right and wrong, and man’s definitions of love and sexuality were elevated to replace God’s definition of right and wrong, of love and sexuality. Man’s word was permitted to sit in judgment over God’s Word.

But God’s Word is still profitable and useful for teaching, reproving and correcting. God’s Word is still able to speak and bring hearts to repentance, and to call them back to God’s Word. Many have already rejected that new decision and called for a return to God’s Word. We in the LCMS must no less call ourselves back to God’s Word and allow everything that we believe and teach to be corrected by God’s Word. We must constantly be alert to influences that would make us gather teachers to suit our itching ears, rather than to hear the uncomfortable call to repent from our sins. God’s Word does not leave us cruising along blindly in our sins, but it disciplines or trains us in righteousness so that we are equipped for every good work. Like an athlete putting on his sports equipment and gear to be ready for competition, so also God’s Word equips us to live in righteousness and to turn away from sinful passions.

The disrespect and mistreatment of God’s word—the chasing after myths and seeking to fill our itching ears with whatever our sinful pleasures want us to hear—this is a result of losing the holy. It’s a result of the false belief that nothing is sacred or holy any more. But against that worldly tide of thinking, against the sinful desires of our own flesh to lower God’s Word and make it common or profane, we as Christians must pray “Hallowed be Thy Name” as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. Holy be Your Name. We must pray for God’s name to be kept holy. For His Word to be kept holy. That we would keep His name holy by leading holy lives, use His name purely and with honor and reverence in worship and prayer.

What makes God’s Word holy and above all other words and writings? What makes it deserving of our full respect and attention? Because “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” All Scripture is breathed out by God. God-breathed. God’s very Word is breathed out into those holy writings, as prophets and apostles of God wrote down God’s message for our teaching, for the reproof and correction of our sin, and for training us in righteousness. Scripture was not breathed out by man—it was not human imagination or cleverness that wrote it. But the Scripture is of divine origin. And since God breathed out those words, it means that the Bible is without error, and that it has eternal significance. As Jesus said, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).

But to know that God is holy and that His Word is holy puts us as sinners in a dangerous place. In our sinfulness, we would be consumed by God’s holiness. We would be like oil in the presence of fire. But God did not give us His Holy Word to destroy us, but that by His Holy Word He might purify us and communicate His holiness to us. God’s Word comes to us like fresh air and pure water that refreshes us in a sinful and polluted world. We should crave and desire the truth of God’s Word, because in it we discover freedom and cleansing in Jesus Christ, and are made wise for salvation by faith in Him. Jesus shines forth as the highlight and center of the God-breathed words of Scripture. We come to Jesus sinful and unclean, confessing that we have not done what is right, and that we have sinned. He died for our sin on the cross. Here is the salvation or rescue that we find in God’s Word. God’s Holy Word brings us this message that Jesus forgives our sin from in His cross. Only once we have been purified from sin by the forgiveness of Jesus, can we share in the holiness of God and one day approach His presence without fear of death. God’s Holy Word brings us His holiness so that we will be healthy, sound and whole on the day of Jesus’ appearing and with His kingdom to judge the living and the dead. Dear heavenly Father, Holy God, we pray that you would keep us holy in your Word, and that you would bless us to always keep your Name and your Word holy among us, to make us wise for salvation in Jesus Christ. In His name we pray, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. What evidence do you see that we are living in the times that Paul described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, where people will turn away from the truth and sound teaching, to listen to what their itching ears want to hear? What are the things that your ears itch to hear, even when you know that they are not true or right?

2. How can it happen that we become unaware of the sinful influences of our world? How early is it ideal for us to begin instructing children in God’s Word? 2 Tim. 3:15; Psalm 71:5-6

3. Why is “sound teaching” or doctrine “healthy”? How is false teaching unhealthy? 1 Timothy 1:8-11; 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 2:1

4. What does God say is holy? Leviticus 22:2; Exodus 31:14; Rom. 7:12. If God alone is holy, how is His holiness communicated to us? 1 Cor. 3:17; 1 Peter 1:15. What is the holy and proper use of God’s name? Ex. 20:7; Matthew 6:9

5. What does it mean that Scripture is “God-breathed”? 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:16-21; John 17:17. How have people within the Christian church lowered God’s Word to suit their itching ears? How have we done it ourselves? What sins do we desire to “protect” by trying to hide them from God’s judgment? What does it mean to hold to “Scripture alone?”

6. What four things is Scripture useful for in 2 Tim. 3:16-17? How is God’s word eternal? Matt. 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25.

7. How does God’s Word forgive us and make us holy, so that we can see the holy God? 1 John 1:7; Matt. 5:8; John 17:17

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