************ Sermon on 2 Timothy 3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 8, 2014
2 Timothy 3
"Ministry in Terrible Times"
Installation of Elders & Deacons
"But mark this," writes Paul, "There will be terrible times in the last days" (2 Tim 3:1). Paul is talking about his time, his days. On the face of it, you would say this does not apply to us because our modern technological world has nothing in common with the Ancient World. They walked and rode on camels; we drive cars and fly airplanes. The average person knew nothing of what happened elsewhere; we get news from around the world 24-7. They kept records on clay tablets; we also use tablets but ours run on batteries and connect to the internet.
People say times have changed. But, when it comes right down to it, how different is today from the time of the apostles? Aren't we living in difficult or terrible times right now? The housing market still has not recovered from a few years ago. The job market is still way down. The national debt has soared to unbelievable levels. Businesses are failing. Government regulation is increasing. And, we are in the middle of a severe drought. We took our company to the coast yesterday. It made you want to cry as we passed acre after acre of fertile farmland with nothing growing because there is no water.
But this is not what the Apostle has in mind. The Apostle talks of terrible times, difficult times, awful times for the church; more specifically, he sees difficult times coming for the churches that he by God's grace established: the churches of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Thessalonica.
Applied to today Paul talks to us about doing ministry while surrounded and attacked by great evil and wickedness.
This morning we have installed elders and deacons. Men, before you begin your term of office you need to be reminded of the things mentioned by Paul in our Scripture reading – things that pertain to ministry some two thousand years ago; things that pertain to ministry today.
I Terrible Times
A "But mark this," writes Paul, "There will be terrible times in the last days" (2 Tim 3:1). The "last days" is a technical phrase for the whole time between Christ's first and second comings. So we should not be surprised that Paul's description of the troubles sounds eerily familiar to those of us who are in church office today. Paul is reminding us that every day is difficult in a fallen world. Because of sin, things are not the way they are supposed to be. This has been the norm since Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden, and it will continue to be so until the return of Christ. Our time, in other words, is exactly like Paul's time.
B Want proof of this? Listen to Paul's partial description of what makes the last days so terrible. And ask yourselves, aren't we like this too? "People," he says, "will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money" (2 Tim 3:2). That certainly sounds like today. "Boastful, proud, abusive" (2 Tim 3:2). Our TVs are filled with news of athletes, movie stars, and government officials who act this way; sad to say, we see this behavior in neighbors and church members too. "Disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy" (2 Tim 3:2). Wow, Paul, are you sure you are talking about the first century and not the 21st century? "Without love, unforgiving, slanderous" (2 Tim 3:3). I see this all the time; it seems to make little difference whether you are in or out of the church. "Without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited" (2 Tim 3:3-4). Nothing out of date here. "Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Tim 3:4). That certainly sounds like today.
Paul continues by describing religion without godliness. He writes, "Having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Tim 3:5). Isn't this so sad – people simply going through the motions and meaning none of it? Do we have such members in our church.
"Always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth" (2 Tim 3:7). Doesn't this sound like those who hop from church to church at the drop of a hat?
Paul ends his description of "terrible times" by talking about opposition to the truth and persecution of those who live a godly life in Christ Jesus (2 Time 3:8-13). Don't we see more and more of this?
Paul's list is not exhaustive. It represents some of the ways unrepentant sin displays itself in the lives of people.
C Now, did you notice how Paul starts? The first thing he specifies is that people will be "lovers of themselves." He could have first mentioned anything else in his list but he starts with a preoccupation with the self. In doing this, he is telling us that the terrible, difficult, awful times for the church all arise from a selfish, me-first mentality. When love is misdirected toward the self instead of the Lord, the only result can be terrible times. Which reminds us that our calling as office bearers is to lead people away from love for self and into love for the Lord.
D Do you know what is the saddest part of the "terrible times" described by Paul? Paul is describing life in the church. IN THE CHURCH. Yes, much of this also applies to the world. Yes, much of this applies to the great state of California with its same-sex marriages and medical marijuana and every liberal and nutty cause you can think of. But Paul is also describing life in the churches he was privileged to plant. And, as I have already pointed out, it certainly sounds like life in our churches today.
Consider some of the ways Paul's description of terrible times comes to expression in our churches. In our churches, just like in the world, members lie and cheat and steal and commit adultery and hold grudges and fight with family members. In our churches, just like in the world, marriages are falling apart. In our churches, just like in the world, people are viewing pornography. In our churches, just like in the world, children need to be protected from abusive parents. In our churches, just like in the world, members become addicted to drugs and alcohol. In our churches, just like in the world, imperfect kids are being raised by imperfect parents.
"There will be terrible times in the last days" (2 Tim 3:1). We are living in those times. We are ministering in those times as elders, deacons, and pastors. As office bearers we need to keep in mind that we are dealing with sinners and their sin.
