2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

 Listen To Him

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2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

 Listen To Him

Dr. Philip W. McLarty

Paul begins this chapter of his Second Letter to Timothy describing a fallen world that is increasingly falling apart. He says,

“But know this, that in the last days,
grievous times will come.
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money,
boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents,
unthankful, unholy, without natural affection,
unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, fierce,
no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, conceited,
lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God;
holding a form of godliness,
but having denied its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

He advises Timothy to avoid such people and, instead, hold fast to the truth of God’s Word. He says,

“But you remain in the things
which you have learned and have been assured of,
knowing from whom you have learned them.
From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures
which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith,
which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

In the first chapter of the letter, he specifically named Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, and credited them for teaching Timothy the Hebrew scriptures and helping him come to know himself as a child of God.

In this sense, Timothy is what we hope for our children today – that from the earliest days of childhood, they’ll know themselves to be children of God. Horace Bushnell, a 19th Century Congregational minister said it best: “A child should grow up as a Christian and never know himself as otherwise.” Paul then goes on to tell Timothy that …

“For the time will come
when they will not listen to the sound doctrine,
but, having itching ears,
will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts;
and will turn away their ears from the truth,
and turn aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Here’s the sum of it all: Paul was writing from his prison cell in Rome. His days were numbered. It was only a matter of time before the Emperor decided his fate. He fully expected to die. His concern was not for himself, but for Timothy, that Timothy would be able to hold firm in the faith and not be swept away by the increasing godlessness of the world around him.

That’s what I’d like for us to think about in the sermon this morning – how important it is to listen for the voice of God over the competing voices around us if we are to keep the faith and remain steadfast in our allegiance to Jesus Christ.


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I did a word search on the word, “listen,” using the Bible program on my computer. I got 288 hits. Most fell into two categories – those admonishing the people to listen to God and those rebuking the people for not listening to God. For example, in First Kings God told Solomon,

“It shall be, if you will listen to all that I command you,
and will walk in my ways, and do that which is right…
(I) will build you a sure house, as I built for David,
and will give Israel to you.” (1 Kings 11:38)

The psalmist speaks for God when he says, “Hear, my people, and I will testify to you,

“Israel, if you would listen to me! …
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
But my people didn’t listen to my voice.
Israel desired none of me.
So I let them go after the stubbornness of their hearts,
that they might walk in their own counsels.
Oh that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!” (Psalms 81:8-13)

It’s a recurring theme of the prophets. In the book of Isaiah, we read: “Turn your ear, and come to me; hear, and your soul shall live.” (Isaiah 55:3)

In the gospels, Jesus frequently ended a parable or a teaching with the words, “If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)

John uses a similar expression in the book of Revelation, when he says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies (churches).” (Revelation 2:7)

It’s not easy listening for the voice of God. There’s so much clutter – so many competing voices clamoring to be heard – and, perhaps it’s just me, but they seem to talk louder and faster every day.

Kathy and I turned on the radio to get the news as we were coming back from North Texas Tuesday morning. Two men shared the microphone. Both sounded high on caffeine. It was a sports segment, and they were talking about games played over the weekend. They talked non-stop, ninety-to-nothing. When they paused to take a breath, they switched to a string of advertisements, every bit as boisterous and rapid-fire as they.

Television’s worse. Commercials dominate the airwaves, and they’re designed to keep us glued to the set. There are the morning shows, of course, and the daytime soaps; then there are the prime time situation comedies and docudramas, and, in between, there’s Oprah, Ellen, Judge Judy, Nancy Grace and everyone’s favorite, Dr. Phil. If that’s not enough, there is a continual lineup of political talk shows and commentaries, plus Letterman, Leno, Conan late at night. We still have the evening news, but it’s mostly spoon-fed in brief sound bites and interspersed with yet more commercials.

Add to radio and television the various newspapers, billboards, junk mail, email, text messaging and spam … and there’s hardly a millisecond not taken up by someone vying for our attention.

How are you ever going to hear the voice of God over all the noise?

In his book, The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen says we need to tune out the clutter and recover the simple gift of silence. He writes,

“The Word of God is born out of the eternal silence of God …
for silence is the home of the word.
Silence gives strength and fruitfulness to the word.
We can even say that words are meant to disclose
the mystery of the silence from which they come.” (p. 48)

Psalm 46 reminds us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) If you expect to hear the voice of God, you first need to find a quiet place. You need to put down the newspapers and magazines, and turn off the radios and TV sets and computers and cell phones and suspend all incoming messages and listen for that still, small voice of God.

It may take a while. Just as it takes your eyes several minutes to adjust to the darkness when you turn out the lights, so it may take your spirit time to settle in and attune itself to the sound of silence.

The good news is, if you’re willing to be patient and wait for the Lord to meet you in the silence, he will speak to you, and you’ll be able to hear his voice. No one knew this better than Austin Miles, who wrote,

“I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

“And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.”

If you’re going to tune in to the voice of God, you need to tune out the clutter. You also need to step back from all the confusion.

• It would be nice if the whole world were of one mind. It’s not. There’s any number of religions and ideologies to choose from.

• It would be nice if all Christians were of one mind. We’re not. There’s any number of denominations and sub-denominations to belong to, each with its particular set of doctrines and beliefs. The Presbyterian Church is one of many.

• It would be nice if all Presbyterians were of one mind. We’re not. We’re sharply divided on any number of issues.

I fully expected this to come out at our Presbytery meeting yesterday. Long story, short, this summer the General Assembly approved a change in our Book of Order relaxing our standards for ordination. In order for the change to take effect, it has to be ratified by a majority of the Presbyteries, ours being one of seventy, or so.

Well, I thought we’d be in for a long and rigorous debate. Turns out, the piece of information in our packet was but a shot across the bow. We won’t vote on the amendment in question until February. Stay tuned.

This is only one example. Divisions run deep on every major issue of the day. It’s so confusing. Forceful – and often, persuasive – voices on both sides of the issues compete for our support. Who are you going to listen to? Who are you going to believe? And, in all the confusion, how are you ever going to hear the voice of God?

I find it helpful to step away from the confusion and go back to the basics. Read the gospels and pay particular attention to the words of Jesus and how they speak to you.

This is what God told the disciples to do in the story of the transfiguration. Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a high mountain. They watched as he was joined by Moses and Elijah – symbolizing the Law and the Prophets of the Jewish faith. His appearance shown as bright as the sun. Then the voice of God spoke from above, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (Mark 9:7)

Listening to the words of Jesus gives me peace in the midst of the clutter; it gives me clarity in the midst of the confusion; it gives me hope in a day when the future is so uncertain. Here are just a few examples:

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

“I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

“I am the light of the world.  He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and I’m known by my own…I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will still live, even if he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6)

Remember what Paul told Timothy? He said,

“For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine, but, having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

I think that time is now. Now, more than ever, we need to be on guard and not let the clutter of the world around us drown out the voice of God or let the confusion of competing theologies distort the truth of God’s Word.

Paul’s words speak to us today: “Remain in the things which you have learned and have been assured of…” Anchor your faith in the words of Jesus. Listen to him.

One of the most prolific composers of the 19th Century was Philip Bliss. I’d like to close with one of his best-loved hymns. It goes like this:

Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life,
Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life;
Words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

Christ, the blessèd One, gives to all wonderful words of life;
Sinner, list to the loving call, wonderful words of life;
All so freely given, wooing us to heaven.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

Sweetly echo the Gospel call, wonderful words of life;
Offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior, sanctify us forever.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Copyright 2010, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.