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Continuing in the Faith

From Series: Useful to the Master

2 Timothy 3:1-17 (ID: 2082)

Persevering in truth can be a difficult challenge. Thankfully, though, it’s not a new one: Timothy, too, had to face teachers who sought to deceive and oppose the message of Jesus Christ. In response, Alistair Begg explains, Paul urged him to remain faithful to God’s call. As new ideas and theories of discipleship come and go, Paul’s message points us back to the basics. The foundation of spiritual growth remains unchanged: commitment and obedience to God’s Word.


Sermon Transcript:

We’ve been reminding ourselves each morning, recognizing that there are some who come in just for the day, that in studying 2 Timothy we have the apostle Paul, who is imprisoned in Rome, he’s “chained like a criminal,”[1] and he is under the shadow of execution. From that environment, he writes with truth and with tenderness to this young man who is his child in the faith, his colleague in ministry, one of whom he says to the Philippians, “I’ve got no one else like him who will take a genuine interest in your welfare.”[2] His pressing concern is that the baton of faith will be passed safely from the hands of Paul into the hands of Timothy, and from Timothy then into the custody of faithful men who will be able to teach others also. And in chapter 1 he has urged him not to be ashamed of the apostle or of the gospel, in chapter 2 he has urged him to aim for God’s approval, and now here in chapter 3 he is exhorting him to continue in the faith. That’s the fourteenth verse: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned.” In other words, “Press on.”

Now, it’s very realistic, what he does. There is no sense in which he seeks to try and hide from Timothy the hard facts which relate to the commission he has received. Any notion that serving the Lord Jesus Christ in the cause of the gospel is an invitation to tranquility cannot be taught from 2 Timothy—indeed, cannot be taught from the Bible. And Paul is keenly aware of the hostility of the times in which Timothy is ministering, he is at the same time aware of the timidity of Timothy in the midst of those times, and his great concern is that Timothy and others with him will be marked by stability, grounded in the truth of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Terrible Times in the Last Days”

Now, in light of this, it is obviously essential that the Lord’s servant not be caught off guard by the difficulties of his day, and in particular by the “terrible times” which, he says, will mark “the last days.” The opening phrase up into the colon there in the NIV is striking, and purposefully so: “Get ahold of this, pay attention to what I’m saying, mark this, because what I’m about to tell you, Timothy, is not simply a possibility, but it is an absolute certainty: there will be seasons or spells that are painful and perilous, the reason being that opposition to the truth is not a passing fancy, but it is a permanent fixture.” And the truth has been and will always be opposed—at times more intensely than others, and with different facets to the opposition—but nevertheless, it will be impossible to live life in any generation without the truth being opposed.

And the terrible nature of these spells is borne out in the phrase—and indeed, we’re helped in our understanding by a knowledge of the original word, which is the same word that is used in Matthew 8:28 to describe the two demoniacs, whose violence was such that people were afraid to walk past them down the street. That is the same word as is translated “terrible” here in the opening verse of this chapter. In classical Greek, it’s a word that was used to describe the raging of the sea or the untamable dimensions of wild animals. So, in case anybody should be left with a lingering notion that we will be floating “to the skies,” or through the skies, “on flowery beds of ease,”[3] the answer is, absolutely not. Or, to move from the sentimental hymn writer to the sentimental song writer, “I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine there’s gotta be a little rain sometime[s].”[4] And sometimes it appears that “sometimes” is a long time and that the rain is a great deal. And that is exactly the kind of clarity that the Bible demands that we have.

Any time that an individual or a culture begins to worship at the shrine of itself, then that culture is in deep trouble.

Now, this little phrase “the last days” can set many a home Bible study off on a tangent for a long time, and is one of the favorite phrases of certain people that I meet as I travel around, and indeed, they have their whole Bible underlined in a variety of colors directly in relationship to the phrase “the last days.” And indeed, these folks—many of them—would have to conclude that the reference here that Paul is giving to Timothy was somehow theoretical, because after all, according to that reckoning, Timothy wasn’t living in the last days. And so, when Paul gave him this instruction, it was sort of for the future in some time yet to come—which, of course, a few people have already determined they know when it is.

