Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1332
Dr. Ed Pettus January 7, 2018 2 Timothy 3.1-17
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
"Stay the Course"
Staying on Course – Into the Wind
I’ve only been on a sailboat once when I was 10-11 years old, and all that I really remember about it was the quiet. I did not know anything about how to sail, I was just along for the ride. I have since learned a lot more about sailing and one thing in particular, you cannot sail into the wind. Sails need a cross wind or a direct wind to propel the boat. The sailing term is tacking, going one direction and then another to catch the wind in order to sail the boat. If you have ever watched sailing races like the America’s Cup, you’ve seen the strategy of tacking. It is not a direct line from A to B, but it is what one theologian called “seriatim” or sailing into the wind. Seriatim is a Latin word that means “one after another” or “in a series”. The sailor tacks in a series of movements at about ninety degree angles to propel the boat on a course. It is not a direct line but a zigzag type motion that keeps the boat stayed on course.
This same theologian says that life is sailing into the wind.1 Life is filled with tacking, back and forth, sometimes life is easy, sometimes hard, sometimes painful, other times pleasurable. We also tack our way to God, sometimes praising, sometimes grumbling – sometimes thankful, sometimes thankless. We live seriatim, tacking back and forth through the acts of life and directions and paths of life. We tack through Scripture readjusting our course to keep our way straight toward God.
What I have come to appreciate about this view of life is that it gives us some room to find our way. It offers options along the course of faithful living, perhaps we can think of it as exercising our free will, by God’s grace, on the stormy seas of life. That’s what we are exploring today in our text from 2 Timothy.
Stay the Course in a Dark World 3.1-5
The sea in which we tack is our darkened world. It’s a world presented in 2 Timothy 3.2-5,
2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
No doubt we can say that these are the characteristics of our time. But we might look back to every generation and find similar reasons to see the same or similar darkness, even as Paul was writing this to Timothy he could have claimed his generation fit the bill. I remember one of the later years of the Andy Griffith show when it was in color and the high school students wanted to do a musical play with their current “rock-n-roll” program. Of course the old guy principal disapproved because their generation of music was so scandalous and bad. So the students presented a second possible show to the principal that included music and dance from his youth. As they came out dancing the Charleston he began to recognize that his generation had similar youthful exuberance that his parents disapproved of as well. Every generation has its cutting edge and problems.
No matter when we might think the last days are really the last days, our days are also filled with darkness, the darkness of lovers of self, lovers of money, arrogance, disobedience, unholiness. We see it in the news, in entertainment, in politics, in all walks of life. But this is where we live! We live in a culture filled with these kinds of attitudes. I was talking with someone in the judicial system some time ago about how much more disrespect and disobedience of children to their parents “these days”. Just one sign of the times in which we live.
I read the word “abusive” in this list and I think of all the abuse in families, whether it is to a child or to a spouse and it is sad that so much energy and resources are having to be given to this kind of sin. It is horrible but it is the time in which we live. Then there are the lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. It’s perhaps at the core of our gender confused society and sexually disordered culture that people are in love with their own pleasure rather than God. But we must also recognize that many of us are also lovers of other kinds of pleasures rather than with God. Granted, we may not be seeking to live in that pleasure as a way of life, but it is a way we might be lured away from our love of God. We could go through this whole list and find its expression somewhere in the world, somewhere in our society and culture. It is not the complete story of our surroundings, but it is a major part. It is certainly prominent even celebrated in the world. This is the context in which we are called to proclaim the love of God to the world and our love for God because of what Jesus Christ has done. In this context we must tack our way around all these obstacles to stay on the course God has set out.
Stay the Course for Folly Will Be Exposed 3.6-9
That list is described as folly in verse 9 after Paul gives two examples of those who deceive women and those who opposed Moses. We hope that more folly in the world could be exposed. It is exposed when people met God. It is exposed when people come to Jesus. It is exposed in light of God’s word. It is exposed when the people of God proclaim the truth. Sometimes when bad things happen or bad people get away with some injustice, we take comfort in thinking or saying that they will get theirs “in the end”. That is, we hope justice will prevail someday. Sometimes justice does prevail in a more timely manner to our liking, but far too often we are disappointed when injustice prevails.
The Scripture calls us to stay the course, for one day, and the promise is sure, one day all this folly around us will be exposed. Take for example the current folly of gender and sexual confusion and the attempt to teach an alternative to God’s word about male and female, both in creation and in intention for relationships. The world teaches that accommodates lies and falsehoods that further confuse those who do not know the truth of God’s word and created order. The dangers of same sex marriage and gender self identification among many things, is that it denies God’s truth. That is precisely why it is folly.
There are many more examples among us. The political folly will someday be exposed. Corruption will be brought to light. Deceit will be uncovered. Those things people and we ourselves think we can hide away will be exposed. We may not like that to happen about ourselves; it’s easy to point the finger at other people’s folly. But, our hope is for justice. We stay the course because we know that God will bring justice. We confess our sins daily because we desire to live without such folly in our lives. So we stay the course according to God’s ways, with God’s help.
Stay the Course by Following Jesus 3.10-13
Paul presents himself as an example of following Jesus Christ. Seeing Paul encouraged Timothy to continue following Jesus. I used to read this as if Paul was exhorting following himself, but verse 12 leads me to believe that Paul is certainly not asking Timothy to follow him, but to follow his example of following Jesus. When I read “you have followed my teaching, my conduct...”, I see it as keeping up with Paul’s teaching and his conduct. It’s like keeping up with a sports team or player. We follow them by observing their accomplishments and stats. Timothy has followed Paul’s example in order to better live a godly life in Jesus Christ. This is what we are all called to do in order to tack our way into the wind. The course is laid out for us and it is a course that follows Jesus, that leads to Jesus, that stays focused on Jesus. He is our only hope and He is the hope for the world. He is the hope for those living in the folly of the world.
We learn and train ourselves to follow Jesus by keeping His commands as we find them in the Scriptures. As John 15 reveals, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (15.10-11). We stay the course by keeping His commandments which keep us in His love and joy!
Stay the Course - Given in the Sacred Writings 3.14-17
Paul speaks of the sacred writings and inspired scripture. This is our course, following the Word of God. There is great blessing in such obedience.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
The way we stay the course is to stay in the Word. It is such a blessing to us to have this Word at our fingertips, but to stay the course we need it in our hearts. One of the purposes of the Word is to keep us on course by correcting our course when we go off course.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The Word equips us to do good works and to do the work of staying the course. The Word is here for us to teach and discipline and correct and train us for proper sailing into the wind.
When I started thinking about preaching for the year of 2018, this was one of my first thoughts - to stay the course. Some days it is enough and it is even a huge accomplishment to stay the course. There are times when the course gets rough and the way seems impossible, but we can stay the course because God is with us and His Word guides us. There may come opposition to the faith and disrespect for who we are as Christians, but we can stay the course. There may be outside sources that threaten our trust in God or there may be inner struggles there test our way. Staying the course requires constant tacking of our way to and with God. We tack, seriatim, in a series of moves to catch the wind of God and stay the course.