If we are going to find peace in a world that has gone mad, we’re definitely going to need to reorient our thinking and turn to prayer, but while those two things are necessary, they aren’t sufficient on their own. We need something more. In this next part of our journey and through the lens of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we are going to talk about what this something more is. Thanks for reading and sharing.
A Firm Anchor
One of the saddest moments in all of film history was when Chuck lost Wilson. If that’s not ringing any bells, a bit of a reminder may be due. The Chuck I’m talking about is Chuck Noland. If that’s still not ringing any bells, that doesn’t really surprise me. His name doesn’t matter very much and in fact I couldn’t have told you what it was until I looked it up. Wilson, though, just goes by Wilson. He’s white, male, a little round, and wears a handprint on his face. Actually, the handprint is his face. You see, Wilson is a volleyball. Actually, he’s a great deal more than that to Chuck whom you may recognize now as the character played by Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. After surviving a plane crash and landing on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific, Hanks manages to survive by cobbling together what he needs from the various packages his FedEx plane dropped in the crash and which washed up on shore. One of these packages held Wilson who offered Hanks what was perhaps his most important survival tool: a relationship. I mean, Wilson didn’t actually have any lines in the film, but by giving Hanks’ character the ability to have the illusion of a relationship, it enabled him not to completely lose his sanity during his terrible sojourn.
Toward the end of the film, though, when Hanks had managed to get off the island in a desperate attempt to be rescued, after surviving a wild storm on the open ocean, Wilson gets knocked off the raft and gently floats away. When Hanks realizes this, he tries to save what had become his best friend in the world, but Wilson was adrift in the sea and beyond the reach of any anchor Hanks could provide.
Have you ever felt like you were adrift and unable to reach something solid to hold onto? I remember a time when my family had gone to Oceans of Fun, the water park near where I grew up. We were playing in the wave pool at one point in the day, and I had gone out pretty deep in the water while the waves were going. I wasn’t all that strong of a swimmer then, but because I could touch the ground between waves, I was doing fine. But then the waves stopped. And I didn’t have a raft. Treading water for a long time wasn’t my gift, but the pool was so crowded with people who were on rafts, that I couldn’t swim back to where I could reach the ground. The various people floating around me didn’t see me as anything more than an irritating kid who kept trying to grab onto their rafts—something they did not appreciate and let me know it. Unfortunately, I was getting more and more tired and keeping my head above the water was getting harder and harder to do. The prospect of drowning started to play rather loudly in my mind. It wasn’t until some random kid came pushing through the crowd with his raft, pulled me up on it, and dragged me back to where I could reach that the whole drama came to an end.
It’s scary to feel like you’re adrift without an anchor to hold. And sometimes that’s what we feel like living in the midst of a culture that is in chaos. We need something solid we can hold onto so we don’t sink under the waves. This morning we are going to talk about where we can find just such a foundation.
This morning we are in the second part of our new teaching series, Peace in a World Gone Mad. The whole idea for this series of conversations is that we live in the midst of a culture in crisis. And, I know that you can go back to a number of different points in our nation’s history and make a really good argument that people then were living in a culture in crisis. This series of sermons would have applied just as well then. We are in some sense always living in the midst of a culture in crisis. But chaos of the past doesn’t change the fact or lessen our experience of chaos in the present, and so we need help dealing with it when we are facing it. With this in mind, for these three weeks we are talking about three different ways we can come through the chaos with our faith and even our lives still intact.
Last week we started this little journey by looking at the apostle Paul’s concluding advice to the believers in ancient Philippi on how to find peace in the midst of their own chaos. This peace comes, Paul told us, when we reorient our thinking to be more focused on God through the discipline of prayer. When the world is a mess, reorient on God. Yet while prayer is vital to this reorientation process, it can’t be the only tool in our toolbox. We dare not move forward without it, but it is not enough by itself to reorient our thinking the way Paul was calling us. I told you then that we need to address our primary sources of input. This morning, we are going to join Paul in taking a look at what should be our most primary source of input of all.