Now, the fact of the matter is that this is not theoretical material. We understand that because Paul immediately applies it in relationship to what he’s supposed to do—that is, Timothy as a young man. He’s not talking about something that is in the remote future; he’s talking about something that is in the immediate present. Hebrews 1 begins, “In the past God spoke of old by his prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us in his Son.”[5] When Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost in response to those who are surprised at what is happening, claiming that perhaps the people who are displaying these miraculous manifestations perhaps have been out on the bottle, Peter stands up and says, “These men are not drunk, as you suggest. After all, it’s only the middle of the afternoon. But in point of fact, this is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit.’”[6]

So, I think it’s important for us to understand that the last days, according to the New Testament parlance, were ushered in by the coming of Christ and will be consummated by the return of Christ. Clearly, there will be last days to the last days, culminating in the revelation of the “man of lawlessness,” as 2 [Thessalonians] says,[7] but that is not the issue here. [John] Napier of Napier College in Edinburgh—and also the inventor of logarithms, just so you know who to blame—Napier used his logarithmic method to calculate a date for the return of Jesus Christ, which, apparently, in his day he was very, very forceful concerning.[8] His book sold fairly well up until the day of the apparent return of Christ, but it hasn’t been in the Keswick bookshop for some time.

The notion here is of epochs that occur and reoccur throughout history—perilous, terrible times or spells that will inevitably reach an intensity in the clarification between light and darkness, and truth and error, before the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. What are these “terrible times” marked by? Well, that is exactly what he goes on to identify. And the conduct that he exposes in verses 2–5 is as classic a description of moral decadence as can be found anywhere in the Bible, other than perhaps the twenty-first verse and following of Romans 1. And the catalogue of vices is absolutely obvious.

Now, I don’t know whether you think that it would be profitable for us to go through this whole section piece by piece. There’s nineteen of them; if we take two minutes on each that will be thirty-eight minutes, and the prospect of ever finishing these studies will never happen. Some of us, I think, are prone to imagine that these things are evidences of an idolatry which you can only find when you go to other parts of the world. You can go to Hong Kong and see the Daoist shrines and find those pieces of apple and orange being illuminated alongside all of that gaily colored tissue paper, and you walk away from that and you say, “My, my! These people are idolatrous.” What is not so obvious are the shrines to self and pleasure which are all around us, whether in Washington or in Sydney or in London. And any time that an individual or a culture begins to worship at the shrine of itself, then that culture is in deep trouble. And it is this kind of activity—for it is all largely idolatry with various faces—which is before us now.

Now, how are we to view these nineteen characteristics? Donald Guthrie, who taught me New Testament—or at least endeavored to—at LBC, suggests that the first two supply the key to understanding the remaining seventeen. In other words, he says, when people love themselves and when they love money, then all of this ugly list will inevitably follow.[9] Another way to view them is to take the first characteristic, “People will be lovers of themselves,” and then the last, which is “rather than lovers of God,” and to see the remaining seventeen characteristics as the filling of what is a very distasteful sandwich.

John Stott—as you will find when you go to read the commentary, so that you can follow up on these studies—categorizes these things largely under three headings. I don’t think he uses these headings, but this is what he does, and I think helpfully so: he says if you look at this, you can see the way in which these things reveal themselves first of all with respect to ourselves as individuals: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, proud, boastful, and abusive.”[10] In other words, when I love myself, when I am preoccupied with who I am, and/or with what I have financially, then it will almost inevitably be accompanied by self-assertion, and that self-assertion will manifest itself in boastful and in proud and in abusive behavior. It’s a very ugly and unseemly picture.[11]

Orson Wells, apparently, was going through the customs in the United States on one occasion, and he was asked, “What do you have to declare?” And he said, “Nothing except my genius”—which I thought was a very humble posture. Some of us fight battles with this; we wanted to write a book called Humility, and How I Attained It; or would be prepared to suggest to people, “No, I am not conceited, although I have every right to be so”; or, in the words of the country-western song, “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.”[12]

Now, I don’t want to delay here, but I want to point something out that I think is really crucial. I don’t know if it’s true here in the United Kingdom, but it’s certainly true in the United States: that what Paul describes here as a disease is offered in the States as a cure. In other words, Paul says at the very heart of this ugly list you have a problem: philautos—people love themselves too much. And when they love themselves inordinately, then all these things will follow. And from pillar to post and couch to pulpit all across America, the answer to everything from juvenile delinquency to presenile dementia is offered in terms of “You need simply to love yourself.” And any time that you have a disease identified in the Bible and then offered in the culture as a cure, you know we’ve got dreadful troubles. And it is one of the evidences of the manifold confusion which abounds.

