Use the Word and Be Useful!
A sermon based on 2 Timothy 3:14—4:5
Sunday, October 20, 2013 – Pentecost 21C
The anesthesia was starting to do it's thing. Bob could feel the effects of the drugs within minutes. Everyone in the room sounded funny. The words they spoke were echoing in his head. And his eyes were getting heavier and heavier. Bob was glad that he would be completely unconscious for his root canal. But right before he closed his eyes, Bob saw something horrifying… The doctor wasn't holding a pick. He wasn't holding a mirror. He wasn't even holding a scalpel or a drill. He was holding a hammer and a screwdriver. That's when Bob passed out.
Okay, for those of you who have a phobia of visiting the dentist, let me assure you that this horror story is totally fictitious. I'm confident that your dentist would never do that! But can you imagine if you were in Bob's place? Sitting in the chair about to go under when your dentist approaches with the wrong tools? With the wrong tools, he won't be able to do the job properly. With the wrong tools he's worse than useless! He could do serious harm, irreparable damage!
And what is true of dentists is also true of pastors, of teachers, of Christians. If they use the wrong tools and share teaching that aren't from God's Word, they're worse than useless, they can do serious harm, irreparable damage that could last an eternity. But with the right tools, or rather tool—the Word of God—they're useful, helpful, and can do a world of good.
This morning as we again consider a portion of Paul's prison encouragement to young Timothy, we are reminded that we have the right tool. We have the inspired and inerrant Word of God that is useful for so many things! And when we use the Word we become useful. Paul encourages Timothy and us to use the word and be useful in 2 Timothy 3:14—4:5…
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 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 to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
I. Sometimes Useless
Someone once said that the worst form of child abuse is to neglect their spiritual care. And if that's true, and I believe it is, then what a deadbeat dad Timothy had. In Acts 16(:1) we're told, "[Paul] came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek." Two weeks ago we heard how Timothy became a believer—through his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois. From the time he was an infant, those godly women used the right tool—the holy Scriptures—to nurture Timothy's faith in God's gracious promises. But by contrast, Timothy's dad was a spiritual deadbeat who practiced vicious spiritual neglect. What a useless dad.
So, let's ask the important question: Which are you? Are you your home's Eunice? Are you sharing the Word of God with your family? Or are you like Timothy's deadbeat dad? Are you like the dad who said in an interview for Issues in Lutheran Education, "I see myself as being in charge of logistics—getting my kids to school or Sunday school. I believe in letting the experts teach and the parents be facilitators." That dad saw the spiritual care of his children as a job to be hired out for someone else to do. As long as he got them to the "experts" he felt he was doing just fine.
The sad reality is that many, if not most, Christian parents are no longer the primary faith-nurturers of their own children. And why not? What kept that dad from being the expert? The answer is obvious, isn't it? He wasn't spending enough time in the Word himself. He was spiritually starved and so was spiritually starving his children.
The seven year-old came home from school and announced to his parents: "I'm not going to school anymore." When they asked why not he replied, "I don't need to. I know how to read. I know how to add. I know everything I need to know to get by in life." What useless parents they would be, if they let their son drop out of the second grade.
But, sadly many Christians say, "I'm not going to Bible Class anymore. I don't need to. I was confirmed. I did my memory work. I completed the Bible Information Class. I know all I need to know to get by in life and for eternity." What useless Christians we become when we stop growing in our faith.
And aren't we all guilty of doing this? When you heard Paul say, "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 to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths," be honest. Did you think about all of those churches and those preachers who have no problem changing their doctrine to please their audience? But did you think of yourself? Do you sometimes prefer spiritual junk food to the truth of God's Word?
Sometimes it's preferring to hear that I'm a pretty good Christian instead of a corrupt and vile sinner. After all, here I am in church on Sunday when I could be sleeping in and did you see all the work I've put in volunteering around here? Sometimes it's not false doctrine our itching ears want to hear, but simply entertainment. I'd rather watch another movie full of myths to numb my mind than read the Word full of truth that will feed my soul.
And when we don't continue in the holy Scriptures that we've learned and become convinced of, then neither do we, "Preach the Word… in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." Underfed, malnourished, we can't nourish others. And when we don't use the right tool, then instead of being useful to the Kingdom, we become useless, even harmful.
