Archive for the ‘Courageous Faith’ Category

May 31st, 2009 – 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Growth through Resisting the Easy Road

Lesson 5

Introduction

The great American inventor Thomas Edison persisted with over 8,000 experiments in his effort to find the elements for the filament of a incandescent light bulb. Someone asked Edison if he was discouraged after failure number 7,000. Edison replied, “Oh, my no! I haven’t had any failures. In now know 7,000 things that won’t work.” (Total Life Prosperity, Lanson Ross)

In our drive-through line, instant everything culture we can be tempted to take the “easy road” in many ways. This certainly holds true for our spiritual lives as well. Whereas some attempt to wrap what it means to follow Christ in variations of easy steps, God’s Word calls for persistence when it comes to spiritual growth. Our faith in Christ will grow in part when we reject the temptation that the easy road presents and embrace persistence and endurance. Paul in this passage says, “… keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5). These are all images of staying with the effort to grow in your faith.

Your faith will grow when you consistently recognize and respond to two things (2 Timothy 4:1-5):

  • Recognize God’s Desire to Reveal Himself (vv.1-2)
  • Recognize the Effort Needed to Understand God (vv.3-5)

Recognize God’s Desire to Reveal Himself

Read: 2 Timothy 4:1-2

In v.1 Paul depicts God’s inherent right to be heard. According to this verse “Christ Jesus” will return as “judge”. He will inspect the lives of the living and the dead. In other words, no one, believer and non-believer alike, will escape the insightful eyes of Christ. As the Creator of all life God has the inherent right to be heard. You will either be in tune and in alignment with what He reveals through His Word now or later. In essence, God cares how you live your life. He cares that your faith in Christ grows. He cares that Christ’s death on the cross equates to more than “fire insurance” (salvation from hell or eternal separation from God). God has the inherent right to be heard, but you must still make the day-to-day choice to listen and respond in order for faith to grow.

In v.2, Paul outlines two means God uses to reveal Himself in His effort to transform lives. First, God uses His written Word. He implores young Timothy to “preach” or communicate God’s Word “in season and out of season” — in other words consistently and constantly. Notice in v.2a, God’s written Word carries the potential to “correct, rebuke and encourage”. When God reveals Himself and you recognize and respond, it changes life. In this case by correcting when you are on a destructive course (“correct”); when you need to confront a weakness (“rebuke”); and when you need encouragement to stay on the right course (“encourage”). God’s Word reveals His direction and purpose for life. The question is, “How will you respond?”

The other means in which God uses to reveal Himself and thus change lives is through relationships with His loving people. Note that in v.2 Paul not only speaks of what to do in regard to God’s written Word (“correct, rebuke and encourage”), but in v.2b he speaks of how we are to approach people with the truth revealed in scripture. He states, “… correct, rebuke, and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.” This means having relationships with other believers which exhibit “great patience” with one another and “careful instruction” meaning all thoughts, advice, interaction ought to have a solid Biblical basis. As a church family or church body we are not called to pool our ignorance, but share Biblical insight that we have learned through pursuing the truth.

In the context of vv.1-2, the God of all creation, the God of the universe bends down to reveal Himself through His written Word and through relationships with other believers who are grounded in the truth. A faith that grows first recognizes a loving God Who has gone to a lot of effort to reveal Himself to you.

Recognize the Effort Needed to Understand God

Read: 2 Timothy 4:3-5

Key Question: In vv.3-5, what is both the implied and stated effort you will need to make in order to grow spiritually?

From 1960 to 1966 a great baseball player named Maury Willis set the record for most stolen bases. In 1962 he set the club record for the Dodgers with 104 stolen bases during a regular season. However, Maury Willis set another record in those years, a record obscured by his accomplishments on the baseball field. In 1965 he held the record for most stolen bases, but he also held the dubious distinction for most times called out in a single season while attempting the steals — 31 times in 1965. Maury Willis didn’t let those failures or setbacks discourage him from trying as he kept his eye on the opportunities and took them one at a time. A faith that grows will require taking one opportunity at a time, getting back up when failure occurs and trying again and again. It is not easy but worth it.

