“For the time will come when people 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. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
-2 Tim 3:3-4
Brothers and sisters in Christ!
As he has since chapter one of 2 Timothy, here the Apostle Paul continues to talk about the importance of successfully guarding the pattern of sound teaching he passes on….
“Sound teaching” is teaching that is rooted in truth and in the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ, and hence this sound or healthy teaching will make you healthy and holy….
On the other hand, what do we see in our world today?
It is far, far worse than junk food… it is garbage.
The information we get from our media – and even in our business, government and educational institutions as well! – has progressively fled from notions of objectivity and impartiality (even if some are loathe to admit this)
…and now, accusations of “fake news” or “disinformation” appear across the political spectrum, as those opposing one another seemingly use words as best they can to win…
And here is a thought:
In this context, how might we interpret the popular statement “knowledge is power”?
Here, my former vocation of academic librarianship is interesting in this regard…
Some in that profession continue to say reasonable-sounding things like: “[people] come to libraries seeking information that will help them create knowledge. They do not want misinformation or disinformation; they do not want to be deceived”.
This, I believe, goes hand in hand with something I just saw from a popular, local Twin Cities reporter. She said, “The truth makes me tick…”
On the other hand, I read (red) others insisting that “power operates through knowledge production”, “knowledge production is […] historically situated and embedded in power relations” and its production “never occurs outside power relations”.
That idea sounds complicated, but maybe it really isn’t. Maybe it’s as simple as what another academic librarian says…. It’s not even so much that knowledge is power, but “it’s more reflective of reality to say, ‘Power is knowledge’”.
Power is knowledge.
Cue the great contemporary philosopher Richard Rorty, now deceased: “Truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”
Got that: “Truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”
Rorty thought that was a good thing. For many an elite contemporary person then, knowledge and truth aren’t strictly related. Don’t necessarily go together.
Knowledge is “knowledge” [in quotes]…
Just this past week listening to a podcast I heard someone say that what ultimately matters between one set of ideas and another is what is effective… what is effective in the class struggle… the rich vs. the poor…
Your political orientation, left, center, or right… might not matter though… Increasingly, whatever direction one leans, everything seems to take a back seat to effectiveness, basically power…
Whatever words and skills that you pick up – and that you can employ — to get the job you and others want done done – that is ultimately what is important.
Do you see how the role of things like common definitions and facts (“facts” in quotes) diminishes here?
What is important is that there are only other persons who exercise power over their circumstances, their worlds, and who trust each other or not…
We might say this is knowledge as conceivable, useful, trust.
Do you see why I am bringing this up?
People who have this view–even unconsciously–are definitely going to struggle with what we heard from the Apostle Paul this morning about “sound doctrine”. That is, his idea of “the pattern of sound teaching [or words]…”
Why? Because the definitions of words change, can change, and we will change them as best we see fit and desire… Because all things, after all, evolve.
Radical transformation – not necessarily understood in a Christian sense – is what life is all about!
Even human nature is liquid, fluid, alterable… Authors from the past die and we move on, radically reinterpreting their words for our era.
For the world, if there is a movement of the Spirit, it is about changing what has been considered “natural” and changing the future – not “tradition” in any sense!
This, my friends, is the modern myth.
This is what the contemporary itching ears want to hear….
In Christianity, on the other hand, knowledge can be said to be power as well, but for a very, very different reason.
Knowledge is power because our understanding of knowledge is that it is not just conceivable useful trust but justified, true, belief.
If we do not believe something, it cannot be knowledge that we personally possess.
If we sincerely believe that something is true but it is false–it is not –this can hardly be called knowledge.
Finally, knowledge is something that can be justified – believing something is warranted because good evidence and reasons can be given…
This is the classical definition of knowledge, and it goes hand in hand with the Christian faith.
It doesn’t matter if your words “work” for the goals that you try to reach.
If Christ is not raised – really raised from the dead! – all your words and works are ultimately in vain!
Sometimes well-meaning Christians say we uphold Scripture and not tradition. This though, is misled.
We do uphold traditions not contrary to Scripture—and our greatest tradition is Scripture itself, and the greatest content of the Scriptures is the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Christ crucified and risen for the world’s forgiveness, life, and salvation…
So, like the runner in the relay race, pass on the baton.
