Keep His Teachings Pure (October 29, 2017)
Keep His Teachings Pure
2 Timothy 4:2-5
It happens all the time. I’m in the office browsing YouTube for some peaceful study music and I run into it. Clickbait. Or as I’m setting up for a project at home and looking for either some good country music or maybe even an interesting documentary, I run into it. Clickbait. I guess one way of describing clickbait is simply the old bait and switch. You see a title or image of something that looks really interesting, so you click on it, and it turns out that what you really wanted to watch was barely even mentioned in the video – if at all.
Clickbait essentially has two principle characteristics. The first, is appealing to the masses. What do people want to see? What do people want to hear? Let’s use that in our title or in our thumbnail image. But then, the second principle, is that it doesn’t stay true to its word. It offers one thing, while giving another. It promises something, but does not fulfill.
Unfortunately, I think clickbait would be one accurate way of describing some churches of our day. They claim to be Christian churches or churches that remain true to the Bible, but in fact do not focus on Christ, and subject the Bible to human reason and emotion. They also, often, offer all kinds of programs and series which appeal to the masses, but sadly fail to use these opportunities to show Christ.
So how do we keep the teachings of God’s Word pure in an age when many would agree it’s up to one’s own personal interpretation? Preach the Word and keep your head.
The Greek words “khruxate to euaggelion” are printed above the doors of the chapel of the Seminary I attended in Wisconsin. I must have walked under those words over 500 times. “Preach the Gospel” is what they mean. Almost the exact same words as Paul uses here as an exhortation to young Timothy. “Preach the Word!” It’s a very good reminder for every preacher as he stands in the pulpit to minister to God’s people. A preacher is a herald. This isn’t my church. You aren’t my disciples. Therefore, it’s not my message you came to hear. It’s God’s message you came to hear and by his grace I get to be the one to share that with you. A preacher is a herald. A herald is vested with authority to proclaim publicly the official message of a king or high official. The office of herald precludes permission to devise a message of his own. You are God’s people, and God has a message for you. I’m simply the mouthpiece. Therefore, every preacher and every church must be focused on preaching God’s Word purely!
God’s Word was not often preached in Luther’s day. And if it was, it certainly wasn’t the focus of the service. Yes, they had some of the same reading patterns that we do today – something from the Old Testament and something from the New. But the service didn’t really have a place to dig into God’s Word like we do in our sermons. If they did have a time for something like a speech, it could focus on anything from God’s Word – often the law – a papal decree, or anything else on the church’s agenda. But to focus on preaching God’s Word and to make it a highlight of the service is something that Luther pushed. And, of course, he found it important that the reading and preaching be done in the native language of the people so that they could actually understand it. God’s Word is the highest source of truth, therefore it ought to take a prominent place in every worship service.
Now, there’s a lot in God’s Word. There’s easy parts and there’s difficult parts. There’s parts that we love to read and hear, but there’s also parts that we don’t like to hear. We love to hear the gospel about how God is forgiving and loves us. But we don’t like to hear the words of the law that we are sinful, even at birth. Or that even the good deeds that we try to do are like filthy rags. But these two, law and gospel, go hand in hand. If we only focus on the law, well everyone would despair because of their sinfulness which would probably lead to rage, anger, and hate. Similarly, if we only focused on the gospel, our own sinfulness would be minimized and we may even forget how much we really need a Savior. We need to hear the Law so that we know the depth of our sin and look for a Savior besides ourselves. Then we need to hear the gospel which shows that Savior who redeemed us by God’s love and mercy. Law and Gospel go together. They are two sides of the same coin. Where one is not properly taught, the other suffers. Together they make up God’s Word. So when you preach, preach the whole word!
I suppose I should explain that although this is directed to a young pastor and it talks about preaching the word, this really applies to all Christians! Yes, Pastors preach the Word publicly, but every one of you has been called to also preach the word in your own setting. Speak the Word at the office, when the opportunity presents itself. Speak the Word with friends when they need to hear it. Speak the Word with your family, letting it fill your house. Preach the Word when you have opportunities to “correct, rebuke and encourage” (2 Tim 4:2). But there’s a very important conditional added to this: “with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim 4:2).
Be ready to preach the Word at any time. That’s what he means by “be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). We are often ready to answer tough questions in Bible class or at church. That would be considered “in season.” But what about when you are just spending time with someone you care about, and they lay on you a heavy question. You know the answer is in God’s Word, but are you prepared? Are you ready to answer? Are you ready to preach the word? And I understand that you can’t be expected to be a biblical scholar, but we should always be learning and growing. I understand that you can’t have an answer to every single question, but you can perhaps take some time to think about what you might say in a few common circumstances. What will I say when someone is looking for comfort after a death. What will I say when someone asks about a lifestyle that I know is against God’s Will? What will I say when someone asks me to give a reason for the hope that I have? Be prepared in season and out of season. Be prepared by filling up on God’s Word often and making it a part of your life.