Paul talks about what this is in his second letter to his protege, Timothy. Timothy is one of the major second-tier figures in the New Testament narrative. We meet him in Luke’s record of the history of the early church that we call Acts. He was one of the men who went with Paul on his missionary journeys. Specifically, Timothy joined Paul on his second missionary journey. This was Paul’s longest journey and the one on which he planted the most churches. Timothy was one of the guys Paul spent the most time mentoring to be able to carry on his Gospel-advancing legacy when he was gone. Ultimately, Timothy wound up pastoring the church in Ephesus. Ephesus was one of the major churches in the first century. We know this because not only did Paul write to them directly, but he wrote to Timothy while he was pastoring there, and the apostle John also served as a pastor there and wrote two letters to them. One of these we know as 1 John, and the other appears in the second chapter of Revelation. No other church receives as much varied attention in the New Testament as does the church in Ephesus.
Timothy was a young man when he became the pastor of the church in Ephesus. It would have been a challenging post for any pastor, but as a fairly new pastor, Timothy had his hands full. He had his hands full enough, in fact, that Paul wrote two different letters to him with all kinds of instructions on how to lead a church effectively and keep it out of the grip of heresy. Paul’s second letter was actually written at about the same time as he wrote to the church in Philippi. The great apostle knew he was nearing the end of his life and wanted to make sure Timothy was equipped to carry on faithfully in his absence. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you this morning, find your way to 2 Timothy 3. As Paul is nearing the conclusion of his letter, he sets some real challenges before Timothy—and us—that are worth seeing especially in light of how Paul instructs Timothy to approach them.
Look at this with me starting in 2 Timothy 3:1: “But know this: Hard times will come in the last days.” Pause there for just a second. When we see talk of “the last days” in the New Testament, our first reaction is often to imagine some time that is still future to us. Another common reaction is to imagine that we are living in some finite period of final days before Jesus’ climactic return. This approach is often caricatured as held by wild-eyed believers who are missing the trees of the world for the forest of the kingdom. Well, while I think that second interpretation is probably more on track with what the New Testament authors—and especially Paul here—were imagining, neither of them quite get the picture correctly.
We are indeed living in a finite period of final days before Jesus’ climactic return, but we have been living in those final days since Jesus returned to the Father. If you want evidence of that, just look at what Paul offers up next as a picture of what things will be like in these supposedly future final days. “But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like a list of behaviors you’ve been able to find in every age of people since Paul. All of those things will still be descriptive of people in every age from now until Jesus returns. Given that, Paul is referring to all of these different ages as “the last days.” So, yes, we are living in the last days, but, no, that doesn’t mean what we have culturally been trained to think it means.
Think a bit further about this list Paul gives us here. While a couple of the things on the list seem like they would be pretty bad in terms of their direct impact on the people around them—being “brutal” for instance—the rest of the list seems pretty tame by comparison. In fact, from a strictly cultural standpoint, a lot of the things on this list aren’t behaviors that would even garner the label “sinful” in the first place. Sure, we recognize them as such as followers of Jesus, and most folks outside the church would at least acknowledge these are not necessarily desirable traits to display in your life, but neither are they going to be all that concerned about them like Paul obviously is here. Yet while none of these things is going to seem to fall very far beyond socially inconvenient on their own, their collective impact would quickly start to become noticeable as the culture immersed in such things will gradually become coarse and hard. It wouldn’t be a very good place to live…especially if you didn’t look like everyone else, and people marked by a collection of things from this list started to turn their attention on you because you didn’t look like them. Living in a place like this, it would be very easy to start to feel like you were just floating along in a sea of darkness without anything to hold onto or see where you’re going.
Yet Paul here is not just worried about the culture around us. Did you notice that? Look again at v. 5. The final description of people in these last days is that they hold “to the form of godliness but deny its power.” In other words, they look like they are part of the church, but they aren’t really. Paul says to avoid these people. Well, when you look at Paul’s writings more generally than this, the only time he uses language like that is when he is talking about people who are in the church, but who aren’t following the path of Christ with their lives. Paul routinely says we should have nothing to do with them. At best we are to treat them like the unbelievers they really are and not pursue the kind of fellowship with them that we have with other followers of Jesus.