II Ministry in Terrible Times
A Now, what kind of ministry is called for in "terrible times"? That's the question I want us to answer this installation Sunday. What are our elders, pastors, and deacons to be doing? What are we to do as Trinity United Reformed Church?
You might have heard of the Barna Group. They specialize in religious surveys and picking out trends in churches. Based upon their surveys they say "terrible times" require special ministry. We need to do special ministry or we will lose our children and grandchildren. We need to modernize ourselves or we will become irrelevant. We need to get with the 21st century way of doing things or we are part of a dying breed. I am sure most everyone here has heard those arguments. Maybe you have even heard them from members of your own family.
What is the result of this kind of thinking? In the 80's many pastors were given the opportunity to go for free with their wives to the Crystal Cathedral to learn how to do church through the power of positive thinking; things aren't looking so positive now, are they? In the 90's many pastors were sent for free to Willow Creek Community Church in the greater Chicago area and told to be seeker friendly; even Bill Hybels, the founding pastor, now admits this was a mistake. More recently, pastors have been sent to Saddleback Church to learn from Rick Warren how to be purpose-driven. If there is anything these fads teach us is that they are just fads that come and go like the tide. They come and go because they are human driven and not Bible driven.
B So, what is the Bible's way of ministering in terrible times? Listen to what the apostle says: "continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of" (2 Tim 3:14). The key word here is "continue." The key thing to ministry in difficult, terrible, awful times is to continue. Continue in what you have been doing. Continue doing what you have always been doing. No need to change course, to jump ship, to try something new. Continue.
Continue what? Continue in the "holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 3:15). Let me repeat: Continue in the "holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 3:15).
I can hear the cries and the screams (hopefully not from anyone here): "But that is so old-fashioned. That is so yesteryear. That is the way our grandparents did church. That is the way the Reformers and apostles did church. Our times are special and different. New methods and new ways are needed. The old ways are inadequate." Really? Do you think that is what Bob Schuller at the Crystal Cathedral is saying right now?
Over the years I have met people who are not happy with church and worship unless there is change, something different, something unique. I remember a woman who said something positive about worship only when something different was done.
In contrast to this desire for constant change and innovation is the Bible's call to continue: "continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of" (2 Tim 3:14). Continue as you minister in terrible times. Continue as you minister to sinners.
C In these terrible times, as we do the Lord's work in Trinity and Visalia and Big Springs, we need to continue. "Continue," says Paul, in the "holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 3:15).
Many churches have lost that. Pastor Godfrey and I were attending a clergy group meeting. One of the men wanted to know how we who are Reformed decide what to preach on. In his church, he explained, there are so many special Sundays that he gets to pick only a handful of topics or passages to preach on per year. His church observes the Christian calendar, of course. But on top of that they also celebrate Earth Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Justice Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and the list goes on and on. In contrast to this, we continue to proclaim the Bible's message of sin, salvation, and service. In contrast to this, we continue to proclaim the Bible's message of repentance and faith. Because we know Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).
This isn't the only time Paul touches on this theme. In his first letter to Timothy he writes,
(1 Tim 4:13) Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.It is the same theme again: continue. Continue in the Scriptures.
A funny story some of you know. A number of years ago the Big Springs church was without a pastor and was thinking of closing its doors. Rev. Bernie Van Ee agreed to look them over. On the Sunday he came to preach the church building was packed. He decided to take the call. Much to his surprise the attendance was down to half after he started his ministry. What happened? Turns out one of the members owns a gas station. He offered a free fill-up to everyone who attended when Bernie was looking the church over. But what did Bernie do? He did exactly what Paul tells us to do: he continued. He preached the Gospel message. He preached and he taught and now, by the grace of God, there is a group of brothers and sisters who are committed to continuing as church.
D "Continue," says Paul, in the "holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 3:15). Specifically, what does this call for? We are to be Word-centered, not program centered. We are to be Word-centered, not building centered. We are to be Word-centered, not seeker centered. Our ministry, our work as elders and deacons and pastors, our work as a church, is to be centered on the Word. We are to continue in the Holy Scriptures as we make visits to the sick and the elderly and the financially stressed. We are to continue in the holy Scriptures as we counsel the troubled and the broken-hearted. Because this is what is needed in these terrible times.
Let me broaden this. We are to continue in the holy Scriptures as we minister to our children and youth in Sunday School, Catechism, GEMS, Cadets, and Youth Group. We are to continue in the holy Scriptures as we minister at Westgate and Sierra Village. We are to continue in the holy Scriptures at VBS this week in the oval and in a couple of weeks at Big Springs.
We live and work and minister in terrible times. What are we to do as elders, deacons, and pastors? What are we to do as Trinity URC? We are to continue in the holy Scriptures which make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Continue because human nature has not changed. Continue because the Gospel has not changed. Continue because the means of grace have not changed. Continue. Amen.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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