Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 3:14–4:5, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This little text is a small part of a letter from St. Paul to young pastor Timothy. Paul has taught Timothy how to be a pastor. He is his "spiritual" father. Paul is near the end of his life facing execution in Rome. He's giving his last instructions, passing down his best pastoral advice, to his beloved friend and "spiritual" child Timothy. But, this letter is far from advice only to a pastor. Paul's care for Timothy goes to his personal spiritual condition. That's what makes this letter applicable to all of you, not just your pastor.
What is so striking about this text is how Paul connects Timothy to God's Word. He reminds him how his grandmother and mother taught him the Scriptures. It's the Old Testament Saint Paul is talking about. The account of God working among his people from creation through the late Prophets (everything before Jesus was born). These are the foundation on which Timothy is to be a pastor to the people. It is not far-fetched to assume that Timothy knew well Paul's words about preaching:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22–25, ESV)
Paul wrote these words to the congregation at Corinth nearly a decade before. It was certainly a part of Paul's regular preaching. Even based on the Old Testament, preaching in the church is to be Christ centered and cross focused. This preaching from the Scripture, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is the power of God. The Old Testament connected to Jesus Christ, with him at the center, is able (and not just able but powerful) to make you wise for salvation. The Holy Spirit working through the Word to bring faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Paul says:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV)
Paul refers to God's work at creation of breathing life into human beings. That same breath is what makes the Word of God able to do exactly what Paul is saying. When Scripture is preached with Jesus Christ as the main point this is what makes it powerful to do what Paul says. It is the Holy Spirit living an active in the Word, the breath of God.
And Paul even tells Timothy how to preach. He says, "in season and out of season" and "reprove rebuke and exhort" and "with complete patience and teaching." The in season and out of season means whether people are listening are not. Timothy (and all pastors for that matter) have the obligation to preach. In the best of times and the worst of times. Whether people are listening to God's word whether they're denying it. To reprove, rebuke and exhort is another way of saying use Law and Gospel. Reprove and rebuke mean to convict people of their sin and then, having cut them to their heart, exhort means give them the sweet Good News of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of those very sins.
For the time is coming, so St. Paul says, when people will no longer listen to the Word. And in fact will be hostile to it and those who bring it. But instead they will use the Word for their own ends. And anyone who speaks the word to reprove, rebuke and exhort will be ignored or worse. That's why St. Paul's advice includes for Timothy to endure suffering and do the work of an evangelist.
So what about our itching ears? What do we want to hear God's word say? St. Paul says that we are incorporated into God's story. The story of God working in the world from creation through redemption. Timothy was incorporated into God's story by the faithful teaching of his mother and grandmother. They filled his ears with God's Word. They told him of the Messiah that would come and save him from his sin.
What itching ears would rather do is make God a part of our story. My life is busy, but I do have a place for God. As long as God sticks to Sunday morning. As long as God does what I want him to do. As long as he makes me healthy, wealthy and wise. As long as God gives me purpose and tells me what I'm here for. As long as my life is trouble-free. As long as I can live an extraordinary life, right now. As long as God doesn't embarrass me with demands that are way too old-fashioned. As long as I'm not inconvenienced by the church, I'll listen to everything that God has to say. As long as God doesn't interfere in my politics. And as long as God doesn't insist that the Bible is the only place where I can hear his voice. I'd much rather listen to my own heart. I'd rather let my feelings tell me what is right and wrong. I'd much rather listen to what everybody else is listening to. I would much rather listen to authors who claim direct connections to God. And I would rather listen to them even if they disagree with what God's word says.
Those who claim direct communication with God outside of his Word are lying. Those who tell you that thus and so is true because they feel it in their heart are deceiving you. When Jesus said "my sheep hear my voice and they know me." He was speaking about his Word that comes from Holy Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture will you find him saying depend on your heart and do what it says. Instead he says
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”” (Mark 7:21–23, ESV)
You put your faith and your salvation in jeopardy when you look inside yourself for the truth. What God does he does outside of you, for you. Jesus brings you forgiveness of sins through his life, death, and resurrection. It happened on a bloody cross, on a bloody hill outside a small Jewish town. The Good News is that in spite of the sin that lives inside of you, that pushes you to trust in everything but what God has given you to trust in, God saves you in Jesus Christ. And he brings this Good News to you from the outside. God makes you wise to salvation through the Word of God that travels through the air and strikes your ear holes. All Scripture is breathed out by God. You do not have to depend on slippery emotions and feelings to tell you what is right and wrong. And when people tell you that something is right because they feel it in their heart, or God spoke it to their heart, you do not believe it if it disagrees was Scripture.
God has given you a pastor as a wonderful gift. His job, as Paul tells Timothy, is to help you see Jesus in the Word. His job is to help you see your sin and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. That you can live your life as part of God's story. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.