Faith of Our Fathers

(Please read 2 TIMOTHY 3:10-17 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV.)

Can You Name All Ten Commandments? If Not, This (and 18 Other Questions) Could Get You Deported                                         Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra                               [posted 6/07/2016]

<Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/june/19-christian-questions-converts-deported-uk-asylum.html on 6/13/16.>

You know how desperate the Syrian refugee situation is affecting European nations.  There are thousands of people applying for asylum based on the claim that they are Christians.  How would anyone be able to prove such a claim to an immigration officer?  In Britain, the approach has been to ask applicants a series of “Bible trivia”-type questions.  The more wrong answers you give, the greater the chance of deportation.

Imagine taking a test under such circumstances!  Talk about stress!  The quiz is included below, with the answers at the end.  Take it yourself and see if you’d face deportation or be granted citizenship.

Of course, this practice is not without controversy.  A group called UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom of Belief and the Asylum Advocacy Group has recently released a report condemning the use of the quiz.  They stated that correct answers can be given by anyone, regardless of their actual commitment.

Another problem is that the case workers administering the test don’t necessarily understand Christianity.  A third problem is that there is some room for debate about the answers.

For example, Mohammed, a Christian convert from Iran, was asked what color the cover of the Bible was.  “I knew there were different colors,” he told the BBC. “The one I had was red. They asked me questions I was not able to answer—for example, what are the Ten Commandments. I could not name them all from memory.”

Mohammed’s application for asylum was rejected. So was a convert who didn’t know that Catholics abstained from meat on Friday. So was another convert who correctly named the last book of the Bible but did so in Farsi and was misunderstood.

The Christianity Today article concluded, “In the United States, only 60 percent of practicing Christians (those who identify as Christian, say their faith is important in their lives, and have been to church within the past month) can name the first five books of the Bible, according to an American Bible Society and Barna Group report released last month.

“It is better to ask how a convert feels about Jesus, what being a Christian means to that person, and how being a Christian had affected his or her daily life.”

This is the kind of situation you’d expect when non-Christian bureaucrats try to make snap judgments about t authenticity of a person’s claim to faith.  Fortunately, for us, there is a better way.

The best way to “get” faith is in the way Paul describes in his second letter to Timothy; by passing it along, one person to the next.  This has been God’s plan all along, as indicated by the fact of our human nature that things are more likely to “stick” with us if they are “caught, not taught.”

Today, on Father’s Day, it seemed especially appropriate to me to look at how we need role models, people who demonstrate faith to us.  We need fathers and others who live out what they claim and encourage us in BOTH word and deed to follow them as they follow the example Jesus set for all of us.

The best result is that, rather than preparing us to pass a quiz, our mentors and leaders are preparing us to live LIFE in a way that proves our claims to be true and draws others to join us in inspired living.  Let us learn today how to pass along a true, saving faith.

  1. How many books are in the Bible?
  2. How many books are in the New Testament?
  3. How many chapters are in the book of John?
  4. What are the 10 Commandments?
  5. Which gospel relates the story of Jesus’ birth?
  6. Where was Jesus born?
  7. What were the names of Jesus’ earthly parents?
  8. What was his earthly father’s occupation?
  9. How many disciples did Jesus have?  Name them.
  10. Where did Jesus become angry with the money lenders?
  11. Who did Jesus raise from the dead?  Which book is this miracle in?
  12. Recite the Lord’s Prayer.
  13. What happened during the Last Supper?
  14. Who betrayed Jesus to the Romans?
  15. Where was Jesus arrested?
  16. What is Ash Wednesday?
  17. Is Easter celebrated on the same date every year?
  18. What is the date of Pentecost?
  19. What is the meaning of Lent?

Do we have a faith we’ve received or one we’ve invented?

  1. Paul had set a good example (3:10-13).

Timothy had personally experienced Paul’s ministry: YOU KNOW ALL ABOUT MY…

– TEACHING = He had heard many of Paul’s sermons and his debates with his critics.

– WAY OF LIFE = Timothy had seen Paul in public and private moments; he had experienced the consistency between what Paul said & how he lived.

– PURPOSE = Paul’s purpose was to point people to Jesus. He used different methods, but the message was always the same: Jesus Saves Sinners.  (Interestingly, Paul’s other uses of this word is in reference to God’s purpose.  He clearly sees himself as fulfilling God’s purpose for human life on earth.)

– FAITH = Not saving faith, but faithfulness; remaining true to what we profess to believe.  Use the words “loyalty” and “integrity” here if you wish.

– PATIENCE = Forbearance and fortitude; the ability to go on without compromising or quitting. This can also be translated as “longsuffering.”

– LOVE = Ministry to all persons, regardless of their status in society or response to God.

– ENDURANCE = Keeping one’s focus on God in spite of how difficult circumstances make it. I like the interpretation of “brave patience.”  This is not passive tolerance, but active overcoming adversity.

— PERSECUTIONS = Adversity inflicted by others with the intention of discouraging faith.

— SUFFERINGS = In Antioch, Iconium, & Lystra, Paul was attacked & opposed by mobs; we can read about these events in the book of Acts.

Timothy had also personally experienced Paul’s deliverance.  As Paul testified, THE LORD RESCUED ME FROM ALL OF THEM.  Being “rescued” does not mean escaping all harm or avoiding stress.  It does mean being kept from real harm and death.  No one was able to make Paul stop following Jesus, to discourage him into silence.

Paul pointed out this is not just his experience, but is common to all followers of Jesus: EVERYONE WHO WANTS TO LIVE A GODLY LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS WILL BE PERSECUTED.  Does this sound depressing to you?  It shouldn’t: telling others about our faith and facing people who hate us for our faith are two of the most exciting and uplifting experience of faith we can have.  More importantly, God has not left us alone in this struggle; He has given us His Spirit and each other for encouragement and support.

Those who oppose EVIL MEN AND IMPOSTORS (“swindler”or “cheat”) will not be able to hide.  God’s judgment will find them out; they WILL GO FROM BAD TO WORSE.  This pattern of degeneration identifies them as EVIL and false, despite what they may say or the reputation they may have created.  We don’t have to follow them.  Obviously, they set a negative example; one to be avoided.

The persecutors of the Church are DECEIVING AND BEING DECEIVED: they are not at all in the truth.  Falsehoods propagate like viruses; they spread from person to person.  We need to be “germophobes” in regard to false teaching. Sincerity is not the issue; people can be sincerely wrong.  It happens all the time.

  1. Timothy was to continue in that example (3:14-15)

Paul charged Timothy to keep the faith he’d received: CONTINUE IN WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED.  Like Timothy, we are to continue in the truth, resistant to falsehood, vigilant.  One sure way to avoid being deceived is to stick with the faith you’ve inherited.  As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:12 = DON’T LET ANYONE LOOK DOWN ON YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE YOUNG, BUT SET AN EXAMPLE FOR THE BELIEVERS IN SPEECH, IN LIFE, IN LOVE, IN FAITH AND IN PURITY.

Staying with the truth means that we aren’t swayed by the latest or most popular teaching.  This means that we have come to understand what we believe and why.  It means that we have evaluated what we have been taught by the standards of Scripture and are assured that what we believe is as truthful as possible.

The received faith to which Paul refers is what Timothy owned personally.  He had BECOME CONVINCED OF it.  Persecution and any kind of challenge can cause us to compromise our faith.  Remember, our faith is to shape our view of life, not vice-versa.  Paul suggests two ways we make sure our theology is as truthful as possible.

– It is drawn, as literally as possible, from the Bible.

– It assumes that the faith we’ve received is the most valid until proven unbiblical.

Paul had two reasons for giving Timothy this charge.  One, YOU KNOW THOSE FROM WHOM YOU LEARNED IT.  This faith had been personally received.  Likewise, we need trustworthy people to develop and demonstrate the truth for us.  We need to have a personal history of having been nurtured in faith; not just taught lessons, but an example has been set.

Two, YOU HAVE KNOWN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES on which it is based.  Jewish children memorized the Scriptures; from the least capable to the most, all Jewish boys memorized the first five books of the Bible.  This mental and spiritual preparation made Timothy WISE FOR SALVATION; prepared him to receive the true faith by teaching him the wisdom of obeying the will of God.  Salvation is  THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS, the one who provided salvation for us by means of His sacrifice.

  1. We rely on the Bible to guide us (3:16-17).

The origin of Scripture is the Holy Spirit; it is GOD-BREATHED.  (See also 2PR 1:21.)   Because it comes from God, it needs to be used as literally as possible.  That’s the discipline of following God, not self.  Because it comes from God, we need to resist compromise and watering down the Bible in order to make it more appealing to our culture.

In John 10:35, Jesus said the Word of God cannot be broken.  By that He meant that the truth will always win out.  However, it can be twisted to say things God did not intend and we have to be careful to avoid that.

The usefulness (“profitability”) of Scripture is to equip God’s people for good works.  Specifically, we are to use it for:

– TEACHING refers to the content, not the method. In our age, it is not the media that matters, it is the message.  Our message must, in both word and spirit, consist of the words on the page.

– REBUKING refers to the spiritual power of the word to bring conviction of sin. It is generally not our job to convince people they are sinners.  Generally speaking, we let the word speak for itself.

– CORRECTING literally means “to straighten up” or “set in an upright position.” This is a life-long process and if we don’t let our pride complicate it, it doesn’t have to be an unpleasant thing to give or receive.  We all need course corrections occasionally and those are easier to achieve if we do them BEFORE we drift too far off.

– TRAINING (used to refer to child-rearing) IN RIGHTEOUSNESS refers to putting God’s word in our hearts so that in any situation we can be guided by the truth, arriving at a decision that honors God.

This preparation is complete; Scripture enables us to personalize and enact the faith of our fathers.  That’s how Paul could write that we are THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED = not lacking anything.  No excuses for not doing right.  We must be biblically literate, but that’s not the goal.  The goal is to know enough of the Bible to obey God.  To do right is the goal.  It can be translated as “complete, capable, proficient, or able to meet all demands.”  God has EQUIPPED us with salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Word, the Church, and a head to understand and a heart to love.

Continuing on this universal preparation them, Paul added FOR EVERY GOOD WORK.  We do not study, listen, watch and learn about the Bible just to increase our knowledge.  Instead, we put God’s word in our hearts and minds so we can DO RIGHT.  There are few things as miserable as a Bible snob.  Don’t think you know better if you don’t DO better!  Don’t argue or put on airs only to have your ungodly secrets let the air out of you!  What really matters is loving the Author of the Bible and making that love real in everyday life!

According to the latest poll, the percentage of people who strongly agree that the Bible is a sufficient guide for meaningful life has dropped from 53% in 2011 to 45% in 2016.  The percentages of those who disagree strongly or somewhat have increased over the same time frame, from 23% to 33%.  In total, that’s an 18% loss of confidence in the Bible over the last five years.  Treat surveys and polls and that kind of data as you wish, but I think these numbers betray what we all suspect: there is a growing lack of confidence in the Bible as an authoritative document.  So – as we conclude, let’s have a quick history lesson on how we got here.

The “Premodern” Era

In the first 1500 years of history after the birth of Jesus (the “Common Era” in modern secularized parlance) this passage would have been easily applied and applauded.  The prevailing thought then was that everything true had already been revealed.  The past was their main time period.

Faith was something you received through your ancestors and through the authoritative teaching of the church.  Their emphasis would be on Paul passing on the truth he had personally received from Christ.

The “Modern” Era

Over the next five centuries, the emphasis would shift to the individual.  Most people believed that reasonable people, given enough time and reliable information, could understand the truth of any situation including the Bible.   Their emphasis was on the future, expectantly believing that reason would create a better world tomorrow.

The formation of their faith examined sacred texts like this one from an impersonal, scientific point of view to wring droplets of truth from the damp cloth of the interpretations of previous generations.  Their emphasis would be on Timothy, who had to apply his faith as he pastored his church.

The “Postmodern” Era

In the last two generations of the Western world, the culture is at a place entirely the opposite of the Bible writers.  If a Paul wrote these words to a Millennial Timothy, Tim would likely respond, “What?  Just because you say so?  What about me and my experiences?”  The prevailing thought is to be skeptical of traditions and all information commonly accepted as true.  The present moment (as an extension of self) is t time period most important to this culture.

Faith is something you have to create for yourself or it is not real.  People are encouraged to borrow words, symbols, and ideas from all kinds of religious traditions without having the bother of understanding them in context or using them in ways that are faithful to the religion of origin.  Making faith personal means redefining things in ways relevant to self.

Even on Father’s Day, the message that we celebrate and affirm and the “Faith of Our Fathers” is a hard sell.  It’s part of what makes Christianity irrelevant in our culture.

My suggestion is that we keep the message but tweak the method.  We call on each person to examine the Faith of Our Fathers; to own it by means of personal experience, reason, and spirituality.  BUT, we assert that the Bible is final authority and that our search for meaning be open-ended, not driven to affirm what our secular culture has ordained as its new orthodoxy, “political correctness.”  We should stress the benefit of studying what previous generations have said and not reject traditions out of hand.  It is to our benefit to use the context in which these words were given and how they have been received historically.

Here’s what I want you to do.  Take a look at the quiz in this morning’s bulletin and pick one question that you think is more important to you.  Then, if you can, have a conversation with someone at least one generation younger than you.  You will tell them which question you selected and why you think it is important.  Ask them what they think.  Do they agree with the faith you’ve just declared?  Is it important to them?  Explore differences of opinion.  Talk about ways you’ve personally experienced and demonstrated this truth.  (Personal experience trumps authority & antiquity.)

Answers:

  1. 66
  2. 27
  3. 21
  4. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image and worship it. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord. Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy. Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet.
  5. Matthew and, more famously, Luke.
  6. Bethlehem
  7. Mary and Joseph
  8. Carpenter
  9. 12: Simon Peter, Andrew, James son of Zebedee, John, Philip, Bartholomew or Nathanael, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot
  10. In the temple
  11. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead; it was recorded in John 11.
  12. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” ~ Matthew 6:9-13 (Late manuscripts add “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”)
  13. During the Last Supper, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. He washed their feet, gave them bread and wine by which to remember his body and blood, and told them he would soon be betrayed.
  14. The Jewish religious authorities, with the help of Judas Iscariot
  15. Garden of Gethsemane
  16. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Western Christian church.
  17. Easter is held on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. (Thank the Council of Nicaea.)
  18. Pentecost is seven weeks after Easter.
  19. Lent is a season of 40 days that lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It represents Jesus’ 40 day stay in the desert, and those observing it pray, repent, and fast.
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