“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,


of questioning,

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

apostles’ teaching

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

transform our

life together.


And what’s the point?

Being thoroughly equipped.


For what?


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

intellectually satisfied

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.


Boasting. Arrogance.

Insulting. Disobedient.

Ungrateful. Unloving.

Unforgiving. Treacherous.


But did anyone notice

in verse 5 who exactly

Paul is talking about:

those people

“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

being Christlike.


And by Christlike,

Paul doesn’t mean perfect like Jesus.


By Christlike,

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?


Reflecting Jesus,

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

from commentators

and statistics from

this organization and that…


I listen as Christians,

debate the meaning

and legitimacy of

white privilege

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

and therefore,

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

ourselves Christians,

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,

rebuked, corrected,

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.