Paul in vv.3-4 speaks of a day when people will take the easy road and they will not “put up with sound doctrine” or any inconvenient truth from God’s Word (v.3a). “… Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them …” those who will tell them only what they want to hear (e.g. “what their itching ears want to hear” v.3b). In v.4, Paul further concludes such people will “turn away from the truth” and turn instead to “myths”. Our natural inclination is to create God and life to our own personal liking.

In v.5 Paul challenges young Timothy and the church in Ephesus, “Don’t take the easy road and surround yourself with those who simply tell you what you want to hear.” Instead he depicts a transformed life as one with the ability to think straight when others do not (“keep your head in all situations”); the ability to endure challenges in life (“endure hardship”); the ability to be an effective witness (“do the work of an evangelist”); and the ability to make a difference in other’s lives (“discharge all the duties of your ministry”).

Conclusion

“Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate … In our culture anything, even good news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes to the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship.” (Eugene Peterson)

Faith does not grow simply because there is a desire for it to. You have to be willing to “sign up for a long apprenticeship”. Growing faith occurs when we refuse to give up and commit instead to a journey that will take a life time. The easy road will always be available and tempting, but to grow you must learn to resist taking it.

May 24th, 2009 – 2 Timothy 3:12-17

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Growth through Doing Good Works

Lesson 4

Introduction

We have been studying several things (to be five total) that can put us in a position for our faith or trust in Christ to grow. The first four including our subject here are:

  • Growth through the Practice of Courageous Faith – 2 Timothy 1:6-9
  • Growth through Knowing and Living by the Truth – 2 Timothy 2:14-18
  • Growth through the Pursuit of Personal Holiness – 2 Timothy 2:19, 22-26
  • Growth through Doing Good Works – 2 Timothy 3:12-17

There is no claim here of some mystical bag of tricks out of the Bible that cause a growth in faith when we do them. That would be a faith/works approach to your relationship with God. 2 Timothy is written to Timothy as a pastor and by extension the church he led, so Paul is speaking to those who have already experienced salvation through God’s grace and have taken that initial step of faith in Christ. Our subject here is, “What next?” How does a believer’s faith grow after he/she initially embraces a relationship with Christ? The disciplines or steps we are and have been considering simply put us in a position to grow. It is God Who actually causes the growth, but as we learn to respond to Him out of love (Matt. 22:34-40) our faith or trust in Christ will grow. It is a transformation process that is life-changing.
A man named Elton Trueblood has been credited with the following: “Our faith becomes practical when it is expressed in two books: the date book and the check book.” We will not venture into your checkbook (sigh of relief!), but this passage in 2 Timothy 3:12-17 does eventually involve your date book —- how you invest your time and life. Paul calls us to be “equipped for every good work.” (v.17) How can we be prepared for the good works God will bring us to do? Let’s consider two things — the awareness needed (vv.12-13) and the inward process needed (vv.14-17).

The Awareness Needed to Prepare for Good Works

Read: 2 Timothy 3:12-13

Key Question: What does Paul warn us about when we desire to become more Christ-like?

Prior to this passage, Paul in vv.10-11 listed the difficult experiences he had when he pursued a growing faith in Christ. His conclusion even after all that Paul had suffered? “… Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” v.11b. Like us, Paul would not have known that God would bless him through the difficult times unless he received such understanding through life experience. In other words, trust or faith in God develops when we live by or take action on the belief that God can be trusted in all times. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Another way to look at this verse in Hebrews is when you refuse the faith journey because it entails trials along the way then that is like living as if God does not “exist”.

After revealing his own experiences of growing in his faith through trials (vv.10-11) Paul warns in v.12: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, …”. In vv.12-13 the message in essence is that if you make the commitment to grow in your faith there will be sacrifices (v.12) and there will be evil to confront (v.13). The underlining reality is the Satanic realm does not want your faith to grow. Satan can’t stop God from causing the growth so he will seek to discourage you instead.

