Friday, May 16, 2014

Follow Good Teaching – 2 Tim 3:10-14

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (ESV)
Follow or Know

Depending on which translation you have Paul states that either Timothy knew all about his teaching or he followed Paul’s teaching. Is there a difference? From my perspective, there certainly is. Look back at the previous few verses and you can see that Paul was warning about people who were always learning but never really getting it. The only way to prove that you have understood is actually to do it. Since the Greek word can be translated in either way, though it appears the primary understanding is to follow, perhaps Paul was nudging Timothy to see how he would take it.

He is certainly nudging us to make sure we don’t end up like those who were always learning. We need to take the approach that if we know all about Paul’s teaching, then we certainly should be following it. When Timothy received this letter, it wasn’t yet considered to be Scripture. Since then, it has become obvious that it is from the Holy Spirit so that doesn’t leave us an option. We need to follow these teachings and way of life that Paul has demonstrated.

Conduct

Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Cor 4:16-17 NKJV) Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Cor 11:1 NKJV)

If anyone urges us to imitate his conduct, then we should certainly be well acquainted with that conduct. If he is not behaving in biblical ways then we should question what part of his conduct we should imitate. If Paul had not specified that his ways were those of Christ and that he imitated Christ, then I doubt that this letter would have become part of Scripture.

You may ask why Paul didn’t simply tell the Corinthians to imitate Christ. The only practical reason was that the Gospels had not yet been written. All they had to go on was what had been handed down to them from the Apostles and disciples who had known Jesus. Paul learned of Jesus by direct revelation from Him (Gal 1:12). They could see in Paul what it meant to be a Christian. He often pointed others to his own character and those who were with him on his missionary journeys as examples to follow (Acts 20:18, 33-35; 1 Cor 2:2-5, 1 Cor 10:33, 2 Cor 6:3, Phil 4:9, 1 Thess 1:5 2:1-11; 2 Thess 3:7-9).

Aim in Life

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Cor 5:9 RSV)

What is your aim, your goal in life? It has been said that if you don’t have a goal, you will accomplish it, meaning of course, that you will accomplish nothing. Some would say that Paul’s goal was too broad to be practical, others would say that this goal would develop into a system of works where we would always be trying to win or be worthy of God’s affection.

In ways, I can see how both of these could be true. It would be too broad if we didn’t have any way of knowing what pleases the Lord. If we didn’t have practical advice in the Word, we would be adrift in a sea of ever changing currents. However, we do have the Word of God to guide our lives. We have general advice such as to love mercy and practice justice and walk humbly with God (Mic 6:8). We also have specific commands regarding prayer (1 Thess 5:17) and making more and better disciples (Matt 28:19-20). It isn’t hard to develop specific plans to please the Lord when we study His Word and discover the things He’s asked us to do.

If our goal to please the Lord develops into a system of works in order to earn His love for us, then it becomes a burdensome task. There is no way we can earn God’s love. If we look at God’s love, we find that He loved us when we were still sinners (Rom 5:8). It would be ludicrous to think that after we have been saved that He would love us less if we didn’t strive to earn His love.

When we try to earn God’s love, the emphasis of trying to please God is turned on ourselves instead of toward God. In other words, we try to please Him not because of who He is and what He has already done for us, but we try to please Him in order to receive from Him something He has already given us. It pleases God for us to imitate Him but since He already loves us with His infinite love, He can’t love us more because we are pleasing Him.  

Faith

How would you describe Paul’s faith? Would you describe it as balanced? If not then you need to re-read 1 Corinthians 13. Paul says that faith that can move mountains must be balanced by love.

He was steadfast in his faith. When Peter visited Antioch, Paul had the faith to confront Peter for his hypocrisy (Gal 2:11-14). When Ananias and Sapphira lied to Peter, they died on the spot (Acts 5:1-11). If Paul wasn’t steadfast in his faith, in the things that he had learned from revelation (Gal 1:11-12), if his faith was built on something false, he risked God killing him on the spot also.

His faith was so strong that he was willing to do what God called him to do despite the warnings of other people and even the Holy Spirit letting him know what would happen to him in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-13). He was even prepared to die.

How are we doing in following Paul’s faith? To put this in perspective, those who confronted church leaders with hypocrisy a few hundred years later often ended up burned at the stake. They were unwilling to compromise true faith for personal comforts. We need to make the decision to act in faith rather than expediency. When we make the decision, God will either provide the way out or will take us through it.

Patience

Paul exhorted the Corinthian church recounting the things that he and other workers had to go through in order to bring the Gospel to them. Once he recounts hardships and includes their patience (2 Cor 6:6) and once he uses patience as a characteristic of a true apostle (2 Cor 12:12).

There is a saying, “Please be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.” Some may see this as an excuse to sin but the emphasis here is on what we can do as Christians to demonstrate patience to those who may be struggling with sin or even salvation.

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? (Rom 2:4 NIV)

God is patient with us. Therefore, we should be patient with others. However, this patience is not passive; it must be active even if it is calm. In the case of God’s patience, it involves kindness and kindness leads to repentance. Kindness, patience, gentleness are all characteristics we need to have if we are going to be able to help those who are still in slavery to sin or have fallen back into sin (Gal 6:1).

Love

It is said that John spoke more of love than any other apostle, however Paul made some astounding proclamations about love as well. He spoke of love 96 times in his writings. Quite often, he spoke of God’s love, his own love, and commands to love. The longest instruction is in the “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Rom 12:9-10 ESV)

Some of Paul’s lesser-known statements on love include this one. His command for love (agape) to be genuine fits in context with what he has been writing to Timothy as he contrasts that kind of love to abhorring evil. Some feel-good people would be appalled at stating that in the same breath as love, but true love will not tolerate evil. Stated in another way, he says that love doesn’t rejoice with iniquity (1 Cor 13:6).

Love (philadelphia) is to be brotherly in addition to a godly love (agape) and include brotherly affection (philostorgos) which is a love that includes family. He covered them all here.

Steadfastness

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58 RSV)

Steadfastness can be seen in various ways. It can be having a faith that is immovable. The only way we can have an immovable faith is to make sure it has a good foundation, it must be founded on the Rock, who is Jesus Christ (Matt 7:24-25, 1 Cor 3:11). Make no mistake in this; anyone who has any other foundation for his belief will be shaken, in either this life or the one to come when they realize that his foundation was nothing but shifting sand.

This includes those who have built on a counterfeit foundation. They bought cheap material because it was like a knock-off watch that said “Rolex” on the face but underneath, it was a cheap imitation. This is what all cults have when they “acknowledge” Jesus. When you look under the covers, they deny Jesus’ deity and he is something less than the Jesus of the Bible.

Steadfastness also relates to work for the Lord. This is probably his emphasis to Timothy. Paul’s demonstration of steadfastness was clearly evident in his work for the Gospel. Upon hearing about the problems at Corinth, he didn’t give up but rebuked, taught, and encouraged them. Some of the Thessalonians had stopped working and were hanging around expecting the Lord to appear any minute. Again, Paul was steadfast in his commitment to the people to present them to Jesus as mature and godly people (2 Cor 11:2).

 Persecutions and Sufferings

For I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake. (Acts 9:16 NASB)

Imitate Paul in his persecutions? Does this mean that we are supposed to put ourselves in a position to be persecuted? From the first moments of Paul’s Christian life, he knew that God had called him to a life of suffering. Paul considers suffering and persecution a natural part of every Christian’s life. In 2 Tim 3:12, he even states that all who want to live godly lives will be persecuted. It isn’t so much a matter of imitating Paul’s suffering as recognizing that it is a natural part of being a Christian.

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. (Acts 20:18 NIV)

I’m afraid that this isn’t the attitude that we have when it comes to declaring the truth of the Bible. We are generally afraid that we will be persecuted if it were known that we agree with the Bible regarding hot topics of the day. If we denounce homosexuality or abortion because the Bible declares them sin, we will be persecuted. Very few pastors are willing to make these statements from the pulpit because they fear what will happen to them either personally or to their church. Just putting the “h” word in this blog is scary. However, living a godly life means more than avoiding sinful practices but also requires pointing out sin.

Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops. (Luke 12:3 NASU)

Jesus condemned as hypocrisy teaching things in secret (Luke 12:1-3). If we think we can sit around in our comfortable circle of friends and agree with each other on these subjects without others hearing of it, then we are mistaken. Hiding what we believe about the Bible because we are afraid of what people will say is just as bad as pretending to be upright citizens while harboring hatred and murder in our hearts. In either case, the truth will come out and people will know it. So if we believe that the Bible says something is a sin, we might as well state it and face the repercussions right away rather than trying to hide it then face persecutions later and being called a hypocrite in addition.

Rescue from Persecution

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. (2 Tim 4:6 ESV)

Does it seem strange to you that Paul states that the Lord rescued him from all his persecutions, yet in the next chapter, he contends that this last imprisonment will end in his death? Would not the faith preachers of today tell Paul that he is about to die, not because it is his appointed time, but because of his lack of faith and negative confession? I think Paul had a very good idea of the Lord’s plan for his life. Rather than naming and claiming things the way he wanted it, he stated what he believed God had in store for him.

What can we learn from this? God is sovereign. He will use whomever He wants for as long as He wants to accomplish what He wants. He can even use those faith preachers; how He uses them is not clear to me. That may be just the point. God can use each person in any way He wants and it doesn’t have to make sense to me. God doesn’t answer to me or any other person. If He chooses to rescue at one time and not at another, I will still trust Him.

The faith preachers emphasize that Paul was rescued from all his persecutions and suffering and never quote 2 Tim 3:12 that says anyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted. If Paul is right, then no one who wants blessings and abundance should try to live godly lives. Isn’t’ that the reverse logical conclusion of what Paul says? In this way, the faith preachers are teaching their people to live in ungodly ways by making themselves more important than God.

Bad to Worse

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isa 5:20 NKJV) 

 We often look at those who are deceiving others and judge them. There is good reason to do so as God has declared their evilness. Jesus lambasted the Pharisees over and over again because they were deceivers, leading people astray from a true knowledge of God (Matt 15: 13; 23:4, 13-15). Paul warns us of wolves who will enter the flock to deceive and lead people astray (Acts 20:29). He is only echoing Jesus’ words in Matt 7:15.

There is no doubt that they will get worse as time goes on. We would hope that as the Gospel is preached, more people will be saved and that we would see fewer evils. However, Paul also warns us that Satan is at work and when the Holy Spirit is withdrawn from the world, the worse will happen (2 Thess 2:6-10). He says that those who are perishing will suffer God’s wrath when Jesus returns.

The sad part of the story is that these deceivers are also deceived; they have bought the lie. Some of them appear to have a true salvation experience but at some point, it was not effective. They know about Jesus; they know correct doctrines but do not believe them. Somehow, they become enmeshed in false doctrines. I’ve read of many emerging church leaders who grew up in solid evangelical churches. They heard the right things and some even went to seminaries and became pastors. However, at some point they rejected their orthodox faith. They expressed their disdain for the doctrines and chose to alter them according to their own reasoning.[1] Peter warns us that they were better off before their supposed salvation experience than after knowing how to be saved they turn and go back to worldliness (2 Peter 2:20-22) or other doctrines. We must remember that we don’t fight people who are Satan’s agents, but we are in a battle with the spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:11-12). We need to pray for their salvation.


[1] Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005).

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