By Kandace Brooks
Tomoka UMC, Ormond Beach, FL
First, Read 2 Timothy 3:16
If we read between the lines of both of Paul’s letters to Timothy, we know that Timothy was struggling to maintain a clear focus for his life and the use of his gifts. Timothy wasn’t always sure how to best use his energies or discern God’s path for his life, and the many voices in the city of Ephesus did not help to provide clarity. On top of that, conflicts and fatigue often brought out the worst in his personality, and Timothy was nagged by a sense of insecurity that made him doubt his own skills or judgment at times.
I don’t know if you can relate to any of these struggles or themes in your own journey, but into this life situation Paul writes some of the most helpful words in all of the New Testament.
Paul calls Timothy to remember back to the days when he was a child – to recall how he received a foundation for life at the knees of his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice. You see, what happened with Timothy is something that happens to many of us. There was a day when, guided by his mother and grandmother, Timothy soaked up God’s Word until it filled him and shaped him, until it had equipped him with wisdom beyond his years, and altered his view of life.
He was not only informed, but he was formed by the Word of God. But it seems that Timothy had begun to rest on the strength of that past learning and in the midst of the pressure of life that surrounds him, Paul advises “Continue in what you have learned; be a life-long learner. Continue in what you and learned and have become convinced.”
Paul urges Timothy to continue to draw upon “the Holy scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Paul knows that if Timothy can become a life-long learner, then he will “rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” Paul knows that his student is tired, and is need of renewal (and therefore, more likely to make mistakes of judgment or character).
Then, to drive his point home, the teacher Paul gives his student Timothy three reasons for returning to the disciplined study of God’s word.
Before we look at those reasons, let’s put ourselves into the picture. Let’s bring the scenario into today’s view, because my sense is that there is a little bit of Timothy in all of us. Think about your early exposure to the Christian faith – we drink up as much as we can – we attend Sunday School and read Scripture daily, and pray faithfully - we surround ourselves with folks who can help us on the path.
Then, maybe because our confidence is built up or maybe for other reasons, we stop. This doesn’t mean we leave the faith or the church, but we arrest our growth by not being diligent in our study of God’s word. We get stale.
I wonder why we seem to accept staleness so readily in our faith journey, and yet would not even begin to think of accepting it in the professional world. Imagine the advances in pharmacy and technology in the last five years, and tell me that you would have confidence in someone who hadn’t kept up with the industry!
Paul sends Timothy back to a lifestyle of learning with a three-fold rationale.
First, Paul says, maintain the habit of study for the simple reason that ‘all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching.’
God-breathed. I really like that term, and each time I read it, I conjure up the image of God filling us with the breath of life. Imagine how that must feel to a dying person – to have breath poured into them. Paul reminds his student that the Word of God is there for us even today – like a breath of fresh and sacred air! It is however, up to us to take and read, to breathe in that air so that we may be refreshed and renewed by its power.
Second, Paul indicates that scripture is not only useful for teaching, but also for correction. Scripture acts to warn us to our need to change direction should we find ourselves taking a wrong turn.
I hope I don’t offend, but this story (true or not) is just too good not to use. Two middle school boys wanted to test the effectiveness of a frog’s survival instincts by dropping the poor thing into a pot of boiling water. As you can guess, the survival instincts took over and the frog, after a moment of complete panic, used his powerful legs to jump out of the pot. Still not satisfied, the boys put the frog in pot of cool water, and gradually turned up the heat until it was boiling. You know what happened? The frog never jumped out, the survival instincts did not kick in. Why? Because the environment changed so slowly, there seemed no need to react.
When we look at our passage in context, we read “In the last days there will be terrible times.” Paul suggests that the moral temperature will rise until it boils over “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, and conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-9).
The moral temperature of our society is rising to dangerous levels. I sometimes fear that we are cooking ourselves; and the only to stop that trend, says Paul, is to be diligent students of Scripture, which provides a thermometer for checking the temperature of our values, environment, and priorities.
Finally, Paul indicates that there is a third reason for staying connected to the word, for he says that scripture is useful for ‘training in righteousness.’ Or if you prefer, ‘training in Christ-likeness.’ Connect this point with the one before – as the temperature rises in the pot, the study of scripture allows us to respond in a way that models Christ.
As we follow the life of Christ, we find an increased controversy, an increased question of his authority, an increased animosity toward his message – but Christ, who was so amazingly and intimately connected to God, was able to face the rising temperature with integrity, grace and wisdom.
Training to be like Jesus is just like any other kind of training – it takes time, diligence, commitment, and repetition. Muscle memory is when you do a task so many times over and over that even in an anxiety producing moment your muscles will take over and perform.
Studying the scriptures as a life-long student of God produces ‘faith memory’ so that when life happens, we have a much better chance of responding in a Christ-like way. As we study scriptures day by day; year by year; decade by decade - the living Christ is revealed to us in new and more profound ways with each repetition.
...so that everyone who belongs to God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Prayer: How grateful I am God, for the joy of searching the scriptures, and being searched by them as well. Breathe your word into my life so that I might continue to grow up in Christ day by day. Guide my path, change my direction when needed, and by your grace, let me finish this day looking more like Christ than I did this morning. Amen.
- What is the most recent NEW thing you learned? How did you learn it?
- Do you agree that the moral temperature of our culture is rising? Name some specific examples that affect you directly. What is one thing you can do today to lower the moral temperature around you?
- Choose one characteristic of Christ that you would like to develop in yourself and think about ways you can practice that characteristic so that it becomes part of your faith 'muscle memory.' Share your ideas with a friend and hold each other accountable for growth in this area.