ME, MYSELF, AND I

 

II TIMOTHY 3:1-9

 

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            Did you hear about the pastor who resigned from his church to go to another pastorate.  After announcing his resignation, he was approached by one of the sweet older members of his congregation.  She was weeping over the pastor's decision to leave.  She said, "Things will never be the same after you're gone."

            Well, the preacher tried to console her by saying, "Don't worry, I'm confident God will send you a new pastor who is far better than I."  When he said that, she let out a large wail and said, "That's what the last three pastors have said, but they just keep getting worse."

            We started another election cycle and as always, we are being told that if we vote for them things will get better.  We were told several years ago, "Put a Democrat in the White House and things will get better."  We were told to put a new Republican majority in Congress and things would get better.  But often, things do not get better.  Things get worse.

            Of course, the Bible predicted this.  Just take a look at Paul’s second letter to his understudy, Timothy.  Within the first nine verses, we find a one word description of the times, of the world in which we find ourselves today.  That word is “distressing.”  So let’s open our pew bibles or your own bible, and if you have your own bible you might want to circle the word “distressing” in verse 1.

 

            You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. 

 

            As a quick aside, when Paul says “the last days,” he is referring to the period of time between Christ’s ascension and his second coming.   If you see that term in the New Testament, that’s what it means.  “Times” means “seasons” or “time periods.”  So he’s talking about the age in which we find ourselves today, sometimes referred to as “the church age” and sometimes as “the last days.”  Paul then goes on to describe in detail how people will act in these “distressing” times. 

 

            For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates  ...

 

            By the way, do you know what that word means?  I did not.  I had to look it up in the dictionary.  A profligate refers to a person who is recklessly extravagant or wasteful in the use of resources.  OK, let’s return to the list of how people will act during these “distressing” times.

 

            ... brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying it’s power.  Avoid them! 

 

            Whoa.  Whoa.  Whoa.  Did you read that last line?  As we read through this long list of distressing characteristics ... boasters, arrogant, unholy, brutes, etc. ... we think of people out there, in the world.  We do not think of people in the church, but then we come to the end of verse five, where Paul says that these people who live in opposition to the cause of Christ, hold “to a outward form of godliness, but deny it’s power.”  In other words, he’s not just talking about people “out there,” he’s talking about some people in here, in the church!   He’s including some professing Christians.  Some of these folk are even church leaders.  They teach Bible studies.  They’re not passive, sit-in-the-pew members, but those who are active in ministry, but their religion is an empty shell.  They lack the reality of a genuine walk with God.  They talk a good line, they put on a good front, but in their motives, their thought lives, and their personal relationships, they are not godly people.  According to Paul, what’s happening out there could drift into the church if we are not careful. 

            It’s easy to read this list and think, “You know, I once knew someone who fit this description. He was a real scoundrel!”  Or, “I’ve read about people like this.  Shame on them!”  But I think Paul wanted his disciple, Timothy, and he wanted us to do some personal soul-searching as we read this list and ask, “Lord, is it I?  Could I be drifting into holding to a form of godliness, but be denying its power to transform my life?” 

            Paul goes on, to say more about these folk.  Verse six ...

 

            For among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.  As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses ...

 

            By the way, if you try to find these two guys, Jannes and Jambres in the Old Testament, you won’t.  They are nowhere to be found in the Old Testament.  The most widely held view is that they were the Egyptian magicians in Pharaoh’s court, who battled Aaron and Moses in the miracle performing business.  Turn to that story with me to Exodus 7:8 on page 47 of your pew bible. 

 

            The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a wonder,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake.’”  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord had commanded; Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake.  Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same by their secret arts.  Each one threw down his staff, and they became snakes; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up theirs.

 

            Many biblical scholars believe Jannes and Jambres were two of the magicians summoned by the Pharaoh.  Whoever they were, Paul likens Jannes and Jambres opposition to Moses to the opposition of false teachers in Timothy’s day and in our day.  Back to II Timothy ...