If heaven had a health and human services department there would surely be an angelic social worker checking in on you and me, threatening to haul off those under our spiritual care to the foster home of Lois and Eunice. And we surely deserve the divine manager to take away our resources—to take away the Word—and to give it all to someone like Timothy who will use it well and be useful. Let's face it. Too often we are useless in the Kingdom. And you know what happens to things in your home when you determine that they've become useless. They get thrown away.
So are we all destined to be thrown away into hell for how useless we've been by our spiritual neglect of ourselves and others? No. That's not our fate. Not when we, "continue in what [we] have learned and have become convinced of… the holy Scriptures, which are able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
II. Use the Word
If I told you that I had a product that was guaranteed to make you perfectly healthy forever, would make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams, and would make you happier than you could possibly imagine… if I told you that this product has worked 100% of the time for all who have applied it properly and regularly… if I told you that you could get this product free of charge not for a limited time, but whenever and as often as you want, that it was readily available whenever you go… would you use the product?
I do have such a product: The holy Scriptures. These sixty-six books offer more than just wisdom to get ahead in life. They're more than just flat-lifeless words on a page. Because they're not produced by just some human authors, but are the product of the Holy Spirit.
A friend of mine was telling me how he went on his very first hot air balloon ride this past summer. He said it was pretty amazing how the balloon could lift the weight of the entire party off the ground and into the air, to soar high into the sky offering breathtaking views. But can you imagine how much fun the ride would be if the balloon weren't filled with air? Not much, right? The balloon would be useless.
Likewise, if the Scriptures were just the words of men, writing their thoughts about God, it wouldn't be enough to lift us from this life into heaven. It would be useless. But they're not lifeless words. They are the God-breathed, with the Spirit of God filling up the balloon. And because the holy Scriptures are not produced by just some human authors, but are the product of the Holy Spirit, they are useful. They can lift you up to heaven. They "are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
That is, they share with you the truth of Jesus' perfect, sinless life lived in your place, of his innocent suffering and death also done in your place, and of his resurrection that guarantees that you too will rise to live with him forever in heaven where you will be perfectly healthy forever, wealthy beyond your wildest dreams, and happier than you could possibly imagine. And because it's the product of the Holy Spirit, of God who cannot lie, you know that it will work 100% of the time for all who apply it properly and regularly.
So use the Word! Read it. Learn it. Inwardly digest it. Study it. Memorize it. Put the useful Word to use in your life! Let it teach you when you need instruction. Let it rebuke you when you're selfish. Let it correct you when you're thinking is off. Let it train you in righteousness and in righteous living.
Don't wait until January to make resolutions. Resolve to read through the book of Romans by the end of the month. Or resolve to listen to an audio version of the Gospels by the end of the year. Resolve to memorize a verse a week or to attend Bible Study again. Dig into the Word! and if you have questions, email them me. Or better still, post them to Facebook where others can join the discussion and we'll create an online Bible Study! I don't care how you do it, but use the useful Word regularly and faithfully and put it to work in your life.
And when you do use the Word, you know what the results will be. You will be, "thoroughly equipped for every good work." You'll be useful.
III. Be Useful
Have you ever needed a screwdriver, but all you could find was a hammer? have you ever needed packaging tape, but all you had was masking tape? Have you ever needed baking powder, but all you had was baking soda? Sometimes, you can substitute the wrong tool for one that will make do. But other times, you need the right tool or the job can't get done.
Thankfully you and I are equipped with the right tool. It won't work to raise our kids using just the theories of Dr. Spock. But we have the Word of God. It won't work to change our spouse by nagging or ignoring. But we have the Word of God. It won't work to change our own behavior by will power and self-discipline. But we have the Word of God.
You are equipped with the right tool to change things for the better for eternity! You have the Word of God and you know that it works! "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." So use the Word and be useful!
Teach your children the Word of God and give them the most useful tool for life—both this life and the life to come. Loving rebuke your spouse with the Word of God and correct the thinking and the behavior, by pointing back to the cross. See the empty cross and the empty tomb in the Word and be trained to live a godly and righteous life in thanks for the righteousness given to you. And you, man or woman of God, will be thoroughly equipped for every good work. You will be thoroughly equipped to help others. You will be, "prepared in season and out of season; [to share the Word, to] correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." You will no longer be useless is the Kingdom, but as you use the Word of God which is useful in every situation, you too will be useful in service to God.
So, "keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist," sharing the holy, God-breathed Scriptures with those you know, "discharge all the duties of your ministry." Use the Word. Be useful. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.