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Sunday, September 12, 2010

School on Sunday? (2 Timothy 3)

Some service music used
Praise God's Holy Name (Cameroon Procession)
Praise to the Lord - Alleluia (arr. Nockels)
Speak O Lord (Getty/Townend/McDonald)
Doxology (congregation a capella)
Every Promise of Your Word (Getty/Townend)

September 12, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell

(download)**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Why in the world do we ask you to go to school on Sunday?

That’s what Sunday school is after all; right? You go to class; a teacher stands up; you might even take notes; and sometimes, there’s even homework.

If you’re a kid, you get that Monday through Friday. If you’re an adult, you did that for at least 12-13 years, if not more. And now you may work, and that can even consume the weekends. Isn’t it enough to come to church – pray and sing a little bit and listen to the sermon? Maybe you even squeeze in some prayer time or devotions during the week.

So, with as much going on in your lives, why do we keep making a big deal about Sunday school? I believe the scripture we’ve heard today answers that question in a compelling way. Let’s look...

Difficult Times

The verses we heard this morning were written by the Apostle Paul. He was writing to a young friend of his named Timothy. Timothy was a student or disciple of Paul. He was younger in the faith, non-Jewish “Godfearer,” and an eager follower of Jesus Christ.

In this personal letter to Timothy, Paul is trying to encourage him in life, faith, and ministry. He comes to chapter three in this second letter to Timothy and writes something that should grab our attention, because it is like Paul is living and walking among us in 2010:

Realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… and holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.

Whether we are in the “last days” or not, whatever Paul has to say to Timothy will be applicable, for Paul has described our “days” with startling accuracy. That last one is the most heart-wrenching of all. People will claim to be religious, but miss the heart of true religion – the power of knowing and being loved by the True God.

Paul warns: Avoid such as these.

But there must be more we can do to survive our lives in these difficult times. Certainly, avoid evil. But Paul follows up with more… much more!

First, though, he paints an even more disturbing picture in verses 12-13. Not only must we live in such a difficult world as described in the opening verses, but if we follow God, Paul says we will be persecuted. People will actively oppose us and try to hurt us! And in v. 13, Paul writes, “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

What help is there for us if we are going to follow God in this world?

Paul’s answer to Timothy, and to us, is scripture – God’s Word, the Bible.

It’s more than an answer; Paul says that it is the key to being prepared and equipped for living well and following God in such a world as this.

Inspired by God

Paul refers to scripture twice. First, in v. 15 he calls it “sacred writings” – the scripture that Timothy read as a child. Living before the New Testament had been collected as such (he’s writing part of it right here!), Paul is referring to the Hebrew Scriptures – the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom writings.

Second, in v. 16, Paul writes, “All scripture is inspired by God…” He writes that God breathed Himself into and through the scriptures. We understand this to be God’s Holy Spirit, described often in the Bible as “the breath of God.” The scriptures – this Bible – is more than great human writing… it is God’s gift to us, a revealing of Himself, written by and through human beings under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These are the very words of God!

When we ask what help we have in the face of evil, suffering, deception, and even persecution, Paul’s answer is more than a book. It is help from God – God’s own words and direction for our lives. Scripture is God’s breath upon us, saying, “I am here; I am your help and your salvation. Come, follow me.”

Wisdom unto Salvation

Paul tells us that God’s Word does several things when we read and follow it. First, and certainly most importantly, it imparts the “wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” (v. 15) This was how God worked in Timothy’s life to lead him to Jesus Christ. Timothy had read these scriptures as a child, and they pointed him to Jesus Christ (even with just the Hebrew Scriptures!).

Why is hearing, reading, and responding to the Bible so important? It is important because it bears witness to who God is and what He has done in history, especially through Jesus Christ. It tells people what they need to know to come to Jesus with faith, understanding, and belief, in order to follow him.

That’s why our worship is organized around God’s Word. We read it, we pray as it teaches us, we hear it proclaimed in sermon and song. And we teach it to our children, that they might come to faith in Jesus Christ. It is the Good News about what God has done in Jesus Christ. It is at the center of our faith and it is the forward banner of our testimony to the world, that all might believe.

