2 Timothy 3:13&15 “But as for you, 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.”
The most blessed and strengthening reality about God is his love for every Christian and in the verses before us we see some evidence for this.
- CHRISTIANS FROM THE BEGINNING EXPERIENCE THE LOVE OF GOD.
Let me spread beyond our text for a moment.
i] Christians see the love of God in creation, in the extraordinary glory of outer space, the moon, the stars, the sunrise and sunset, the rainbow, the winds, the snow, the cloud formations. That is all utterly breathtaking. And then in the earth itself, the mountain ranges, deserts and icescapes and the seas, in the animal kingdom, the bewildering diversity of that world, the birds and their songs, birds who lay eggs and can swim and catch fish, the creatures of the deep, dolphins in the bay, the leaping salmon, the insect world, the butterflies and bees, and the world of plants and vegetation, the woods and forest glades, and then there is the micro-world of the atom. Can you imagine what the glorious and omnipotent Creator must be like to have made such diversity by thinking it all into being, who planned the inter-relationships of all of this, and that he did it in love, so that through our lifetime he determined we would be surrounded by such glory? God loves us so much that he has created that breathtaking cosmos that surrounds us. How great is his love to us! Think of a mother suspicious of a man’s love for her daughter. Who is good enough for her daughter? Then her husband tells her of the house her future son-in-law is building for her, the walk-in wardrobes, the kitchen with its equipment and views, the lush living room, the stables and swimming pool and gardens. God is love has prepared a magnificent world for us. Have you considered this? The psalmist tells us that he considers the heavens, the work of God’s hands, the moon and the stars which he has ordained.
ii] Christians also see the love of God in redemption, that the Lord who created and sustained all things is not silent, but he has spoken by his servants the prophets. He has given a great message in the self-revelation of his character – infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth – that God is Father and he is Son and he is Holy Spirit, three persons but one God. In love he has told us about himself, his plans for this world, his determination to send his own Son to become our Redeemer, that Jesus would be the man who would fulfil all the righteous demands God rightly makes of us by Jesus’ life and Jesus’ behaviour as our federal head, and he also pays the penalty that we deserve to pay to the past penny – he pays it all by himself in his death on Golgotha when he dies as our substitute. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. He spared him not that believing sinners like you and me might be spared. It was his love that made him do it.
iii] Christians also see the love of God in providence, but that is what Paul homes in on (in our text). You see what the apostle is saying here, that when God begins to show his love to favoured men and women he generally does so by bringing Christians into their lives. “Timothy, that is what happened to you.” And it happened to me and to you too. God brings Keith Underhill to Aberystwyth University as a nominal Wesleyan churchgoer and he puts him in a room in Pantycelyn with a student called Brian Williams from Cardiff who knows and loves God personally, and through Brian’s life and words Keith comes to know God for himself. “Are you a Christian?” he asked Keith. “Yes” said Keith, “Then we will read the Bible together every day.”
The parents of many of you children came to know the Lord through Christians who spoke to them about the Lord Jesus Christ, and now they (who are your parents) speak in turn to you about him. In your family our heavenly Father is given thanks before meals. You read the Bible together. They bring you to church. You can’t say, “I was lucky that I had parents who were Christians.” It wasn’t simply a lottery that your Mam and Dad came to know God and told you about him. God before the beginning of time chose to give you to parents who were disciples of Jesus Christ, and he told them to bring you up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. Many times you’ve heard what they have to say about Jesus Christ, that he is their Saviour, and that you need him as your Saviour too, because you are just like Mum and Dad, and just like me, we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God and we need forgiveness, and we need new hearts. They have told you what I tell you, that you need to ask God to become your Father and Saviour and Teacher and Lord and give you life from heaven!
