Friday 5 December 2014

(reading 2 Timothy 3 v16 to 4 v8)

For centuries the Second Sunday in Advent was designated as ‘Bible Sunday’, when we particularly thank God for the gift of His Holy Word, something we should do every Sunday, but on this day we particularly direct our minds to the Bible and consider how it can help us on our spiritual journey.

In their disregard for the Bible, the Church establishment some years ago decided to move Bible Sunday to the last Sunday in October, when in fact and practice it became optional as to whether the day was observed as such or the normal Lectionary readings applied.

We should be ready to turn to it and study it more, not less. For most Christians I fear Bible reading is confined to someone else reading it in the service.

The Bible states, ‘all Scripture is inspired by God’. There is no pick and mix option. Biblical integrity demands you accept what is written, and not choose just those parts that fit in with your own desires.

There are 66 books in the Bible, 39 of which are in the Old Testament and 27 in the New, written by 40 men all but one being Jewish. God used their individual personalities to communicate His words, and none of them would claim it was any thoughts of their own. God wants us to understand and know Him and the only way we can do that is by Him telling us, which He does in this book.

Many people say they cannot understand much of the Bible. We must first realise it does not solve every problem we have in life, nor answer all the questions we would like to ask. Some things remain a mystery which God has chosen not to reveal this side of heaven.

When Billy Graham, the most successful preacher of all time, was starting out in ministry, he was troubled as to whether the Bible really was God’s Word or man’s idea. There were passages he could not understand. He was so concerned he went up into the mountains near his North Carolina home and read and re-read his King James Version of the Bible, then turned to God and said, ‘I have seen enough of your transforming ability in this Word to know you are behind it. I know there are many questions I do not understand, but I take it by faith that it is your Word and will preach it as your Word and trust you.’ The rest is history. He always encouraged people to take their Bibles with them to his crusades and meetings.

The Bible is in fact a collection of books with different styles, all written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is history, poetry, prophecy, as Paul here states, ‘to instruct unto salvation’.

The Bible is essentially a book of salvation. It unfolds the divine plan of God, who having created us in His image, and we having fallen away through disobedience, so placing ourselves under His judgement, can now be forgiven by the coming of Christ to die on the Cross.

The whole Bible focuses on the coming of Christ, after prophet after prophet in the Old Testament foretold His coming.

The Bible is given to teach us and guide us in the way God wants us to live. This is a very stressful world in which we live. In this post Christian age when most people under the age of 40 have little if any knowledge of the Christian faith or Church, the aim of many public officials is to erase Christianity from public life in which no mention or expression of the faith is allowed. To compound this, senior clergy in the Churches are openly advocating certain parts of Scripture which condemn some forms of modern living should be ignored, and some Christians are swept away by the tide of opposition.

In some intellectual and academic circles, the Bible is seen as some form of hate literature, and this is being taught in schools, colleges and universities, simply because it doesn’t fit in with some modern thought.

Paul feared that Timothy, young and timid man, was in danger of yielding to the anti-Christian pressure facing him. His message to Timothy, and applies to us, is to stand firm even if it means standing alone. Don’t weaken under pressure.

Timothy was brought up in a Jewish background and so was taught the Scriptures from an early age by his mother and grandmother. It was customary for Jewish boys to be taught the Scriptures from age five. Whilst these would be the Old Testament, he had also been taught by Paul and Peter, who between them had written most of the New Testament, so he would in fact have virtually the whole Bible as we know it in his knowledge.

There is a great tragedy in the fact that children are growing up here without ever hearing the stories of Jesus or the main biblical characters, as parents do not have the time, inclination or knowledge to help them. Take that in addition to the omission of religious teaching in (state) schools, and a great part of their education is missing.

Compare the situation in other faiths’ homes. Muslim children are faithfully taught the Koran and will never allow their holy book to be abused in the way our Bible is. Similarly in Jewish homes, where children again are taught about Judaism and made to learn the Ten Commandments.

The argument that because the Bible was written so many years ago we can look at it with a different approach to the present day, doesn’t hold. God was not just the God of the first century, but for all time. So is His Word.

The Bible gives us access to the mind of God. The more we read the more we will know God’s intention for us. Just as you spend more time in a person’s company you get to know them better, so as you spend time with God through His Word, the better you will know Him. For in the Bible God speaks His mind.

Now we come to Chapter 4, with verses which are so relevant to our time. Paul having stressed the importance of the Scriptures tells Timothy to go and preach them.

Paul shows the unseen realities before which every Christian lives. Like Timothy we find ourselves in a minority situation, where the majority do not believe and live lives which are often steeped in immorality and unworthiness.

If we were to be fair and honest, we would have to admit there is so much in today’s society which leaves much to be desired. The state of the world proves all the Bible has taught. Too often we feel we cannot speak out with any impact and can do nothing to stop the onrushing tide. Our voice is a whisper amongst the tumult of voices against us.

We can trace the link between moral decline and the rejection of the authority of Scripture. The Bible says, ‘in the last days perilous times shall come for men will be lovers of their own selves, unholy, without natural affection, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God ‘ people will not put up with sound doctrine, but instead will find those who will say what pleases them, and will turn away from those who teach the truth.’

Paul says they will cover their ears to that which they do not like to admit, and refuse to restrain their passions. They have itching ear disease which they want someone to scratch

If preachers were to so preach the Bible faithfully, Churches would be emptier than they are now. Society has forced a morality upon us, which people in and out of the Church have been ready to accept, and which the Church nationally was never ready to combat, but instead let it grow, a sort of attitude if you can’t beat them join them adage

Today preaching is being devalued. If we truly believe Christianity is all we claim it to be, we should boldly preach it. The Bible states, ‘we do not have a spirit of timidity.’

All this causes a problem for parish priests, and especially for visiting preachers. We face a problem; and none more so than those of us who want to be true to Scripture, when not everyone is prepared to accept what is written. I personally have been told by one Vicar that she would rather I did not take services in her Church as she didn’t think the Bible should be taken literally.

In effect there are three options open to preachers
One is to avoid all contentious issues.
2 To go with the flow.
3 To be true to Scripture.

We all want to please and satisfy our audience, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to cause offence. But if preachers are to be true to their calling, and preach with integrity and honour, there are times when I suppose some people may be upset. If, sadly, that happens, there must be doubt in your mind about the way you are living.

The lowering of standards and rise of lawlessness and promiscuity, combined with lack of authority from the pulpits, has caused the average person to think the Church is out of date and the Christian message irrelevant, which is why they live without any reference to God or any thought of eternity. Few believe in the reality of heaven and hell.

So these verses are descriptive of our day, of a society which will forsake a Christian consensus and live, not by Christian principles, which lead to health and wholeness of body, mind and spirit, and permits people to live at peace and enjoy their lives, but by substituting principles of their own.

We are submerged in a world that is committed to falsehood, which is why we are called to proclaim the truth.

If ever the Word of God was needed it is never more so than now. It calls for people to turn back to God who is ready and able to meet the needs of everyone who turns to Him. The message we have for the world is centred upon the person of Jesus Christ.

Within each one of us there is a need for things which money can’t buy, and desires which we cannot express. Whilst the majority may not be willing to accept it, we all need a spiritual life. We need God and the forgiveness which He offers in Jesus Christ. Without this our souls are restless. We all need stability anchored in the Word of God.

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