Worthy Worker (Part Two)

Please read 2 Timothy 2:14-26 in your Bible.

Pastor at the Construction Site_v03 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      I want to start by asking you to put on your thinking caps.  I’m going to read a variation of the classic “Trolley Problem” and ask you to record your response on your bulletin.

You are part of a seven man crew working on a section of railroad track.  You happen to be standing at a switch and notice that a out of control train barreling down the track. Directly ahead on the tracks are five of your coworkers who do not see the train that is headed straight for them. On a side track is one of your crewmates who has his back to the oncoming train.  There is no time to warn them as they’re all wearing noise-cancelling headphones.  If you pull the lever right next to you, the trolley will switch to the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing and allow the train to kill the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the train onto the side track where it will kill one person.

You have to decide in a split second what to do.  What is the right thing to do?  Write a one or two on a piece of paper.  We will come back to this situation later.

For now, we’ll complete our look at being a Worthy Worker by observing that discerning right from wrong and choosing to do right is very much at heart of our worthiness.  God finds people of true faith to be useful to Him in the work of expanding His Kingdom.  This passage tells us how.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

  1. Two examples of unworthy workers. (16-19)

Be alert: evil can grow in a church just as it can anywhere.  In v. 16, Paul warned THOSE WHO INDULGE IN [GODLESS CHATTER] GROW MORE AND MORE UNGODLY.  GODLESS CHATTER feeds negativity and encourages divisive sins of the tongue like gossip, complaining, and back-biting.  As we said in part one, CHATTER may sound harmless, but it is not.  It results in greater ungodliness.

In v. 17, Paul wrote that UNGODLY TEACHING WILL SPREAD LIKE GANGRENE.  GANGRENE is a flesh-rotting disease (one form of which is fatal in 48 hours), so Paul could hardly have chosen a more repulsive image to describe the effect of UNGODLY TEACHING.  He identified two people who were among the UNGODLY in Timothy’s church: HYMANAEUS and PHILETUS.  Who were these people?

In 1 Timothy 1:20 Hymaneus was one of two people whom Paul HANDED OVER TO SATAN TO BE TAUGHT NOT TO BLASPHEME (Alexander was the other).  This probably meant they were put out of the church in Ephesus for serious errors in their teaching.  PHILETUS is not named in 1 Timothy 1:20, nor anywhere else in the Bible.   He apparently joined Hymaneus and Alexander in their error and suffered the same penalty.  Putting them out of the church is somewhat similar to the treatment for GANGRENE; surgical removal of the bad tissue, usually in the form of amputation.  For the survival of the body, the bad parts have to be cut off.

Their sin was to HAVE WANDERED AWAY FROM THE TRUTH.  The word WANDERED is an unfortunate choice for translation of the Greek word that means “missed the mark, deviated, or went astray.”  “Wandered” allows for an accidental deviation when Hymaneus and Philetus chose to believe an error, and worse, talked others into believing the same error.

Specifically, their false teaching was stating THAT THE RESURRECTION HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE.  Paul does not explain their false teaching, merely noting that it attacked the most central teaching of the Christian faith: resurrection.  (See 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, where Paul vigorously defends the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our personal resurrection, and the importance of these doctrines.)  What they did with this false teaching and how many people were taken in by it are details we are not meant to know.  It is sufficient for us to know that it was false and that it had a negative effect on the church in Ephesus.

The effect of their falsehood was to DESTROY THE FAITH OF SOME.  The word DESTROY can also be translated as “overturn.”  It meant that the false teaching had so affected some people that they ceased to believe the truth.  The health of the entire church was threatened, even though only SOME of the members fell in with Hymaneus and Philetus.

The good news is, though evil people and other circumstances can challenge our faith, the FOUNDATION God has set remains SOLID.  This FOUNDATION is the undeniable facts of God’s existence and His reward of those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

There are two promises of God’s protection of His people.  These promises are etched in the foundation like a cornerstone.

The first promise: THE LORD KNOWS THOSE WHO ARE HIS (Numbers 16:5).  God knows false teachers like Hymanaeus, Alexander, and Philetus.  While they may fool SOME of the people some of the time, they never fool God. God also knows everyone whose faith is real and based on the truth.  Remain faithful, and He will help you overcome and reward you when you do.