Now, someone will inevitably come to me and say, “Well, don’t you think it is necessary to have a right form of self-esteem?” Of course it is! The opposite of self-love is not self-hate; the opposite of self-love is love for God. “Do not think of yourself,” says Paul, “more highly than you ought, but … think of yourself with sober judgment,”[13] with a due understanding of the way in which God has put you together, the way in which he has wired you. Phillips paraphrases it, “Have a sane estimate of your [own] capabilities.”[14] There is a great difference between that and an approach to life which gets up in the morning and immediately begins to congratulate oneself for how wonderful we really are, and how everybody from the breakfast table on is surely just with bated breath waiting to see us and hear from us again. Those people are dangerous, to themselves and to everyone they come in contact with.

The opposite of self-love is not self-hate; the opposite of self-love is love for God.

Now, as you continue in the list, it expresses itself not only in personal terms, but also in relationship to family life. Notice: from “abusive” it goes to “disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous,” and so on. It’s not nice at all! What is he saying? “In these times, youth loses all respect for age. Youth fails to recognize the debt and duty that it owes to those who gave it life. Youth fails to stand up on the bus for an elderly gentleman, or for a more mature lady. Youth no longer stands when the teacher enters the classroom. Youth no longer removes its hats inside buildings because it’s just too dense to understand the implications of propriety.” And the sort of implacable nature of this rebellious streak in a culture is identified in the words that he uses. “These individuals,” he says, “when these times are bad, are utterly lacking in gratitude, they lack in purity, and they lack in normal human affection.”

Now, you don’t have to go far for this, and I don’t want to take my time cutting away to various newspaper columns. But time has passed, but surely the memory has not dimmed of the boys taking the wee boy away from the pushchair outside the shopping center in Liverpool, and the little character being found mangled at the wheels of an express train. What in the world possesses youngsters to be able to do such a thing? And what do they do when they’ve finished? We just had a situation a few weeks ago in the United States where a group of teenagers were planning to run away to Florida. One of the girls got cold feet and said she was going to go and tell their parents that they were going, and the rest of the cadre took the girl out into the woods, beat her with stones, and finally hanged her from the branch of a tree, and one week later they found a fifteen-year-old girl hanging by her neck from the tree—and the other teenagers then went off to McDonald’s and got a milkshake! You say to yourself, “How could this possibly be?” And you listen to the high-sounding nonsense of “Well, you know, the social services just need to do a little bit more,” or “The educators just need to try a little harder,” or “She came from a bad house, you know; she lived up a close,” or “His granny put him in a box when he was ten,” or all of this kind of stuff!

There’s only one explanation of this: the endemic nature of sin. And there is only one answer for this: the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we identify the condition, then we will declare the answer. When we fudge on the condition, we will have no answer to give. And we will be left, as a church, mumbling and bumbling in our cereal with the rest of them. It is time to stand up and say, “You may not like the answer, but we have an answer. You may not like the diagnosis, but we believe we have a diagnosis.” Let the voice be heard.

And with respect to society in general, of course, I’ve already bled into that. These individuals have neither the power necessary to control their tongues nor their appetites. They’re like brutal savages. You will see that: “treacherous, rash, conceited, no self-control.”[15] They hate good, and they conduct their treachery with a recklessness which fills them with conceit rather than with shame.

“Men of Depraved Minds”

Now, the final sentence in verse 5 makes it clear again that Paul has not been describing something in the remote future for Timothy, because he says, “[they have] a form of godliness,” they “[deny] its power,” so “have nothing to do with them”—“have nothing to do with them.”

