Saturday 4 June 2016

Turning with me now to the 2nd Letter of Paul to Timothy.

If anyone holds a Bible study group, the Pastoral Epistles of Paul are a most useful and interesting study.

This is the last letter Paul wrote; he is now an old man in chains in a Roman prison and wants to pass on the ministry he has pursued and considers Timothy the man best to do so. But Timothy is likely to be overawed by the opposition.

Paul had lived for the gospel and does not want to see it banished. His primary desire was to make more people Christian, and strove bravely to do this, anything else was supplementary. His action was similar to the Apostles, described in Acts where they stated their mission was to minister the Word and leave social work to others. The Church now in a lot of places prefers it the other way around.

How wonderful it would be if all the leaders of our Churches and all the Ministers had such earnest desires to make more Christians.

Paul is writing to encourage Timothy to persevere in what he has learned and believed and to pass on the gospel of Christ and the teaching of the Apostles, and the letter calls on us to do the same.

But Timothy is facing a difficult task for the Church was facing much opposition. The Church had grown after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, but as that generation were being followed by a younger one, which Paul refers to later in the Letter, who would be unholy and self concerned. In addition false teachers were giving teaching, which was a different gospel that allowed people to live as they wished.

Further, the Romans did not like Christianity as it claimed to worship the one true God, and they preferred there to be pluralism with many gods, which is very much the preferred option of authorities today. You may be getting to see how much we have in common with that which Timothy faced.

For anyone who is a committed Christian, and anyone who holds the Church dear, this can only be a depressing time. Attendances at Churches are falling dramatically as the older members die or become unable to attend. The younger generations have no interest in the Church unless they want an attractive background for a baptism or wedding.

A very recent survey in this country revealed that almost half the nation has no interest in religion. When you consider that the other half includes Islam which has millions of followers, some other beliefs, and nominal Christians, it does not leave many true believers. This situation filters down to the local Church and we see congregations not what they were. We are fast becoming a secular state.

Our religious freedom is indeed at risk as bullies in government enact legislation which is in conflict with the Bible, and then try to tell us what can do and say and threaten punitive action if we express an opinion against it.

Christians are not being allowed a conscience clause in the law. In fact, to express any opinion may lead to an accusation of hate crime. Christian men and women have lost their career and appointments for just expressing a sincerely held belief, or indeed for wearing a Cross. I haven’t the time to go into detail of the many cases but some are set out in the addendum to this sermon.

Other faiths however can express their faith by dress and say words that any Christian Minister dare not.

Paul knew hard and difficult times would increase which caused him to write to Timothy.The problems he faced are the same as now have; falling attendance; interference by the government; pluralism; so this Letter is for us.

The Letter begins with Paul asserting his Apostleship, which he stressed was by the will of God; in other words he was specially chosen to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, and was always keen to assert this specially given authority so that what he stated could be accepted as approved by the Lord.

He shows his affection for Timothy and remembers how Timothy was brought up in the faith by his mother and grandmother leading to his ordination by Paul and calls on him to keep that faith in mind and practice. Something children miss out nowadays, and are deprived of a good foundation.

We are reminded that God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but one of power and there is no greater strength than the power of God. This should encourage us to be as vocal in proclaiming our faith as other faiths do. Muslims vigorously reveal their faith and to their credit.

Then we come to one of three significant words of this passage in v8, ‘we must not be ashamed to speak of the gospel.’ This is a call to all Christians, for we have nothing to be ashamed of. Our faith is not something someone has made up, it is factually based on historical grounds.

I know it can be hard when you are the only person in your work place or amongst friends to be a Christian. Criticism can be harsh, even vitriolic so that there is reluctance to take a stand. Be encouraged by remembering our Lord went through so much more for us, so we must stand up for Him.

More importantly there is a tendency by some preachers to be ashamed of preaching a true gospel, so they talk vaguely and avoid being positive; others speak a false gospel.

Preachers are terrified of being criticised as being bigoted or of having some sort of phobia. A bible based ministry is likely to make you unpopular or mocked, (believe me). When therefore you are in a minority you have to decide whether to keep quiet and say nothing; go with the flow, or stand up and fight.

It is the duty of the Church to teach the gospel and not budge from doing so. Paul tells Timothy to keep sound teaching, which he learned from the teaching of the Apostles. Paul will repeat this call in Chapter 4 when he commands Timothy to ‘preach the word’, and to be urgent in doing so.

We are not to be blown away by every new spiritual wind that causes us to drift from our moorings. We are not to be superficial believers, but to hold fast to the gospel given by the Apostles who were themselves taught by our Lord Himself

Unless we know what we believe and why we will not defeat the creeping spread of secularism and the cultural trends which challenge our faith, and we must resists the tendency to allow society to impose itself upon our teaching, or we are in danger of sentencing the Church to a very small part of our national life. When we reject Apostolic teaching we fall into error.

It is irresponsible and shows ignorance when someone tells you all religions are the same and all lead to the same God. Islam for instance teaches that God has no son and their God is Allah. We worship a God who has a Son and who is the God of Israel, and we claim no one comes to the Father (GOD that is) except through Jesus Christ.

The second significant words come when Paul writes; ‘join with me in suffering for the gospel.’ There are many ways we may suffer, but be sure you will experience one when you state what you believe. Some people will try to avoid you, you may miss out on promotion in your work as many of us have experienced, and you will surely be subject to innuendo, but what man denies us God recompenses. Christianity was never meant to be a bed of roses. It is not easy to stand for Christ; people have received death threats even for doing so. We have to decide if we stand for Jesus or Caesar.

