From an Early Age

By Mike Mazzalongo Topic: Personal Spiritual Growth Posted: Sat. Jul 20th 2013
The Apostle Paul's makes the case not only for the inspired source of the Bible but also the importance of learning it as soon as possible in one's life.

The great fire that destroyed the ancient city of Rome took place in 64 AD. Most historians of the period write that Nero, the emperor at that time started the fire himself. Nero longed to build a new Rome and set fire to provide himself with an opportunity to begin construction.

He was also a fiddle player and history records that he played while the city burned for the sheer happiness that the destruction of the old structures gave him and the anticipation of all the building projects that he was going to do.

Of course to divert blame and criticism from himself, he accused the Christians living in Rome for setting that fire. This was an easy lie to perpetuate because everyone knew that Christians believed that the city of Rome was evil and so based on this disaster and the ugly rumor spread to blame local Christians for the deed, early historian Tacitus writes that Nero began a violent persecution of the faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

A great number of Roman Christians were arrested and they were put to death in the cruelest of ways. Some were crucified, others had animal skins tied to their bodies and were thrown in with wild dogs in order to be attacked.

Some were place in the arena with great lions and tigers to be torn apart and eaten alive. In his worst moments, Nero would take some, cover their bodies with tar, impale them on stakes and then set them on fire as human torches to be used to light up the imperial gardens.

During their persecution, Paul the apostle was arrested as a Christian leader and he was put into prison. While he was in prison having no hope of being released, Paul writes the last letter he is to write in his long career as an apostle and a missionary.

It is addressed to a young man named Timothy that Paul has mentored and trained over the years. Soon after the letter is delivered, Paul is beheaded in a Roman arena somewhere in the year 66 or 67 AD.

Now we first encounter young Timothy somewhere around 51 AD while Paul was on his second missionary journey. Timothy was a native of Lystra in Asia Minor and he was brought up in a home where his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois were faithful Jewish women who had been converted to Christianity.

His father was a Greek who was an unbeliever. Timothy was recruited by Paul and left with him after showing much promise as a young student of the word. Now with time, Timothy was commended to the ministry by the elders of the church as an evangelist.

We read about this in 1 Timothy 4. He was Paul and Luke's constant traveling companion and even spent some time in prison with Paul ministering to his needs. Now the New Testament tells us that he was a timid man by nature, not easily given to confrontation.

He suffered from stomach problems and for these reasons Paul often worried about him and treated him like a son. Tradition says that Timothy eventually died as a martyr under the Roman ruler ship of Nerva or Domitian.

After Paul's imprisonment, Timothy had been sent to Ephesus to help with the work in that city. For the first 30 years you have to understand that Jerusalem had been the center of Christianity as its original starting point but by the time of Paul's imprisonment however, the shift had begun to take to be made to Ephesus with its strategic location in the Roman empire.

The key, numerical, and influential center of Christianity was Ephesus at that time especially with the gospel being preached to the gentile by Paul and his group. Now after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70 AD, John the apostle, Timothy the evangelist and others used the church at Ephesus as their primary base for teaching and training and mission work.

And so it is to Timothy at Ephesus during this critical time in the church's history that Paul addresses his last letter from which this passage we read this morning is taken. Note the situation at the time.

Christians in Rome and in the empire are being persecuted. Jerusalem is in conflict with Rome and is threatened and will soon be destroyed. Paul clearly expects to be killed in the near future. The church is losing its apostles and its leaders because of persecution and so Paul writes a letter warning of the present danger, encouraging him to be faithful in the future and reminding him of the one constant and true reality in their challenging lives, and that is the living word of God.

Let's go back to the passage in 2 Timothy 3 and go a little further back in the passage. In verse 12, Paul says, indeed all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. All who desire to live godly in, all, all will be persecuted.

But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse deceiving and being deceived. And so in his final exercitation, Paul refers to the troublesome times they're having. Christians will be and were at the time being persecuted because of their faith, because of their hope and confession that only Jesus Christ was lord and only Jesus Christ was savior.

There were also destructive elements creeping into the church in the form of false teaching and divisive leaders, teachings about Jesus that were not according to the gospel and leaders who were more interested in power and profit than shepherding the lord's church.

And so we continue reading in verse 14. You however continue in the things that you have learned and become convinced of knowing from whom you have learned them. Know what Paul tells Timothy concerning his response to these events and personalities.