Now, Paul is obviously not calling for a total avoidance of sinners. The only way that we can totally avoid sin is to die (apart from a few of you who are perfect—although you’re a dying breed.) Now, these individuals from whom we are to turn away, you will notice, are those who have a religious dimension to them. This is the staggering thing. In my words so far I’ve perhaps suggested that this is a reference to the big bad culture out there, you know. No, here, look at the staggering dimension: these individuals actually have a religious face to them. These are not outright pagans. These are people marked by these characteristics, and if you saw them, they would be involved in some kind of religious framework. They actually have “a form of godliness,” but their very lifestyle denies the professions that they’re prepared to make. Their religion is a shell, and their lives are a sham.

All the way through the Prophets, God is addressing such individuals. I did a series some time ago on Amos, which almost emptied the church. I had sermon titles like “Dark Days and Shaved Heads”; it was a bad series. And if they have it out there on the streets, buy it and put it down a stank. But anyway, in the course of that you cannot evade the staggering judgments of God on his people. For example, in Amos chapter 2:

This is what the Lord says:
“For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.
They sell the righteous for silver,
… the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as upon the dust of the ground
and [they] deny justice to the oppressed.”[16]

Morally, it’s chaos:

“Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name.
They lie down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god
they drink wine taken as fines.”[17]

In other words, they are the forerunners of the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned. He looked at them and he said, “You know, I know you like to make sure that the outside of your cup is so very, very clean. What a tragedy it is that you stole the utensils that you’re so concerned to have clean!”[18] While the mercy of God extends to the penitent sinner always to cleanse, always to restore and to forgive, the most stinging condemnations of Scripture are reserved for the religious con men. They are reserved for those who have an external approach to religion, and yet their lives are like dead men’s bones: if you get underneath them, if you begin to see what they’re really like, then they will reveal in their lifestyle their denial of the things that they proclaim.

If fact, I just checked—’cause I know that I’m in England, and therefore, around my Anglican friends—and I discovered that the Prayer Book has a section which refers to the individual who is—and I quote—“an open and notorious evil liver”—“an open and notorious evil liver.”[19] See, it’s hard in a postmodern culture to know who this would be, since there’s no absolute standard by which we may judge “evil” or who’s “notorious.” They had no difficulty then, when they penned the Prayer Book. They just said, “What does the Bible say? That’s good enough for us.” It really hasn’t changed. And what was supposed to happen to the open and notorious evil liver? Well, he was to be disciplined by the congregation. And if he was to remain impenitent and unrepentant, he was to be excommunicated from the congregation.

And that is exactly what is supposed to happen today in our churches! One of the surveys I would like to ask is, “When is the last time, in this vast congregation, in all of the congregations that are represented, have you been part of any process of church discipline that has identified and dealt with open and notorious livers?” And I would suggest that the answer is that there are very few who have. And it’s not because of an absence of open and notorious livers! It’s because of confusion, and compromise, and weak-kneed leadership.

Any mom and dad know that you have to do this. You sit around the breakfast table with your children, and one of them reveals the fact that they’ve come down this morning as an open and notorious evil liver. Now, you can either tolerate that and let them permeate the whole experience, or you can send them packing. And when you send them packing, it gives the opportunity to the remaining group to say, “Hey, I may be the next going up the stairs. I may be the next one for the pow-wow theory.” That’s the whole principle in Matthew 18—I don’t want to stop on it—the warnings, the interpersonal relationships, the accountability, ensuring that these things do not run rampant. First you get a warning, then you get a yellow card, then you get a red card. And you can read about that in Titus 3:9–10: warning, yellow card, red card. Warn a divisive person once, warn him a second time, and have nothing to do with him. I don’t see how difficult that is. And yet our churches are divided by people who are cantankerous rascals that nobody has the guts to deal with—pardon me, the “intestinal fortitude” to handle.

Okay. Now, what is their strategy? What do they do—verse 6? What do these people do? Well, they’re the kind of individuals who worm their way into homes. The verb is enduno, which means “to creep.” Who creeps? Creeps. Creeps creep. And that’s what these individuals are: they are creeps, and their approach is insidious. And they inveigle their way into homes of particular kinds of women.