What I’m getting at and what I think Paul is getting at is that the brokenness of the world around us doesn’t just stay there. It attempts to infiltrate the church and wreak its awful havoc here too. Sometimes it is successful. Paul seems to be arguing that the closer we get to the return of Christ, the more these inroads attempts are going to find traction. He goes on in the letter to paint a picture of unscrupulous people who use a covering of righteousness and orthodoxy to try to take advantage of immature believers who haven’t been grounded in the faith like they should be.
“For among them [that is, these folks we should be avoiding] are those who worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth. They are men who are corrupt in mind and worthless in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be clear to all, as was the foolishness of Jannes and Jambres.” That reference to Jannes and Jambres is an obscure one; so obscure, in fact, that you won’t find the names anywhere in the Exodus narrative. They are the traditional names of two of the leading Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses and tried with apparent success to replicate some of the early plague effects, showing (they thought) that Moses’ God was no more powerful than the gods of Egypt and thus His commands didn’t have to be obeyed. They were trying to deceive both the people of Egypt and the Israelites into thinking God wasn’t really worth their time and attention. God tends to win those fights.
All of this, though, is the world we are living in. It’s a mess. It’s chaotic and confusing. It’s ugly and violent. It’s sometimes more than a little scary. There is an ongoing and intentional effort, including, sometimes, by folks who are inside the church, to lead people away from following Jesus down a path that actually leads to life. And if we’re not careful, it can start to feel like we are lost in a sea of sin without an anchor to hold us in place. What are we supposed to do in all of this? Yes, we need to fix our thinking. Yes, we need to pray. But what is there that can keep us not just pointed in the right direction, but knowing which direction is the right direction in the first place?
That’s where Paul starts to go next. Look at this now in v. 10: “But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance.” Paul himself consciously served as Timothy’s anchor for many years, discipling this young man in the Christian worldview. If you’ve been following Jesus for very long in your own life, you need to be doing this with someone who isn’t as far along in their journey as you’ve come. But it’s not just the good stuff you need to show them if they are going to be prepared for what’s coming their way. Letting them see the hard stuff matters too. Paul didn’t shield Timothy from any of that in his own life. Timothy had followed along with all the good stuff, “along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured—and yet the Lord rescued me from them all.” In other words, if you are forced to endure persecutions, He’ll rescue you too. When the world around us is all chaos and sin, the likelihood that we are going to face persecution in our efforts to follow Jesus faithfully is pretty high. Actually, Paul pretty much guarantees it: “In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Evil people and imposters will become worse, deceiving and being deceived.” You don’t find that on many bumper stickers.
If it feels like the world is a mess and getting worse, that’s because it is. Look with me at v. 14: “But as for you…” Maybe all of that is how the world is. Maybe that’s even how the world has gotten into the church. But if you are someone who confesses Christ as resurrected and Lord and who earnestly pursues living out that confession in your daily life, you’re called to something different. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed.” What you heard that led you to the place of making this confession in the first place, stick with that. Don’t back off from that. Don’t worry about what the immediate consequences of it might be either. Paul already told us that. They’ll be persecution. Now that you know it’s coming, you don’t have to fear it. If the Lord rescued Paul, He’ll rescue you too. Remember the lessons you learned in the beginning. Lean into those, not away from them.
And while that may sound pretty good, where Paul goes next is even more important. He’s going to land here on this thing we’ve been working toward this whole time that can serve as the partner to our prayer and the source of the kind of information input that will help us keep our thinking in check. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from infancy [literal infancy if you were raised in the church, but at the very least spiritual infancy if you’ve come to the faith later in life] you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” If you want an anchor when it feels like things are flying apart around you, there’s your anchor. The Scriptures are an anchor in a world adrift in sin.