All that is of supreme importance! But, once we have trusted in Jesus Christ, is there really a need to keep our heads buried in the Bible? Once we are “saved,” isn’t that enough?

I think the context Paul has already described – our context in a difficult and disappointing world – should send us running back to the Bible! For, though salvation would be enough, scripture also gives us tools – means for facing and living in the challenging world of ours.

4 Uses

Paul lists four more uses of scripture in our lives – scripture is profitable (useful)…
…for teaching
…for reproof
…for correction
…for training in righteousness

Now all those things overlap a bit. It may be that reproof, correction, and training all describe the teaching of scripture. Or, it may be a progression, becoming more and more personal in the effect scripture can have in our life. The point is that God’s Word, this inspired scripture, is given to us to be used. And the use – the benefit – it has for us is that it teaches us what we need to live as God’s people in this world. It does so by teaching us what we would not know on our own. In the Bible God is revealing Himself in specific ways, ways that cannot be intuited from beautiful sunsets, an infinite universe, or the intricacy of a flower. And scripture challenges us. It “reproves” or rebukes us in areas where we disobey God and act against His will. It “corrects” us, not just issuing rebuke, but doing so with the goal of straightening out our path – teaching us the right way to go so that we may indeed go that way. And scripture “trains us” – teaches us in a life-changing way… a habit-changing way… a transforming way. That’s what righteousness is… the goal of the teaching, reproof, correction, and training. It is God’s will and God’s way for our life.

Ready for the World

Paul says that when we have submitted to the teaching, reproof, correction, and training of scripture, the result is that we are “adequate, equipped for every good work.” We will have what we need to face the selfishness, deception, malice, and evil of the world.

It’s not super-power, like Superman or Spiderman, but it is adequate equipment to be God’s men and women. It is the courage and freedom to speak the truth in the face of deception. It is the purity to reject temptations of money, sex, or power. It is the endurance and perseverance to live with hope through suffering or persecution. It is the sure knowledge that God goes with us, before us and behind us, leading us on His path and in His will.

School on Sunday?!

Do we want our children to be saved? Do we want them to know God by trusting in and following Jesus Christ? Then certainly we want them to grow up with the sacred scriptures that give the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith.

We also want adults to come to a saving knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. So, we continue to stand on and proclaim God’s Word boldly as a church.

What about this Sunday school, though? Do I really need to bring my kids for one more hour of instruction when they already do so much in a week? I’d say yes, that one hour of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in God’s Word – which is the goal of Sunday school, is one of the most critical things a child will do in any given week.

But I’d go even further, because most people feel some unspoken urge to get their kids to church. I’d say that Sunday school is just as critical for teenagers and for adults. The teaching, reproof, correction, and training in God’s Word that you get in Sunday school equips you in critical ways to face and live through all the many things you will face Monday-Saturday. Are you going to lose your job this week? Is your best friend going to lie to you? Will someone steal from you? Will your body fail?

Worship is primarily where we give to God – we worship God in Spirit and Truth, offering ourselves in response to who He is and His Word to us.

Sunday school is where God gives to us… riches out of His Word. It is where you will get the equipment you need to not only live life, but live it well as God would have you live.

Let me end with three challenges:

1. Commit to coming to Sunday school each week – you and your whole family. It will transform your faith and your life.

2. Commit to personal study of God’s Word – reading it, pondering it, wrestling with it, and living it. There is a women’s Bible study on Tuesday mornings as well, which is organized to help you study daily.

3. Commit to coming on Wednesday nights each week – you and your whole family. Seven days is a long time to be away from God’s Word and family. Wednesday night is a chance to eat and fellowship with the church family and then for every age group to study and live out God’s Word. It will also transform your faith and your life.

I won’t give you a 30-day guarantee like on TV, because I think these are things we need to be doing out of obedience, even if we don’t “feel the blessing” right away. But, having said that, I am confident that you will experience life-changing transformation by committing to the study of God’s Word on a regular basis.

May God give us ears to hear and hearts to follow. Amen.

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