There is only one answer for the endemic nature of sin: the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, before we get ourselves involved in great difficulty here, let me try and establish absolute clarity: it is of interest that Paul does not use the standard term for a woman here, gune, but he uses a diminutive form of “women,” gunaikaria, I think to make his point most forcibly that there is no derogation of woman by the suggestion that somehow or another “weak-willed” is an adjective that may be used to describe the feminine sex, but rather that “weak-willed” is an indication of a certain kind of woman who displays both an intellectual incapacity combined with a moral incapacity. Women who are burdened by their own sins, women who are consumed with a sense of guilt, women who have filled their minds with deceitful lies are susceptible to sensational news, they long for a knowledge of the truth, they get snippets here and there, but they never seem to be able to put it all together. And, says Paul, these folks tend to come around the homes of women. It’s interesting how much the approach of the cults has always been, through the days and through the ages, along these lines. Now, of course, they don’t need to come up the garden path; they come via the television screens. And we have just varieties of them, of gargantuan and dreadful proportions, that fill the screens in the States. These people who come to them are rejecting God’s truth in a very subtle and dangerous way. They use the right kind of language; they simply distort its meaning. Their minds are corrupt; the condition of their lives is actually reprobate. They are “depraved,” and in relationship to the faith, tragically, it says, they “are rejected.”

And then, encouragingly, in verse 9 he says, “But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men”—with a backward glance to these magicians in the times of Moses who are identified here as Jannes and Jambres—“as in the case of those men, [eventually the] folly will [become] clear to everyone.” I was noticing this morning—Steve Brady was pointing out to me—a book in a bookstall (not one of these, obviously), but Von Daniken apparently has done another book as a follow-up to the Chariots of the Gods, and just when I thought that that nonsense had been put to bed forever, here it has reappeared. But it will last for a moment or two and go away. All the things that have come against the church over the years eventually become antiques. And they don’t become the kind of antiques that people really want to keep in their homes. Therefore, it is important for us not to immediately rush to deal with all these things.

Do you remember the Hare Krishna boys? With the shaved heads, and the jangling bells, and the long robes, in Blackpool and different places? … They’ve cleaned up their act amazingly now in America. They wear khakis and golf shirts, and they have a new style for the same old drivel. But eventually the khakis and golf shirts will have to go as well, because they have nothing to say that is of substance. So don’t let’s run around tyrannized. That’s what he’s saying to Timothy: “Don’t get your head spun off your shoulders. Make sure that you stay on track. Don’t be concerned about those issues. Don’t scramble to the defense of the faith so much as declare the faith, because their folly will eventually become clear to everyone.”

“Continue in What You Have Learned”

Now, in coming to verse 10 and in moving towards a conclusion, let us understand that we can expect the experience which Paul alerted the elders concerning when he left them in Ephesus, as is recorded in Acts 20—you remember, where he takes his leave of them on the beach, and they weep at the awareness of the fact that he said, “And you will see my face no more.”[20] And then he tells them, “I [want you to] know that after [my departure] … even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”[21] In other words, the concern about this is not simply on the fringes, but may find itself in the very heart of a local fellowship—the rising influence of those whose morality is as bad as their theology, and yet who remain largely influential. What is to be done by the likes of Timothy in these circumstances? Should he become a debater? Should he cease from the proclamation of the gospel? Should he simply become an analyst of the error of his day? No, he says in verse 10—and here’s another one of these “But you…” or “You, however…” phrases: “You, however, in contrast to all of this,” he says, “you know all about this stuff. And in light of the things that you know about, Timothy, I want to urge you to keep going, to continue in the faith. Don’t concentrate on the newest deviations; rather, continue in the basic truths that you have been taught.”[22]

Now, this simply reinforces what we’ve said earlier in the week: that the role of the pastor is not a role, largely, of innovation, but it is of affirmation. And it is surely striking that Paul here says to him, “You, however, know all about this,” so that the guiding and strengthening principles of Timothy’s life are not to be in the discoveries of new information or of new ideas, but largely in being able to do the basics well most of the time. And it is a lesson, I think, for our age—believers scurrying for the latest notions, grabbing for the newest gimmicks in the forlorn hope they have at last found the means to usefulness. It’s merely an extension of our generation’s approach to so much. People have made themselves very rich cashing in on this notion: that there is an easy way to do things, or that there is a mechanism that you can get that will transform you.

