Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:22-26 ESV).
Today, we shift gears a little bit. Since the secular authorities have imposed restrictions on us, and for now we have chosen to comply and are not meeting together physically, we are meeting virtually. Some might somehow not realize that your church is participating in a vast online evangelistic meeting with more than 70,000 registered participants across the world. Pr John Bradshaw and It is Written are streaming live, one hour length presentations over the internet, called Hope Awakens. We have over 200 registered guests from our area. We have a number of you who have trained and volunteered to be Virtual Bible Workers. And we have been working hard every day.
I hope you are supporting us via prayer, and that more might become willing to be more actively involved. Sometimes we get some age on us and decide new technology is not for us. I urge you not to choose to rust. If we want to stay in touch with kids, grandkids, and great-grandchildren, we will benefit from making a personal effort to tune up on the current technologies. We should not prematurely join the extinction club.
When I consider the potential that in the very near future, we may have new faces coming into our midst, new not-yet-Adventist faces, it is wise for us to stop and think together about those first few sabbaths that will happen when new people might be visiting your church.
Sometimes we forget the many new things that are strange and unfamiliar. We want to be wise with the hearts of new friends in Jesus. And so, the passage we consider briefly today can help us. Let's think and pray together about Pr Paul's special instructions to a young evangelistic worker, Timothy.
There are several important lines of thought in this passage.
Qualities to Flee or Seek
First, if we hope to work successfully for Jesus, to win hearts to His pierced side, we must flee one thing and pursue four necessary qualities.
We must flee youthful passions. Passion in itself is not wrong; God designed us to experience feeling, and, sometimes, strong feelings. But there is a dangerous area. Paul identifies what he calls youthful passions. What is that?
We are designed to reflect the image of the One we worship, and we are designed in God's image. But many times in our youth we looked up to other people or things. There is a famous musician, a famous actor, a well-known entreprenour, a public figure whom we in our youth deem to be heroic or at least to be someone we feel led to pattern ourselves after.
But, praise be to God, Jesus pursues us, and eventually we surrender to His goodness. But even after conversion we may still retain some misguided attachment to heroes of our youth. In other words, we may still need to leave behind some old values that are deeply rooted that are probaby wrong.
Youthful passions can also be strong feelings arising from desires to self-indulge. The call is not merely to monitor the rise in our heart of youthful passions, but to be definite in suppressing them. We are told to "flee" youthful passions. God calls on us to put the gospel first and keep our heads on straight and our hearts tuned heavenward.
Now there come four qualities to pursue. Righteousness, faith, love, and peace will not just fall into our laps out of the sky. We must pursue them.
You want righteousness? You must pursue it. And nothing really new here. In His Word God consistently calls on us to seek, to find, to pursue God's things, to knock, to open, to move through a gate. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Biblical faith is engaging in life, it is happening, it is participation in what God is doing.
And another word also about these four qualities: righteousness, as we know from the book of Revelation, is not an abstract. It is right actions. Revelation 19:8 actually calls the robe of righteousness the "righteous acts" of the saints. When we are in Christ, He is in us. Then our acts are God-provoked and His righteousness fills our acts.
Faith likewise is something active. We intentionally reach out to God and trust in His goodness. We are not standing alone but we are cleaving to Him, responding to Him, doing in connection with Him.
Love flows between He and us when our hearts unite with His heart. We are swimming in so many supposedly spiritual myths. It is widely taught throughout Christendom that we can never really quite interact with God, that in our best moments at the height of human spiritualness we just barely reach up far enough to the divine that for a moment we might touch Him, that, for a fraction of a second we unite with that spiritual spark.
But that is wrong. It is based in philosophical, metaphysical ideas foreign to the Bible, and which we cannot linger here to explain. Suffice it to say, that we can experience God's love in us, and not just one or two times for a microsecond in our life. Rather, God wants to share His love with us all the time, and we can persistly experience it. God's love is more than an ecstasy; His love is manifest in concrete actions of goodness toward others.