“All Scripture,” Paul says, “is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the [person] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” When the world says right is wrong and wrong is right, the Scriptures teach us what is true so that we know which is which. When the world says that whatever you want to do is fine, the Scriptures confront us with truth, boldly pointing out where we are wrong and making us ashamed of it. When the world says the best thing in the world is for you to follow your heart, the Scriptures offer us a course correction with the observation that following our heart will lead us into disaster far more often than not. When the world offers us a million different paths for making ourselves right with God—all of which repeated experience has taught us ultimately fail—the Scriptures train us how to be right with God and right with people: by putting our faith in Christ and obeying His commands. And they do all of this so that we can be fully who God created us to be. The Scriptures are an anchor in a world adrift in sin.
Can we talk for just a minute, though, about how this works. Having a really handy tool is great, but if you don’t know how to use it properly, it’s not going to do you much good. A lot of folks treat and think about the Scriptures as a big book of answers to life’s toughest questions. And, you will indeed find answers in them to a lot of questions. But not nearly all of them. There are moral dilemmas we face today that don’t garner even a passing reference in the Scriptures. And while, yes, you can nonetheless use the principles found within them to find a way forward, if you’re looking to the Scriptures to be an answer book, you’re probably not looking for timeless principles. You’re probably looking for easy one-liners that are quick to digest and won’t take up much of your day to try to understand. You’re looking for what one author called “Bible McNuggets.” The thing about McNuggets like this—whether they come from the Bible or a fast food joint—is that while they may taste good, and can certainly fill you up, they won’t provide the kind of long-term nourishment your body—or spirit in this case—needs to grow healthy and strong.
The Scriptures actually offer us something greater and more compelling than that. In the Scriptures—if you will give them the time they deserve—you will find an entire worldview framework for engaging with and making sense of the world.This isn’t mere tidbits of information, and it isn’t even just timeless principles. It is a way of comprehending the world through a lens that allows you to see form and direction where before you could only see chaos and confusion. The Scriptures are an anchor in a world adrift in sin.
I was reminded of the importance of this recently through, of all things, a He-Man cartoon. Remember He-Man? A few months ago Netflix released a new chapter in his tale that was intended to be a continuation of the 1980s storyline. The plot wound up being far more nuanced and complicated than anything that came out of the 80s version of the show. The character who winds up being the main villain in the new series sets her sights on destroying the world precisely because she doesn’t have this hopeful, purposeful lens to see it that the Scriptures offer. When she looks at the world she sees only meaningless chaos and pain. Because of the circumstances of her life, she can only see the ugliness of the world. She has no lens for comprehending any of its good or beauty, or the hope that dwells richly throughout it.
Now, I don’t suspect that someone who doesn’t have this particular lens is going to suddenly develop the power to wipe out all of existence. But a quick glance around our culture reveals that far too many folks don’t have this worldview lens in place and so only see the meaninglessness and despair that sin sows everywhere it is unleashed. Absent some being independent of the universe who can give purpose and direction to the lives of the creatures living in it, the only meaning we will ever find for our lives is what we can make for ourselves. And that sounds really good until we realize that the weight of meaning is a heavy burden indeed. If we can’t bear it, we will quickly and easily be crushed under its load. We will be cast adrift in a sea of chaos with nothing to pull us in and give our lives stability. Yet the Scriptures are an anchor in a world adrift in sin.
The Scriptures reveal that there is precisely this kind of a God. They introduce us to a God who is good and loving and just and holy. He created the world from out of the overflow of His love, and He designed us uniquely in His image to be in a relationship with Him that leads to His glory and our joy. They reveal that the world is indeed broken by sin, but that sin will not be the final state of the world. We are not like we were intended to be, but neither are we like we will one day be. The grand purpose of our lives is to receive the relationship with Him He designed us to bear through His Son whom He sacrificed in our place and raised from the dead to make such a relationship possible, and to lead others by the application of His love and justice to the brokenness around us to receive such a relationship as well. And in the end, He is going to return and make all things right. When the world’s chaos threatens to wash you away, the Scriptures offer a vision of meaning and direction that will carry you through it. The Scriptures are an anchor in a world adrift in sin. If you are adrift, turn to them—perhaps return to them—and with the help of God’s Spirit, they will give you an anchor to hold you fast in God’s grace.