Did they ship across the Atlantic Ocean those things called Abdominizers—little plastic seats with two handles on the side, usually royal blue? And they sold them for $29.95 in the States, and they said, “If you buy one of these, you’ll get a flat stomach.” And, of course, people bought them in their thousands. And I can just see them getting them out of the box, and laying them on the carpet, and their wife saying, “Okay, go ahead,” and then the husband sitting in the plastic pail—and waiting. And saying to his wife, “Could you get me a measuring tape? I’m not sure if it’s kicked in yet.” “Oh,” she said, “you’re not so stupid as to think that you can just sit there and get a flat stomach. You’re supposed to go up and down like this.” “Oh, but,” says the man, “that’s sit-ups.” “Yes,” says the wife, “exactly.”

And across the Christian community, people running around looking for plastic pails and various mechanisms to try and know what it is to live in the fullness of God’s Spirit and in the power of God’s Word and in obedience to God’s truth. There is nothing new. It all goes back to your Sunday school, you know: “Read your Bible, pray every day,” if you want to grow. “And you’ll grow, grow, grow, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.”[23] Remember that? And now you’re fifty-eight or eighty-five, and what’s the key? “Read your Bible, pray every day.” You say, “That’s a very simplistic approach to things.” Well, I don’t know if it’s simplistic. It’s certainly simple. No army can march on an empty stomach. Nobody can go very far without a good map, especially in unknown terrain.

“Timothy, you know,” he says, “about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance.” Listen to this list! He’s saying, “Goodness, is this Paul boasting now? Didn’t Paul say that he would never boast, save in the cross of Christ?[24] What is he doing here?” Well, remember, he’s a veteran solider. He’s an old guy in the jail. He’s not trying to impress anyone. He’s simply stating the facts: “Timothy, you were around, you know what happened, you were there.”

And isn’t it interesting that at the very head of the list he says, “You … know all about my teaching.” Teaching, top of the list! Because his life could not be separated from his instruction, and Timothy was absolutely aware of this. He also knew that Paul practiced what he taught. That’s why he’s able to say, “my teaching, my way of life.” What he was in private concurred with what he was in public. And Timothy had been with him, had slept close to him, had seen him in the silence of the night, had seen him in the unguarded moments, had watched his life. Therefore, if anybody could say, “Oh, no, that’s not true,” Timothy could say it. But he must have said to himself, you know, as he read the letter, “That’s right, Paul; I do remember your teaching, and I do remember your way of life.” And so he was willing to respond to the exhortation of Paul to Timothy, “Guard your doctrine and your life closely, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”[25]

All the things that have come against the church over the years eventually become antiques.

Paul—and we don’t have time to track back through Acts 13 and 14, but you’ll find the historical record of his reference to Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra in those two chapters—but when you rehearse that information, you realize that Paul was a classic illustration of the psalmist in Psalm 34:4: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; [and] he delivered me from all my fears.” And paraphrasing the end of verse 12, Phillips says, “Persecution is inevitable for those who are determined to live really Christian lives.”

Can I ask you, do you want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus? Do you begin the day—do I begin the day—saying, “Lord, help me not to sin,” or “Help me not to sin very much”? Can you imagine getting on a 737 in Glasgow, and going to London, and hearing the pilot come on and say, “Now, my strategy this morning is—as we take off over the Clyde and go out over Govan and head south—my strategy in flying the plane, I just want you to know, is not to crash very much.” Wouldn’t have a real reassuring ring to it, would it? But that’s the way some of us approach our lives. Anyone “who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus” does not begin the day saying, “Help me not to sin very much,” but “Help me not to sin.” Oh, I end the day saying, “I didn’t get a hundred percent. I’m not sure I even got seventy.” But at least it doesn’t stop me from beginning the day with a good challenge. The “godly”-ness here is a word that could equally be translated “piety” or “piously”: “Everyone who wants to live a pious life…”

“Oh, a pious life!” When’s the last time you heard the word piety used with any kind of positive connotation? It’s used of dour and dreich, and people who are apparently of such heavenly-mindedness that they’re of no earthly use. Have you met many of these people lately? Honestly! Have you met many people that are of such heavenly-mindedness that they’re of no earthly use? I have not. But I have met many of the reverse. And I meet one regularly in my shaving mirror as I begin the day, who is of such earthly-mindedness that he has the potential of being no heavenly use at all!