EVERYONE WHO CONFESSES THE NAME OF THE LORD MUST TURN FROM ALL WICKEDNESS. Here Paul paraphrased Numbers 16:26.  Though we do not do good in order to be saved, we do good in order to demonstrate our salvation, the change Jesus has made in our lives. A commitment to discipleship is part of the faith that saves.  As we learned again last week, turning away from wickedness is half of being a worthy worker.  The other half is pursuing good. Sometimes TURNING FROM ALL WICKEDNESS involves separating ourselves from people and sometimes it requires us to avoid places or circumstances that tempt us to do wrong.

  1. An illustration with household items. (20-21)

Paul contrasted two kinds of household items.  In order to understand the illustration, we must first see the LARGE HOUSE is as a symbol of the world in which we live.  In this world, people are either living for the Lord or not.  God made all of them, but not all of the people in the world are useful for God’s purposes. In many of our homes, we have one set of dishes for special occasions and another set for everyday use.  All the dishes are useful for serving food, but some of them are reserved for special uses.  The contrast between noble and ignoble ARTICLES (pots, bottles, pans, etc.) is a contrast of spiritual status and resulting usefulness to God.

The ones used for NOBLE PURPOSES are made of GOLD AND SILVER.  They are less numerous but more valuable in the sight of the Lord.  In the world, some people are “gold and silver” because they have faith and are obedient to God’s will.  Timothy is an example of a “noble article.”

The ones used for IGNOBLE purposes are made of WOOD AND CLAY.  These are common, worldly, and less valuable pieces.  They are not useful to God because they refuse faith and practice disobedience.  Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus are examples of “ignoble articles.”

Paul used similar imagery in Romans 9:21 = DOES NOT THE POTTER HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE OUT OF THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY SOME POTTERY FOR NOBLE PURPOSES AND SOME FOR COMMON USE?  The phrase THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY indicates that we share a common humanity.  Tragically, we do not share a common destiny.  As Jesus observed in Matthew 7:13-14, there will always be more people who do not refuse faith and service to the Lord.

Like a handy kitchen gadget, a follower of Jesus becomes a fit INSTRUMENT FOR NOBLE PURPOSES when he has, with God, cleansed himself from IGNOBLE PURPOSES.  NOBLE refers to doing what God has called you to do.  It is NOBLE to be obedient to God.  IGNOBLE refers to doing what you selfishly want to do, or what the world wants you to do; all kinds of disobedience.  Moreover, IGNOBLE refers to sinful acts because Paul wrote that the worthy worker must be CLEANSED of it before he is useful to the MASTER.

Having been cleansed, the worker is MADE HOLY and is thereby USEFUL TO THE MASTER AND PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  In this world household items never CLEANSE themselves (wouldn’t it be great to have dishes that washed themselves?!) and neither do people – not on their own, anyway.  God cleanses us from sin and its effects, but He waits for us to repent and ask His forgiveness.

This cleansing is part of what Paul means when he says we are to be MADE HOLY.  Moral purity is part of holiness and the other part is being set apart from worldly and ungodly things to spiritual maturity and godliness.

People who are MADE HOLY are then USEFUL to God, just as clean pots & pans are useful to a cook.  People who are MADE HOLY are PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  Truly good works begin with holiness.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

      Let’s return to the train problem.  You may be interested to know that this is not merely an intellectual exercise, In 2003 Union Pacific dispatchers in Los Angeles, CA had to make a decision very much like this one.

Did you choose #1?  Five people are dead.

Did you choose #2?  Only one person is dead and you are among the 90% of people who made this choice when presented with this problem.

Did you make no choice or want to know more about the six people on the tracks before deciding?  Then five people are dead because you hesitated too long at the switch.  Not deciding is making a decision.

My point here is that everything you’ve done, every choice you’ve made, everything you believe goes into making that decision about the switch.  Life doesn’t always conveniently present us with choices that include a lot of time for research and weighing out values and deciding on priorities.

Spiritually maturing people will know God’s leading before the train starts barreling down the tracks.  They will have studied the word, been faithful in prayer, and experienced in good deeds.  In so doing, they will have replaced sinful instincts with godly ones and are better equipped to do, as Paul promised, every good work.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Alan G. Nute

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Ralph Earle

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

 

Worthy Worker (Part One)

Please read 2 Timothy 2:14-26 in your Bible.

