“Growing Together in Maturity” (2 Timothy 3:1 – 17)
Sunday, June 13, 2020 (Pastor Chris Tweitmann)
Two weeks ago, we celebrated Pentecost,
the birthday of the Body of Christ, the Church.
In light of that celebration
and in the midst of
these times in which
we are living
– of uncertainty,
and of change
last Sunday we began
a sermon series
reflecting on what
it means to be the Church.
As I previously mentioned,
the biblical passage we started from
last week in Acts 2 is going to serve
as our focus text as we consider
our identity and our purpose as the Church.
Here it is from Acts, chapter 2, starting with verse 42:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching
and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Everyone was filled with awe at
the many wonders and signs
performed by the apostles.
All the believers were together
and had everything in common.
They sold property and possessions
to give to anyone who had need.
Every day they continued to
meet together in the temple courts.
They broke bread in their homes
and ate together with
glad and sincere hearts,
praising God and enjoying
the favor of all the people.
And the Lord added to
their number daily
those who were being saved.”
Today, verse 42 is
our particular focus,
this description of
being devoted to
the apostles teaching.
To help us better
flesh out this mark
of what it means t
o be the Body of Christ,
we will reflect on
a passage from Paul’s
second letter to
his protégé, Timothy.
Here is our passage
for the day from
2 Timothy, chapter 3.
Let’s listen carefully and closely….
What does it mean to be the Church?
From the brief picture painted in Acts chapter 2,
as the Holy Spirit came and miraculously multiplied
120 followers of Jesus into over 3,000 in a single day,
we witness several identifying marks that reflect
the priorities of this new community later called the Church.
What we glimpse here are not optional extras
in the journey of following Jesus.
No, what we see here is the fruit of
a genuine conversion and of life in Christ.
There are least five things to which these saints devoted themselves.
And the very first one is:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching…”
It’s this same teaching that Paul appeals to as he writes to Timothy.
The Apostle Paul, writing from a prison cell in Rome,
warns his young protégé Timothy of difficult days to come.
Most scholars believe 2 Timothy was written by Paul in the last days of his life.
Paul was imprisoned for the second time
(after what we read about in the book of Acts)
during the reign of the Emperor Nero around 67 AD.
Three years earlier had been the Great Fire of 64 AD
during which more than three-fourths of the city had been destroyed.
Nero blamed the Christians for having committed arson and a time of
fierce persecution and martyrdom of followers of Jesus soon followed.
Against this backdrop, Paul writes his final letter to one of his closest friends, someone he has mentored in the faith and developed into a leader of the Church.
And just to be clear, as Paul writes to Timothy about “the last days,”
he does not mean the “end times” as that phrase is often used among Christians.
Paul is not referred to some period in the future.
The “last days” Paul is talking about is
what is commonly called “Age of the Church,”
the whole stretch of time
from the day of Pentecost
up to this moment and beyond
until Jesus returns to make all things new.
In the midst of hard and changing times,
an experience of which these days we ourselves
are not unfamiliar with,
the growth pains of the Body of Christ,
Paul offers Timothy guidance for the road ahead.
And what was is that guidance?
After spending several verses outlining
the kind of wheeling and dealing
that Timothy should avoid,
Paul’s guidance mirrors the picture
we see in Acts, chapter 2,
of what it means to be the Church
– being devoted to the apostles teaching.
Paul writes “But as for you, continue
in what you have learned
and have become convinced of,
because you know those from
whom you learned it,
and how from infancy
you have known the Holy Scriptures,
which are able to make you wise
for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
And then Paul authors
a very famous verse
that many of us have memorized:
“All Scripture is God-breathed
and is useful for teaching, rebuking,
correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the servant of God
may be thoroughly equipped
for every good work.”
Being devoted to the apostles teaching
means the scriptures.
Not just a collection of facts and figures.
Not a bunch of Bible verses and trivia.
Not a collection of different books.
But the Gospel.
The content of the
was the Gospel.
The sweeping, singular story of God’s loving creation of humanity,
humanity’s subsequent rebellion against God,
and ultimately, God’s tireless, evolving, gracious work
through all the chaos and death
our rejection of God leaves in its wake
to redeem and restore all creation – including us.
A promise ultimately kept
by God coming down to be with us,
to die for us, to raise us from the dead,
to fill us His presence, His Spirit,
and to lead us into full, abundant and everlasting life,
all through the person of Jesus Christ.
But again, oftentimes when we quote verses 16-17,
when talk of the Holy Scriptures, we think
in terms of reading and knowing a book – the Bible.
And while that’s definitely the starting point,
it is not Paul means here or what it means
to understand the early Church
as being devoted to the apostles teaching.
Remember, it is decades before what Paul writes
here became a part of what we know as the Bible.
All scripture, for Paul, meant the writings of the Old Testament
– how the writings of the Law and the Prophets,
the history of Israel and all the Psalms and Wisdom literature
anticipated and pointed towards the coming of Jesus Christ.
But notice how Paul points to more than just the word of God
as it was written down at the time.
Paul also tells Timothy to remember
and to learn from his (Paul’s teaching)
and his way of life
– which is part of what Paul
and the other letters of
the New Testament record for us
– how the apostles not only understood the Gospel
but lived it out in their daily lives.
Here’s the point.
So often we reduce 2 Timothy 3:16-17
and more broadly, what it means
to be the Church into reading our Bibles,
being in the Word of God,
and knowing the scriptures.
But the true mark of the Church,
what it means to be devoted
to the apostles teaching is not
just to read our Bible but to
live according to the word of God.
This is what we witness through
Paul’s relationship with Timothy.
In discipling Timothy,
Paul hasn’t just been
quoting chapter and verse of the scriptures
and having Timothy memorize them.
Paul has modeled for Timothy
what it looks like when one’s life
(look at verse 10)
one’s purpose, faith,
patience, love, endurance
and even one’s sufferings
are being informed and shaped
by the teachings,
the example, the Way of Jesus.
To be devoted to the apostles teaching,
as Paul writes, is to be instructed,
rebuked, corrected, and trained by the word of God.
And one more time,
that doesn’t mean
building our whole lives
around our favorite verse of scripture
or even our preferred interpretation
of the Bible as a whole,
It means being instructed, rebuked, corrected, and trained
by the character and purposes of God declared in scripture
and revealed through the teachings and the example of Jesus.
Paul ends verse 17
by declaring both
the point of our
being given God’s word
as well as the
evidence that we are
allowing God’s word
to shape and
And what’s the point?
Being thoroughly equipped.
What’s evidence that
we are living the Gospel,
following the way of Jesus?
Doing every good work.
God give us His word,
the example of Christ,
the presence of the Spirit,
not so we can be
or emotionally fulfilled,
by so that we
would be equipped
to share the Gospel
and point to Jesus
not just with our words
but with our actions.
This is why, what we see
in that picture from Acts 2
continues beyond verse 42.
The first followers of Jesus
don’t just hunker down
for a perpetual Bible lesson.
No, it is out of their devotion to
the teachings of the apostles,
which was again not just providing
information about Jesus
but modeling how to follow Jesus,
that the early Church through
the leading of the Holy Spirit
so powerfully impacted
their surrounding neighborhoods.
Despite the initial picture we see in Acts, chapter 2,
the early Church of the apostles
did not have it all together
in terms of following Christ.
They had a lot to still grasp
and learn in terms of
what it means to not just
believe the Gospel but to
live out the implications of it.
After Pentecost, it was not
immediately clear to them
that the Gospel meant
Gentiles as well as Jews
were welcome into
the Kingdom of God.
It took some wrestling together
with the word of God through
the Holy Spirit to eventually understand
that following Jesus met
leaving behind former traditions
and practices like circumcision and food laws.
So, today’s answer for what it means
to be the Church is NOT read or know your Bible.
Because Christianity isn’t a Bible study,
knowing and understanding
what the word of God says.
Christianity, being the Church
is a lifestyle,
a life that is shaped and formed
by abiding in Christ,
by following Jesus
in what we think, say, and do,
and in how we engage, react,
and respond to the world around us.
What it means to be the Church,
is to be growing and maturing as the Body of Christ.
And growing and maturing
as the Body of Christ comes
not just from reading or
knowing the word of God
but from being developed
and shaped to follow and
to live out the word of God,
to be molded more and more
into the image of Christ,
and to further His Kingdom.
If we miss this, we are liable
to fall into the company of
those whom Paul cautions
Timothy to avoid.
At the start of this passage,
Paul details a long list of awful characteristics.
But did anyone notice
in verse 5 who exactly
Paul is talking about:
“having a form of godliness
but denying its power.”
Paul is talking about those
within the Church!
Those who say they believe in Jesus
but who demonstrate through
the outworking of their lives
they are following something
or someone else – but not the way of Jesus.
Paul warns Timothy of the tendency
to believe without following.
To treat one’s salvation
in Christ as an accessory
rather than the foundation
of the meaning of one’s life and purpose.
Paul is cautioning Timothy
to have nothing to do with
Christians who talk a good game,
who put on a good front,
but in their motive,
in their thought lives,
in their words and actions,
in their relationships are not
And by Christlike,
Paul doesn’t mean perfect like Jesus.
Paul means being
shaped and formed
in how they actually live
out their lives
by the way of Christ.
Being the Church
means growing and maturing
as the Body of Christ through
not knowing the Gospel
but living our lives
according to the Gospel
– the way of Jesus.
Are we growing and maturing as the Church?
I’m not talking about
the number of people
coming to Church or
who call themselves Christians.
Are we growing and maturing
as the Body of Christ
in terms of our witness
and our engagement
with the world Jesus
came to die to save?
Or are we stunted in our growth?
Are we lacking our maturity?
In these few months, even in these last two weeks,
we as the Church have seen our share of opportunities
to be Christlike – to reflect the heart of Jesus before a watching world.
And yet, who or what has the world been seeing?
It is the Body of Christ? Is it Jesus through us?
Or is it something else?
Before the reality of a global pandemic,
whether we think its overblown or not,
a health crisis that has infected more than
7 MIL people and has claimed the lives of
nearly half a million – and that tally just keeps increasing…
what has been the witness of the Church?
a commitment to loving our neighbor,
to putting the needs of others above our own,
to getting down on our knees
to wash the feet of others,
or grumbling about wearing a mask,
refusing to social distance,
and finally, just deciding to do
whatever we want and telling others
if they don’t like it, they can just stay home.
As protests continue
to be made for
racial equality and for justice,
after years, decades,
of not just one person of color
– as if one were insignificant,
not just a few
– but thousands of persons of color
have wrongfully had their rights
and their lives taken from them,
what has been the witness of the Church?
Are we reflecting Jesus,
who crossed racial and ethnic lines
in the name of inclusion,
who set a table of fellowship
and invited others to equally and freely,
who dared to touch,
to speak up and to defend
those who has been silenced,
marginalized, and abused
– even standing in the way
of those who sought to stone
another person to death?
Are we being Christlike?
Or has our voice been muted Church?
Have we silently watched
how nothing has changed in all these years?
The same injustices.
The same abuses.
The same wrongs.
The same prejudices.
Have we looked away
or bothered not to notice
the disparity in terms
of how people of color
continue to be treated?
Where is the presence of Jesus
being reflected by His Body, the Church…
when all Asians are declared guilty
by association because of a virus that started in China?
when all Latinos are lumped together as
illegal aliens that should be deported?
when all refugees from Muslim countries
are labeled as terrorists?
when those who are black or brown
rightfully fear losing their lives
just because of the color of their skin?
We, as the Church, should be the first ones
speaking out and standing up for reconciliation and reform.
We, as the Body of Christ, should be offering our lives,
our rights, our privileges for the sake of healing and peace.
And yet, what is shaping how we view these realities
– the brokenness of our world
– of racism, inequality, and injustice?
I see, Christians,
posting and sending
each other YT videos
and statistics from
this organization and that…
I listen as Christians,
debate the meaning
and legitimacy of
and systemic racism
and needed reforms…
I hear Christians calling
and offering general prayers
for peace without first
being willing to listen
and to mourn with those
who mourn and to enter
into the grief of those
who are suffering
– who have been suffering
not just in the last week
or two of the protests
– but who have been suffering,
again, for years, for all their lives.
I witness Christians
shuffling their feet
or throwing up their hands
because they don’t really know
any people of color
have no way of
understanding that point of view,
But you know what I don’t see
and I’m not hearing,
much talk about Jesus.
I hear a lot of politics.
I see a lot of personal opinions
being thrown around.
But where are our thoughts,
our ideas, our words
and our actions
being formed by Jesus?
If we are followers of Jesus,
if our first and primary allegiance is to Christ,
then the word of God,
the teaching of the apostles,
the way of Jesus
should be what informs,
if needed transforms,
and in the end, ultimately
directs how we live in this world.
Not our politics.
Not our economic interests.
Not our personal opinions.
Not other people
who feel the same way we do.
Just Jesus. Christ alone.
If we aren’t, by the grace of God,
living the Gospel we profess to believe in,
If we aren’t,
by the empowerment of the Spirit,
following Jesus, being Christlike
in how we treat each other,
even as we call
then we aren’t
growing and maturing together.
If the Church looks
more like the world,
than it does Jesus,
then the Church is not
being the Body of Christ;
it has become something else
– something not of the Spirit
but of our broken humanity.
Beloved, we can’t
reflect Christ to
a watching world
apart from each other.
We are called to be different
– not to descend into the chaos
and confusion of a broken world
– but thanks to
the power of the Resurrection,
to rise above all the lines
that divide us and
to be united by
the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
All humanity is broken
and in need of God’s grace.
And the Gospel is the only truth
that both saves and unites us.
It is the only good news that
can reach our common humanity
and in the midst of all
our God given diversity,
knit our souls together as one.
To be united by the Gospel;
it’s not enough to believe it.
We have been given the Gospel to live it.
When we are devoted
to living the Gospel
– to being a Spirit-filled Body,
rather than just
a gathering of church goers,
When we are instructed,
trained, and equipped
to do good works
by following Christ –
we become a growing Church,
a Church that is maturing
in its God-given capacity
for bring the world together
and to change it for the better. Amen.