October 20, 2013 –– Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Timothy 3:14–4:2
The Measure Of True Christian Faith
How do we know what it really means to be a Christian? Who are we to trust and follow? Is the smooth-talking “good-life” preacher on TV telling the truth? Do all religious paths take us to a god who, in the end, accepts any and everything? What is the measure of true Christian Faith? This is the focus of Paul’s letter to his young son-in-the-faith Timothy. And now, almost 2000 years later, this question is just as important. What is the measure of true Christian Faith? The Epistle today emphasizes Scripture.
I have been blessed to be part of a heritage that believes the Scriptures to be everything as described in this passage. And yet, the Bible by itself is no guarantee of Christian truth. Christian history is full of people who choose their own “interpretation” of Scripture and become false teachers. Even as Paul gives this special exaltation of the Scriptures, he commends them to Timothy in the context of a believing community that lives the Faith. This is to say there is no Scripture apart from the Church, and no Church apart from Scripture. It is a mystery and a paradox similar to the Incarnation.
Scripture was written by human beings, but it was inspired―God-breathed―by the Holy Spirit. The Bible was written by many authors and yet by one Author. It is a paradox. Because Scripture is the Word of God it is always read in corporate worship. This is a practice that goes back through Church history and into the Old Testament. When we hear Scripture, we are hearing the voice of God. It is not the person doing the reading that is the focus; in the Liturgy of the Word the reader becomes the physical voice of God.
The Epistle reading begins with the context of understanding: remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it... (3:14). This is the importance of the faith community––the corporate nature of the Church. This is where Paul finds wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (3:15).
Then Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.... (3:16). This means that what we believe is based on Scripture––what God has said. This is the standard for our teaching. This means that when something is wrong in our lives, we should not be surprised that Scripture uncovers it and convicts us; it has an authority to rebuke errant belief and behavior. If Scripture and sermons sometime seem “negative” perhaps it is an indication that something in our life is more important to us than being holy. Faith responds to rebuke with repentance―a “turning around.” When Scripture points to something in us that needs changing, we are to obey; this is the “correction” that the Lord does in his people. This is training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work (3:17).
Early in my Christian commitment I wrote this quote on the fly-leaf of my Bible: Either this Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book. It is a devilish temptation to believe there is no use to read the Scriptures when we do not enjoy them. It's like thinking there is no use to pray when we do not feel like it. The truth is, in order to enjoy Scripture we need to continue to read it, just as the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read Scripture the less we desire to read it (and the less we pray the less we desire to pray). Each time the Scriptures are read and proclaimed a window is being opened to the light of heaven. In our world of sensational videos and flashy sound-bites, we need to slow down and listen to the Word of God.
In our complex world, what is the measure of true Christian Faith? Paul told Timothy: remain faithful to what you have learned and believed. When we hear the Scriptures week after week in the community of the Church, we can have confidence that we are being given wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.