This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Allan Groen, London, Ont.
The accuracy with which we can navigate today is stunning. Scientists can blast a rocket into outer space and dock precisely with a satellite, far above the earth. For cars we can now get global positioning devices which can tell us exactly where we are, even whether we are in the right lane of a freeway, or if we need to move over one lane to get to our next exit. If only we could make our religious, moral or spiritual journey with the same pinpoint accuracy! But our society is totally bewildered and confused. It does not know our human destination, and seems to act like we are in uncharted water.
Healthy congregations have one thing in common: we have an excellent map to chart our course. We know our destination. And we are confident that God has given us the Bible to be the map by which we all agree to travel. The Bible is the book which God by the power of his Holy Spirit has given to us (vs. 16). The last half of vs. 16 puts in a nutshell the great message we have from God: the writings from God enable us to become wise in salvation's ways, through Jesus Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these words describe what a wonderful gift God has given to us. There is a book that contains in it everything we need to know to become wise in salvation's ways. The opposite of this teaching would be to say that the Bible is a book about morality. The Bible is often presented that way, as if its main purpose were to teach us how to be good dads and moms, good citizens, or good boys and girls. However, if that were the Bible's main goal, then it would be similar to a library full of other books. But then the church has nothing exciting to believe, and nothing exciting to share with the world. In that case, people who hear the message about morality would respond with a bored "ho hum."
Instead, the teaching that there is in this book, that enables us to become wise about salvation through Jesus Christ, is a wonderful message for ourselves and for our neighbors, our city, our world.
We often hear the sound of amazement and delight over God's message as it comes to us in the Bible. Do you catch the thrill in the voice of Micah in 7:18, as he reveals concerning God: "Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?" Do we still hear the amazement in what the Psalmist says: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path?" Can you imagine the thrill of John the Baptizer when he announced to the people in the wilderness, "all mankind will see God's salvation!"
The apostle Paul gives us his wonderful statement, almost off-hand. It is nevertheless full of awe. God has given us the great gift of revealing to us the great truths of salvation. God makes known to us the person of Jesus Christ. What would we do if we had not heard these great things from the Lord our God? Life would be really poor, wouldn't it, without this great knowledge of the gospel.
In Bible classes, teachers often spend much time discussing vs. 16 of this chapter, to affirm that God gave us the Bible through the Holy Spirit. That's important, because we need to affirm that God gave his Word to us. However, how we got the Bible is part of the story. Just as important is, to be clear about the purpose for which God gave it, as set out in our text. What this says to us is this: the church knows all about salvation. We have learned it from God, and by the Holy Spirit, we have received this salvation. This is what ties us together as brothers and sisters. We may be different in many ways. Perhaps we don't even like some of the people in the congregation very much. We don't always see eye to eye on things either. But we have this wonderful bond. All of us are members of a community that shares this story of redemption.
We use our resources, we develop our history, and we respond to the communities in which we live out of the confidence that the message is a message about redemption. This being the case, the church stands for the most important message there is in all God's creation.
The children's rhyme about Humpty Dumpty is a good reminder of what salvation means. Poor Humpty! He fell off the wall. His shell is shattered. His innards are all over the sidewalk. And no one can put Humpty together again. People are born broken. Sin is part of who we are, from conception and birth. It is a horrible thing to underestimate the power of sin, and the destruction it causes to us as individuals and as communities. We cannot repair that, no more than an ox can plow the ocean. No one — except God!
Friends in Jesus Christ, here is the heart of the message. This is what we believe. God can take the shards of our lives and put us together again. God can take a broken person whose life is a mess of pain and misery, and make us whole. God did it for us, and God can do this for the people who walk on Main Street in the dark, or wander the malls of the city, or get plastered in the pubs. God can heal those who have been abused, sidelined, stomped on, forgotten, and heal them, restore them. God is swift to forgive wrongs that cripple our consciences, when we confess them. God is able to save us, and God is able to give people faith in Jesus Christ, through the power of grace, and through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
This would make a great identity statement, a great vision of what God can do through our church: God is able to make us wise for salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ!
This expresses God's response to the deepest desires in our hearts. Consider this: at a birth and a baptism, we have a deep desire for all our children and grandchildren. As we cuddle a few pounds of smelly, squealing, beautiful humanity in our arms, we are aware of how difficult life may turn out to be for this little one. We want to protect this little one to the best of our abilities. May this child of the covenant have a rich and full life, a life of peace and of love. May all our children know the love of God in Jesus, and be surrounded by God's goodness and blessings. May our children be surrounded by gentle and caring folk, wise and thoughtful parents. Deeply we know that our children are vulnerable. Lord, protect our children, keep them safe, and may they prosper. That's the prayer in our hearts. May our children, along with all of us, become wise for salvation. That's our prayer!
We need many skills to make it in our society. Children have to learn their numbers, and need to be able to read and write. But the Bible and God's people know we need more than skills; we need something that is intangible and hard to define. We don't know exactly what it looks like, that other thing we need, but the Bible often calls it "wisdom." Parents and congregation alike stand together with our children, our families and our friends. We promise to teach the doctrine of the Bible and the church to our children and to each other.
That's what Timothy’s mother and grandmother did, too. Godly people know from their own experience with life and from their life of faith, that there is nothing better to learn than the sacred writing, because they are able to make us wise for salvation. And until we know the saving power of God, we don't know anything.