This is what happened to Timothy. Paul has reminded him in the fifth verse of this letter that faith in Jesus Christ first lived in his grandmother whose name was Lois, and then that faith came to live in his mother Eunice. Timothy learned the truth from people who loved him more than anyone else in the world, who sacrificed for him and served him. How did this world come about? Was it just a big bang? Then who lit the fuse? And if it were simply a big bang in nothingness how is it that there is beauty and harmony and order and design and rationality everywhere, constantly? It doesn’t look like the fruit of a big bang to me. When I hear a big bang then I look at what has caused the noise and I can see that no one will drive either of those cars again. Timothy learned from his grandmother that it wasn’t a big bang that designed and formed all things, but in the beginning God made the heavens and the earth. He spoke and the cosmos came into being. Or again, why do men and women behave as they do? How is it possible for two girls . . . around 13 years of age . . . (do you remember the baptism of a 13 year old a couple of months ago?) I say we have read of a 13 year old murdering slowly a defenseless woman and laughing about it and take selfies doing it? All the country has been told about it this week. How could children behave like that? The Bible tells us our hearts have the seeds of all that is nasty, that the seeds of violence, and hatred, and anger, and cruelty are like acorns in our hearts and if we had not been raised by Christian mothers and fathers then we could behaving just like those two girls. You know how Mummy has taught you how to live because our Creator has told us in the Book. You and your brothers and sisters are to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ and ‘Sorry’ because we don’t instinctively say those things. We are selfish people and fallen people and rebels who don’t want God to rule over us. Our sinful natures are the reason we need to be born again, to be made new creations, to have the life of heaven in our hearts.
God in providence brings Christian people into our lives. That is what Timothy learned from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Then God brought other people into his life. He brought a Christian called Mark into Timothy’s life. Mark wrote the second book in the New Testament, the gospel of Mark. He saw Jesus alive and dead and risen from the dead, and he knew Timothy and he spoke to Timothy and travelled with Timothy. We know this because in the next chapter in verse 11 Paul tells Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you” (2 Tim. 4:11). It was like that with you. You came to church and met the parents of your friends in the congregation. In fact, you might know them so well that you call them ‘Uncle’ and ‘Auntie’ and sometimes they are your teachers in Sunday School and also on Friday nights, and they believe what Mum and Dad believe and they teach you about God’s creation and our fall and Jesus’ redemption. They are nice people aren’t they? Sweet people. God brought them into you life to say to you, “I want you to grow up and become Christian men and women like that.” And then I have spoken to you each Sunday morning, and I also preach to you and to everyone, and though you don’t understand all that I say you do experience something of the power of God in our meetings, and realize that the message of Holy Scripture is very important to many of the adults here. They listen intently and sometimes speak about it when they get home, talking over dinner about the sermon and praying about it that they will remember the lessons they learned from the Bible today.
None of this happens to us because we’ve been lucky kids, but because God has set his love on us by bringing Christian people into our lives and they’ve given us love and wisdom. We could be bored children on a Sunday morning, like many, many of our friends who don’t come to church. The devil says to you that they are happy. They are not – not at this very moment. They are not happy; they are grumbling to their parents that they ‘don’t have anything to do,’ and nowhere to go, and that it’s raining and cold and there was nothing on TV and they have homework to do, sums and French vocabulary to learn and they are fed up, and when will dinner be ready. Many of your friends are fed up – now! They are not in church but they are very unhappy boys and girls and ultimately the reason is that they don’t know who made them, or who made the world, and why Daddy can be mean to Mummy and to them, or why that boy took advantage of them and abused them and is pressurizing them to take photos of themselves and send them to him, and then he dropped them, and why they have no friends, and nobody is nice to them, and they think it would be a good idea to get drunk, and what is the point of life, and why they are so bored with everything.
But you and I here today don’t feel like that. God has set his love on us and brought us here and we have been introduced to lots of real Christian people. We have heard the stories of Jesus, ‘scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea,’ and we are blessed children because God loves us and brings us to church every Sunday and he meets with us. So Christian children want to hear more and more about the most interesting man the world has ever seen. They might sing what William Parker taught the children in Nottingham to sing 130 years ago, “Tell me the stories of Jesus, I love to hear.”
