Paul’s tools will work

Sermon given on Sunday, November 5, 2017.  After completing the letters of Paul to the early churches, this sermon focuses on the letters he wrote to the pastors he appointed to two of the churches, Timothy and Titus.  

For two months I have been totally consumed with the fallout from the chaos that followed our baptismal service. I have questioned my calling. I have tried to apologize. I have tried to sort out the details of what happened. And I have kept moving forward. All the time, I have not been able to shed the immense sorrow that I feel as a result of that day’s events.

I continued reading Paul’s letters to the early churches and asked what would the message be for our congregation. There is truth in each letter that applies as much to today’s church as it does to the earliest churches. Sadly, I do not think the lessons made an impact.

During these weeks, I have sought council. I have heard opinions. I have experienced shunning. And I have had to answer to the district superintendent. All the while, only one source continues providing Christ-like advice and that is the Bible. After exhausting all the various sources I could, I turned again to Paul. This time I found the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, two of the pastors he placed in churches.

Last week, I shared a brief scripture from Titus, so this week I decided to focus on reading the two letters to Timothy. I discovered that Titus was actually written between the two letters to Timothy and 2 Timothy was written by Paul while he was under arrest and trying to prepare for his final trial that in historical perspective turned out to end in his execution. Therefore, 2 Timothy was his last letter to the earliest Christians.

This week, searching for answers and direction, Paul’s advice to Timothy may provide needed guidance. Let’s begin with today’s opening verses (2 Timothy 2:10-14):

10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.

11 This is a trustworthy saying:

If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
12 If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

These words written as Paul sat in a Roman prison alone, about AD 66 or 67, are words that pastors need to hear. These are words of encouragement, almost like a mantra to develop one’s self-confidence. But these words are for all faithful followers, not just pastors. As long as we remain faithful to God, he will continue to be with us.

The rumor mill that has churned out stories in our community have caused damage. Words have divided us in ways we may not even realize. But Paul wants us to remember to stay faithful. To remain loyal. To endure hardships. And in verse 14:

 

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

Those words mean the same thing regardless of the translation:

 

  • KJV: 14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
  • NRSV: 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God[a]that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.
  • NIV: 14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
  • MSG: 14-18 Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out.
  • CEB: 14 Remind them of these things and warn them in the sight of God not to engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them.

 

Today, these words must be the very basic principle that is the foundation of a healthy congregation. When one is hurt by the words that are being spoken, healing is difficult. But with God, anything is possible as long as all words spoken whether by myself, the pastor, or by any of us need to be Christ-like at all times.

This is a tremendous order that Paul has sent to Timothy, and it is a tremendous one for each of us. I do the best that I can, and I apologize for any words that may be hurtful. What I must do now is stay focused on the words Paul shares and all the words of the scripture. I must turn over my hurt feelings and my self-doubt in order to move forward and continue sharing the Good News.

Reading on through the second chapter of 2 Timothy, there is a metaphor that applies to us:

 

20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

 

We must continue developing the tools that work for us each and every day whether a special day or an ordinary day. The tools will assure that we work as a team to carry out the various ministries of our church. The tools will demonstrate our skills to live our faith visibly in the community. The tools are defined and refined in the words of the scripture, from the first book of Genesis, through the last book of Revelations. Are we using the best materials to develop our tools, or are we failing to use the tools?

Last week while reviewing the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, the verse from Titus 2:12 was shared:

 

12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God . . .

 

Paul continues this instruction with the second letter to Timothy in 2:22:

 

22 Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

 

Sadly, I do not believe we have achieved this level of Christian fellowship. Our tools are not sharpened and honed to perfection as a congregation. Instead, there is a split that continues to divide and destroy the effectiveness of the sharing the Good News God has commissioned us to do.

Right now, today, we must consciously turn to Paul’s instruction and ask for God to forgive us and to ask each other for forgiveness, too. I know that the heart of this church is for the transformation of the community. The truth is that no transformation has any chance if the church itself is battling “foolish, ignorant arguments” as Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:22: 23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.

Still, Paul does not give up on making his point. He continues stating:

 

24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

 

Paul’s letter was to the pastor Timothy. The words may serve to remind today’s pastors also, but the words are true for all Christians. The Wesley Study Bible’s notes for 2 Timothy 2:25-26 states:

“Gracious and theologically sound instruction results in salvation. Wesley persistently argued Paul’s point: Scripture rightly interpreted saves sinners from “the snare of the devil” (v. 26).”

 

Personally, I will do all that I can to provide “gracious and theologically sound instruction” through the reading and study of scripture. I expect each of you follow the same set of instructions that Paul gave Timothy to develop the tools that can assure you live the Christian lifestyle that the scripture defines for us.

I apologize for any of my words or actions that may have been misunderstood or hurtful, and I expect each of you to honestly evaluate your own use of words and actions. Together we can continue to serve God by living our faith out loud—boldly demonstrating the value of loving one another.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

We come to worship,

     Yet there is pain in our hearts.

We come to hear your words

     But our hearing is often blocked.

Open our hearts to your words

     So we can heal the pain.

Open our minds to learn

     The lessons so we can heal.

Forgive us of our closed hearts

     And our closed minds.

Forgive us of our actions

     That keeps doors closed.

Let us come to the table

     Unified in Christ.

Let us experience pure joy

     Knowing your grace.

Send us out the doors

     With renewed conviction.

Send us out to live boldly

     As faithful servants

     Loving one another.

In your name, God the Father,

     The Son, Jesus Chirst,

     And the Holy Spirit, amen.

           

[The prayer transitions the service to the sacrament of Communion.]

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