Paul hammers that home in his letter to Timothy, because in the last days there will be terrible times of attack. Deceivers will make much headway in their deceptive ways, and will launch attacks against believers. The attack from outside will give birth to doubts and questions inside. In the face of such persecutions, skills in science and technology will not be enough. The attack from the outside is happening right now, for people have indeed become lovers of themselves and of money, boastful, abusive, disobedient to their parents, etc... When we read this chapter it is almost as if Paul had been reading the Times and the Post of the past year.
What is Timothy to do? What are we to do in an age where feelings are more important than truth, entertainment more important than worship, earning money more important than being godly? Paul points to God's Word as a totally different way from the world's way. The world may not agree, but the Bible teaches us that those who walk in the council of the Lord are blessed. The Lord's favor is on them.
In our disintegrating society, we have only one resource to guide us, only the one reliable map. We point to the holy writings, for they are able to make us wise for salvation through Jesus Christ.
The text says a wonderful thing about the Bible. It has dynamite to make us wise. The claim is that the Bible is not just a collection of stories and sayings. It is a book with power; the Bible is a tool in the hand of God, a tool by which God sets to work remaking and reshaping human lives. Our lives are distorted by sin and death. But then God comes and makes the Word powerful to accomplish the goals and purposes God has in mind. That spells out the great value of the Bible. It is the chisel in the hand of God to give life God's intended shape. It is the welding torch God uses to put broken pieces together again. It is the scalpel for removing diseased tissues. All believers testify to this power of God that is at work with the Bible.
Through faith, we realized that it is true: God uses our faith in Jesus Christ to make us wise with the wisdom of the new creation, the kingdom of God, the wisdom of salvation. What a gift it is, to get our bearings, our global positioning from God in this way. For isn't it true that many churches also have fallen on hard times? Many congregations and Christians suffer from loss of enthusiasm, loss of membership, decreasing involvement from church members, too. It seems like the church of Jesus Christ is being shoved to the fringes of society.
What are we to do? Many of us struggle with those kinds of questions. And many of us are also undertaking courageous and creative actions to try to keep the ship afloat. But it is not easy. A lot of our efforts don't bear much fruit. People get tired and frustrated.
Christians and their churches often feel like ships without rudders in the middle of a stormy ocean. We feel so often like a hiker who is lost in the woods, and wanders around in a circle. What are God's people to do?
The answer is: to do what God's people have always done, when they were at their best. It is the advice Paul gave Timothy. He said: "you have learned God's Word." Then: "you became convinced that God's Word is true." Now continue in that Word.
Do you see that the statement that God's Word is able to make us wise for salvation answers a question that was in Timothy's heart, and that lives in the heart of many Christians? Already during Paul and Timothy's time, the churches fell on hard times. The Christians were persecuted. Many Christians of today have experienced that. Teachers come along who try to sway God's people from God's truth. Sin abounds, and sinners prosper. While we in North America have not been directly persecuted, the last two are challenges we also know all too well.
What we are to do is simple enough to state. Stay the course! Continue in the Word of God. Get to know it better and better. Grow in your understanding of what the Word means. Don't let anyone throw you off the trail.
Simple enough to state, indeed. But it also requires a believing and obedient heart. It will be difficult for people who think of the Bible as only a story book, or a book of instructions for a moral way of life.
But Paul's instruction to us to continue in the Word makes a lot of sense once we have come to appreciate deep within our hearts the saving wisdom that God gives to those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Often today, churches are told that we have to have a vision. What do we stand for? Do we have a clear sense of who we are now? Do we know what God wants us to be in the future? Indeed, without a good sense of that, we will be a complacent church. We will drift into the future, without a clear sense of purpose or direction.
The text for today gives us a clear answer to those kinds of questions. We know who we are, for we are a community of believers who have been saved through Jesus Christ. And we know that God calls us to share that wonderful story of salvation.
When we know that God’s Word is able to make all people wise in salvation’s ways, then the church stands for the greatest message in the whole world. Let us together give thanks to God for that wonderful message, about the most wonderful person in the world, Jesus Christ, the Savior and King.
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship (Psalm 36:5-10)
Leader: Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Congregation: Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
Leader: How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Congregation: They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give
them drink from the river of your delights.
Leader: For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Congregation: O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Greeting from God: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.
Hymns: #48, "Great Is the Lord our God" and #508, "Jesus, with Your Church Abide"
Confession of Faith
Song of Praise: Isaiah 12, responsively
"Our World Belongs to God" paragraphs 41-44, Ps.H. page 1031, 1032
Hymn #243, "How Lovely is Your Dwelling"
The Ministry of the Word
Prayer for Understanding Hymn #424, "Spirit of the Living God"
Scripture Reading: Psalm 1, 2; Timothy 3:10-17
Text: 2 Timothy 3:15
Sermon: "Teaching that Matters"
Hymn #479, "I Will Sing of My Redeemer"
Congregational Prayer Offering of Gifts
Hymn #502, "The Church's One Foundation"
We go into the world to serve
Benediction: Lord, we pray in confidence that you will bless and keep us. Let your light shine on each person here today, and be gracious to us all. Lord, turn your face to us, and give us your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Doxology #517, "There's No God as Great"