Why is it that we live with such lack of persecution? It is in part because we’re really indistinct. We are, as Tozer said, “the best disguised set of pilgrims the world has ever seen.”[26] We have bent over backwards, now, after the 1950s, now in the ’90’s: in the ’50s we said, “We’re not like you”; in the ’90s we say, “We’re just like you.” And the people said, “Yeah, we know we’re just like you, so why in the world would we ever listen to anything you have to say?” When is the church at its most distinctive? When it is most distinctive. When by its belief and by its behavior it calls in contrast the world in which it lives.

These “evil men,” he says—these “impostors”—they “will go from bad to worse.” It’s a very sarcastic statement here by Paul; he says they’re actually progressing in their momentum, but they’re going in the wrong direction. The only advance that they make is backwards. Their whole operation is set in reverse. They’re killed by their own swords: delusion is their weapon, and by delusion they will be slain.[27]

Now, again: “But as for you…” “But as for you…” Contrasting the wisdom of Timothy with the foolishness of the crowds, calling out his young lieutenant: “Come on now, Timothy. Now, continue in what you’ve learned, what you’ve become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, that are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”[28] In other words, he reaches into Timothy’s background, and he pulls it all up for him, as it were; he sets it up before him on the screen, and he says, “Now, Timothy, think about this: think about what it is you’re convinced of, think about where you learned that, and think about the strength that it gives you to recall your teachers. The people around you are interested in newfangled notions. They are unprepared for old-fashioned truths.” Because we bring an unchanging Word to bear imaginatively on a very changing world. But the basis of Timothy’s continuance is first that he would be strengthened by the reminder of those who taught him, and then that he would be equipped by the very Scripture that they proclaimed.

There’s a lot of lovely things have happened to me through this week, but one of the nicest of all was a lady came to me and introduced herself, and she told me that she was my Sunday school teacher in the tent hall in Glasgow, in a tiny little room off to the right under the platform that I remember only as being sort of oppressively warm, and with tiny little children’s collapsible chairs, on which sat a visiting man one day, to his own destruction. (I have a vivid recollection of him going down like a ton of bricks, and me dashing immediately to his aid, and… No…) But I didn’t know this lady’s name, and I didn’t know her colleague’s name until this week. Why did I want to know their names? Because it was after that Sunday school, some Sunday in Glasgow, that I went home on a Sunday afternoon troubled—troubled by what I had heard, troubled by whatever they had said. And I asked my dad, “How old do you have to be to have Jesus as your Savior?” And my father, in his wisdom, picking up on the work done by these up-until-this-week-unnamed ladies, led me to faith in Jesus Christ. And it was a genuine thrill to look her in the eyes—and she hadn’t a clue in the world that I was anything other than a cantankerous pain in the neck. Why does that have a kind of contemporary ring to it? I hear my wife’s voice somehow, from somewhere…

But we can all do this, can’t we? Those who have nurtured us in the faith—parents, loved ones, teachers, lecturers, friends—we bring them to our mind’s eye, and their continuance is a means of our encouragement. People ask me, “Tell me how you prepare for your messages.” I always say the same thing: “Well, I come to the Bible, and I think myself empty, and I read myself full, and I write myself clear, and I pray myself hot.” “Oh,” they say, “that’s good! Did you think that up?” No! That was Leith Samuel at a preaching day at London Bible College. I didn’t just write it down; I remembered it. I didn’t just remember it; I do it. And I bless God for that, and the likes of that. And so do you.

Sometime today, take a little walk by yourself, and do this exercise: rehearse in your mind’s eye as you walk those from whom you have learned the Scriptures, and bless God for their memory, and thank God for their continued influence in your life. And I’ll tell you, it’ll lift you a wee bit above the clouds and the rain.

