I’ve always been fascinated by the last words of well-known people. These words might hold a touch of advice or some wisdom, inspiration, or humor for those of us who are still on life’s journey. For instance, recently I came across John Stott’s last words of advice to his assistant back in 2011 before he passed on. John Stott was a great, great preacher and teacher of the Christian faith and a wonderful writer. His last bit of advice to his assistant was, “Do the hard thing.” Stott believed that choosing the easy trail, the road most taken and the path of least resistance can only end in mediocrity, even it comes with praise or prosperity.
Most recently, I read the last words a Christian writer I’ve enjoyed over the years, Dallas Willard, gave to his granddaughter. They were, “Give them heaven.” Give them heaven.
Have you ever thought about what last words of advice you’d like to pass on to your loved ones on your deathbed? Tom Wright, a Bible scholar was asked what he’d say to his children. He said, “I’d tell them, ‘Look at Jesus.’” Then he explained, “The person who walks out of the pages of the Gospels to meet us is just central and irreplaceable. He is always a surprise. We never have Jesus in our pockets. He is always coming at us from different angles. So if you want to know who God is, look at Jesus, and if you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus. If you want to know what love is, look at Jesus, and go on looking until you’re not just a spectator but part of the drama with Him as a central character.
How about you? What would your last words be? For myself, I think I’d say, “Stick with Jesus.” Or for my kids who are quite solid in their own Christian walk, maybe it would be, “Let your light keep shining for Jesus Christ.”
I’m talking about last words today because we have some last words of advice before us in our reading. It’s from an old pastor named Paul, and it’s the final letter he ever wrote. He’s written it to a young church leader, a pastor named Timothy, who was struggling in his own ministry. Timothy was experiencing some hardships, crises in his congregation. Paul is in a jail cell and about to be executed. The end is near, but he takes time to write one last letter to this young man whom he loved.
In the first section, he talks a bit about his special feelings toward Timothy, how he loved him like a son. He then moves on to anguish over what a messed-up world Timothy is working in. People are easily getting misled by philosophies, world views, and mixed-up theologies around them. Lacking God’s truth in their own lives then, they end up adding to the mess by passing on these error-filled teachings to others. They are finding their way into Timothy’s congregation, and faiths are getting shipwrecked.
The congregation needs a pastor, a leader to keep them on track with God’s truth. Paul knew that and so did Timothy. Paul reminds him of it. He and his congregation, you see, need some solid footing in the midst of the shifting sands of the times in which they lived.
Recently Julie and I had to have a new deck put around our house. Our old deck had become so spongy, we were afraid it might cave in if more than four or five people were on the deck with us. When the person came to tear it apart and put on a new one, he found there were no solid footings, just some posts that had been poked in the ground and now were rotten. We needed solid footing.
Likewise in our Christian walk with the Lord. We need solid footing. It happens so easily that we can get mixed up.
I had some folks in my congregation call me some years ago and asked, “Will you come visit us? We’re just really needing to talk with you.” When I got to their home, I learned some Jehovah Witnesses had started a Bible study in their living room. They were mixed up and didn’t know what to believe. So we sat down with our Bibles and addressed their questions. I’m glad to say they no longer are letting Jehovah Witnesses into their home for Bible study.
It happens so easily. We get mixed up by the world around us and need solid footing. Paul points Timothy to the solid footing. He says, “But as for you, continue in what you’ve learned and firmly believed and from whom you learned it — me, Timothy – how from childhood you’ve known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” There is your solid footing. Stick with the Word of God.
That word “continue” means ongoing action. Keep working with the word, Timothy. Stick with it! Share it with your congregation and get them into it. I love this statement I heard years ago: “A Bible that is falling apart probably belongs to someone who isn’t.” It is solid stuff for us! The important thing, Paul says, is it is able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ. It leads us to Jesus Christ our Savior, the Savior of the world.
The main point of the Bible is to show us how to enter into a relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Scriptures testify to Him from Genesis all the way to Revelation. The Bible contains sixty-six books, and a common thread runs all the way through. It has one storyline from beginning to end – God’s rescue plan to bring us to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. As Martin Luther one time testified, “The Bible is the cradle that holds the Christ child.”
Paul reminds us of what makes Scriptures so special. He says, “All Scripture is inspired by God.” The word “inspired” literally means it is breathed into. God has breathed His Spirit into it. It is Spirit-filled. It is God’s way of speaking to us. It’s powerful, and it can change the life that engages with it.
I love going to Gideon banquets. I get invited because I have Gideons in my congregation. These banquets always include a testimony about some soul who is in a motel room alone. Their life is falling apart. But they find a Gideon Bible and begin to study it, engage with it. They have a spiritual awakening and ask Christ into their heart. Wonderful, wonderful testimonies of the power the Word of God.
Martin Luther says, “The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold on me. It’s alive.”