The fourth quality we need in order to be solid evangelists for Jesus is God's peace. We are not anxious. We are interested; we have goals in our thinking, our praying, our speaking to another about the gospel. But we do it from God's peace. It doesn't make us boring, or put us in slow motion, or make us seem as though we are drugged up. Rather, the peace of God in us gives us a confidence, a calm assurance, a steadiness, when we interact with others for the kingdom.
The sum of these points is, to be the most effective evangelists for Jesus, we want to be people of truly spiritual character.
Independent or Group Effort?
Nor should we miss another piece. We are to pursue these qualities "along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." We are not to work as independent atoms. God calls us into church relation so that we work side by side with other believers in Jesus, other seekers after righteounsess, faith, love, and peace.
Seek out the spiritual people in your local church congregation and be influenced by them, learn from them, engage in soul-winning activities with them. We need each other. Others will help us be steady and we will at times be just in the right place to help others track with Jesus when, if they walked alone, as Eve walked alone, they might be at risk of losing their way.
Is a Pure Heart Possible?
Can we call on the Lord from a pure heart? I just read an article yesterday that suggested this was impossible. Everyone is biased, so it was said; everyone is in some respect twisted up, and apparently the Holy Spirit can only help us so much until He comes up against inward biases which are too strong for the Holy Spirit.
I disagree. Yes, we need very much to be aware of tendencies we have towarad blindly following biases we have absorbed into ourselves. But I have to lay aside human theories which say that transcending human bias is impossible. The Bible is filled with cases of people who, as they walked in the Holy Spirit, transcended human bias. For example, there is Peter in Acts 10 and 11 who had his presuppositions about Jews in relation to Romans broken up. Did he strggle with those old prejudices a few times, yes, he did. But I am sure God gave Him the victory.
If we believe that our humanity is just too strong to overcome, we will never reach those spiritual heights with which Heaven wants to bless. Have faith my brother, my sister! God is ready this very moment to bless you "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us" (Ephesians 3:20).
The Rabbit Trail Warning
The first part of our study has helped us see powerful things Jesus wants to do in us. Now, let's move into some pieces more especially touching soul-winning.
The first item here is what I call the rabbit trail warning. Paul warns less experienced Timothy not to validate ridiculous controversies and the quarrels they breed. Not every question or negative response comes from a heart trying to know what truth is. Often hearts are hard and resistant, and they automatically spew forth unreasonable objections.
Sometimes we do harm to our efforts by failing to identify what may only be a placeholder argument which even the person we are interating with doesn't take seriously. Then when we seem to take the argument seriously, they begin to feel their argument has more weight than they had thought of it as having at first. If we are alert, many times we will find the person's heart and mind is not deeply invested in the arguments they raise against truth. We can do them and us a favor by refusing to take seriously arguments which they do not take seriously.
Another problem with stubborn arugmentation is the time it wastes. It wastes the time of the person who is arguing against God's truth, and it wastes the time of the person trying to win his heart to Jesus. You only have so much time to spend. Time is the most finite thing you are a steward over. Be a good steward over it.
Keep your focus on the main questions and let other things pass by. Jesus is the obvious biblical master of this. Very often in His ministry He chose to answer a question with a question rather than enter into a lengthy exposition why His position was correct and the person's incorrect. He cut through over and over again.
Quarrelsome or Gentle?
Another problem with back and forth arguing is it leads to your being perceived by the other person as quarrelsome. When the other person begins to think that a main characteristic of your personality is that you are argumentative, they will turn you off. They won't want to spend time engaging with you. In contrast, you want to be perceived as being a kind person. Everyone prefers to interact with a person whom they perceive as being a kind person. Jesus in His interactions was always kind. He only seems abrasive sometimes in the closing interactions of His ministry when time has run out and He is speaking very bluntly, not so much for the person He is talking directly to, but for the intently listening crowds.
Able to (Actually) Teach
Here is another key piece. Paul urges the evangelistic worker to acquire real ability. He says we should be "able to teach." And how does one do that? The same way you acquire any skill. You study from those who are able and you practice, practice, and practice. A book or a video can help, but you want to learn by actually watching someone teach who is good at it.