Today, in the world, as has always been the case, there is a battle for men’s souls.
Stories like Harry Potter, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the Lord of the Rings are right.
It is all about good vs. evil.
Behind the veil, there is a spiritual war between light and darkness.
But don’t be afraid, because knowledge is power.
And as the Apostle Paul describes in his letter to Timothy, your power is through the Holy Spirit who creates a new man, an “inner man,” in us….
He does this through the Word of God, through the Scriptures, our great treasure.
The Bible, my friends, is the very word of God Himself!
Pick it up. Read. Learn. Inwardly digest.
Struggle through it and with it. Buy a study Bible. Get kid friendly Bibles and stories and read them with your children and grand children…
And remember this jewel, this treasure, comes as a whole. It is not a necklace where we can get rid of some of the beads we don’t like, for example.
It is the jewel, the tradition, that must be handed on at all costs…
It is not so much “Scripture or Tradition” or “Scripture and Tradition”: again, the Scriptures are basically the Tradition
Struggle with this concept if you must.
For I hope you know…the world around you is very, very skeptical…
What’s that you hear from them?
The Scriptures are old…
They are discredited….
They are irrelevant…
There are all kinds of reasons to doubt them…
Maybe they just “contain” the “Word of God” – perhaps just the tender and gentle stuff about Jesus?
If they fancy themselves more sophisticated, you might hear: “Didn’t Martin Luther, the 16th c. Reformer, for example, throw out the book of James and Revelation?”
Why are you listening to what that preacher says? Who has transplanted him from the Middle Ages to here?
Christian, don’t you know the Bible not only tells us about Jesus, but is full of some other more questionable things as well?
Don’t you know we are Americans?!
I mean, yes, I know in the Gospel reading a couple weeks back it talked about how a Master just expects his servant to do what he asks and the servant seems to think even a Good Master should do this, but… But we don’t ever believe we unworthy servants only do what is asked of us (Luke 17:10)…
We certainly don’t think fear should ever be a component of how anyone is “ruled”! We don’t think that really has a place anymore.
And things like the death penalty, for example, don’t belong in this world….
Biblical ideas like headship we know lead to abuse.
And we like it when everyone is equal in every single way! We like it when people are free! We like harmony! – and when we can get lost in the music with those of like-mind!
Haven’t you felt the power of the crowd? Haven’t you lost yourself in the excitement, gotten taken up into something that is bigger than yourself?
Don’t you like that, want that, feel that… too?
Well, no. Tempted sometimes though.
I do have an alternative that I find compelling however…
It’s called the Christian church, and while its patriarchs and matriarchs don’t rule like the rulers of the world, they have guarded and passed down the sacred treasure.
The sacred jewel.
Do not be deceived brothers and sisters!
Stir up the fireplace! Now! Do not let the flame go out!
You have not been given timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline….
The sinful world wants a lot of things, and in many of the things it wants, there are echoes of good.
It wants unity! It wants harmony! It wants equality! It wants justice! It wants freedom!
It wants everyone to feel good about who they are and their neighbors as well. It wants, as the commercial said, to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…
In a sense, it is good and right to want all of these things.
That said, there is mass confusion about what these things ultimately look like, and how one can achieve them.
It doesn’t matter if you have the impression your words “work” for the goals that you try to reach.
Rhetoric without truth dies.
Again, if Christ is not raised – really raised! – all your words and works are in vain!
Satan loves all the confusion he is causing today.
And he hates the clear Gospel and that you have it.
He hates that men like Luther didn’t really throw out the book of James and Revelation, but rightly pointed out their relative importance compared with books like John and Romans…
He absolutely hates most of all what Martin Luther did, bringing out the stark clarity of the situation he found himself in….
He hates that Luther was “mean”… meaning he didn’t care if persons didn’t like him because of the message he preached.
He hates that such a man clearly revealed his, Satan’s, hand…
Now. I don’t want to give the impression that I think Martin Luther always handled things perfectly.
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus…”
It is true that “faith and love” are to form the atmosphere, so to speak, in which the “sound words” are to be preserved.
That said, let us not forget the battle we are in, the need for tough love…. and the admonition to be as wise as serpents.
A little parable to share….
I read it about three years ago and think it is particularly appropriate to our day and age and the questions and challenges that face us….
