2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
I have asked you to bring your own Bibles to church this morning for a few reasons. Sorry to those of you that didn’t get that message. I remember a Lutheran pastor from my childhood who would ask to see people’s bibles when he came to visit. He wanted to see the condition it was in; was it dusty? Had the spine been broken? Was it well used?
I want to think about the Bible in your hands for a moment (or one that is at home!):
Where did you get it?
Who gave it to you?
How much of it have you read?
If all the Bibles disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow – how much of it do you know?
I would be so brave as to say that what you have in your hands right now is the most valuable thing you own! At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, she was presented with a Bible from the Archbishop of Canterbury with these words:
Our gracious Queen:
to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords.
I believe this is true and I hope you do as well. I believe this to be true even though I don’t understand all of it. I have neglected it, I have avoided it and I get frustrated by it. Yet I believe it because I deeply love it, want to know and understand more of it. If you are in any way daunted by the Bible here is a secret: don’t worry about what you don’t know. Worry about what you do know and understand.
Am I living to the standards that are set out here.
Am I becoming more Christ-like?
Is there any actual evidence of what I know about this book to my family, my friends, or the wider world?
Today as we celebrate Bible Sunday, each reading has something to teach us about how we can take the Bible more seriously for ourselves in three ways.
Firstly: The Bible is God’s means of our development and growth as Christians (Timothy 3.16)
To be honest, many of us struggle to see the usefulness of much of the Bible. We get comfortable with what we know or what we think we know. That is just fine! Thank you very much! We might try to make excuses: the Bible is too hard, I don’t understand, I don’t need to understand, it’s outdated, old, irrelevant to the world now, it’s too violent, etc.
I love shopping at IKEA. When I go there I always come out with more stuff than I need! But what often amazes me is how I always seem to find a gadget or utensil that I am not sure how I have lived without until now. A garlic press, mini chopping boards, multi-sided cheese graters, spatulas of different sizes. It never occurred to me that I needed these things. Yet now that I have found them I cannot live or cook without them.
Perhaps it is because I have a perfectly good grater or knife that has done the job well enough for long enough. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t new ways of doing old things!
Growing and developing in our faith is a whole of life activity so when we leave this building. We need this book to help us get on with it. How can we possibly become more Christ-like (this is not the same thing as being a good person!) if we have not uncovered who Jesus is in the pages of the Bible?
We have been called to abundant life, life in the fullest sense. This doesn’t just happen! We need to grow and develop which takes time, it takes a lifetime! We need the teaching, the reproof, correction and training that the Bible offers us.
Secondly, Scripture brings us intimacy with God (Isaiah 55)
Now as a mainly English congregation, experience has taught me that intimacy is not a comfortable word for many people! And intimacy with God can really be a stretch for some! However, God has already searched you and knows you; He is intimately acquainted with all your ways! (Psalm 139).
Isaiah 55 offers us an invitation to draw close to God: verse 1: everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Thirst is a life-threatening need and here we have an invitation to an abundant supply! ‘You that have no money; come, buy and eat.’
None of us can buy what God is offering to us – we are unable and helpless to. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Logically you can’t buy anything without money. Someone has already paid the price. The water was free. Wine and milk are meant to symbolise luxury. The freely given luxury of God’s love and provision.
This loving God has a question for us: ‘why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?’ Why do we waste our time on things that don’t matter?! We needlessly worry, get anxious, freaked out, spin our wheels over all sorts of things! It is so exhausting to live this way. People go searching for answers or explanations in all sorts of places yet so often we go last to the place where we should go first…God!
‘Listen so you may live!’ says God. Seek the Lord while he may be found! It is the Bible that reveals his thoughts and ways, sets his targets, voices his promises and is powerful to achieve what it says.
It is hard work though! It is really frustrating that ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.’ There is a plan and purpose for each of us (v 10-11); a good work for us to do. If we want to know what that is then we need to get close to God. We need to get intimately acquainted with His word.
Thirdly: The Bible keeps us on God’s path (4.3-4)
Have you ever had a driving experience in thick fog? Those fogs that descend so quickly that all you can do is crawl along the motorway with the fog lights on and make slow progress. It can feel claustrophobic, like you are lost, and you can’t just stop and wait it out. You have to keep going.
The lines marking the lanes suddenly became a lifeline. They showed you each metre of the road one at a time, helping to navigate the bends, avoid collisions, and eventually to getting to your destination.
Many people unfortunately believe the Bible to be a rather long and boring set of rules to take the fun out of life. Again, untrue! We need rules, guidelines to keep life between the lines like the markings on a motorway. Imagine trying to watch a footie match that had no rules, or bake a cake without a recipe, or drive a car without road markings.
It would all end in disaster as we would each individually have to make up the way to do these things. Now we might be tempted to think that we know best. But likely the person next to us thinks that way too. This is what Paul is talking about in verse 3: ‘the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine (teaching or belief), but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.’
Paul is spending so much energy commending the importance of scripture to Timothy because he realises that a time is coming for the church when it will be very difficult for the church to stay faithful to God’s path. He predicts a time when instead of seeking the truth, Christians will let their own desires be the filter for what they hear, distracted by false teaching. Things like ‘just be a good person’; ‘it’s all the same God we believe in anyway’; ‘we all basically get there in the end’; ‘The Bible, church, Christianity, etc is fine for you but not for me.’
Those are not God’s word. Watch out for itchy ears!
In John’s Gospel, Jesus is taking on some Jewish people who have itchy ears. They know their scriptures and they are trying to find eternal life in them. Jesus is saying ‘no, no, no – I am the way to eternal life.’ The Jews are missing this because they don’t believe that God has sent Jesus. They won’t go to him to have life. It’s all there in the Jewish scriptures, right back to Moses and yet they refused to believe it. Itchy ears can make you deaf.
What do we need to do to grow & develop as Christians, have a deeper intimacy with God and stay on his path:
First thing – pray! Pray to want to grow and develop in your faith. Pray for a closer relationship with God. Pray for purpose and guidance. No one is going to force you. Not even God. Maybe you have to pray to want to want to grow & develop, deepen your relationship and stay on the path.
Secondly, don’t take it for granted. Today access to the Bible is only a click away on a smartphone. I suspect many of our homes have multiple copies of the Bible and in multiple translations. In the western world we have easy-to-read, easy-to-access versions of the Bible at our fingertips. But because it is so easily available, it is possible that we undervalue it. Paul reminds Timothy of his rich and privileged heritage, because he wants to leave a legacy in the life of Timothy and the life of the church that will carry on into the future. Don’t take it for granted!
Really what if all the Bibles disappeared overnight? How much would we still know?
Thirdly, Do it! Does the Bible feel like a dry and dusty book to you or does it captivate you like a long-awaited love letter? To rekindle a heart habit of reading and relishing the Bible, maybe you can take some time this week to revisit parts that in the past have been especially meaningful to you.
For many people there are Psalms that have a special significance, or perhaps the gospel accounts of Jesus. If regular Bible reading has become difficult, why not revisit these parts of the Bible and as you read them, pray that God would give you a fresh passion for his word?
In this book we have the most valuable thing that this world affords! It is God’s way of communicating to the world that he created and so loves. We as his followers need to know what is in her so we can share that message with the people that so badly need it. We need to grow and develop as Christians, deepen in our intimacy, our relationships with God and stay on his path, stay close to him. We do this through prayer, by not taking this book for granted and by doing it!