Show me that scene in the garden, of bitter pain;
Show me the cross where my Savior for me was slain;
Sad ones or bright ones, so that they be
Stories of Jesus—tell them to me.
And that is what Lois and Eunice did from the time Timothy could understand words and started to say ‘Amen!’ at the end of grace. And that is what Mark did. And that is what Paul did – they all told Timothy about the Lord Christ, and because Timothy had been grounded in the teaching and life and death of Jesus Christ the church in Ephesus (where Timothy was the pastor) didn’t lose the gospel and didn’t lose its way. They were not taken in by heretics like Hymenaeus and Philetus who wandered away from the truth (2 Tim. 2:17). I am reminding you that what happened in the life of Timothy has happened in the lives of so many of you, that God brought Christians into your life who were super people, and loving and patient people, and kind and good, and that has happened to you for this reason, that God loved you personally and deeply with a love that won’t let you go, and when you get cold and start to grumble God warms your heart and makes you thankful again for what Jesus is and what he has done. So whenever Timothy went to church or met with his mother or grandmother he would pray that he would learn more about the love of God and feel the love of God, and know more about himself and more about how he’d come to know God for himself. Then one day we might become the people that God will bring into the lives of people who don’t know him and we might become the Christians who help them to trust in the Saviour. So that is the first lesson that we learn about the love of God from the Bible that he brings Christians into our lives and that is a distinguishing mark of his love for us. And then what does Paul tells us – through Timothy – what to do next?
- CHRISTIANS CONTINUALLY ARE TO LEARN HOLY SCRIPTURE.
So once again you come to this theme in the letter, ‘Endure!’ ‘Go on!’ ‘Don’t stop!’ See it here; “Continue in what you’ve learned” (v.14). Hymenaeus and Philetus turned away from what they had learned! They “wandered away from the truth” (2:18). How many people are there just like that? One of the elders wrote to me recently about some students who once worshipped with us. We were never sure about their profession. He had just learned from some of their family that they have stopped attending a place of worship; they are no longer continuing in what they learned. We have heard it, so sadly, in their mockery of themselves, of what they used to be and how they’re portraying us: “We thought we knew all the answers then. We thought we could sort everyone else out, that they were wrong and only we were right . . .” They say things like that. None of that was or is true. In fact we were amazed that God had shown his love to us, and that God put up with our poor Christian living, and he went on forgiving us for the same old sins, and how we struggled to pray and hung back from drinking the cup that God had filled for us and given us to drink. But we went on looking unto Jesus; we continued with our little prayers; we continued keeping Sunday special for him; we continued meeting with Christians; we continued hearing and believing the Word of God; we continued trusting him because there was no one else who lived like Jesus, so lovable so trustworthy; there was no one else who died like Jesus taking away the sin of the world as the Lamb of God; there was no one else who rose from the dead like Jesus; there is no one else we could worship except Jesus, and we are not going to begin to worship ourselves, and pride ourselves that without Christ and without the holy Scriptures we know what life is all about and who God is. No! We are not going down that road of ego. We are continuing in what we have learned from infancy from the Bible. We have read the teaching of Hinduism and reincarnation, and the teaching of Islam and its legalism, the teaching of Buddhism that sends us in and in and in and in to our weak and wretched hearts, and the claims of the cults and the traditions of Rome, but nothing compares in clarity and help to the Bible and its witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Wonderful words of life!