To allow God to prepare you for “good works” (v.17) starts with the basic awareness that it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it (2 Timothy 3:10-11)! Note the challenges upfront and develop strong relationships with other believers who desire to grow in their faith and you are less likely to be discouraged.

The Inward Process to Prepare for Good Works

Read: 2 Timothy 3:14-17

Notice that right off the bat in v.14 Paul exhorts, “… continue in what you have learned and become convinced of, …”. To be in a position for your faith to grow it is not always about learning something new. Rather, it is about “continuing in what you have learned”. Paul mentions in vv.14-15 that it will take time for your faith to grow. Specifically, you are called to embrace on a personal basis the truth from God’s Word from trustworthy people (v.14). Also, Paul points out that if we “continue” to learn and apply the truth in God’s Word we will in time experience the invaluable wisdom inherent in scripture (“… you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” v.15). Paul is not limiting “wisdom” only to a profession of faith in Christ. This wisdom carries implications for our whole lives which include that moment when scripture revealed to you how to be forgiven and have a relationship with Christ. Like an oak tree it will take time for faith to grow. Paul speaks with this in mind when he states, “continue in what you have learned”.

The second part of the process for faith to grow besides taking time (vv14-15) is the fact that a growing faith requires day-to-day commitment (vv.16-17). Verses 16-17, call upon each believer to see God’s Word as God-inspired (v.16a) and experience scripture as life-changing (vv.16b-17). In vv.16b-17 are revealed five ways God’s Word is life-changing:

  • God’s Word teaches us what we need to know (“useful for teaching”)
  • God’s Word confronts us when we need a wake-up call (“rebuking”)
  • God’s Word corrects when we need a change in course (“correcting”)
  • God’s Word encourages when we are on the right path (“training in righteousness”)
  • God’s Word equips us for good works (“… thoroughly equipped for every good work.”)

Conclusion

So we have come full circle! We started with a journey that involves a spiritual growth process “so that” (v.17) each of us can be prepared for “good works”. How does faith grow? In part by being prepared for and taking the opportunity to do good works. Are you prepared and are you willing?

May 17th, 2009 – 2 Timothy 2:19, 22-26

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Growth through the Pursuit of Personal Holiness

Lesson 3

Introduction

When a tree or plant grows it means there are things in place such as soil with nutrients, roots deep enough to deliver those nutrients, rain, sun shine, … Without these factors in place growth simply will not occur. Even though spiritual growth is not as tangible as things like soil, rain and sunshine we nonetheless need to have certain factors in place in order to experience growth. In this journey through 2 Timothy we are learning about ‘How Faith Grows’. There are disciplines we must commit to in order to see our faith or trust in Christ grow. So far, we have noted the need for two things for faith to grow:

  • Growth through the practice of courageous faith (2 Timothy 1:6-9): Courageous faith may not be anything dramatic but simply having an attitude that allows God to teach you something through a difficult circumstance for example. Courageous faith could be overcoming pride and offering an apology. The key word is “practice”. We learn to trust Christ by responding during those small but key moments in life.
  • Growth through knowing and living by the truth (2 Timothy 2:14-18): Too many believers today are spiritually empty and easily deceived by subtle false teaching because they do not make the effort to deeply understand and live by the truth revealed in God’s Word. Faith grows when we discover day-to-day the truth from scriptures and engage in the process of living by what is revealed.

In this session, we will consider how our faith grows through the pursuit of personal holiness (2 Timothy 2:19, 22-26). As Paul reveals in vv.19, 22-26, personal holiness or transformation requires an active protective effort (vv.19, 22a) and an active growth effort (vv.22b-26).

An Active Protective Effort

Read: 2 Timothy 2:19, 22a

Key Question: What actions are called for in order to protect ourselves spiritually?

The first term used in v.19 as translated in the NIV is “Nevertheless”. This a transition word is referring back to vv.17-18 where Paul spoke of the danger false teaching poses to a church body. Then Paul proceeds with, “… God’s solid foundation stands firm, …”. The “solid foundation” that is “sealed with this inscription” is the church community or body.