Bad things are happening in the world. Bad things are happening to the Christians in the church. Bad things are happening to those who confess Christ and what does Paul say to Timothy? He doesn't say, he doesn't give him to any kind of advice to try to assure him like, oh it's okay, it'll be alright.

Don't worry about it. Everything will work out. He didn't say that and there's no call to protest or to attack or to mobilize Christians for social change. He doesn't say hey, let's get all the Christians together and let's convert the emperor or let's go for social justice or let's try for to Christianize the Roman empire.

That's not what he says. No instructions on how to outmaneuver the enemies of peace that are causing trouble within the church, no. Paul's primary instruction is that Timothy continue some of your Bibles say abide.

The verb in the Greek means to remain in one place. You are nailed down to one place. Timothy is to remain steadfast in his belief and understanding of God's word as he now understands it. Imagine that advice to a person who exists in a world that is swirling around him and what does Paul say? Stand firm in what you believe.

Stand firm in what you teach and he is to do this because of the ones who have given him these teachings and understandings, the apostle themselves who speak the inspired word of God. Aside from the social and economic hardships imposed by the persecution, this aggression towards Christians also challenged them in the power of their convictions.

Would the violence force them to cave in on their faith in Christ? Would the incredible immorality of the times pressure them into compromising with the truth? In addition to these, the false teachers were luring away disciples will all kinds of seductive teachings about a better gospel or an easier gospel or a gospel that made more sense given the difficult circumstances of the times and Paul reminds Timothy of the powerful signs he has already seen at the hands of Paul.

The mighty miracles and preaching witness and he tells him to hold onto the teaching without change. As a matter of fact, Paul goes one step further by saying that despite the recent attacks, the young evangelist should grow more convinced of the truth of what he's been taught and so by then, we arrive now at that passage that has been read and I'll read it one more time.

And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ. And so Paul reaches into the past. He says that from his early youth, Timothy's mother and grandmother have taught him these things so that when Paul came to preach the gospel in his home, Timothy knew exactly who Paul was talking about in Jesus and was prepared to receive the message.

The point that Paul makes between the lines is this, that Timothy is to hang onto the truth taught to him by his mother and grandmother as well as the truth revealed by Christ because it not only lead to his salvation, but it would also lead to everyone else's as well.

During that time, the false teachers were insisting that they had a more sophisticated gospel. They were insisting a higher understanding of spiritual things that involve the worship of angels and Jewish ceremonial law and various ideas about the denial of the flesh.

Their way they said was a higher way, was a mystical way, was a superior way, but Paul tells Timothy to hang onto the teachings he has consistently received from childhood because these are able to make him wise in the area that counts the most in life, and that's salvation.

If you don't know how to save your own soul, it doesn't matter what you know about religion. Timothy had been taught that he was a sinner and that God would send a savior to rescue him from his sins. He knew that the revelation of Jesus the messiah, the savior was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

He knew this why? 'Cause he was taught from an early age. He was prepared from an early age to receive the message when it came. He understood that salvation was in no other as Jesus said all those who believed and were baptized in his name would be saved.

God's word taught him these things and he was to hold steady to these teachings. Now in verse 16 and 17, Paul explains why this is so to Timothy. And so he says, all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training and righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate equipped for every good word.

I want you to notice the first word in that sentence, in that verse. He says every scripture was inspired by God, was breathed by God. As Timothy was growing up, this would refer to what we consider as the Old Testament.

All of these writings Paul said, all of them were inspired. Not just the Pentateuch as the Sadducees claimed, not only the prophets and the angels as the Pharisees stressed, but all of it came from God.

But as Timothy became a young man and head the words of Jesus and the apostles, he came to recognize these as inspired as well because they claimed to be and were accompanied by signs and miracles. All of the law, all of the prophets, all of the words of Jesus, all of the words of the apostles, all of these are the inspired divine words of God and profitable for teaching he said and reproof, correction, and training.

Profitable meaning that it is the word of God that is useful in the development of the following abilities. It is the word of God that is useful in teaching others about God and salvation and heaven. Where to we go to learn about those things? We go to God's word to learn about those things.

Profitable in reproof. The word means to expose or to convict. The process of finding the truth, revealing falsehood and error. Proof reading a document comes from this word, to reproof and for correction, he says the word of God is profitable to fix something, to restore something, to heal something, and finally he says training.