“Once upon a time, there were 10 brothers who were charged with guarding a gem the king had given to their village — a beautiful stone that promised them the king’s favor and protection.
When charging the brothers to secure this precious gem, the king gave them clear instructions:
“My enemy will constantly be scheming to take this gem away from you. He will threaten you with violence.
He will mock you and turn your friends against you. He will try to convince you the gem is not really yours or you don’t really need it.
But no matter what approach he uses, don’t fall for his tricks.”
One day, the king’s enemy approached the 10 brothers with a small army behind him.
“I imagine you’ve come here to steal our gem,” the oldest brother said.
“Absolutely not,” the enemy insisted. “I think it’s wonderful that you have it. I just hate to see the way your brother is using the gem.
His tone is always abrasive and arrogant when he talks about protecting it.
It gives the rest of you a bad name. Dismiss him from his post guarding the gem, and my army will leave you alone.”
The oldest brother always found his youngest sibling a bit irritating and embarrassing, so he considered this a no-brainer and immediately gave the enemy what he asked.
A week later, the enemy returned with his army, now claiming he had problems with the second-youngest brother.
“This guy has been saying the gem doesn’t belong to certain people in the village, people he doesn’t like. This is unloving and cruel. Disavow him too, and we’ll be friends.”
The oldest brother wasn’t especially fond of that brother either, so he once again gave the enemy what he wanted.
But week after week, the enemy kept returning and asking for the oldest brother to separate himself from another one of his brothers until, eventually, the oldest brother stood alone — the sole remaining guardian of the gem.
Seeing that the man now had no one left to defend him, the enemy walked up to the oldest brother, whispered, “You fell for it,” into his ear, stabbed him through the heart, and walked away with the gem.
The writer of this “parable of the guardians” explains:
The king is Christ. The gem is, [ultimately,] his salvation.
The brothers are Christians. The enemy is the devil, and his army is the mob of anti-Christian voices in the world.
And the moral of the story is this: No matter what they say, the devil and this world won’t be content until they’ve taken Christ’s salvation away from you.
So don’t throw your fellow believers under the bus to escape persecution. All you’ll do is hasten your demise.”
You see, first the world tells you they don’t like the way you say it.
Then, you discover that they simply don’t like what you say….
Folks, there have been times when the message of the Scriptures has been far from men’s hearts… this seems to be happening again today…
Like we are told about the account of the ring of power in the movie about the Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth… the Ring passed out of all knowledge…”
In the movie, the loss of the ring arguably seemed a good thing in one way: because that ring of power increased corruption and evil.
When the Scriptures are far from our hearts though, that is when our corruption will come… has come….
It is a good thing the true power that defeats evil and corruption, God’s Word to man, has never been wholly lost…
And now, in these last days, we have it even clearer. The Apostle Paul writes:
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…
A pattern of very, very sound words!
These are life giving words!
Be encouraged brothers and sisters! Do not let things like suffering and persecution in the world discourage you – or slow you down…
When Jesus rhetorically asks “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”, know the answer is “Yes” and cry out “Lord, make me trust you always through it all, to the end…”
When Paul begins to encourage Timothy in chapter one, he brings up how his faithful mother and grandmothers passed on the faith to him. As one ancient commentator (Theodoret) put it, “nothing helps like a domestic example”.
That is true. I remember when I was a teacher in Slovakia for two years, hearing the stories of the serious Lutherans who had come through communism because of faithful grandmothers who taught them.
Thanks be to God for faithful traditioners such as these!
So Paul writes “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures…”
Be faithful to God’s word. Be faithful to your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pass The Message On.
Realize that the best way to guard the faith is not to play defense, but to go on the offensive. To learn it, to inwardly digest it, and to proclaim it.
This is not something that you can do in your own strength, but with the strength God provides: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us…”
By grace through faith, not by works…Christ has been crucified for your sins that you might have peace with God…
…and by His work has overcome the world!
He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
The same yesterday, today, and forever!
The victor over sin, death, and the devil.
And the King will return, to finally set all things right.
Pray and don’t give up, for Christ prays for you and does not give up. (Heb. 7:25, Rom. 8:34)
So, by His Holy Spirit…
continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of….
And Guard the Good Deposit, the One Treasure Above Them All.