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Read the Manual

Read 2 Timothy 3:1-8, 14-17 to start.

I have bad news for everyone today. Things, and this may come as a surprise, things are not perfect. This year has not gone entirely according to plan, and it’s not over yet, we have two months and change to go. We have a Saturday night full moon Halloween ahead of us that also falls on the night daylight savings time ends, so it’s the longest night of the year, so that’s sure to be something special. But in general, things have been rather rough for a lot of people. It’s been a challenging year. Frankly, many people have found the last number of years to have more obstacles and roadblocks and setbacks than would seem fair and reasonable. This year, however, seems to have set new heights, or perhaps lows, for trouble and difficulty. There is no question in my mind that these are perilous times.

Are these the last days? I can’t say definitively, of course, eschatology is not my area of expertise, and there are many who are have made claims of the end times being imminent over the years, and well, they haven’t happened as of yet. But looking at the list Paul provides here that describes the last days, we’re able to check items off without difficulty.

Look at verse two, men shall be lovers of their own selves, basically selfish and self-absorbed, check. Covetous? Check. Boasters? Check. Run down that list, through verse 3, verse 4, it’s one box ticked off after the next. We don’t have to look far to find people who blaspheme constantly, or are unthankful, or who bring false accusations, just the other day there was a woman, a white woman, specifically, in New York charged with a crime, filing a false report with police, because she called 911 after a black man complained to her that her dog wasn’t on a leash. Every single item there we see ample evidence of that’s how people behave. I don’t think we need to analyze every single one, but for sake of clarity, I’ll mention that incontinent means, the Greek word means having a lack of self-control. So, yeah, we can put a big old checkmark there. And heady, that means rash or headstrong, so again, that’s a yes.

There are three key items on that list I would like to touch on, first is despisers of those who are good. The word despise is used today often to mean hate, but the original definition is to think little of. It’s not a stretch at all to say that either, and both, can be applied today. People are vehemently critical of those who oppose evil and do good, or at least they are the moment those who do good say or do anything that casts so much as a hint of doubt about the propriety of the wicked behaviour that so permeates our society today. People both despise and detest those who are good, almost to the point of absurdity.

The next one, in verse 4, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, well, we live in a society that is a lot more about having a good time and feeling good than it is about serving your creator. Or even acknowledging your creator. Or that there is a creator. People certainly love their pleasure, and want as much of that as can be possibly obtained.

And finally, and this one might hit closest to home, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. All the rest are obviously bad and problematic behaviours, no one is cool with people being traitors, or fierce and aggressive, or disobedient, but sometimes the problem is a lot more subtle. Having a form of godliness sounds like a good thing. If I have a choice to spend time with people who are rude, rash, and offensive, or those with a form of godliness, those who appear to be outwardly well-behaved, church-going, morally upright types, well, it’s not going to be hard to guess which one is going to be more pleasant to be around. But those who have that form of godliness, but who deny the power of God, they are perhaps the most dangerous of all. They do not appear to be opposed to God, but in reality, they may well be Christians in name only, perhaps only going along for the ride because it is convenient to do so, or because that is how they were brought up, or because their family and friends expect them to act a certain way, but inside it means little or nothing to them.

There are so many today who call themselves Christians, who may believe that Christ died for their sins, but who do not live accordingly, who act a little better than the world at large, but whose lives are not in any way transformed by the power of God. There are many who may say “Lord, Lord,” but do not know Him, and who do not do His will. There are many who deny the power of God, not publically and openly, and who would certainly say that they believe in God, but by their words and deeds they clearly do not, and they may not even realize it themselves.  It is from such as those specifically that Paul advises Timothy to turn away.

Looking at this long list of across these four verses, we see all of these attributes and behaviours clearly evidenced in the world around us today. They are highly indicative of a world gone off the rails, and soon, perhaps very soon, a world to be judged and found wanting.

How are we to live in such a world as this, with peril and perversity on every side, and not be corrupted by the wickedness on every hand? How do we avoid the pitfalls of these perilous times? The same way that we can avoid any number of problems, both large and small, and that is by reading the manual.

Many products you buy or use regularly have a manual. Some manuals are better than others, and some are certainly more complex than others, but in general, a manual, a user guide, an instruction sheet, or a reference sheet of some sort is a useful, often an essential resource when using a new or unfamiliar item. Sometimes convenient, sometimes indispensible, there’s almost always a manual available if something is more complex than an article of clothing or a Phillips screwdriver.

Case in point, at my house we have a few pieces of Ikea furniture. Nothing super large or wildly complex, there’s a cabinet, a shelf, a couple of small tables, one of the children’s beds, stuff like that. Flat pack furniture in general may not consist of all that many pieces, and it may not look like all that much or be particularly difficult to assemble. But have you tried to do that without the manual?

Last month we went to Nova Scotia and picked up from Ikea, among a few other things, a side table for our front room. Technically I think it may be a nightstand, but it works nicely where we’ve put it. The day after we got back, one of the kids decided that it would be a helpful thing to start putting this table together. He got part of the way through and then got sidetracked and came nowhere close to finishing it. And so we discovered the partially assembled table all over the floor of the front room, with what appeared to be at least one piece missing. You see, when he had started, he did not bother with the first page of the manual that lists all the parts and components so you can be sure that all the bits are present before you start. That had not been done, and we were short something. This was a problem.

Ultimately, Laura put the table together, and found the missing piece, it had been misplaced and was therefore unaccounted for. To do so, she of course used the manual, and you know what, the thing went together nicely, just as the designer had intended. The parts fit correctly and securely when assembled as per the instructions. When you consult the guide, when you read the manual, and follow it, things work much better.

Simply having access to the manual is important, but it’s not enough. Sometimes people are unwilling to read, unwilling to listen, unwilling to learn. They may think that they know better, and they may be resistant to the truth, as we see at verse 8. Jannes and Jambres, those were Pharaoh’s magicians, we could read about them in the book of Exodus, how they stood with Pharaoh against Moses, how they replicated in part the first few signs and plagues that happened in Egypt. Although they were powerless to do anything to stop the plagues, we don’t hear them giving Pharaoh any advice that he should let the Hebrews go. They had little or nothing to offer in the face of divine power, but still they resisted the truth, their minds and deeds corrupted by their own agenda.

In a world gone mad, a world that accumulates knowledge but is resistant to the truth, those who will steer you away from the Lord are myriad, and they will undermine and distract you. It’s not even that people are out to get you specifically, although certainly some are, there are some who have hostile intent toward any and all who follow Christ, but there are so many who would never consider themselves as being wicked or anti-god, but who still will draw you away from God, because it’s their nature. Even with no willing or conscious evil intent, those who do not follow the truth cannot lead you toward the truth. They can only lead you away.

Having the truth at hand is needful, but using it and applying it is likewise every bit as important. Look at those last verses which we read, from verse 14, where Paul advises Timothy to continue in the things he has learned, and been assured of. Let me read those verses again, 14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Pausing there for a moment, because the next verses are ever so familiar, and I don’t want to miss the details found in these two. There are so many vital things to take note of here. First, Timothy had learned the scriptures from his childhood, and looking at the children here this morning, well, learning the Bible is a lot like planting a tree. When’s the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago. The second best time is today. None of us can go back in time and memorize the scriptures, but we can do it now. And then in the future, we’ll know it. I know hundreds of Bible verses that I learned between Sunday school and Awana and being encouraged to memorize by my mom, and even if I’ve forgotten some, there are many that I’ve retained. But I don’t learn and memorize so well as I did when I was younger. Kids, you have a lot of future ahead of you. Learn God’s word now, it will serve you well in the years to come.

Paul tells Timothy to continue in what he has learned, and that is necessary, that is vital, because if you learn something, and then do not continue in it, you will forget it. And it will benefit you nothing. The expression is that learning something is like riding a bike, you don’t forget how to do it, but if you go years without riding a bike, you won’t be all that good at it. And riding a bike is a pretty easy skill. One of my kids learned how to do that without training wheels before he turned five. Something more challenging needs practice, needs continuance, or it won’t really sink in, won’t really last.

There is the issue of assurance, of trusting what you have learned, which is essential, because if you don’t trust what you have learned, you will not rely on it, and it serves you little. And there is last but certainly not least the purpose and intent of learning the scriptures, which we find at verse 15 – which are able to make thee wise unto salvation. It’s not only about knowledge, about knowing, it’s about the wisdom to apply it, to use it as a building block of faith, and where that faith is placed, which the verse clearly tells us is in Christ Jesus. Faith in any other is faith in vain.

There is learning, and that from the earliest opportunity, there is continuation and assurance, and there is wisdom leading to faith and salvation, all this stems from opening the Word of God and using it. Which brings us to the next verse, likely the best known verse in the book of 2 Timothy, and the single best verse to consider in all of scripture if you want to encapsulate the purpose of the Bible. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

You could preach an entire sermon on this one verse, I’ve heard more than one or two, and while I’ve never preached a sermon specifically on 2 Tim 3:16, certainly I’ve referenced it many times. While we’re not going to do a deep analysis of the verse, there is an important takeaway. Some people look at the Bible as interesting, or as some sort of historical document, or as literature, but it goes far past that, as this verse tells us. The Bible is the Word of God, and rather than being merely another book, it is a divinely inspired guide. It is the manual, for this world, for this life, and for the life to come.

When you treat scripture as being instructional, as being the authority for life, when you follow and obey what it teaches, it will transform you. It will prepare you to serve God, the next verse says throughly furnished, which means to be fully equipped. The Bible will do that, if you let it.

But if you don’t do that, if you ignore the scriptures entirely, or if you rather look at the Bible as being interesting but not particularly relevant, or as not powerful and applicable to your life, then you will not be changed by it. You will instead be far more under the influence of the world around you, with all its degradation and folly. And that is particularly sad and tragic, because we all have the Word of God readily available to us. Having a manual, and not using it effectively, is no better than not having one at all.

Here’s an example of that in real life. At my work, we make marine computers, displays, and remotely operated vehicles. And yes, we provide product manuals for all of them. This year, however, we started making something different. During the early, dark days of Covid, we started making face shields for donation for healthcare providers. Some folks here actually supplied some elastic, which was hard to get for a couple of months this spring. The face shields aren’t all that complex, apart from the elastic, there is the brim, the part that sits against the user’s forehead, which is 3D printed, a piece of neoprene foam to make it more comfortable, and there is the actual shield, which is cut from a piece of clear plastic, and then fits on the brim to cover the wearer’s face. PETG is the specific type of plastic we use, I won’t try to pronounce the full technical name, polyethylene tere-something-or-other glycol, the common brand name is Vivak. Here’s a sample of a leftover piece (hold it up). It comes with a thin sheet of plastic film on either side to protect it from scratches. This piece had already had the protective coating removed, so I put some back on in a similar blue material we have at work. Peel that off, and it’s completely clear.

When we provide face shields to people, we typically pack up them in packs of six, which includes the brims with elastic attached, shields, some spare foam pieces, and an instruction sheet. This is a simple thing, I think it’s two or three pages long, with nice colour pictures that show and tell you how to put the shield on the brim, how to adjust the fit, and how to change the foam if that wears out, that sort of thing. It also mentions to remove the protective plastic film before using.

A month or two ago, after we had sent someone a batch of face shields, there was an email back with a concern. They couldn’t see through the shields well enough for them to be useful. When that was forwarded along to me, I sent back the message to make sure that the protective film had been removed, because that isn’t clear. And guess what, they hadn’t removed the film. Once that was done, suddenly the shields were much easier to see through. Problem solved.

Of course, had they only read the provided instruction sheet, and done so thoroughly and completely, and applied what it said, any confusion and questions and concern would have been avoided. The needed information was already right there, but it had been ignored. To use the product properly, they should have read the manual.

So many of the problems and pitfalls of this life can be minimized and avoided by only looking to God’s Word and following it. As 2 Tim 3:16 says, it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. It will guide you in the way you should go.

Another well known and entirely applicable passage can be found in Psalm 119. The entire Psalm is relevant, but I’ll read just one of the eight verse sections, the second one specifically, starting at verse 9.

9 BETH. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. 12 Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes. 13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. 16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

These well known verses provide some key considerations of the power of God’s word. How is a young man, or a young woman, or for that matter, a middle aged or an older person, or even a child, to cleanse his or her way? By paying attention to the Bible, and by following it. By reading and applying the manual.

Certainly we all need to work to cleanse our way, because the world is going to dirty it up. The behaviour we see around us, which so closely matches the list we saw to start from 2 Timothy, it is sinful, it is wicked, and is wrong. A world filled with people who live in all manner of selfishness, self-service, rebellion and perversion will corrupt, contaminate, and destroy.

Things have not improved since the Psalmist wrote those words 3000 years ago, if he was concerned with a need to cleanse his way, we should take notice. Likewise, in the next verse we see how he was concerned that he might wander from God’s commandments, this is no less a concern for you and me. And in the verse to follow, we read what might be the best known verse in this Psalm, thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.

There’s a reason why you should read your Bible every single day. Actually, there are many reasons, but the power of God’s word and God’s truth to keep us from sin, and to keep us from believing in the falsehoods that this world is filled with, is essential. Committing it to memory, so that you have it top of mind as you go through life, that will equip and prepare you for whatever obstacles you find in your way. And believe me, there will be obstacles.

Young people, you have no idea of what’s in front of you. You hear us adults tell you that life is filled with challenges, and maybe we can tell you what some of them are, but there are more and different than any of us can anticipate. There is no way to specifically prepare for all that you will face, no way other than being well-versed in God’s Word, and being willing to follow it. That is no guarantee that things will be easy, or that things will be fun, or that things will be comfortable, likely they won’t be, or even that things will be safe, but when you walk with God, in the way He has set forth, then He walks with you.

There is no other manual for this life, not apart from God’s word. There are many books and guides that will teach you a thing or two, and many of them have some usefulness, but the Bible is the only one that was given of God to instruct us in righteousness. It is the only one that runs across all walks of life, all social classes, all cultures and civilizations, all time past, present, and future. It needs no update or revision. Read it, learn it, and use it. Do so, and it will go well for you.

Ignore it, dismiss it, or forget it at your peril. Because this life, you only get it once, you don’t get to start over if aren’t satisfied with the results. There is no option to go back to the store and get another. We see all around us people who are hurting, people who have not looked to God for help and direction, people who do not realize, do not accept, or do not trust that God has a path and a plan. Every day we see tragedy when people fail to heed God’s word. You need not choose that for yourself. God has given you the manual. Don’t set it aside.