To mold someone or something into a desired end, in this case to train or mold someone in the ways of right living before God and why do this? So that the man of God may be adequate and equipped for every good work and so God's man, Timothy in this case, could become fully mature, fully able to teach, fully able to reproof and correct and train others by holding firmly the things that he had been taught from an early age.

As a matter of fact, the more convinced he became of the truth of God's word and the more he held his ground before the threat of persecution and disruptions in the church, the more he was demonstrating his ability and suitability as one who teaches, as one who reproofs, as one who corrects and trains.

Paul will go on in this last section of the letter to encourage Timothy to continue preaching the word no matter what because it is true and there are great rewards for doing so. He finishes by describing his own imminent death and how confident he feels in facing it and going on to his reward for the lord.

Isn't it amazing, isn't it amazing that not 30 years after the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ there is already a movement underfoot to undermine his words, to eliminate his teachings, and to change his doctrines in the early church? Isn't it amazing not three decades later we're already trying to do this? Early on Paul had warned these same elders from Ephesus that they needed to be careful because he said savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them.

Acts 20:29 and 30. Isn't it interesting to note that Timothy the young and meek evangelist now working in Ephesus seemed to be facing these very wolves that Paul spoke of and his charge to the young preacher was to hold on with what he was taught.

Reaffirm it in your heart and don't be afraid to preach it and teach it. Brothers and sisters, the truth doesn't need defending, it needs proclaiming and the word doesn't need to be protected, it needs to be preached and the gospel doesn't need saving, it's people who need to be saved.

These are eternal truths that never change. They are never defeated. I had these young and older men to read this passage to show you that the only element that binds us together in the lord's body is his word.

These men up here, different ages, different cultures, different education, different experiences, different talents but from an early age, all of them have known the holy writings that are able to make them wise unto salvation.

Because of this wisdom from the word, Bill Farmer, a worldly sailor turned his life to Christ and has been faithful to him even into his 80s. Because of this wisdom from the word, Marty Kesler, one who serves us as our pulpit minister and also as an elder is fruitful in his service to the lord.

Because of this wisdom from the word, Kendall Perkins is a young father raising his young family in the fear and the knowledge of the lord and tells me that he has much experience in working with the youth in the church.

Why has he been equipped with this ability? Because of the wisdom of the word that he has known from an early age. Because of the wisdom from the word, Josh Bufflehead is a young man who spends the summer counseling and assisting severely handicapped children at a special camp.

Because of this wisdom from the word, Isaac Swimiller, one young man has recently given his life to Christ and confessed Christ before us in baptism and because of this word, the youngest Christian Sanfuego is not afraid to read God's word in front of hundreds of people in public at the tender age of seven.

The word has accomplished this in each of these and brought them together here today in its service to the glory of God. Imagine what the word of God can accomplish in each of you if you as Paul says continue in it and become more convinced of its truth and its power.

Each week, the church offers each member male or female young or old every culture every station in life the opportunity to continue and be more fully convinced of God's word. We use the same approach as the apostles did in the time of Timothy.

We faithfully teach all the disciples to obey all of the words of Christ. That's pretty much our marching orders here in the teaching of God's word. Matthew 28:20 and the objective is the same as it has always been, to help you continue and be convinced of God's word.

Maybe the methods of change to keep up with technology in the modern pace of life, now we call it Bible school but it's the same thing. Every week we offer classes that teach the Bible to children and teach it to teens and teach it to adults.

We have various subjects taught by different teachers and we offer these not once, but twice each week. The only thing left to members is to organize themselves to be here for this teaching opportunity.

It's always amazing to see how brethren can plan to go hunting or vacationing or visiting relatives in other states, but most of the time or many times rather cannot seem to organize themselves to be here to learn God's word on a regular basis.

That's always surprising to me. You know there was a time when the percentage of brethren who attended both Bible school and worship services 'cause they keep statistics on this was 75%, 75, that means if you had a church of 1,000 people, 750 of those people on average in the church would show up for Bible school and then the other 25% would show up for worship.

There was a time that was the statistics. That number is now are you ready, 40 to 50%. We've gone from 75% of the congregation attending Bible classes to between 40 and 50% attending Bible classes. There was a time when the absentee rate for worship was 10%.

With 1,000 members, it was impossible to have 1,000 people for worship, why? 'Cause there's always somebody who's sick and somebody had to work at night, whatever. 10% was the average in churches of Christ and in most churches.

Today here in Ephesus, absentee rate for worship 31%, 31%. We are consistently down by over 30% every single Sunday. That means that on any given Sunday, nearly a third of our congregation isn't here.