 

            As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth.  But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone.

 

            Distressing times.  Distressing times.

            Someone has described the evening news as the program where the announcer says, “Good evening,” and then proceeds to tell you why it isn’t!  Can you imagine an evening news program that only ran the good news?  “Three thousand planes took off and landed as scheduled today, without any incidents.  The economy seems to be doing fine. No politicians were indicted for corruption today.  Crime is down, and families are gathering for a wonder weekend of activities.  Thanks for joining us on the evening news!”

            I suppose that would be a surprisingly refreshing broadcast, but we all know that it would not be realistic.  Sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring reality is not a helpful way to solve problems or to face the future, so    in our text, Paul gives Timothy (and us) a dose of reality about the times in which we live.  He warns us that in the last days, in the days between Christ’s ascension and his return, distressing times will come.  The Greek word for “distressing” is used only one other time in the New Testament.   Matthew used it in his gospel, in the eighth chapter, when he described two men with demons as being “exceedingly violent.”  The Greek word means, “harsh, fierce, savage, violent.”  

            Distressing times.  Harsh.  Fierce.  Savage.  Violent.

            For example, do you know what the following three incidents have in common? 

            Eating more than your share of gumbo.

            Cutting part of your neighbor's lawn without permission.

            Blocking traffic on a street in front of your home.

            What do these three incidents have in common?  All of those were motives for recent slayings in the City of New Orleans, Louisiana

            We live in harsh, violent, savage, distressing times.  Of course, what particularly concerns us this morning is this: Has what’s happening out there, affected what’s happening in here?  In some ways it has.  I passed along an article I had clipped from the newspaper last Saturday about a new position in some churches.  The position was that of “Armor Bearer” where someone in the church carries a gun and guards the pastor during worship services.  This came in response to shootings, particularly in the south, where a gunman came into the church and shot the pastor and some of the parishioners.

            That, however, is a rare, rare, rare occurrence.  That seldom happens.   But what about other distressing things from our culture, our society, drifting into the church?  Take our hypothesis for today.  Do we indeed live in a culture of self-centeredness, instant gratification and convenience?  And if so, are those biblical values?  And has any of that drifted into the church? 

            Almost 70 years ago, H. A. Ironside lamented about the church in his time.  Here’s what he said, and remember he made this comment seventy years ago. 

 

            The church of God has gone into the entertainment business!  People must be amused, and as the church needs the people’s money, the church must supply the demand and meet the craving!

 

            That sounds a little self-centered to me.  And we have found a little of that entertainment mentality infiltrating some modern day congregations.  If people like drama better than sermons, then give them more drama and less preaching!  If people want 15-minute upbeat talks that help them towards personal fulfillment, and doesn’t mention sin, then that’s what you should give them!

            Self-centeredness.  Instant gratification.  Convenience.  Has that grabbed us more than the cause of Christ?  After all, the Apostle Paul warns us here about three big loves that will compete with one’s love for God:  the love of self, the love of silver, and the love of sin. 

            In response to the distressing times in which we live Paul’s message to us is this - are you ready for it - here it is:  “Avoid empty religion and those who propagate it.”  And speaking of those who propagate empty religion, there’s one last thing I want to say.  Actually, one last thing the Apostle Paul has to say.

            Despite all that filters into the church from the world around us, Paul reminds us of one important fact.  Verse 9:

 

            But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone.

 

            I think of the words of Jesus:  “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

            The love of self, the love of silver, the love of sin may slip into the church, but it won’t ultimately prevail.  Jesus won’t let it. 

            I don’t want to ruin the ending if you haven’t read it, but have you read the Book of Revelation?  If so, do you remember the ending?  And this is a spoiler alert if you don’t want to know the ending.  Just put your hands over your ears and hum, so you won’t here me reveal the ending and it is:  God wins!  That’s the ending.   God wins!