Construction Minister_v03Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      First there was the refusal to shake hands.  Then there was the tearing of papers.  It was a rough morning in Mrs. Marple’s kindergarten class!  Say, what did you think I was talking about?!

Today we’re talking about being a “worthy worker;” a follower of Jesus who lives out the faith God has given.  Speaking of work: picture two factory workers talking. The woman says, “I can make the boss give me the day off.”

The man replies, “How would you do that?” The woman says, “Just wait and see.” She then hangs upside down from the ceiling.

The boss comes in and says, “What are you doing?” The woman replies, “I’m a light bulb.”

The boss then says, “You’ve been working so much that you’ve gone crazy. I think you need to take the day off.”

The man starts to follow her out and the boss says, “Where are you going?” The man says, “I’m going home, too. I can’t work in the dark.”

We’ve gotten pretty well acquainted with the church in Ephesus.  A young man named Timothy was the sole employee of that church and the Apostle Paul loved him so much he wrote Timothy a couple training manuals.  We’ll see this morning what the second manual says about the kind of workers of whom God approves. This ought to be a big concern to us, because one day we’ll stand before God for our biggest job performance review ever, and we REALLY want that promotion!

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

  1. V. 15 sets forth the goal for our daily life: being approved workers.

DO YOUR BEST proves some effort is required on our part.  The word means to “make haste, make every effort, be zealous or eager” to receive God’s approval.  God graciously supplies us with all we need to live holy and fruitful lives and He forgives us when we sin.  Our part is to exercise our will, to put for the effort, to make the right choices; to do our BEST.

Seek God’s approval by avoiding evil and pursuing good.  This requires CORRECTLY HANDLING THE WORD OF TRUTH.

Given the repeated emphasis on sins of the tongue, (QUARRELING, CHATTER, ARGUMENTS), Paul was evidently concerned about the church’s attention being diverted from approved doctrine to false teaching.

CORRECTLY HANDLING meant to plow a straight furrow, lay a direct road, or quarry a symmetrical stone.  It is handling God’s word in a straightforward way, letting it speak for itself, not trying to bend the word to fit one’s preferred meaning.  Indeed, the best use of the Bible is to use it at as close to the literal words on the page as possible.

Skeptics accuse the Bible of being unreliable as interpreters have bent it to support a variety of teachings.  We have to be careful to not give them evidence that is true.

A benefit of being approved is not having to be ASHAMED in this life and especially not on Judgment Day when all worker’s projects are tested (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).  It’s embarrassing to claim to understand God’s will and then be proven wrong.  It’s much, much worse to be judged as wrong by God on Judgment Day, when it’s too late to do anything about it.

  1. Worthy workers in God’s kingdom avoid evil and do good.

Paul supplied five examples of evils to be avoided. The first is QUARRELING mentioned in verses 14, 23, 24.  QUARRELING was condemned as being of NO VALUE.  It is like “empty calories” or “junk food,” it does nothing to sustain or improve life. It is worthless and wasteful.

Worse, it ONLY RUINS THOSE WHO LISTEN (often the innocent bystanders, not those arguing).  Disputes over words cause divisions which unsettle people, turning them away from God and turning them on one another.

There are two kinds of people who are prone to quarrel.  One kind is the Know-it-alls.  Because they refuse to concede there’s something they don’t know better than you, they will argue. The other kind is the Drama Queens who like to quarrel because it’s one way of creating some drama.  We see a great deal of QUARRELING on social media and in relation to Washington politics.

GODLESS CHATTER (16) is the second example of evil to be avoided.  Chatter can feel as if it is the least evil of all the sins of the tongue.  Sure it’s superficial and wastes time, but where’s the harm?

The Apostle Paul would allow none of that; he use the word GODLESS to characterize CHATTER properly: as evil.  To me, cable news networks and talk radio are two modern examples of chatter.  The Worthy Worker has no time to waste on typically sinful verbal fluff.

Third, Paul called on Timothy, a young man, to FLEE THE EVIL DESIRES OF YOUTH (22).  We might think of sensuality, impatience, arrogance, and self-centeredness as usual YOUTH sins.  I prefer to see this as Paul’s condemnation of immaturity.  Immaturity is understandable when you’re young, untrained, and inexperienced.  However, when you’re old enough and taught better and don’t do it, that’s a sin.  However you define the sins of youth, we are to FLEE from them.