Almost certainly someone in your local church is an adept teacher. Be there when they teach; watch them in action, think about what they do and ask them questions after it is over. Learn why they are doing what they are doing, learn why they are so effective. We think we know much more than we actually know. That's wrong. Find someone with skill and the spiritual gift of teaching, and learn from them. Unfortunately, there is much less teaching, and much less learning happening in the church than we think is happening. We need to take it up several notches.
Patient and Willing to Endure Evil
Maybe patience is hard for you. It is difficult for all of us. But a servant of the Lord must also be patient and endure evil. Teachers have to put up with a lot of nonsense. You've all been students. You have seen it all.
If you consent to attempt to teach for Jesus you can also plan on all the attendant problems. You will have inattentive people, distracted people, people just barely awake, and mixed interest levels. No one is going to ride to your rescue. You need to know how to help them become interested in your topic. You need to help the class along so that it learns together.
You should also discover how to correct your opponent with gentleness. This is very interesting language. We are not looking for opponents, but Paul does us a service here by characterizing many of our interactions as adversial. Of course they are adversarial. Truth exposes a lot and error prrovides cover for many things. Truth meets resistance. Plan for the necessity of laboring to correct others with gentleness.
The Bible helps us here. What does a soft answer do? It turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). But if we are impatient, and if we are unwittingly imbued with the spirit of the age, we will present hard answers, ungentle answers. Notice again from the ministry of Jesus how rarely He engaged in dialogue which was combative. Even His most hostile interactions as recorded in chapters like Matthew 24 and John 7-8 show Him not thrusting at others as much as firmly stating truth.
Free the Prisoners
This last point might be one we don't want to receive. We have to decide between the world view we were taught in the state school, or the worldview taught by God in His Word. And what is this disagreeable idea?
Unconverted people are ensnared, captured people. They think they are free but they are imprisoned. And you, as the teacher of truth, are engaged in helping them make their jailbreak.
So the police of error will love you when you show up, Christian, and tell everyone the opposite of what they think. They think they are free and here you come believing and acting on the knowledge that they are imprisoned.
The prison is everywhere where hearts are not given to Jesus. Your friends, your neighbors, your family members, who are not committed to Jesus, are behind bars but they don't easily realize that to be the case.
And when we see our need still we are never compelled to agree with the need or embrace it or choose it. You don't have to do what God says, and He does not force you. Belonging to Jesus is always and forever your own choice.
Notice in our text now, and realize, even when you are given and you have accepted the gift of repentance, you are always free to go backwards. Repentance leads toward a knowledge of the truth. But your heart still must be given to Him.
So we are not sensible on our own; we must come to our senses, we must be willing to let God show us His truth, willing to let Him offer it to us, willing to let Him administer it to us. In short, we must be willing to think differently, or we will back into our old jail cell of understandings and remain unfree.
People, and I mean all people, either are or have been ensnared by the devil. They are in his trap, following training they have engaged in their whole life to self-please, to do what they want to be in their self interest. And we, you and I, every church member, is an evangelistic worker, a herald of truth. We all have the escape key because a Christian has Jesus and Jesus is the escape key.
Jesus described His mission. Do you recall it?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has annointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus' mission is our mission. His Spirit wants to be upon us. If we are servants of the Lord then we are His proclaimers, invading the kingdom of darkness, telling about Jesus. Into a world where children are forcibly taught evolution, their heritage as beings designed for holiness, turned upside down so that they are taught to view the world materialistically--into that world we are sent. As we have been delivered from that snare so we are to cooperate with Heaven so that others are released from that prison. We are the agents of freedom in a world that has utterly lost its way. We are destined to be its arch-irritants. We cannot make friends with the world, we cannot negotiate away the offense of Christianity.
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. But there is exactly one way to change that. Jesus is the hope of the human race. There is good news amidst these daily storm clouds.
God help us to flee youthful passions and seek righteosness, faith, love, and peace. Help us to be engaged with our best energies in living and giving people help on the pathway to knowing our Lord Jesus Christ.
Muskegon and Fremont MI churches via Zoom and Internet 2020-04-25