Looking at v.9, Paul is pointing out the gospel that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation; God saves us by His grace, not because of anything we have done. We are put into a right relationship with God when we repent of past sins and accept Jesus Christ as Saviour, who died on the Cross for our transgressions that we may have life with Him in heaven when our days here are over. The Bible states Jesus is the only way to salvation. I know it is hard to say this without someone saying, ‘oh you must not say that’, but we need to ignore such comment because that is an essential element of our message

Paul describes himself as having suffered many beatings, deprivation, hardship, now prison and soon death. In spite of all this he knows WHOM he has believed; not what or in whom, but whom, Jesus Christ Himself. But he is not ashamed of being where he is.

In the last verse, Paul tells Timothy to guard the gospel, with the help of the Holy Spirit. This means we teach and believe that for a person to be in a right relationship with God, it means repenting of past sin; believing Jesus died on the Cross for the forgiveness of all sin, and each must accept that death was on their behalf and claim Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

We live at a time of theological and moral confusion. The Church itself is confused and divided as to what it stands for and for what is its purpose. One part believes the Bible is the infallible Word of God which should be respected and obeyed, whilst the other sees it as a sort of guide to be adopted to suit the occasion. Jesus warned any kingdom or house divided among itself will fall.

We see the moral boundaries have been swept away to such an extent that there are now no absolutes, all is relative and you just do your own thing and make up your own standards, so causing the collapse of Christian values, leading to an unstable society in which family life is being destroyed.

If the Churches and people of this great nation do not return to Biblical foundations, Christianity which has been the faith of this country for over 1500 years and has brought and kept this nation as one, will be fazed out of public life by ideologues in public service, who want to take Christianity right out of public life and are now aided by a corrupt anti-Christian European body.

The first Church grew rapidly because the people listened to the teaching of the Apostles and God added to their numbers. He is not going to add to any Church which accepts the morality of a decadent society. There are Church members who choose to adopt State law, which justified them acting a way God’s law does not

Now more than ever, this is a requirement for all Christians to remember the sacrifices made by martyrs who gave their very lives that we may have Bibles to freely read.

Our brothers and sister in Christ, living in Islamic countries, daily face horrific persecution, even death, with Churches and houses being burned down. We have seen horrendous scenes on television of them being beheaded, just because they declared themselves followers of Christ. In some countries even having a bible in your possession is enough to incur the wrath of the authorities.

God has made us custodians of His Word; never may the Church and its members fail Him. But if we are negligent and indifferent we will find another faith will take our place

I pray that you will only hear the gospel boldly and faithfully preached in this Church.

Cameron has refused to consider having a conscience clause to accommodate Christians. Indeed, he sent a government lawyer to the European Court to argue that a Cross was not an essential symbol of Christianity.

A Christian woman spoke of her faith to Muslim colleagues, some of whom were open about their support for Islamist terrorism, and was dismissed from her employment despite a petition from other staff. The Supreme Court has refused her right to appeal.

A foster couple had two young brothers removed from their care by social workers who were hostile to the couple because of their commitment to Christian faith.

The Mayor of London allows a homosexual lobby group to advertise on London buses, but denies a Christian group the same opportunity.

Having received an agreement from her employers that she need not work on Sundays because of her faith, a woman was eventually sacked, yet members of other faiths are allowed to do so on their holy day.

A Christian children’s worker was sacked after a Muslim colleague initiated a discussion on faith with her, and then complained to the management, who sacked the Christian.

A street preacher was arrested for quoting verses from the Bible, convicted in Court, and ordered to pay a total of £1,200 in costs and £250 in compensation to a homosexual man for ‘emotional pain’. The complainant was not in such emotional pain to prevent him running to the police.

A long serving Magistrate was reprimanded and sent on a course in equality training, just because he stated in a private discussion that a child was better brought up by a man and a woman.

And we have the well publicised case of the Belfast bakery set up by a gay activist who ordered a cake with the slogan ‘support gay marriage’, to be placed on top of the cake with models of two men. In view of their deep Christian beliefs the bakery could not agree to put those words on a cake. Although such marriage is illegal in Northern Ireland, the Equality Commission could not wait to get the bakery to Court, where they were made to pay £500 to the man for, again, ‘emotional pain’. This was an outrageous decision; there was no discrimination being made against the man, nor was a cake declined to be made, only the offending words were objected to. The bakery was entitled to promote their faith as the man was his cause.

How people live and act is entirely a decision for them, and few would challenge their right to do so; but that does not mean other people are forced to act against their faith and conscience.

Let us then go further and consider what is happening in this country. Christians are not permitted to wear a cross whilst at work under threat of dismissal; sympathetic nurses who are trying to make patients feel better by suggesting they say a prayer are dismissed; a registrar who declined to officiate at civil unions because of religious belief, although having colleagues step in for her, is sacked because of her views; a psychotherapist is dismissed for refusing to give sexual advice to same sex people; quite significantly a Christian woman was forced from her employment because she pressed for time off on Sundays to attend worship even though other colleagues volunteered to change shifts with her, yet a Muslim woman was given free time to attend her Mosque.

Preachers voicing their faith in public places have been arrested, and in one case in Perth a Minister was arrested on the grounds that he was disturbing the peace with his shouting, whilst at the same time a street busker was playing amplified music without any action being taken against him.

In another case a Police Sergeant sought public assistance in obtaining evidence against a street preacher in Taunton to support a prosecution, yet a Muslim preacher had Police protection when preaching in a London street.

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