Sermon Podcast Audio
Faith Themes in Second Timothy
Today we are wrapping up a series called “Faithful.” We have looked at each of the major themes in a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy. This is Second Timothy in our Bibles.
Paul penned this letter while he was in prison. It is the last preserved correspondence we have between Paul and Timothy. In the letter, Paul wants to guide Timothy one final time in some areas that will have tremendous impact on his faith.
We looked at how Paul saw something in the way Timothy lived that persuaded him that Timothy’s faith was a genuine faith. We saw that persuasive faith is visible, lived out for others to see, and draws others to see and know God. We asked ourselves: “Do we have a persuasive faith?”
We looked at the importance of shared faith. The faith we have isn’t meant to be hidden or locked away. It is vital that what we have been given, we pass on to others, who will in turn pass it on. We asked: “Are we sharing our faith?”
We looked at the need for pure faith. We need to be people who live out a pure faith. We do this by examining how we live and allowing the Spirit of God to continually transform us into becoming more Christ-like. We asked: “Is our faith becoming a pure faith?”
We talked about how we need to have an enduring faith. Trials and difficulty will come. We cannot avoid them. We shouldn’t avoid all sufferings or trials (yes, avoid the self-inflicted ones), but we should persevere through the rest because enduring faith is only developed though adversity. We asked: “Do we have an enduring faith?”
And now, we wrap up our series by looking at one final theme in the letter: Revealed Faith.
Correctly Handle the Word of Truth
Several times throughout this letter, Paul writes to Timothy about how he is to guard, remind, handle, teach, proclaim and remain faithful to the message about Jesus Christ. This message about Jesus is the Revealed Faith that takes center stage in this letter.
The first of several instances we are going to discuss, where Paul instructs Timothy about his use of God’s revealed truth, is in Second Timothy 2:15.
Look at what Paul wrote to Timothy:
2 Timothy 2:14-15
Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
It’s that last phrase I want to focus on: “correctly handles the Word of Truth.” The Word of Truth here is a phrase Paul uses in two other letters, Ephesians and Colossians. In both places he clearly states that the Word of Truth is the Gospel message about Jesus. So, the problem Paul was speaking of was that just 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, people were already twisting the message Jesus taught about how to be right with God, how to live, and about our future hope for eternal life with God. They were arguing over words, coming up with different teachings, using verses from the Prophets’ writings to make it say what they wanted it to say.
But Paul instructs Timothy to correctly handle the Word of Truth. I think often we gloss over this and don’t really think through what this means to us TODAY. First, since our revelation about Jesus is written down in the Bible and isn’t a message we heard from Paul himself, I believe this principal of handling the Word of Truth applies to the whole Bible. Second, It means that if there is a correct way to handle God’s Truth, then there is a way to INCORRECTLY handle it. The Bible is not a book we can quickly skim over and believe it means some random idea or interpretation that pops into our mind.
There are dozens of passages people commonly misunderstand, mishandle, and misapply – nearly always leading to hurting somebody. History is full of mistakes where well-meaning Christians incorrectly handled the word of God to support their ideas and their applications of scripture. Bad interpretation has justified slavery in America, Manifest Destiny, and our taking of Native American land; it has even justified the current brand of “Name it and Claim it” Christianity where whatever you ask for in Jesus name you will get.
Years ago, my parents knew a young woman who had lost her husband to cancer and shortly after her death, some people from the church who believed this false Gospel of “Name it and Claim it” told her that the reason her husband died was because he simply didn’t have enough faith that God would heal him. That is an example of not correctly handling the Word of Truth. Just because you think a verse means something, does not make it so.
God’s Word has a definitive, true meaning the authors of scripture were trying to convey to us. It is our job to carefully read scripture, think of how it fits with other passages, make sure we understand the situation it was written in, and do our best to understand what the author actually intended to communicate to his audience 2000 years ago (or much longer). That is what correctly handling the word of truth looks like. This should be our goal!
Here we sit with words God wanted to communicate to us, mere humans, in our hands. These are the things God thought were so important he wanted everybody to know. His truth is truth that offers us life, truth that offers us freedom, truth that offers us a relationship with our Heavenly Father – shouldn’t we WANT to make sure that we are correctly understanding that message? I think it belittles God when we quickly skim over a passage and interpret it in some way that is selfish and out of context. It’s the equivalent of asking your spouse if you can go to dinner with your old high school sweetheart, hearing him or her say “yeah, right,” and taking that as permission.
Now in saying all this, I don’t want you to feel like I have just made understanding the Bible too difficult for you. I don’t want you to think that only the professionals, your pastors, have the training to read and interpret it for you. That’s not our job. Our job is to teach you how to read the Bible for yourself, and to handle it the right way! There are so many tools out there for us now, that handling it correctly really isn’t that difficult. It simply takes a desire to want to know God’s Word and want to truly hear what He is telling you and not hear what you want to hear!
Paul gives an example of not handling the Bible correctly a little later in this letter. In chapter three, Paul talks about false teachers and gives a list of the sins these people were, and even today, would be known for. They are false teachers who prey on the vulnerable, looking for people to manipulate and exert control over. Look at these verses:
2 Timothy 3:6-7
They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.
In Paul’s day, it was the women who were easy targets. They didn’t have access to education. They didn’t have status in society. They were vulnerable. Today, I think we could probably be less gender-specific for those who are susceptible. It is those who are looking for the thing that will help sort out their lives, those whose past weighs them down to the point they feel powerless to overcome it, those enslaved to sin.
What is interesting to me here is that even though Paul writes about the condemnation on those spouting this false truth and taking advantage of others, he also makes a statement about those running from thing to thing, idea to idea, filling their heads with lots of information, in an effort to find the truth.
