Friday 22 August 2014

2 Timothy 2 and Matthew 16.v.13/20

In our Gospel passage Jesus is with His Apostles at Caesara Phillippi a place where worship was regularly carried out, on the North of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asked them who did people think He was, and they told him the names of John the Baptist, and the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, which were the most popular expectations of who would be the Messiah.

Jesus then asked them who they said He was, and Peter gave the answer which pleased Jesus when he said, ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God’. Jesus blessed Peter and said, ‘you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church’. The Roman Catholic Church claims this mean that Peter became the first Pope, whilst Protestants claim Jesus meant the Church would be built on the confession that Jesus was the Messiah. I think it futile to engage in prolonged theological debate on the matter, suffice it to say Peter played an important role in the early Church, seeming to have taken the lead after Jesus ascension, but we find in the Acts of Apostles, James later became the head of the Church.

Jesus stated that the gates of hell would not destroy the Church, an encouragement to His followers in all ages. He was teaching the permanency of the Church; all other institutions and empires have come and gone, only the Church has prevailed down the years. Whilst the Church in the Western nations has not lived up to the teachings of Jesus and the Bible, and is suffering in consequence, in Africa, especially China and the Far East, the Church is growing massively as they are faithful to Scripture.

When Jesus used the word ‘Church’, He was referring to an assembly of believers meeting together in worship. The Church has a special place in the plan of God, and we have to know how we are to live and function within that plan. There is a need for a firm spiritual and moral foundation in every person’s life. There is more to life than material works and wealth, it needs a spiritual dimension.

The Bible uses several terms to describe the Church, the most powerful being a family, consisting of people of different backgrounds, experiences, class, ages and gender. This family extends right across the world, so that wherever you go you can have fellowship with other believers.

There is uniqueness about the Church, as we are separated from the world’s standards and from the others of society. At one time the Church stood above society, it was seen as some place special which set standards and values, and gave firm moral guidance and principles. The clergy were particularly respected, and generally were men who commanded respect by the way they conducted themselves.

In today’s Church we have joined society’s values, even to the extent of contravening Scripture. We have seen Christians at all levels adopting the morals of society as opposed to those of the Bible, and by therefore of God. In attempts to influence people we have lowered our standing, when we have Vicars leading dancing to wild pop music at weddings and dressing up in fancy costumes, and even if within one denomination, all Churches are tarred with the one brush. The term ‘solemnization of marriage’ is apparently forgotten.

Jesus went on to say Peter would have authority to admit people into the Kingdom of God through the preaching of the gospel, and to exercise discipline within the Church, an authority extended to all who are ordained to govern the Lord’s Church on earth.

Our final gospel verse is an instruction to the Apostles not to tell people who He was because of their inability to accept Him as the Messiah.

Having delegated first to Peter and the Apostles to continue the work He had begun, Jesus now passes the responsibility down to us in our age to continue to preach the gospel, and every Christian has the duty to play their part in the spread of the gospel and build up His Church.

Each year about this time we come to the start of a new year in the Church’s calendar. Each year we begin with fewer members than the year before as our people move to another place or to be with their Lord.

I know of several Ministers/Vicars who are very concerned for the future of their Churches. I can understand their concerns for I have over the past five years taken services at 31 Churches in/around Bedford, and apart from 5, the congregations have not been above 25, and in 2 not even reached double figures. I am sure such a situation is not confined to this area.

I read an article recently in which the writer suggested we should not get too concerned over numbers, and whilst I agree we should not become obsessed by them, we do have to accept that they are a fact to be considered, for without sufficient people Churches will close. There is a responsibility for us to pass on to future generations what we have, and bear in mind the fact that the gospel is widely rejected and the Church is to most people an irrelevance. We become reduced to survival thinking.

In the Epistle, Paul is writing to Timothy, who is to take on the leadership of the church after the death of Paul. Like Timothy, we see ourselves as a tiny minority amidst an overwhelming, mounting majority, committed to evil and unbelief. We face hostility on every side. The government creates legislation which is contrary to Christian teaching and tradition, and force people under threat of penalties if they voice disagreement. The judiciary act against Christians in legal challenges.

Paul is giving his final instructions here to Timothy whose responsibility will be to see that the gospel remains pure. He is acutely conscious of his imminent death, he's enormously concerned that the gospel shouldn't be watered down - that the gospel shouldn't be lost, that it shouldn't be twisted. So he writes to Timothy to encourage him to stand firm, to encourage him not to be deviated from the truths that Paul taught him. He writes to encourage him to pass the same gospel that he heard from Paul onto other reliable men.

There had been an explosion of false teaching inside the church so Paul expressed concern that there were those within the Church, preachers who deviated from the gospel, threatening the purity and the life of the church. He speaks of teachers who no longer put up with sound doctrine, and that is very much what we find in the church today.

If you have been a Christian for some time you will know that wasn't only a problem in the early church. You will know that's exactly what we find in the church today. Amazing as it may sound, we have bishops and clergy inside the church who challenge the Bible. They say we live in the 21st century; we live in a modern, scientific age, as if God only intended to give His Word for the early age.

They say, we need no longer accept Paul's teaching on morals, and rather than God's word standing in judgement of us as it should, we stand in judgement of the Bible. Our final source of truth is no longer the Word of God.

Builders of a house will often place a covenant on what they have built, laying down what can, and how be used. God placed a covenant on the Bible directing that nothing should be taken away or added.

Having accepted that numbers are not the be all and end all of Church worship, or a verdict on any particular Church, there must always be a need for every Church to consider whether the worship offered is as worthy as it ought to be. Is it truly doing what God intended and which Jesus commissioned it to do, bringing people to know the saving grace of Christ’s death on the Cross.

The primary reason we gather at church on Sunday is to learn about God and to grow closer to Him. Everything else is secondary. Knowing Christ, becoming like Christ, is what we are here for. This is achieved through the Word Of God

The bible should be the supreme court of the church, the final authority in deciding all controversies. Alas in the modern church that is not so. A church which rejects the teaching of the bible loses its authority.

People have a right to expect men speaking as Ministers of the Church to do so, based on the word of God and not expressing personal opinions or preferences. When Ministers substitute personal views for political rhetoric they are exceeding their remit. If we expect God to bless and build the Church, we must follow His guidelines.

Whilst Paul’s Letters to Timothy are an excellent guide for pastors, he was including advice for all Christians. He realised it takes courage to be a Christian in the world. You may be the only Christian in your family, amongst your friends or where you work, and things can become difficult for you. Some people find it difficult to be faithful to their faith, but Jesus always warned there was a cost in being a Christian.

Paul uses three examples as to how a Christian is to compare him/herself. They are a soldier, an athlete and a farmer. Each of those occupations requires sacrifice in terms of what one gets engaged in. Some actions in life will harm their fitness to carry out their tasks and a firm discipline is needed to devote oneself to the task set before them, with a determination to get things done well.

Similarly a Christian may have to give up some pursuits which compromise his/her faith, and have determination to see things through to the end.

Come to church then, prepared to feast on sound doctrine. This combined with the work of God's Spirit, will not only transform you, but it will transform others as you seek to become one who faithfully accepts and practices the Word of God. Amen

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