Thursday, May 29, 2014

Continue in the Word – 2 Tim 3:14-17

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (RSV)
But Continue
What a wonderful word is but. All that doom and gloom about people getting worse and Christians being persecution for just trying to do what God wants, then the Holy Spirit inserts a but. Everything that has been said before is to stand in opposition to what is coming next, to continue. It doesn’t mean we don’t ignore those things, but in spite of them we are to continue in what we have learned and firmly believed.
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Heb 6:11-12 NASB)
When we continue in what we believe, we have hope. However, it isn’t always automatic, we need to be diligent or earnest to have that hope. Continuing in what we believe often takes some work. The devil is going to throw doubts at us especially when we are making headway in our faith and the good works that Christ has determined for us even before we became Christians (Eph 2:10). Our own weakness and slothfulness tempts us to do just enough to get by instead of living a life of victory in Jesus.
Sometimes it may feel like we are just getting through life because of the many problems we face. If we are looking for the path of least resistance so that we can feel better, we are being defeated. The difference between victory in Jesus and just getting by is how we grow through these trials. James said to consider it all joy (James 1:2). If our faith is increasing, if we are showing hope to others as we develop perseverance, we are having victory. If we are growing in holiness as we resist sin and do what is right, we are victorious.
Sometimes, we simply need to get back to the basics of what we learned earlier in life. Paul tells us to remember who taught us when we came to Christ. Assuming we were taught correctly and the teaching came from the Bible as happened to Timothy, we can review those basics when we are having problems or doubts. Timothy was blessed because he had learned from childhood. Not all of us knew the Lord at an early age, but were saved later in life. It doesn’t matter, when we are born again, we are a new creation and in that way, we have all come through a childhood of faith.
O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Ps 71:17-18 ESV)
From the first day of our salvation, to the last days of our life, we are to continue to proclaim the Gospel. When it may seem tough to continue, we need to proclaim His wondrous deeds; we tell what He accomplished in our salvation and then what He has done in our lives. When we tell others of His power that He has used to accomplished things in our lives, it not only strengthens us but provide for the salvation of the next generation.
Acquainted with Scripture
But Jesus answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Matt 22:29 ESV)
If I am only an acquaintance of someone, I know him only superficially. That seems quite insufficient to describe a relationship that Timothy had with the Scriptures. Many of us are acquainted with the Bible as we grow up, either knowing what it looks like or even knowing some of the stories. This may be sufficient to know that God exists or that Jesus once walked on the earth, but it is insufficient to bring salvation. One of the biggest mistakes we make when teaching the Bible to children is to assume that their acquaintance with the stories is enough to bring them to salvation. We need to do more, we need to talk about it when sit around the dinner table (do people still do that?) and when we are driving down the freeway and when we tuck them into bed and when we get them up for breakfast (Deut 6:7). We need to explain what salvation is and why we need it as well as how to receive it.
Was Timothy only acquainted with the Word or did he know the Word? Most translations say that he knew the Word. The Greek is oida,[1] could be translated as; know, understand, perceive; experience, learn, know how; be acquainted with, recognize, acknowledge; remember; pay proper respect to. Jesus used the same word in Matt 22:29 when He answered the Sadducees. The Sadducees were only acquainted with the Scriptures but didn’t know them. They hadn’t learned from them or understood them. They certainly hadn’t put them into practice. When we are only acquainted with the Bible, we will only be acquainted with Jesus; we won’t know Him. We won’t know the power of God that is required for salvation or to live a godly life.
Inspired by God
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV)
Knowing the Bible inside and out is of absolutely no use if we don’t fully understand and agree with the Bible in that it is God’s revelation of Himself given to us. Some people spend their lives studying the Bible, Ancient Near East (ANE) cultures, and write books about it trying to show how the mythology of the people surrounding the Hebrews influence the Bible. Some study the various manuscripts that have been preserved trying to decide which one is the most accurate or seeking to prove that none is accurate.
Each person’s bias determines the outcome of his or her studies. The ones that conclude the Bible is a product of man’s invention always start with the premise that God doesn’t intervene in human affairs (if they even believe in God). It doesn’t matter how much proof is provided to show that the narrative of the Bible is unlike other ANE literature in its subject matter. He will choose the answer that fits his desire, which is to escape accountability to a sovereign God who has revealed Himself to us. On the other hand, the one who acknowledges God will come to the exact opposite conclusion. Paul’s statement to Timothy, Peter’s declaration, and Jesus’ statement that His words will never pass away (Matt 24:35) are sufficient to receive the Bible as God’s word. While studies of ANE culture may help understand certain passages that are obscure, the plain and simple teaching crosses cultures and eons to guide and direct us for salvation and godly living.
Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. (1 Cor 10:6 NASU)
It doesn’t matter where we end up reading in the Bible, we can find something that will be profitable. Paul pointed to the blessings that the nation of Israel received as they left Egypt and were sustained in the desert for forty years. He boils it all down to one simple thing, that we shouldn’t desire evil as they did. These people were first-hand witnesses of God’s grace in their lives yet they craved evil. They often wanted to turn back to Egypt. They grumbled, they made idols, they indulged in sexual sins, and they paid the price. When we see the examples in the Bible of sinful behavior and the consequences, it would be to our profit if we applied the principles to our lives and avoided the sinful practices that have been recorded for our instruction.
On the other side of profitability is the positive instruction in the ways we should live. Too many people look at the Bible as a list of prohibitions that restrict their lifestyle (code word for sinful activities). They seldom read the Bible trying to find the things that a godly person should do.
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Mic 6:8 NKJV )
Think about what the world would look like if everyone carried out these simple instructions. There wouldn’t be any injustice in the world. Selfishness and greed would not cause some to rip off the disadvantaged. Those in need would be shown mercy, people would share with each other and be quick to help when anyone was in trouble. There wouldn’t be racial problems or economic problems. However, the last command is the reason that people in general don’t do this. It can only be done when we walk humbly with God.
The only way to walk humbly with God is to know and walk with Jesus. This requires being born again as Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John, chapter three. John the Baptist explained the problem clearly at the end of the chapter.
And anyone who believes in God's Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn't obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God's angry judgment. (John 3:36 NLT)
It requires obedience to Jesus. Too many people think that belief in Jesus is sufficient to walk with Him. John made it clear that belief must result in obedience if it is to be true and effective. Only when we are born again and have the Holy Spirit in our lives because of our faith and obedience to Jesus can Scripture be profitable for us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Every Good Work
Before talking about every good work, we must acknowledge that this only applies to Christians. Those who do not know Jesus are totally unable to do any good work. All that they have in their minds to do, whether they believe it evil or good, counts as nothing (Isa 64:6). The state of fallen man is to sin until Jesus makes him alive (Eph 2:1). If it sounds harsh to say that it counts for nothing for a person who is not a Christian to establish a foundation to eliminate hunger and disease in the world or work for Habitat for Humanity, then we must understand what constitutes a good work in God’s eyes.
Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Tim 2:21 NASB)
Previously, Paul explained that a person must be sanctified, that is, holy. He must be cleansed from all the wickedness he had previously mentioned in order to do good works. The reason a non-Christian can’t be prepared for good works is that his heart has not been made holy. Without being holy, even the best of good deeds has a sinful motive. It may be as simple as wanting to feel good about oneself or it may be much more complex. Maybe he loves another person and doesn’t want to bear the hurt of seeing that person being hurt. The bottom line is that he or she is not doing the good works to bring glory to God, but it is actually a worship of self. Even those who are doing good to earn salvation are doing it for themselves, not for God’s glory.
The only way to be able to call good deeds good works in God’s perspective is first to let God change the evil heart. In Ezekiel 11:19, God describes what happens when a person is saved. He puts a new spirit in the sinner; He removes the heart of stone and gives him a heart of flesh that will seek to obey God. He will want to do good works not because he has to or to please himself, but because he wants to. He will do them to bring glory to God.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10 ESV)
God prepared good works for us to do even before we became Christians. Just as he predestined us to be adopted into His family, so he planned what we would do once we were in His family. Note that we are His workmanship. That simply means that God has saved us and did all the things described in Ezekiel. In a sense, we can’t help but to do good work once we have become Christians. Sure, we can and do sin, but when we live the way he wants, everything we do is good works.
This now comes full circle to the Word of God. It is by His Word, the Bible, that we learn and are instructed in how to live for Him and become able to do those good works. Some people claim to have accepted Christ but they never read the Bible, go to church, or hear teaching on the Bible from any other source. When confronted with sinful behavior, whether it is commission of sin or omission of doing what God wants, they are ignorant of their responsibility and God’s plan for their lives. It is God’s Word that equips us to do good works.

[1] NT:1492 oida, Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc.

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