It was from infancy that he had known these things about salvation. (Our time has gone.) “You’ve known this,” he says, “from infancy. You’ve known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”[29] The Bible is a book about Jesus, and the Bible is therefore a book about salvation. The whole Bible is about God’s revelation to us and how we who are unworthy might become children of his grace. In the Old Testament Jesus is predicted, in the Gospels Jesus is revealed, in the Acts Jesus is preached, in the Epistles Jesus is explained, and in the Revelation Jesus is anticipated.[30] (“Oh,” you say, “you got that from somebody, didn’t you?” Yes, I did: Alec Motyer. It’s very good. Write it down.)

It is the Word of God that makes men and women of God.

“You know the Bible from infancy, and it has brought you to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” We know where it came from: its source is God. It is all “God-breathed”—not that the Scripture was in existence and God breathed into it, but rather that Scripture was brought into existence by the breath of God. We know where it’s from, and we know what it’s for—verse 17: “so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” And how will that happen? As Timothy, as a faithful pastor, teaches, and rebukes, and corrects, and trains in righteousness.[31] What a wonderful reminder to us of the sufficiency of the Bible!

How are men and women, then, to be nurtured in our day? How are we to ensure that they will be kitted out for the challenges of the next century? Well, as a result of the Word of God being brought to bear upon their lives. Sadly, some are out to sea, rudderless and ill-equipped for the voyage, and it is our responsibility to equip them with a conviction in relationship to Scripture, a life-transforming grasp of the Bible. It is the Word of God that makes men and women of God. And despite the fact that there is much that militates against it in our day, it is surely here that we must take our stand.

Jim Packer: “If I were the devil, one of my first aims would be to stop folk from digging [in] the Bible.”[32] Bunyan: “Sin will keep you from this book, or this book will keep you from sin.”[33] Vance Havner: “The Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”[34]


[1] 2 Timothy 2:9 (NIV 1984).

[2] Philippians 2:20 (paraphrased).

[3] Isaac Watts, “Am I a Solder of the Cross” (1724)

[4] Joe South, “Rose Garden” (1967).

[5] Hebrews 1:1–2 (paraphrased).

[6] Acts 2:15–17 (paraphrased).

[7] See 2 Thessalonians 2:1–11.

[8] John Napier, A Plaine Discovery of the Whole Revelation of St. John (London: John Norton, 1594).

[9] Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1957), 156–57.

[10] 2 Timothy 3:2 (paraphrased).

[11] John R. W. Stott, The Message of 2 Timothy: Guard the Gospel (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 84–86.

[12] Mac Davis, “It’s Hard to Be Humble” (1980).

[13] Romans 12:3 (NIV 1984).

[14] Romans 12:3 (Phillips).

[15] 2 Timothy 3:3–4 (paraphrased).

[16] Amos 2:6–7 (NIV 1984).

[17] Amos 2:7–8 (NIV 1984).

[18] Matthew 23:25–26 (paraphrased).

[19] “The Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion,” in The Book of Common Prayer 1559, ed. John E. Booty (Charlottesville, VA: The University Press of Virginia, 1976), 247.

[20] Acts 20:25 (paraphrased).

[21] Acts 20:29–31 (NIV 1984).

[22] 2 Timothy 3:10–14 (paraphrased).

[23] Traditional children’s song.

[24] Galatians 6:14 (paraphrased).

[25] 1 Timothy 4:16 (paraphrased).

[26] Source unknown.

[27] 2 Timothy 3:13 (paraphrased).

[28] 2 Timothy 3:14–15 (paraphrased).

[29] 2 Timothy 3:15 (paraphrased).

[30] J. Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), 22. Paraphrased.

[31] 2 Timothy 3:16 (paraphrased).

[32] J. I. Packer, foreword to Knowing Scripture, by R. C. Sproul (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 9.

[33] Attributed in, for example, H. A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1952), 123, and Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (1958; repr. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1979), 38.

[34] Vance Havner, The Vance Havner Quotebook: Sparkling Gems from the Most Quoted Preacher in America, ed. Dennis J. Hester (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1986), 17. Paraphrased.

Thankfulness: A Mark of Grace
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