The Bible began to help us when we were infants. Our parents and our food and our loving family all came to us from God. The Bible introduced us to the real world of eternity, to the supernatural Jesus, to what was right and wrong. We could thank God for the ten Commandments. The holy Scriptures helped us when we went away to university, when I lived far from home overseas for three years. The holy Scriptures helped us when we chose a partner to marry and to live with for the rest of our lives, and when we had children what we were to teach them, and how we were to live before them, and how we were to encourage them. The holy Scriptures helped us when illness entered our family. We found we could do the things we had to do in those years without murmuring and complaining. The Bible helped us discover that obedience was sweet. We were not going to give up following Christ! We were not going to deny Jesus! We were not going to betray him for what the majority said. We were satisfied with Jesus. We’ve lived for him, and we have lived with him, and we have known his blessing. We have no reason to stop that now. We have gained so much that we’ll never lose, and, anyway, what we’ve given up we couldn’t keep.
We will continue in what we’ve learned, and also what we have been convinced of. You see that Paul says this? In other words, faith has turned into assurance. That is what often happens in the New Testament. Faith is being sure of what you can’t see. For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed to him against that day. Well, what convictions do you have? You have thought about origins, and the purpose of life, and how you should live, and who the Lord Jesus is, and what lies after death, and what you must do to be saved? These are the greatest questions facing you, and is it being ‘really cool’ never to think about them? And brush them from your mind year after year? What are your convictions? Have you no non-negotiables, issues that are too important of you to dodge? Like Jesus Christ – who is he? Whose Son is he? What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? That sort of “gain” sounds like a bad bargain to me, that you have gained lots of ‘stuff’ but you have lost your own soul and life! Paul says to Timothy; “You knew your grandmother. You knew your mother. You knew Christian men like Mark and Paul. Did they seem to you rather weak and unbalanced and fanatical people? Are you actually sorry for them, those pathetic men and women, who believe in God? Or do you judge that they were the best people you ever knew, and are so grateful that you were in the family of Lois and Eunice and that they loved you so much. Your debt to them is enormous; you feel unworthy of their love, and yet you know that what mattered to them most of all was Jesus Christ. Don’t ignore all you were taught and once were really convinced of. Think of their lives, how they lived, day by day, year by year, modest, thoughtful, caring, loving lives. Their lives were living messages that grace is powerful, that Christ is the greatest reality of all, that death does not mean annihilation and nothingness, that there lies before us a new heaven and a new earth, that this life with its heartaches and disappointments is not all there is. Continue to believe in the one who said, “I am going to prepare a place for you and I’ll take you to myself that where I am there you will be also.” Go on! Keep right on to the end of the road; keep right on to the end. Don’t give up.” Then you see he tells us why we should do this. But you’ll see that it is not just because of the positive powerful testimony of those Christians you have known. There is another crucial reason we must learn the Scriptures.
- BY THE BIBLE CHRISTIANS ARE CONTINUALLY TO GROW IN WISDOM.
“The holy Scriptures . . . are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (v.15). People might ask you why you go to church, and you can tell them this, “to become wise.” People might ask you why you believe in Jesus and you can say this, “to get wisdom.” Because in Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I have him as my own personal tutor and he explains to me all the big questions as to what life is all about, and where the world came from, and who God is and why things have gone wrong, and what man is, and what lies after death and what must I do to be saved. He continually helps me, not just when I am in a jam but by reminding me of what I am to live for. “This is the way. You walk in it.” That is what he is saying. He tunes my conscience.
How does he do it? He does it by the Bible, as it is preached to me by someone he has called and gifted and given authority to speak to the church, then he is there, in the word, and in the ordinances, the baptism and in the Lord’s Supper and in the midst of the fellowship and in all the sweet conversations we have as we unconsciously share things that ultimately we’ve received from Scripture. I was speaking to a person last week and she has become a Christian in middle age after marrying and divorcing two bad men. It was a tale of woe. She had had horrible experiences, and then she said to me, “But I love Jesus.” And I want to say that too. I want to say it with the uncontrived innocence with which she said it. But knowledge of my own heart makes me say more easily, “Lord it is my chief complaint that my love is weak and faint.” And that is true, but I do believe that I love him, that the thought of losing him would be a black nightmare. The reason I do love him is because he first loved me. He is the one who has saved me from being a fool. He has made me wiser than the sum total of all I’ve read, and all I’ve observed, and all I’ve been taught and seen in the lives of others. You can add all of that together; you can make a huge heap of it – and I thank God for much of it – but without Jesus, and having just that heap I’d still be a fool. I wouldn’t have his resurrection and his living presence and without the Sermon on the Mount and so I wouldn’t be wise. This is a special kind of wisdom. He says it in three ways – do you see?
