Sermon preached on October 17th and October 20th, 2013 at St. John’s Lutheran Church for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. Sermon text is 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5. This was the 3rd in a sermon series on 2 Timothy, The Last Words of Paul. This Sunday was also St. John’s last celebration of its 150th anniversary.
Continue in What You have Learned
+ The Church +
The church is not a museum. It can’t be. If the church is a museum, then we’re all wasting our time here. Museums are places where we get to see old things. They’re usually old things that are beautiful, they’re inspiring to many people. Famous museums like the Louvre are full of treasures, beautiful, priceless works of art that are worth seeing and admiring. At museums you’ll find crowds gathered around sculptures and paintings, learning about how things used to be and the incredible things people once made. Museums, you see, are all about the past.
Churches are about the past, sure, but they should be a about more. They should show us right now and point us ahead to the future. But it’s pretty easy to treat the church like a museum.
We can slip into treating the church like a pretty building where you see things from the past. As you enter the old building, instead of gathering around paintings and sculptures, people gather around their memories. Up front is where so-and-so got married. Remember when we went to his funeral, or her confirmation? Remember when people had to sit in the basement because there just wasn’t room in sanctuary?
It’s not bad to have memories and to think about the past when you come into a church. It’s great. But if that’s all you do… If the teachings are just sort of nostalgic memories, and the songs just remind us of days gone by, then we’re wasting our time here. The church is not a museum.
Just look what the Apostle Paul wrote shortly before he died. As he wrote to a young pastor, Timothy, he didn’t want church for Timothy to be only about the past. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it. (2 Tim. 3:14)
Yes, what Timothy learned happened in the past. The people he learned it from — like his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice that we heard about earlier in 2 Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5) — were in the past. But what was Timothy supposed to do with these things he’d learned in the past from people in the past? Was he supposed to admire them like we admire an old painting? No!
Our text says continue in what you have learned! Timothy had learned something so valuable, so precious, that he had to keep it going. It’s the same thing we’ve learned. And it’s not like learning to ride a bike that once you’e learned it you’ve got it forever. Timothy needed to continue in what he learned, and so do we!
Why? Well, take a look at what Timothy learned. From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim. 3:15) This isn’t learning to ride a bike or fix a car, or even how to fish. This is learning that makes you wise for salvation.
Think of it! We are people who are dying, every day. We are dying because of sin. Sin brings death and God’s punishment forever. But God wanted something different for us. So he sent his Son. He sent Jesus to die so that we could live. So, now, we who are dying in sin, are given life! God uses his Word to make us wise for salvation!
So, the church isn’t a museum. It’s a hospital. It’s a place where sick, dying people go for healing. We come to church — and by that I don’t really even mean this specific building, I mean we just gather together — we come here to get better. We come hear to have our sins forgiven, our fears calmed, our consciences comforted.
Here at church we get not just memories, but a prescription. The prescription is simple. Continue in what you have learned. That’s what we do in church.
+ The Book +
And what do we use to continue in what we have learned? We use the Bible, the Scriptures as our text calls it. So what is this book, the Bible? Well, this book is not a story-book. It’s not just something you find in a library. It’s not just full of entertaining stories that make us think or give us some sort of moral to live by.
This book is also not an instruction manual. It’s not a How-To book for “living your best life now.” It’s main purpose isn’t to give you the 7 steps to happiness or the 5 secrets to better relationships.
Oh, sure, the book has stories in it. It has instructions and steps we can follow as we live our lives. But that’s not what it’s really all about. No, this book, this Bible, is God-breathed. It’s not the ideas of old men who lived long ago, it’s not my ideas and theories. It’s breathed out by God himself — direct from God to us.
That makes it pretty special, to say the least. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16–17) God gave us this Word himself. And it wasn’t so that it would sit on a shelf and be admired. It was meant to be used.
And look what we get to use it for: everything. It’s useful for teaching. When God wants us to know something, he put it in his Word. He wants us to teach it and learn it. That’s what St. John’s has been doing for 150 years, and God-willing, will do for many more.
This is why we have Bible classes, Sunday school, and confirmation classes. This is why we have Bible readings in our worship services. Not everything looks the same as it did 150 years ago, and some of the ways we do things will change again. But the Word doesn’t change.
So we don’t decide what to teach based on what we feel is important, or what fits with the times. We teach what God says. We teach what is God-breathed. We teach the very things that make us wise for salvation. We teach people to the cross where we get to rejoice, Sunday after Sunday, day after day, in our Savior’s love for us.
