Saturday 11 July 2015

This morning I want to turn with you to Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy in Chapter 4.

What should be most concerning to all who are true Christians is for the future of the Church. Reports tell that the Methodist Church has lost over 100,000 members in the last ten years, whilst the Church of England has lost 250,000 over the last three years. This is disastrous bearing in mind many of the members now are in the older age range, and predominantly female; men, especially the young ones, feel Church affronts their masculinity to attend, yet Muslim men are proud to acknowledge their commitment to Islam. These are indeed dark days for life in a post Christian society.

Whilst we should not become obsessed with numbers, we must concede that without people attending, the Church could not exist.
God means the Church to grow. We saw how the early church grew when more full time workers were appointed and when the church was persecuted. God means the church to grow - in love, in the knowledge of Christ, but also in terms of numbers as more men and women being added to the church day by day. So each church needs to pray for growth. We need to pray for more people to be added to the
church, for people who are in the spiritual wilderness with no fellowship or no clear teaching

An important issue is that a lot of people don’t know what the Church stands for. There are times when I wonder what the Church stands for. We publicly have debate as to what the Bible means, and whether it is still relevant in today’s society. This reasonably gives the impression if the Church itself does not know what it should believe, how can it tell anyone else. It is most frustrating and annoying to those of us who revere what is in effect God speaking.

No other passage in Scripture describes more accurately the day in which we live than this Letter to Timothy, though it was written almost 2,000 years ago, it is highly relevant to our own day.

It was written to Timothy by Paul when Paul was nearing the end of his life and was passing his ministry over to Timothy, a young and rather timid man.

Paul has warned Timothy of the Godless times facing him. Timothy faced a tide of increasing sinfulness, and false preachers were giving out a distorted gospel. Immorality was widespread; all manner of sexual activity was taken as acceptable, all these facts which are facing us

Like Timothy, we see ourselves as a tiny minority amidst an overwhelming majority committed to unbelief. Most of us think of ourselves, as being of little importance and feel there is nothing we can do to stop society falling into the abyss, so great are the forces ranged against us from the secularists, who seem to be assisted by the judiciary and government. We see a situation rather like that of a car parked on a hill where someone has left the handbrake off. We face the same challenges as did Timothy.

Paul’s answer is fundamentally to 'preach the Word'. And in the context of this epistle that is God's 'word' that he has spoken.
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.

Paul begins with a "solemn charge " to Timothy.. The instruction Paul gives Timothy here is, by no means, optional. Paul is issuing a forceful directive to Timothy, and also to us, Paul concludes his exhortation with the simple command: "preach the Word ". This is to say that sermons must be expositions of the Bible, not expressions of the preacher's opinions.

Whilst people come to know the Lord by various means, the primary way is through the preaching of the gospel. The Bible states, ‘how can they believe on him of whom they have never heard, and how are they hear without someone preaching to them’. God ordained that people would come to belief through the preaching of the gospel.

A preacher stands in the presence of God, and must aim to please the Lord and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, for the preacher will one day have to stand in front of the Lord and give account.

We are to spread God’s word, not theories, or one’s own opinion, not a political analysis. Thus saith the Lord.

Paul tells Timothy, to ‘preach in season and out of season’, in other words at all times, and to be urgent doing so, and in getting the message out. The world’s greatest need is to hear about Jesus Christ. All Christians, not simply all ministers, are commanded in Scripture to share their faith

We put a lot of energy into fairs, fetes and garden parties, but treat them as just that without trying to reach out to the people at the same time.

We have parish magazines and newsletters which mostly tell what HAS happened, and contains articles about gardening or other hobbies, pieces about where people have been, or of memories. There needs to be stimulating, provocative writing on a biblical theme.

Most of all we need to look at our services. I have been to services and rather than come out inspired I am demoralised, and say to myself what was all that about. Too often services are done as if it is because something has to be done, rather

Paul tells Timothy he must convince people of the truth of the gospel by patient reasoning; rebuking when someone is acting in an unchristian way, perhaps by appealing to their conscience; but when there is anyone with doubt of in danger of falling away, to give them encouragement.

In verses 3 and 4, we are reminded why persistence in proclaiming the Word of God is so important. Surely, Paul is accurately describing our present context. ‘For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers who will say what their itching ears want to hear.’

Sound doctrine aims to correct our faulty beliefs about God, and it aims to shape our character to be like Christ. If such is so vital to the life of a church, what is it that produces sound doctrine?

Faithfulness to God's Word produces sound doctrine and produces mature Christians. Mature Christians fulfill the ministry God has called us to.

Sound doctrine calls us out of our comfort zone. challenges our sinful desires and behaviours.
calls us to shift our focus away from ourselves,
and calls us to focus on God.

I am afraid that "the time " Paul predicted has arrived. And, because we are living in the dangerous times Paul predicted, we, more than ever, need to heed his counsel to Timothy.

This refers to a time when people will reject Christian standards, morality and values and will substitute others. Such is the time in which we live.

Paul says, men and women will turn away because truth requires the admission of human weakness, which people do not like to admit; the restraint of passions, which they do not like to do; and submission to the authority of God and other authorities under him, which they dislike and reject.

They turn away from the truth, and will not even give it a hearing. It is not that they will listen to the truth and then decide whether it is right or wrong; they do not even want to hear it. They do not want to hear anything which will restrict their indulgences, and they resist, sometimes fiercely.

Then they will look for those who will teach them what they want to hear; those who share their preferences, and are prepared to re-interpret Scripture to meet the desires.

There is a disease, widespread in our day, called "itching ear disease," which Paul mentions here. This is an ear that wants to hear a particular line of things, an ear that wants to be entertained, that is always looking for something new, an ear that wants constant affirmation and does not want to hear anything negative or contradictory. People who have this disease look for teachers who will scratch that itch; and the result, the apostle says, is that they "wander into myths."

What do these teachers, which such people accumulate in great numbers, teach? They cannot teach the truth because the truth is unacceptable, so they teach attractive lies, fantasies for the most part, speculative philosophies that emerge from the minds of men which have no basis in fact or history. There are many of these myths abroad today.

We have been saturated by a world that is committed to falsehood. That is why, as Paul sets forth here, we must increasingly proclaim the truth as it is in Jesus. You and I are called to advance that work. Do not let anybody tell you that your life as a Christian does not count. It counts tremendously.

There is spiritual drift in the Western Churches. You will find at the highest level of Church office, biblical morality being denied and opposed. There are those who would rather pay attention to the Equality and Diversity Act than Holy Scripture, despite the fact that some biblical Christians fought hard to have the Church excluded from some of the provisions of that oppressive Act.

There is too ready a desire to preach political correctness rather than biblical correctness.

We are facing sustained attack from secularists who are trying desperately to remove any semblance of religion from the public life of the country. Humanism is now the belief of millions.

As society degenerates it is so easy for Christians to go with flow. It is not uncommon for preachers to state that God would never condemn people for their sins. God is portrayed as a sort of spiritual father Christmas. The Church, in places, is prepared to not only accept moral conduct which directly contravenes Scripture, but to even encourage and applaud it; but the Bible teaches that God created a moral world and demands retribution for sin.

Society has forced a morality upon us which the Church nationally was never prepared to combat, but instead let it grow, a sort of attitude, ‘if you can’t beat them join them’.

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.

Come to church then, prepared to feast on sound doctrine. Do not let anybody tell you that your life as a Christian does not count. It counts tremendously. Glory in what God has called you to do, and be faithful to his command:

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