i] Wise for salvation. What a great word! Every conference I attend we have a welcome at the first meeting usually in the dining room from the conference manager, and he explains the rules of the centre. Last week in Devon the man said to the families, “Now we are not planning to test the fire alarms this week so if you hear the alarm ringing, children, what do you do?” Get out of the building,” a boy shouted. “Yes, good, please vacate the building and gather outside immediately.” Do you want to be choked by inhaling smoke? Do you want to be burned alive? Do you want to lose all you have brought with you? No. So when you hear the fire alarm you’d be wise to act appropriately. You put on a dressing gown or a sweater and shoes and you leave your room and get out – just as the manager has told you. Some of us remember the hall of residence in Victoria Terrace a decade or so ago burning fiercely and students losing all they had, but because they did what the warning notices told them and got out of that destroyed building their lives were saved. There is a wisdom which acts upon the Saviour’s words of warning and invitation and it results in your salvation. “Wise for salvation” (v.15).
Glyn, Fflur and the children were on the beach near Harlech when a man came running out of the sea shouting, “We need strong swimmers.” His two boys around twelve had fallen into the sea from a kayak and neither could swim. No one on the beach stirred. Many could swim but were fearful of acknowledging that they were ‘strong’ swimmers and that was what was needed. So Glyn prayed instinctively for a second, asked God for wisdom, and ran into the water and swam out to those boys. One was clinging to the drifting kayak while the other he pulled to a rock on which was seated a boy with Downs. The boy he was towing out of the water was too weak to climb out of the sea so he said to the Downs lad, “Can you hold his hand?” “Yes,” the boy said, and so Glyn left them there and swam back to pull the other boy back to the beach, which he did – he was pretty shattered – and as his feet touched the bottom the helicopter ambulance arrived. That was the end of an archetypal family afternoon on the beach, paddling and making sand castles. The family packed up and walked to the car. On their way they met the Downs boy with his father. Glyn said, “That’s a fine son you have there. He saved my life.” The father wept. Glyn was given a compassionate heart and a strong body and acted wisely and he saved two boys. There is wisdom, and all who are made in God’s image possess it, but there is also wisdom which leads to salvation.
Without Christ we are not wise. The risen Jesus met up with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were crushed with depression, and Jesus talked very soberly to them. He said to them, “Oh fools and slow of heart not to believe what the Bible says.” They were not wise men. Hadn’t Jesus told them that he would rise again on the third day? Didn’t they know the Scriptures with the words of Job, “I know that my Redeemer liveth and will stand in the latter day upon the earth?” Didn’t both the prophets Elijah and Elisha raise boys from the dead? Is it an unthinkable thing to you that God can raise the dead? Cleopas and his friend dragging their feet and looking so glum, walking in despair back home to Emmaus were foolish not to believe what Jesus had often told them, and not to believe that Christ who raised Lazarus was mightier than death. There is a wisdom that saves us from the despair that life has no meaning.