When it comes to the pursuit of spiritual growth or personal holiness, the body of believers known as the church is a key component. For one thing having genuine relationships with other believers who are pursuing personal holiness is important for faith to grow. We don’t grow best in isolation. The best growth and protection against destructive forces such as false teaching is healthy relationships with one another as the body of Christ — the church.

By being and staying closely connected to a church we have “God’s solid foundation” for taking two personal protective actions when they are needed (vv. 19b and 22a). First, Paul states in v.19b, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” The word “wickedness” refers to anything (environments, temptations, attitudes, …) which run counter to the character of God. Paul says, “turn away” from such environments or circumstances which will influence you to live in contradiction to God’s character as revealed in scripture. Secondly, Paul says in v.22a, “Flee the evil desires of your youth, …”. You not only need to protect yourself on a literal front from things that will lead you away from God (v.19b) but “flee” the very desires within you which will lead to the same result — spiritual drift from God. Both “turn away” and “flee” mean to take these actions aggressively and consistently.

The pursuit of personal holiness entails first a defensive, protective posture. You are more likely to be aware of things that cause spiritual drift when you are intimately connected to a body of believers seeking to grow in their faith as you are. We are called in part to protect one another as the body of Christ.

An Active Growth Effort

Read: 2 Timothy 2:22b-26

One of the great things about the second part of this passage (2 Timothy 22-26) is Paul does not stop with “flee”. He doesn’t stop with what to avoid. Some churches only vocalize what they are against as opposed to what they are for. Paul says “turn away” (v.19b) and “flee” (v.22a) so he calls you to be against anything that disrupts your relationship with Christ and hinders your faith in Him from growing. Note though that he doesn’t stop there. He says next to “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace”. Like the appeal to “flee evil desires” the term “pursue” carries the idea of pursuing these spiritual traits as an absolute necessity and the need to persistently pursue “righteousness, faith, love and peace”. It is an intensive, purposeful effort involved.

At the end of v.22b it is noted that we are to pursue these things “… along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” You are to pursue spiritual growth “along with” other believers. Paul is depicting a vibrant, growing relationship with God which benefits your relationships “with” other believers.

In the final verses (vv.23-26) as a believer in relation to one another you are exhorted along three lines: refuse to get involved in foolish arguments (v.23); pursue a servant’s heart in relation to others (v.24); and handle opposition and the resulting conflict well or in a Christ-like way (vv.25-26). A faith that grows will experience growth in both contexts — in relation to God and in relation to people.

Conclusion

In a prison located in Kishinev, Moldova, the prison’s vice warden told the American Bible Society that he noticed recognizable changes in prisoners who had become believers and publicly identified their faith in Christ through baptism. “They have changed their attitudes, their visions for the future, their whole outlook toward life,” he said. As a result, the prison authorities in this former Soviet republic plan to allow Christian ministries more access to the prisoners, “… because these visits produce good results …” (National and International Religion Report, Vol. 7, #15).

Pursuing personal holiness is not a religious ritual. Like in the lives of those prisoners, a faith that grows will produce “good things”.

May 10th, 2009 – 2 Timothy 2:14-18

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Growth through Knowing and Living by the Truth

Lesson 2

Introduction

As believers if we are not hungry for and purposeful about spiritual growth then our faith in Christ becomes over time a lifeless intellectual formula or a religious ritual. Through this journey to discover ‘How Faith Grows’ last time we considered from 2 Timothy 1:6-9 the fact that our faith or trust in Christ grows as we make the choice moment to moment in life to practice courageous faith in God. In 2 Timothy 2:14-18 we will see that faith also grows through making the effort to know and practice the truth found in God’s Word.
While fishing off-shore in a small boat, a man fell overboard and immediately began to panic. Since he was alone, he decided to call out to God for help. He cried out, “Lord, please save me! If you’ll just let me live I’ll start keeping the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not, uh, thou shalt not, uh … Oh, God, if you’ll just get me out of this I promise to learn the Ten Commandments.” (Beaumont Examiner, July 8, 1999)
The truth revealed in scripture is life-changing. It is life-directing. However, how many actually dedicate the time to understand and live by the truth revealed within the pages of God’s Word. Are we in truth more like the fisherman caught in the midst of an emergency only to turn to God and His Word when we feel like we’re about to drown?
Paul exhorts young Timothy to be two things related to the truth revealed in scripture:

  • Be Firmly Grounded in God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:14-15)
  • Be Aware of False Teaching (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

Being Firmly Grounded in God’s Word

Read: 2 Timothy 2:14-15

Key Question: What is so important about having a growing understanding and application of the truth found in scripture?

The context of this passage can be noted by two things: First, Paul in the verses preceding this passage called upon Timothy and other believers to embrace and pass on the truth from scripture to the next generation (1:3-5; 2:1-13). Secondly, there were false teachers who kept causing confusion and havoc among believers who were not well grounded in God’s Word. When Paul calls upon Timothy to “warn” believers “against quarreling about words; …” he is challenging believers not to waste a lot of time engaging false teachers in worthless “quarrels” or arguments. Paul says, “… it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.”

One sure sign that we are being firmly grounded in the truth from scripture is an ability to discern and avoid majoring on the minor things in life. Engaging in senseless arguments is a distraction from what in life really matters. Constantly worrying over the small things leads to “ruin”. It will tend to subvert our spiritual growth.

Instead of senseless “quarrels about words” Paul in v.15 calls believers to a life pursuit of having a deeper understanding of truth revealed in God’s Word. As Paul depicts this truth it is a truth tested by time (v.15a) and a truth needing to be correctly handled (v.15b). First, Paul states, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, …” The phrase, “present yourself” lit. means stand alongside of and “one approved” refers to passing careful scrutiny before God. This “approval” is connected to how we work to understand, apply and even communicate God’s Word to others. As we “do out best” to understand, apply and pass on truth to others God transforms our minds (thinking), hearts (desires) and lives (priorities we live by). Being grounded in the truth is not simply engaging in more and more intellectual facts from scripture, but rather engaging a living, loving God in the scripture Who will change our lives over time.

Being Aware of False Teaching

Read: 2 Timothy 2:16-18

In the final part of this passage, Paul denotes two types of danger that false teaching posses when we don’t recognize it for what it is: First, false teaching posses a personal danger to your spiritual life (v.16) and secondly, false teaching posses a corporate danger to the body of Christ (vv.17-18).

We are cautioned first to, “Avoid godless chatter, …”. “Godless chatter” does not refer here to idle gossip which is destructive enough, but rather refers to false teaching. Note the downward spiritual spiral Paul warns us about when we are not grounded enough in God’s Word (v.15) to discern and even “avoid” false teaching (“godless chatter”), “… those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.” Lacking the Biblical basis or foundation to discern what is really true from what only sounds true carries the consequence of becoming less and less like Christ (e.g. “more and more ungodly.”) A shallow understanding of truth and superficial spiritual lives of one generation will be passed on to the next ultimately with devastating affect.

Note also when false teaching goes unchallenged and unrecognized it will spread like a deadly disease through a church body (v.17) and carry the potential to “destroy the faith of some.” (v.18) How we “handle” (v.15) the truth from God’s Word can make the difference between spiritual life and spiritual death even from one generation to the next.

Conclusion

Someone once observed that people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older. Then it dawned on this individual … they are cramming for their finals. Genuine growth does not come from “cramming”. It comes over time as we consistently take some time in the day to read, understand and apply the truth to our lives. Then in turn we will have something worth passing on to the next generation.