“The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine” (2 Tim 4:3). That time had already begun to dawn in Paul and Timothy’s day. Already in their day a movement called Gnosticism had begun to grow from within the Christian church. Gnostics would seek a hidden knowledge from the New Testament writings which would deliver them from the material world when they had gained enough of this secret knowledge. You can see another instance in Luther’s day of people not putting up with sound doctrine. October 31st this year marks the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 theses. His purpose in posting these theses was to have a debate on these points based on scriptures. In the events that followed, Luther sought again and again to point out from Scripture how the church in his day had erred, yet his opponents would not put up with the sound doctrine that he presented – instead relying on tradition and simply refusing a debate. You can see that still today there are people who will not put up with sound doctrine. And one thing to remember is that it never starts with simply introducing a terrible and blatant error. Think of the many who are in error today. Trace their errors back to the beginning and you will see a series of very small steps. I often think of a ship that deviates from its course by just a fraction of a degree. That deviance can go unnoticed for quite some time until 500 miles later they realize that they are miles off course.
Not only do people veer off course, they compound the problem by “gathering around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). So they veer of course and then build confidence in that incorrect course by rallying support from others. It’s easy to see why. People don’t want to think about sin or condemnation. It does not flatter those who elevate good deeds and human potential. They want to be able to say they had some part in it. They want some credit for their salvation. Oh how our ears love to hear that “Good job.” How they long to hear that appreciation. Their ears “itch to hear what flatters their ego, what gives credit to man, what satisfies natural desires and lusts, what makes sense to human reason or doesn’t make any sense at all but delights man because he has dreamed it up! Yet, at the same time, they take pride in great scientific accomplishments but will not put up with the “foolishness” of “sound doctrine.”
So, they “turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:4). Really any false religion is essentially a myth. Any false doctrine, even among Christians, is a myth. In Luther’s day it was thy myth of salvation by works, the myth that a piece of paper could get one out of hell, and the myth that when the pope speaks, his word is on the same level as God’s Word. Often today it’s the myth that God’s Word is subject to being interpreted by human reason, explaining away what the words so clearly say. There’s also the myth of “evolutionism,” the myth of “humanism,” the list goes on and on. If it’s not in agreement with God’s Word as it is plainly read, then it’s a myth.
As you live amid this sea of shifting and changing tides, people chasing here and there searching for a message that will tickle their ears, keep your head. Paul draws a strong distinction. A time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. They will gather around themselves people who agree. They will turn their ears away from the truth. “But YOU, keep your head in all situations” (2 Tim 4:5). Remain “level-headed” or “keep and even keel.” That’s one picture that really sticks in my mind. As the turbulent waves are thrashing about, and the surf is rising and falling, keep an even keel by keeping your ship pointed in the right direction. Focus on the Word which focuses on Christ. Do not become confused or carried away by those who tout the keys to unlock scripture or the arguments that debunk scripture. Always look to God’s Word for your answer. Always look to God’s Word to keep you from being carried away by those who want to push and pull you away from the pure scriptures. Learn to recognize and expose myths for what they are. The brunt of this burden ought to fall on pastors and teachers who are trained in recognizing and exposing error. But you too! Learn how to identify errors and stay away from them. And if you are uncertain, always return to scripture to give you a level-head. Yes, this will bring about hardship for being “intolerant” at times. Yes, people will call you foolish. But endure! Endure and pray! “Lord grant while worlds endure we keep its teachings pure throughout all generations.”
Clickbait is dangerous for two reasons. 1) It entices you with whatever you want to see and hear. Like many false doctrines that enter the church, it appeals to human beings. It may not be what you need, but it has a level of appeal. 2) Clickbait does not focus on what it says it will offer. Essentially any Christian church that does not focus on Christ for full salvation is offering “clickbait.” If it were works, it should be called “good works church.” If it were reason, it should be called “the church of reason.” If their teaching was that sin doesn’t matter let’s just focus on the good, it should be called “Be the best you church.” In a religiously confused world that will not put up with sound doctrine and is often searching for “features” rather than “core beliefs”, it is vitally important that the church and its pastors remain sober, level-headed, and not succumb to the temptation to adapt their teaching to what people want to hear.
Yes, on this day we celebrate what God did through Martin Luther, but we do not worship Martin Luther. We give thanks for a man who was bold enough to proclaim the message of the Bible during spiritually dark times. The message that we are saved by God’s grace along, this is ours through faith alone, and we can be certain of it by turning to the Scriptures alone.