But there’s part of that teaching that can be tough for us to hear. Because as we teach the Word, we’re going to have plenty of opportunities not just for teaching but for the rebuking and correcting that our text talks about. And that is never easy. It hurts.
+ The Heart +
The reason it hurts is because of our hearts. And here’s the thing: my heart does not bring me life. Sure, my actual heart does good things for me, medically. It pumps blood throughout my body. As long as my physical heart keeps beating, my physical life keeps going. That’s good.
But spiritually, my heart — my soul — does not bring me life. It does the opposite. So does yours. Jesus said that out of the *heart* come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matt. 15:19) Our hearts, our sinful flesh, bring us nothing but sin and death. And as long as we’re on this side of heaven, our hearts will keep getting us into trouble.
You see that with Paul’s words to Timothy. Yes, he wanted Timothy to keep using God’s Word. He said, Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim. 4:2) He wanted Timothy to use the Word this way, and he wants the Word to continue to be used this way at places like right here at St. John’s.
But that preaching has to continue because of the problem with our hearts. Listen to what Paul told Timothy. The time will come when men 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. (2 Tim. 4:3)
So, when God’s Word comes to rebuke us, to tell us that what we’re doing or saying or thinking is wrong, well, we’re not going to like it. When you hear that you’re sinning, that God does not approve of what you’re doing or how you’re living, it’s going to make you mad. That’s how our hearts work.
So it’s not surprising that in 150 years there would be a lot of people who would leave St. John’s and go somewhere where they would like what they’re hearing a little more. It won’t be surprising when that happens again and again in the future, either. But that doesn’t mean we’ll stop rebuking and correcting. We can’t. We can’t help but teach and preach what God actually says, no matter what our hearts or our ears feel about it.
In fact, it’s actually a good thing when our sinful hearts are broken. It’s a great thing when we hear things from the Bible that make us angry. It’s the best thing that could ever happen to us to be cut to the heart and in absolute despair because of our sins.
Think about it. If you believe you’re never sick, you’re in perfect health and never going to die, well, then you’re not going to have any reason to see a doctor. Why would you? Likewise, if you aren’t made painfully aware of your sins on a regular basis, you’re going to have no reason to think you need a Savior.
But when your heart is broken, when you’re brought to your knees, when you despair of all your own abilities and actions, then your Savior not only looks pretty good, but you see him as he really is: your only hope. Without Jesus, we would be lost. Without Jesus we would be dead, even as we were still living and breathing and our hearts were still beating. But we’re not without Jesus. And because of that, we’re forgiven. Because of Jesus, we’ve been rescued from the trouble our sins have brought on us. Because of Jesus, instead of death, we have life.
+ The Life +
And that life that we have, well, it’s more than anything we could ever imagine. Normally we think of our life being all about us. But with the Word and with our Savior that’s not how it is anymore. My life is not about me. Your life is not about you.
Oh, sure, I still live my life and you still live yours. God doesn’t make us into robots where we’re forced to move a certain way. No, we still live our own lives. The difference is that it’s just not about us anymore. It’s about him.
Remember, our text tells us that all Scripture is useful for…training in righteousness. (2 Tim. 3:16) That’s talking about how we live our lives. That’s saying, as we keep growing in God’s Word, our lives aren’t about us, they’re about Jesus and living for him. We grow in Scripture, as our text says, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:17)
This doesn’t mean we’re forced to live for God. This doesn’t mean, Oh, great. I can’t do what I want. This is horrible. No, when we already know the full ugliness of our sins along with the full beauty of God’s love for us in Christ, then living for God is never forced. It’s a privilege. It’s a joy.
That’s what we pray for everyone’s life here at St. John’s. We want to give you opportunities to do what believers do, and that is to live for your Savior. We’re not just trying to sign people up for things just to keep everyone busy; we want you to put your faith into action. We want you to really live. We want you to be alive with the life that Jesus has given you.
After all, that life for Jesus isn’t just something for this world. It’s something for when this world is over. When everything is done, when this world has passed away, when our sins are forgiven and forgotten, when our tears are wiped away forever, then we will truly live for — and with — our Savior forever.
So remember, friends. Continue in what you have learned! For 150 years and for all the years to come, you’re not coming to a museum; you’re coming to a gathering of sinners, a hospital for souls. Here we use the medicine of God’s Word, no ordinary book, but the book that God himself breathed out. We use that medicine to heal our sin-sick hearts, to save our life now and forever. And then, we live. We live for Jesus now. We live with Jesus forever. So, rejoice! And continue in what you have learned.