On the 20th October this year I again preached at my home church, Becontree Avenue Baptist Church, on the subject of preaching the word even when people don’t want to hear what you have to say, even if they need to hear it.
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Several years ago we were on holiday in Cornwall and we went to the local church which is very lively and attracts people from near and far to attend and become members. Sadly the preacher was the then local Methodist minister. After we had the Bible reading the minister got up to speak and the first words that came out of his mouth were “Everybody has their own ideas about Jesus and everybody is right” Maybe he didn’t realise the implications of what he had said, but it certainly didn’t line up with the Bible.
So according to this minister if you thought Jesus was just a prophet you were right. If you think Jesus was just a man you were right. If you hold another religion’s view on Jesus, you are right. Whatever you thought about Jesus you were right.
The Bible tells us exactly who Jesus is – the Son of God. To make him anything less than that is so wrong.
Recently I heard a local church minister telling a grieving family at their loved one’s funeral that the deceased is now an angel! Again, the Bible makes it clear that humans are humans and angels are angels. We do not magically become angels when we die. If we did I am 100% sure the Bible would tell us.
This same minster talks about “the circle of life” almost implying re incarnation. Well the Bible says in Hebrews 9:27 “Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.”
I am not sure if he thinks he is giving people comfort by telling what they want to hear, or he just doesn’t know the Bible. Or maybe he doesn’t believe that the Bible is God’s word as it has some difficult things to take onboard.
Our Bible reading talks about teachers who will give people what their itching ears want to hear. At a funeral many people want to hear that their loved one is safely in heaven, regardless of the fact the person was not a Christian and had never expressed any interest in God or Jesus.
Indeed, many will ask for a secular or non-religious service for their loved one and then read poems about God calling the person home to heaven.
None of us know what has gone on between someone and God in their last moments. After all we have that wonderful conversation between Jesus and a criminal as they are dying on crosses. Luke 23:42 & 43 “ Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
But we really can’t assume that everyone gets to heaven; and it would be wrong of us to give people that false assurance. We can hope that someone has had a last minute conversion, but we can’t be definite about it, as we simply do not know.
Many years ago, when we were in the Church of England, we had Ken, a retired gentleman, come to our Home group. He told us that his father in law had just died and his grandson was asking questions about where great grandad was now. Ken told the young lad that great grandad could be that blackbird sitting in the tree. Ken was surprised when we asked him where he found that in the Bible. Yes, he had a Bible. His mum had given him one as he went off to war in 1939. But he really had never sat down and read it. So, when faced by one of life’s difficult questions he came up with the first answer he could think of.
So what does our Bible reading have to say about all this?
Paul wrote this letter to a young church leader, Timothy who had the advantage of growing up in the faith. We know from earlier in this letter that his mother and grandmother were believers: 2 Timothy 1:5 “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”
Many people come to faith not having the benefit of growing up in a Christian home and not being aware of the Bible from an early age. Some may be the only believer in the family for many years, if not, ever.
Often when I visit people, I am told that mum or dad had a Bible but it was never opened. It was there almost like a talisman or good luck charm.
Some years ago, one of my brothers, who is a permanent deacon in the Catholic church, told me that an elderly lady in his church asked for help. There was, during Lent, an inter church house group and people were reading from the Bible. She didn’t know how to find her way round the Bible. Yes, she did have one, but years ago the Parish priest had told her she should have a Bible, but there was no need to read it as the priest would tell her what she needed to know!
I hope that you check out what I am telling you, to make sure that I do not go off message. There is a good precedent for this. In Acts 17:10 – 12 “As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”
Can you imagine going up to the Apostle Paul and telling him he’s got it wrong! The people from Berea were prepared to do that rather than simply believing everything he said. We also should be prepared to do that.
We should remember not to cherry pick from the Bible as Paul tells us: 2 Timothy 3: 16 – 17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
I have had people say to me that the Bible doesn’t make sense and is confusing and contradictory. And yes, some parts are difficult to understand, but we should persevere and indeed ask God through the Holy Spirit to help us understand what we are reading.
I think it is useful to clarify that in saying “All scripture is God breathed” Paul is referring to what we know as the Bible not the books of other religions. We also have to be careful as some cults, particularly those that come knocking door to door, have edited and mistranslated the Bible to justify their own beliefs. A bit like taking a knife to the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to get them to fit how you think they should.
The famous missionary and great man of God, Hudson Taylor once said: There are three great truths,
First: That there is a God;
Second, That He has spoken to us in the Bible;
Third, That He means what He says.
So if we agree with Hudson Taylor we should take the Bible seriously and certainly not misquote it or take verses out of context.
Let’s look at Ephesians 4:28. In it we read: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal” That’s good news if you are a thief, you can continue to do so.
What it actually says is: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
You see the danger of misquoting the Bible.
Paul commands Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”
We have to bring the Word of God to people whenever its needed rather than whenever we feel like it. And we have to correct those who have got it wrong or have misunderstood, rebuke those that needed to be told off for their sinful behaviour and then encourage people who need to be encouraged and spurred on in their faith.
Paul goes on to say in 2 Timothy 4:3 & 4 “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
You can see this to be true in some churches where no longer to do they promote Godly relationships but take the view that “anything goes”, or indeed you have some Christians saying “as Jesus didn’t say anything about this, it must be ok.” May be Jesus didn’t make a pronouncement about a particular sin because the Jews at the time were fully aware from the Bible that it was a sin, no matter how popular it may have been in other cultures.
Or we have churches which are happy to allow other faiths to worship and pray in their buildings, buildings that are dedicated to the one true God. They allow readings from these faiths’ texts even if the passage read out denies the truth of Jesus and who he is.
What about the cathedral that during the summer installed a helter skelter in the middle of the building? Another church had a crazy golf course.
You may recall from the gospels that Jesus was appalled at what he found going on in the Temple. We read in Matthew 21;13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’
Sadly, people inside the church and outside want to have an easy gospel, something that makes them feel good and doesn’t compel them to change. A “no repentance needed” gospel. A “business as usual” gospel. And of course, they will be preachers and teachers who will happily go along with this, never mind that they should be correcting, rebuking and encouraging.
Another quote from Hudson Taylor “Carrying the cross does mean following in Jesus’ footsteps. And in His footsteps are rejection, brokenheartedness, persecution and death. There are not two Christs – an easy going one for easy going Christians, and a suffering one for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are we willing to follow His lead?”
In the final verse in our passage Paul gives a simple instruction: 5 “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”.
So, although not all of us are called to be evangelists or preachers we all have our part to play in advancing the Kingdom of God. In our conversations with people we must not give them what their itching ears want to hear but should try to give them what they need to hear which is the Word of God.