I know there are skeptics about the Bible. They will say it isn’t reliable. It’s just a bunch of stories written by men not to be trusted. The truth is, though, of all ancient literature, the New Testament, for instance, is the most well-authenticated document with an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting its reliability. There are more New Testament manuscripts copied with greater accuracy at earlier dates than any other secular classic from antiquity such as Herodotus or Plato or Aristotle. Did you know three hundred thirty-three Old Testament prophecies about Jesus were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born? All these prophecies were fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ. All sorts of evidence is out there in terms of archaeology. If you are looking for some other places to build on the reliability of Scripture, pick up a book by Lee Strobel called, The Case for Christ. It’s a wonderful read. The Case for Faith is another one. It’s reliable.
Somebody might say, It may be reliable, but I don’t think it is very relevant for this modern day and age.
A young man said to his pastor, “I live in the technological age. Those people in the Bible rode camels! What do a bunch of camel drivers have to say to me?” A legitimate question, I suppose, but it’s a question we can answer. The basic issues of life – sin, guilt, hope, faith, grief, and death – have not changed. Those “camel drivers” have something to say to us. That book, which was written so long ago, has great relevance for contemporary men and women.
Paul, in our text, then goes on to say, And you know what Timothy? The Bible is useful. It’s good for you. It’s good for teaching! You want to know about God, His character, how He feels about you, how He operates, what is important to Him? Read your Bible. There you will find your doctrine of God. Do you want to know about Jesus, who He is, what He has done, the kingdom He preached? Open your Bible. Want to know more about the Holy Spirit – His job, and who He is? Want to know about the Church? And on and on. Everything we say in the Apostles’ Creed is based upon what was found in the teachings of the Bible.
The Bible is great for reproof, as well. Reproof means to set straight, convincing a person of the error of his ways, of his thinking. I love having a GPS in the car. As we drive along, when I don’t trust the GPS and start going my own direction, it suddenly it says, “Recalculating!” I need to be corrected, which moves us on.
The Bible is good for correction. It changes us, moves us in a different direction. Improvements occur in our moral posture or behavior.
Finally, the Bible is good for training in righteousness so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, which means useful, equipped for every good work. It trains us to follow Jesus so we can carry out God’s purpose in our lives.
It’s no wonder the Church refers to the Bible as God’s means of grace. It is a real gift. He speaks words of grace and peace into our lives, words of wisdom and hope, showing us Himself so we can know Him, understand Him more intimately, and know what His purpose is for our lives. This is not just for our own sake; it is also useful to God and others so we might bring Him honor with our lives.
Paul is basically telling us, The world is crazy. It is so easy to get lost. It is so easy to get mixed up and find yourself away from God and His truth. You will live better connected to God’s Word. God’s Word keeps you going.
Many people in my congregation know that for a fact. They testify to it when I walk into a hospital room for a visit, and there on the table over their hospital bed is their Bible. They’ve brought it along with a devotional book, because they know the Word of God in this time of crisis can keep them going.
And it keeps us growing – growing in Christ. My little grandson Henry turned two last week. He is healthy and growing. He is thirty-three pounds already! Why? Because dad and mom are feeding him! I don’t know what they’re feeding him – obviously a lot!
Isn’t it interesting that the Bible talks about us as infants in Christ who need spiritual milk. Peter, tells us we need food, and what is in the Bible is God’s spiritual milk for our growth. That is how He feeds us and gets us healthy. We need a steady diet of God’s Word in order to grow. Unfortunately many of us are spiritual anorexics when it comes to God’s Word. We’re starving ourselves.
Let me ask you, Do you own a Bible? I’m sure most of you are nodding your heads. It doesn’t surprise me. It is the top-selling book in the world. However, the problem is too many people, including people in the Church of Christ, don’t use them. They do not engage with the Word of God.
This is what we are being pointed to today – the importance of engaging with the Word of God. It’s important to read your Bible on a daily basis. Set aside some quiet time alone with God. Ask Him, even before you even open it, to show you what He wants you to see in the Word. It means being reflective on what you’re reading. Study it and look at it like a student. Ask questions about what you’ve read. Asking who, what, when, where, why, and how will help you get deeper into your study.
I have found for myself that one of the best ways of engaging with the Word of God, besides going to a class, is to join a small group. There is such value in being part of a small community that is committed to being immersed in God’s Word. There is the discipline of learning, the accountability of studying before I go to the meeting. The Holy Spirit works on me at the meeting, but He also works on me all the more as we share our findings with one another and ask about how we can be doers of the Word as well. How do I apply this in my life?
I asked a young man named Rich to share with the congregation a few weeks ago. He said, “The experience of being in a group has changed my life. It has made me a better husband and father as it’s gotten me deeper into the Word and God’s will for my life. It has increased my understanding of the Lord.”
People sometimes say, I wish God would just speak to me. As a pastor my response to that statement is, He already has spoken to you. Open your Bible. Read it, study it, treasure it. Read it prayerfully. Learn of His love and His will for your life, and you will discover that life is better connected to God’s Word.
That is our truth for today. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer