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Stupid Arguments

Date: Aug. 6, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Timothy 2:14-26

Key Verse: 2 Timothy 2-15

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

When was the last argument that you had with someone? What was it about? Was it about money? Or family? Or was it about politics? That’s a popular one these days. We all have our own opinions and many times those opinions are in conflict with other people’s opinions, and it is very easy for those disagreements to become arguments. Sometimes those arguments are just plain silly when we think about it. Here are some arguments that just suck our time. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Related to that one: do you put ketchup on a hot dog? If fruit could fight, which fruit would win? Is it soda or pop?  Star Trek or Star Wars? Cubs vs. Sox? Android vs. iOS? New York style pizza or Chicago deep dish? How about toilet paper: over or under? Or the quintessential argument from a couple of years ago: is the dress blue and black or white and gold? There are so many stupid arguments out there, and we Christians can easily get caught up in some of the dumbest of arguments. Fortunately, we were not saved to be stuck in stupid arguments, and Paul directs Timothy in this passage to have nothing to do with stupid arguments. They only cause ruin. Let us learn from Paul and stay away from those dumb disagreements.

This is our third week in the Paul’s second letter to Timothy. In the first week, we learned to fan into flame the gift of God. We learned that we didn’t have to be timid in our lives, but we need power, love and self-discipline because that is what the Spirit gives us. Last week, we heard that we should be strong in the grace. Life is full of struggles and in order to persevere in life, we should hold on to the gospel like Paul did. God is faithful. When we hold on to him, we will not be snatched out of his hands. This, again, helps us to live in power, love and self-discipline. This week, the thought process continues, “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.” (14) Paul urges Timothy to keep reminding God’s people of these things. “These things” refers to the persevering through strength from grace. It is important to have our strength come from the grace that is from Christ Jesus. This strength is mixed with the power, love and self-discipline as noted in the first chapter. It is not brute force strength that can vanquish all enemies, it is a strength to endure. A tall building has a lot of strength. There is a lot of potential energy that can cause devastation if the building were to fall. People would die and the damage to surrounding buildings would be catastrophic. The building uses it strength, however, to stay up amidst all the wind, rain, snow and lightning. Our strength doesn’t exist to bulldoze our enemies, but our strength exists to fight ourselves and not succumb to our own natures. This is something that I think that a number of Christians forget. We hear terms like being in a war and being soldiers, but our enemy is not flesh and blood, but the devil and he attacks us. Our fight is not with others, but with the very nature within us that Satan is trying to use to pull us away from God.

That is why there is the second part of verse 14, “Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.” As people, we may get caught up with certain words and start arguing about it. My kids have some of my anal-retentiveness and many times they get caught up in using specific words. Last night, we wanted Ella to take a Claritin, but I forgot what flavor we had. I said orange, but Ella started getting upset about orange, like it was the worst thing ever. She said bubble gum flavored and we went to look and it was bubble gum.  It’s like the soda or pop argument or if the image format “g-i-f” is scalled a “gif” with a hard “g” or a “jif” with a soft “g”. In 1998, President Clinton famously declared while he was under investigation, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Even something as simple as the word “is” can be argued about. As Christians, we have many arguments over words. Look at the matter of baptism. Jesus said to baptize, but there are different thoughts on what he meant. Is it a full immersion or just a sprinkling? There have been divisions in the church because of this, with each side having support from the Bible. Which way is the right way? From an outside standpoint, it is a confusing argument and a silly one. It is an argument that can keep people away from becoming Christians. In all honesty, the Bible might be ambiguous about it because the method really doesn’t matter. The argument has no value.

Instead, we should aim to live in accordance to verse 15. It reads, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” This is one of those popular verses that people like to hold on to. As Christians, ones who have been saved by the blood of Jesus and accepted that salvation, we have to live like we have been saved. We have to do our best to present ourselves to God as someone who is approved. God has saved us and called us to do his will. God has approved of us serving him and we should act like it. Acting like we are approved is shown in the second part of the verse: “a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” We heard a few weeks ago that we shouldn’t be timid and ashamed of the gospel. As followers of Christ, we have no need to be ashamed. Christ died for our sins. He takes our sin away. He takes our condemnation away. Our sin and shame are gone and we need to live like it is gone.

The verse also says that we should correctly handle the word of truth. This means that we should correctly handle God’s word. There are a lot of people out there that like to twist God’s word to suit their own agenda. It was such a worry that the Catholic church greatly discouraged people from reading the Bible. They were afraid of people misinterpreting the Bible. This became a serious issue when the printing press was invented and the Bible could be mass printed and people could have them in their homes. The Catholic fear, at the time, was also driven by the desire to control the people. It was a corrupt time in the church. Fortunately, you do not need to be specially trained to correctly handle the word of truth. We need to be approved by God. He doesn’t care about our credentials or degrees. He cares about our heart and desire to please him. It is God who gives understanding. Correctly handling the word of truth does not mean that you can pass a theology exam, but it means using God’s word in the right way. The Bible talks about blessing, but there are people that just want to focus on the blessing and they say things like, “If we follow God, then we can be rich and have everything that we want.” Now, if God wants to bless you like that, he can. It is not my place to say that it definitely won’t happen, but to focus only on the blessing neglects other parts of God’s word. In this letter alone, Paul calls for the readers to join in his suffering. Suffering is a part of life. When we live a life in Christ, we don’t live on easy street, there is suffering. Paul, the author of this letter, is, in many ways, considered to be the greatest Christian to live, but he didn’t have an easy life. In fact, when he wrote the letter, he was chained up and in prison. People who pick and choose which parts of the Bible to follow do not correctly handle the word of truth.

Correctly handling the word of truth means that we use the whole Bible for God’s purpose and not our own. When we present ourselves to God as one approved, we stand before God and give an account of how we are using his word. Is it in a way that God would approve of? Do we use it in a way that is in accordance with his nature or is it for our own gain? Does it make us look smarter? At the time of the letter, Timothy had some people who were causing issues with how they handled the word of truth. Paul writes, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.” (16-18) Paul calls their teaching ungodly. Their teaching was that the resurrection had already taken place. They believed that the resurrection was a spiritual one, not a physical one. They held that by believing in Jesus, they would be reborn spiritually and that they were living in the resurrection now.

This isn’t the first time that Paul heard this argument and it is greatly flawed. Paul wrote in another book, “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-17) In 2 Timothy, Paul said that those teaching that the resurrection had already taken place destroy the faith of some. Here we can see, that the faith is destroyed because without resurrection, not even Jesus would be raised. Without Jesus’ resurrection, we are not completely saved from our sins and that is enough to destroy our faith.

Fortunately, for those who have heard the false teaching, Paul reminds the people of God’s firm hand. “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’” (19) With all the false theology around, it is important to know that God’s foundation is firm. No matter what people say about the gospel, the gospel does not change. If people negate it or twist it for their own purposes, the gospel does not lose power and God knows already those who are his. When we decide to follow Jesus, and be called as his, we have to leave wickedness behind us and focus on God.

Paul gives an example through utensils and dishes. “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (20-21) So, in houses there is the good dishes and the everyday dishes. We like to use paper plates for our everyday meals. It makes clean up easy, but if there are guests, then we will switch to the real plates. In life, it is the same. There are special things that we do and we get ourselves ready for the special things. When there is an interview or a wedding, we don’t wear our sweatpants and a t-shirt. We dress up for the occasion. In a life of faith, it is very similar. We can be used for God’s great purpose or just sit in the audience. If we want to be used for a great purpose, we have to cleanse ourselves of the common stuff. We have to be made holy, which means leaving the common things behind. In order for us to be set apart for God’s purpose, we have to purified of the things that are not like God. It reminds me of what we heard last week. “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:5) We leave the civilian affairs behind and focus on the on the tasks that we need to complete.

Paul shows us what this means, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (22-24) To be made pure and made holy, we have to flee from the evil desires of our youth. I don’t know if you have noticed but younger people are more inclined to argue. Younger people are more likely to get caught up in a war of words. In our youth, we all have a tendency to get caught up in our pride and think that we know everything. We ridicule our elders for being ignorant and we always have the golden answers. My own kids think that they are smarter than me. They are six and nearly four, but they think that they are so much wiser in the world that they have seen so little of. Instead, we have to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. We need to have a pure heart when seeking the Lord. Evil desires of youth are concerned with pride. It becomes about making ourselves look good, but following God is not about our own position. It is about bringing people to Jesus. Our heart should be purely about serving God, not serving ourselves.

To this Paul writes that we should have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because they produce quarrels. When I hear about these foolish and stupid arguments, I am reminded of the religious leaders during Jesus’ time. They were so focused on trying to trap Jesus that they brought these stupid arguments to Jesus to try to trap him. One of those traps when like this: There was a family with seven brothers. A woman married one, but before they could have children, the brother died. In order to give the dead brother children, the woman married another brother, but that brother died too and she went down the line until all seven brothers are dead and there are no children. At the resurrection, the argument goes, whose wife will the woman be? Jesus doesn’t fall for the trap and tells those religious leaders that they don’t know anything about the resurrection. She wouldn’t be anyone’s wife because in God’s kingdom, there is no marriage any more. It was a stupid argument. There are many people out there that want to discredit Christianity by showing how preposterous it is. God is all powerful, so could he make something so heavy that even he couldn’t lift it? It is a lose-lose argument that is intended to show that God is not all powerful. It is a contrived scenario that serves no purpose but to make the person asking the question to look smart.

As Paul mentioned, holding on to such arguments will produce quarrels and no one benefits from quarrels. I am reminded of our current political landscape. Healthcare reform is a hot topic. I don’t know what your feelings about Obamacare are, but it is not a perfect plan. There is a lot of room for improvement and change is needed. Unfortunately, there are those in power that are so vehemently opposed to Obamacare because President Obama pushed it through without any Republican support that they just want it gone. There have been healthcare plans proposed by Congress, but their motivation is not to improve healthcare, it is to remove Obamacare. Like I said, I am not here to choose sides on this, but when the motivation is off, no one benefits. The failed proposals would have caused millions of people to lose their health insurance. People would have lost access to healthcare because of a stupid argument. Politicians should be more concerned with their constituents and less concerned with political points. It is easy to bash on politicians, but we Christians need to be held in even higher regard, but we are no better. I found a website that had real-life stupid arguments in the church. Here are a few. There was a 45-minute argument about what type of file cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3 or 4 drawers. There were arguments during business meetings about whether to purchase a weed whacker. It took two meetings to resolve. Should deviled eggs be served. Some people didn’t like the term “potluck” and an argument ensued. People left one church because the blend of coffee changed. These are silly arguments that benefit no one.

As the Bible says, we shouldn’t be quarrelsome. We must be kind, able to teach and not resentful. When we argue amongst ourselves, we look petty, broken and just not pleasant to be around. It is not a good look and it can actually drive people away from becoming Christians. There is a comic of Gandhi walking with Jesus and Gandhi is telling Jesus that he would have become a Christian except for the other Christians. We can be some of the most irrational, petty people on the planet. If we can’t find a way to accept each other, then why would anyone want to be a part of us? Now, we have differences. We will always have differences, but those differences should not lead us to fight with each other. There are things that are core beliefs that we should hold firmly to, like the gospel message. Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven and currently sits at the right hand of God. He will come back one day on clouds with power. Those are things that we cannot dispute. But there are so many other things that are merely preference, like baptism methods, communion methods, choice of clothing, order of the worship service, style of music or even how a sermon is delivered. Those aren’t things to get worked up over and into a fight. We are better than that.

Paul also shows how to handle those who have wandered away from the truth or don’t know the truth. “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (25-26) People who oppose the truth of God should not be lambasted into submission. They need to be gently instructed. I don’t think that there has been a single person who has convinced that they need to follow Jesus because they were argued into submission. People tend to dig in to their beliefs when pushed. They become irrationally opposed to anything that goes against their own ideas and thoughts. Paul, himself, showed us this when he first became a Christian. He had a brilliant mind and could prove from Scripture that Jesus was the Christ, but he got into arguments with other people. He pushed so hard that he would get into fights with people about it. He had to be sent away for many years because he was having a detrimental effect on the church. It didn’t help anything. All of Paul’s brilliance was lost on those he was arguing with. Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) We shouldn’t indulge those who have no intent to come to Christ, we will only get torn to pieces. And, again, we are of no benefit to Christ.

All these stupid arguments only serve one purpose, to drive us further and further away from God. We are in a fight with Satan, but it is not against another group. We are in a fight against ourselves. Satan does not want for us to worship him, he merely does not want for us to worship God and he will do anything to distract us. Our passage starts out with Paul telling Timothy to remind God’s people of these things. We have to remember whom we serve. We do not serve ourselves or our pride, we serve God. We have to die to ourselves and our natural desires and live to serve God. We have comfort in knowing that we are approved by God because of the salvation that he brings through Jesus, but it means that we have to correctly handle his word as the word of truth. We are to live holy, set apart, set above this world. We do not need to devolve into the ways of the world. We don’t need to get sucked into things that serve no purpose. When we divide, we lead people away from God. We have differences and that can be something that strengthens us. We are not called to be robots of the assembly line. Our differences make us a composite material that is stronger together than it is in its separate constituents. We are like reinforced concrete or carbon fiber reinforced plastic. What unites us is stronger than anything this world has ever seen. The gospel brings us closer. We can have power, love and self-discipline. We can be strong in the grace. We can correctly handle the word of truth. We can overcome the pull of Satan. The resurrected one is resurrecting us, making us holy and pure, let just avoid those stupid arguments.

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Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
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