Let's not wonder why we're weak in the faith. Let's not wonder why we're weak many times in resisting temptation in the world. Let's not ask ourselves why we're weak in service, weak in the knowledge of God's word and weak in giving.

Maybe it falls to me to give out the bad news from time to time but we're $16,000 behind in our budget and we're only halfway through the year. I love to announce good news but like I say, sometimes somebody's got to announce the bad news.

The basis of our spiritual lives is faith in Jesus Christ. Every other benefit and spiritual benefit that we have is based on the faith that we have in Christ. Faith comes from hearing Gods word. Romans 10:17 and the main place that you're going to hear and develop in your understanding of God's word is right here when we gather for worship and study.

You don't study God's word at work. You're not supposed to. And you don't study God's word at school. Unfortunately you can't and you rarely study God's word during your leisure time and leisure activity.

Well that's not what leisure is for. The only time you study God's word is when you make the conscious effort to come and hear God's word. Make no mistake, the more you are here to hear, the better every aspect of your life becomes.

The reverse of this is just as true. The less that you are here to hear, the less you want to here and the worse your life becomes spiritually, morally, and emotionally. And so the invitation when I preach is always for those who have not put Christ on in baptism to do so.

We always make that and those who have been unfaithful to him to be restored. That's always the invitation. Of course I call on all those who need to do this to come and come to Christ today of course but this morning I add another appeal for your consideration and this is the appeal.

Make Bible school and Bible study a higher priority in your lives so that you can continue in and grow stronger in your conviction of God's word. Make the effort. If you already come to Bible school, see if you can invite someone to come with you.

Make it a goal for the entire quarter that you will become God's instrument to bring someone to Bible class and you know what, maybe bring your kids. Maybe bring your kid. I've been doing this for over 30 years.

I've forgotten the number of people that I've counseled with about their kids. And the ones I counsel about their kids, my kid's in trouble, I don't know, our relationship falling apart, he doesn't want to come to church with me and I ask, well did you bring him when he was a kid? Well no, we didn't, we were busy.

If you don't come regularly and you want to repent, then make it your mission to make Bible class a priority so that you are here for all the classes, not just some of the classes. What will we exchange for our souls? What is it that we have to give in exchange for our souls? Nothing.

What is more precious than our souls? Nothing. If you don't come at all, let this be the day that you repent, the day that you change your habit of not coming and begin cultivating the habit of attending at least one Bible class per week.

Surely there's something here for you. Surely there's something valuable here for you that you're not getting. Any of these changes will cost you. Remember I said those who decide to live for Christ will be persecuted? Well there's no Roman government that's going to persecute us but our schedule will persecute you.

And maybe it'll cost you money. Maybe that'll be the persecution and maybe the inconvenience of it, maybe that'll be your persecution and it'll create difficulty because putting Bible study into your life will mean that something else will have to be removed out of your life but only those who have given up something for Christ can have the confidence to feel and say what Paul said at the end of his life.

Listen carefully to what I will say now. Listen carefully to this passage and ask yourself, will I be able to say the same thing when I am going to be in this position before I die? Listen. I have fought the good fight.

I'll switch it around. I'll just use my own name, okay. Mike has fought the good fight. Mike has finished the course. Michael has kept the faith and in the future there is laid up for him the crown of righteousness which the lord, the righteous judge will award to him on that day and not only to him but to everybody else who loved his appearing.

How will you respond to God's appearing? Will you say, at last, lord, at last you're here. Or will you say, I'm not quite ready. I'd like a little more time. Which will be your response? I'm telling you now that your response will be at last lord if you're fully convinced of his word and all those who love his appearing and those who have faithfully continued in and been fully convinced that God's word is true and so we offer you a wonderful, challenging opportunity for spiritual growth.

Please consider taking it for yourselves and especially for the children who are depending on you for spiritual example and direction. Of course that goes without saying the signs are all throughout the building registering them for VBS, taking the time to do it, is it convenient? Absolutely not.

The only way you know you've had a good VBS is that at the end, everybody's exhausted. Come and be exhausted with us. Offer this to the lord. Offer it to your children. Offer it to your children and offer it to your grandchildren.

I guarantee you they will be eternally grateful to you for doing so. If you need the ministry of the church, if you need to respond to this morning's invitation to repent and be baptized, if you need to offer the opportunity to yourself or your children to grow in his word, please please do that now as we stand and as we sing our song of encouragement.