There is a wisdom that saves us from the guilt of sin. We are sinners; all the world is guilty before God. The very angels themselves hide their eyes and cannot proudly scrutinize and gaze at God, sizing him up. They cover their faces before the uncreated beam. They’ve never sinned but they never cease being overwhelmed in his presence. How can we come before him? How can we pray to him and expect him to hear us? How can we ask him to bless us when we ignore him? How can we sing to him? How can we see him or go to him? We need a Saviour. This Saviour is Jesus Christ. He is our mediator and our advocate with God. Because of his life and death he has reconciled this holy God to sinners like ourselves because the one God sent died for our sin. Be wise! Look to Jesus Christ! Look away from yourself to him. Jesus ready stands to save you full of mercy, love and power. Cry to him to deliver you from the guilt and dominion and penalty of sin. Be wise unto salvation!
ii] Through faith. This salvation is not because of our faith. We are saved only because of Jesus Christ; faith does not save; we are saved through what our faith receives, through entrusting ourselves to the one we believe in. What saves is not believing itself, but the gift of God that faith accepts. Then and only then does his salvation becomes ours. Glyn Ellis got alongside that struggling scared boy who had fallen out of the kayak and he told him to stop fighting and trust in him, in his power to prevent the boy from drowning. “Don’t resist me and then I will save your life.” And Glyn took him to the rock and to the boy who said he’d hold on to him until the boy was strong enough to pull himself out of the sea. If he fought against Glyn they’d both be in trouble as well as the brother clinging to the kayak. He had to stop fighting and struggling and trust in Glyn’s competency. We have to do the same. Maybe there is one special action that you are a little proud of, thankful that you did it; your care for your spouse, raising your children, your faithfulness in duties done, never once getting into debt, and so on. You want to present that fine achievement to God. Well, let me say that it is great what you’ve done, but it’s not great enough, so God judges. If things like that had been great enough then why the incarnation, the birth in Bethlehem, our God contracted to a span, the suffering and bloody sweat? If the best things we’ve done save us then why did the Lord of glory come? You have to run from presenting all of that to God, and rather present to God on your behalf his Son Jesus Christ – you are silent before God and you simply point to him. By entrusting yourself to him you become joined to him and God will always accept his Son; God smiles and smiles at his Son. – “Come here dear beloved Son. Ask of me and I will give you anything.” God accepts Jesus and everyone joined to him, and they are an incalculable number. Faith joins us to Jesus Christ and it is that sort of faith that saves, not any kind of belief that you hear people talking about when they say, “I have strong faith.” You feel often you have faith as small as a mustard seed, but it is faith lodged in mighty Christ, and through Christ you are safe. That is what the last three words of our text say . . .
iii] In Christ Jesus. Those three simple words express the greatest of all privileges. Some say that the greatest blessing of being a Christian is being declared righteous in Christ – justification. Others disagree, that it is the glorious privilege of being adopted into the family of God, an heir of God, a joint heir with Christ, an inheritance reserved in heaven for us. What a blessing, that I can look into the face of the God before whom the angels cover their faces and I can say, “Abba, Father.” But there is an even greater blessing than that and it is that every Christian is united to Jesus Christ the Son of God unbreakably and eternally, like a branch is joined to a tree so that the life of the tree can flow into it constantly. So Christ is in me and I am in Christ, not for the years of time alone but for eternity. There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. What a reason to go on following Christ, never stopping for a moment, always with him in you, under you, alongside you, before you, above you. You can do all things God asks of you because of that. You can climb any mountain because of that reality. You can cope. You can say, “I shall survive . . . I shall survive.” More than that! You can say, “I shall be more than conqueror because I am in Christ Jesus.” This is the great seal of God’s love for you. Imagine the richest and most powerful and best man in the world and he gave you his only begotten daughter to be your bride, or his only begotten son to be your bridegroom and everything the powerful, loving man possesses he gives to you with his child. Imagine such a union – you, weak and not too clever, and his child, wonderfully beautiful, and you are joined together for the rest of your lives. That is the Christian. Saved and safe through faith in Christ Jesus. Surrounded by Christian people, given God’s book to help you. You trust in him now, and you grow in the faith of the Bible now and for ever. Cry mightily to God that he will saved you. Give him no rest until you know you are in Christ Jesus our Lord.
17th April 2016 GEOFF THOMAS