The fourth example is strongly worded: DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH FOOLISH AND STUPID ARGUMENTS (24).  These inevitably lead to having the QUARRELS mentioned in verse fourteen. This reference to arguments makes me think of trying to prove whose football team is better, or comments left on websites that make letters to the editor look tame by comparison.

The fifth example to sins to NOT be RESENTFUL (24).  In our Adult Bible Study we’re finding out about the toxic nature of grudges and all forms of unresolved anger.  Resentment is a self-inflicted wound.  The person at whom we are needlessly angry is very likely to be unaware of their offense or care about it.  Why should we?

To complete the moral picture, God gave Paul five examples of good to be pursued.  The first is a set of four virtues found in verse twenty-two: PURSUE RIGHTEOUSNESS, FAITH, LOVE AND PEACE.  The word PURSUE means we’re not waiting for these virtues to fall out of the sky and hit us on the head like a cartoon anvil.  We must take an active role in cultivating them.

What challenged me this week was the commentator who pointed out that these virtues are exercised in relationships.  You can’t know that you have these virtues or develop them on your own.  We need the church and our families to do it.

The second example of pursuit-worthy virtue is to CALL ON THE LORD OUT OF A PURE HEART (22).  To CALL ON THE LORD is a reference to prayer.  As the Bible teaches, God hears the prayers of those who are PURE of HEART.  This is a moral state, but also refers to sincerity; single-mindedness.

The third virtue is kindness: BE KIND TO EVERYONE (24).  In recent national events we’ve seen that tolerance, patience, and gentleness can be in short supply. Isn’t this a place where the Church could show leadership in our culture?

Whatever one’s position in the church, home, or society, kindness is a virtue that is supposed to distinguish us from unbelievers.  I know how tempting it is to want to win arguments and votes, but the urge to win can never replace kindness.

The fourth virtue is to be ABLE TO TEACH (24). Some believers have a Spiritual Gift of teaching, but all believers are teachers.  All parents are teachers; that’s God’s plan.

Being ABLE TO TEACH requires first that we are learners.  We never want to be the “old dog” who refuses to learn “new tricks.”

Then we must develop our skill in teaching as we gain experience passing along what we know in all the virtuous ways we’ve discussed.  It’s no accident that teaching is listed between kindness and gentleness.

Fifth, GENTLY INSTRUCT those who OPPOSE you (25-26).  Gentleness is always appropriate, but is especially needed when instruction is given, and most of all, when instructing opponents.

Note the chain of reasoning. The HOPE motivating our offering instruction is that GOD WILL GRANT THEM REPENTANCE.  Then their REPENTANCE will lead them to a KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH.  The TRUTH will cause them to COME TO THEIR SENSES. (Literally, “return to soberness.”)  Becoming sensible, the opponents of faith will ESCAPE THE TRAP OF THE DEVIL, WHO HAS TAKEN THEM CAPTIVE TO DO HIS WILL.  It’s impossible to escape a trap when you refuse to recognize you’re in one.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

      Today is “Church Vocations Sunday,” where we’re supposed to encourage people to consider careers in full-time Christian ministry.  As I am currently working on a letter of recommendation for a young lady who aspires to be a chaplain, we’ll call this a successful Church Vocations Sunday and expand the topic to do what Paul did; use work as a figurative way of explaining what it means to be a Christian.

So here we go: a Christian’s job description.

#1 – Show up for work.  The believer’s workplace is wherever there is someone who can be helped with an act of service or witness.  How many times do we fail to act on opportunities to talk about and demonstrate our faith?

#2 – Follow the boss’s instructions.  Our boss is God, the founder of the company.  He’s put instructions in our hearts and in the Bible, so no excuses.

#3 – Cooperate with your coworkers.  Whether they’re in management or on the floor, your fellow Christians deserve your very best love and treatment.

#4 – Wait patiently for pay day.  The best rewards for a job well done come after “retirement” from this company.  You can trust the Boss to keep track of your hours, but because He is generous, your envelope will contain something extra.

Show yourself to be a worthy worker!

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Alan G. Nute

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Ralph Earle