“Always learning but never able to come to the truth.” – 2 Timothy 3:7
As I read this statement by Paul, my mind immediately began to ask the question, “Could this describe us?” We want to live a certain way, so we seek out someone who will tell us what we want to hear. We scour the internet for the newest idea, the latest “truth.” We really are not interested in the truth; we want someone to tickle our ears so we can do what we want anyway.
I think this can also describe others as well: those of us who go from Bible study to Bible study, filling our heads with as much knowledge as we can, digging into what we think are the deeper truths of the Bible, while never letting the truth sink beyond our heads and into our hearts.
We become the smartest, most well-informed people we know, but the knowledge has little to no impact on our lives. We never get to a place where our learning changes how we live, where the knowledge of the truth reshapes our very existence.
Our learning should do more than just educate us or teach us right doctrine or beliefs, so that we aren’t vulnerable to these charlatans, so we can correctly handle the word of truth, so we come to know the truth. And truth isn’t facts and figures. Truth is a person. Truth is Jesus.
And the way we come to know Jesus, is through the Revealed Faith of the Bible.
Again towards the end of his letter to Timothy, Paul returns to the topic of the revealed faith God has given to us. One of the most famous passages ABOUT the Bible is Second Timothy 3:16.
2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
Right here Paul defines what makes the Bible unique from other books – It is God-breathed, and because of that, it has great use in the life of a Christian.
First, let’s look at what it means to say that all Scripture is God-breathed.
- All Scripture here definitely refers to what Jews during Paul’s day had as their Holy writings – what we call the Old Testament. And in all likelihood, Paul also has in view his own words. The Apostle Peter, in his second letter compares Paul’s writing to Holy Scripture. These early apostles likely understood that their letters were becoming Scripture. So, that means we should understand that every word we have in our Bible, all of it, is God-breathed.
- What does God-breathed mean? The word “breathed” really points to the idea of being inspired, being directed by God. It means that these writings are more than just a collection of words written by men, but have God’s thoughts and intent behind them.
Because the words in the Bible are not just Paul’s thoughts, or Peter’s thoughts, but are God’s thoughts, we must take them very seriously and learn from them. That’s the second half of this verse. God’s words to us are USEFUL, they teach us how to live, rebuke us when we veer from the truth, correct us to show a better path forward, and train us to live disciplined, holy, and righteous lives.
Essentially, God’s Word reveals everything we need to live a life pleasing to Him. That is why it’s important for us to know, important to study, and important to understand the Bible.
But the Bible serves another purpose much greater than revealing to us how to live. . .
Wise for Salvation
The Bible is an amazing book. It’s better than any self help book, better than any life manual that could ever be written, more powerful than any other literary work ever produced. It is the Word of God.
We could get tied up in endless debates about the Bible. How were the books selected? To what extent are the words on the page the ideas of the writers and how much is God? Is this comma in the right place? Which translation is best? It is not that some of these issues are not important, but if we insist on focusing too much on the weeds, we can easily miss the fundamental point of the entire Bible, from start to finish, which is summed up by Paul in the following verse:
2 Timothy 3:14-15
But as for you [Timothy], continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, 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 faith in Christ Jesus.
If we become the most knowledgeable Bible scholar, but miss Jesus, we’ve missed everything. The goal of our faith is not to become the greatest Bible scholar ever. It isn’t to win every Bible trivia competition or wow our friends at dinner parties with our extensive knowledge. It is to know Jesus.
We also have to be cautious of making an idol out of the Bible. I’m not saying the Bible isn’t important. It is the inspired word of God. It is critical. It is necessary. But it is a tool.
The Bible is what gets us to the true goal of our faith, which is knowing Jesus, not just mentally but through experience, and living in relationship with him. If we love our Bible more than we love Jesus, we have a problem. If we spend more time in Bible studies and classes studying obscure passages and secondary theology than we do WITH Jesus, we are missing the point.
The entire reason we have been given this amazing book that reveals faith is to point us to Jesus, to tell us about him, to show us his heart and his passion. It is not so that we fall in love with the Bible, but so that we fall in love with him!
Show me what a wonderful Christian you are by how big your Bible is or by your Bible knowledge and I will show you my faith by loving and living like Jesus. That’s the point of the Bible.
I think sometimes we forget what it was like for those in the first century to come to faith. They didn’t have smart phones with Bible apps with every conceivable translation. They didn’t have shelf after shelf filled with Bibles they could just pull out and read at any time. They didn’t start their Christian faith by saying, “The Bible says…” They began it with Jesus.
What about you? Are you more in love with the book or does the book just fan your passion for the one that this book points to from start to finish. Some of us need to think about what is more important to us and return to our first love: Jesus.
Others of us have known mentally and intellectually about everything written above, but are right now in this moment realizing that we have never placed our faith in Jesus. We place our faith in family, in relationships, in career, in religion, and quite possibly even in the Bible, but without ever fully understanding that God revealed himself through Jesus.
So, we realize today that we need salvation. We desire the forgiveness that Jesus is offering. We desire the fresh start that awaits when we come to know him.
Maybe today is the day we turn your eyes toward him and pray something like this, “Jesus, I have tried to do this on my own. I have tried to everything else, but today I realize I need you. I want and I need you to save me. Lord Jesus, I know you died on the cross for me. I know you came back to life so that I could have new life. I repent today, I turn form my sin and my self-sufficiency and I turn, no, I run to you.”
If you are in need of Jesus, let me encourage you, don’t wait. Waiting just delays knowing and experiencing the love and life Jesus came to give you.
If you feel God stirring something in you, let me encourage you, take action today.