May 3rd, 2009 – 2 Timothy 1:6-9

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Growth through the Practice of Courageous Faith

Lesson 1

Introduction

At a circus a huge elephant was tied to an eighteen inch stake. Someone asked the elephant trainer, “Can that elephant not easily pull that stake out of the ground and get free?” The trainer said, “Sure! But he had tried that when he was a baby elephant and was unsuccessful. The elephant concluded that he could never pull it out of the ground and go free.” So there the massive, powerful elephant stood with the ability to lift whole trees, yet captive to a puny 18 inch stake. (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, #459)
In a similar way when our faith in Christ does not grow it will show in life. All the power and resources of God reside within us through the Holy Spirit, yet we allow our lives and faith to be defined by limitations like an 18 inch stake in the ground. Over the next five sessions we will consider from the book of 2 Timothy ‘How Faith Grows’. We will study five actions when incorporated into our day-to-day lives will set us free to live by faith.
The first point of spiritual growth as we will see in 2 Timothy 1:6-9 is: ‘Growth through the Practice of Courageous Faith’. We will consider two things about courageous faith in this passage:

  • The Inward Traits of Courageous Faith (vv.6-7)
  • The Outward Expressions of Courageous Faith (vv.8-9)

The Inward Traits of Courageous Faith

Read: 2 Timothy 1:6-7

Key Question: What do you think are the traits depicted in vv.6-7 of a faith that is growing?

In v.5 Paul acknowledges the “sincere faith” of his young friend Timothy. But, as is apparent from the verses to follow, Timothy like all of us needed to take concrete active steps to grow spiritually. Paul starts in v.6 by calling upon Timothy to “… fan into the flame the gift of God, which is in you …”. What flame? What gift? First, the term “gift” is often translated “grace”. In v.6 it refers to the spiritual gift or gifts that God had placed “in” Timothy when he committed his life to Christ. The phrase, “fan the flame lit. means ‘to keep the fire alive’. How do we then “fan the flame” of our spiritual gifts? As with Timothy we have to make the conscious effort to find and use our gifts for the benefit of others. It is in the midst of investing our lives that our experience of Christ will be deepened and our faith in Him will grow. We will be gratified to see and know that God desires to take and use us as ordinary people in extraordinary ways. So the first inward trait of courageous faith is perseverance. We have to persevere in using our gifts in order to see God’s purpose fulfilled. If it were easy and instantly gratifying to find and use our gifts for the benefit of others then likely more believers would be doing it.

The second general trait (v.7) that Paul depicts of a courageous faith is of a believer trusting day-to-day the character God is developing within. Notice that Paul states one thing God does not inspire us to and three things that He does inspire us to live by. First, God does not “give us a spirit of timidity” which lit. means ‘cowardice’. Paul is essentially calling upon Timothy (and all believers) to refuse to be controlled by fear. To feel fear at times is human. To be controlled by fear is cowardice or “a spirit of timidity”. Instead of fear we are challenged each day to live out of a “spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

What depicts your day-to-day faith or trust in Christ more: “a spirit of timidity” or “a spirit of power, love and self-discipline”? When we choose and stay the course of power, love and self-discipline God will develop overtime a greater ability within to practice courageous faith.

The Outward Traits of Courageous Faith

Read: 2 Timothy 1:8-9

When we reject being controlled by fear and instead choose to live out of a “spirit of power, love and self-discipline” (v.7), Paul reveals in essence we will then exhibit courageous faith through a bold personal witness (v.8) and through developing Christ-like character (v.9). He states, “… do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord …” (v.8) and God “… has called us to a holy life … because of His purpose and grace.” (v.9)

As we pursue holiness we will desire and see the value of fulfilling God’s “purpose and grace”.

Conclusion

The faith journey called for in vv.6-9 is a simple one to understand, but it will take courage on your part to persevere in walking the trail God has laid before us. Paul implores us to find and use our “gifts” while we still can (v.6); to reject being controlled by fear and live out of a “spirit of power, love and self-discipline” (v.7); to give a bold witness for Christ as He gives opportunities (v.8); to grow in Christ-like character through the pursuit of holiness and God’s purpose (v.9).
It is a given that a runner can’t advance to second base in a baseball game without taking his foot off the relative comfort and safety of first base. To see faith grow we too must leave the comfort and perceived safety of where we are spiritually and practice courageous faith.