Edification, Encouragement, and Education: Part 2

Scriptures: 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Psalm 119:33-36

Today we begin part two of our sermon on “Edification, Encouragement, and Education,” which is the second part of the sermon series I’m doing on “Being the Church.” Last week, just to remind you, we looked at encouragement, and what it means, Biblically, to encourage someone, and how that fits into edification, which is a broader category that helps us to understand how to lift each other up and build one another up in the body of Christ. I mentioned education, but I didn’t go into it.

Education is something that we talk a lot about, but we don’t necessarily follow through on. How important is education? Several Hebrew words are translated “teach” in English translations of the Old Testament. Two, however, predominate: yara, which means “to point out,” and lamad, which means “to goad.”

In the New Testament, the Greek words more frequently used are didasko, which means literally “to teach,” katecheo, which means “to instruct systematically,” matheteuo, which means “to train disciples,” and noutheteo, which means “to correct, or counsel.”

The variety and extent of this biblical vocabulary make it clear that teaching is at the heart of God’s plan for redemptive history. God as the ultimate Teacher has mandated in Scripture that teaching occur in two primary contexts, both of which arise from His creative and redemptive Acts. God delegates teaching to the family, and then to the redeemed community.

Both institutions explain his gracious initiative in redemption and urge a loving, obedient response. God’s gracious initiative places his people in covenant relationship with Him, in which parents teach their children, or those that they mentor, and spiritually gifted leaders of the people of God teach its members.

Proverbs repeatedly enjoins the education of children, with particular stress on sons obeying their fathers and mothers. The New Testament also stresses the teaching role of parents, especially the father. Although, we find out, if you look into Timothy, it was his grandmother and mother who taught him.

The role of teaching in Israel’s family life must be seen in the context of teaching in the Old Testament community. Moses commands parents to teach their children, he teaches Israel’s elders how to adjudicate on civic matters, he assigns responsibility for teaching the law to Aaron and his descendants.

David longs for forgiveness and cleansing, so that he may teach God’s ways to sinners. God’s covenant with David involved David’s sons obeying the laws that they were taught. The psalms frequently express longing for a deeper understanding of God’s law.

Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple that God in the future would forgive repentant Israel and teach them obedience. After the deportation to Babylon and the return to the land, Ezra and Nehemiah led Israel in studying, obeying, and teaching the law of Moses. The prophets also say about education. They foresee days when all nations will be taught God’s ways and His law will be written on their hearts.

In the New Testament, Jesus is the Servant of God who inaugurates the new covenant. His ministry of word and deed and his redemptive sacrifice fulfill the Old Testament prototypes: kings, priests, and prophets. Jesus teaches with divine authority. After his resurrection and exaltation, Jesus sends his apostles forth with the mandate to perpetuate his teachings in the power of the Holy Spirit. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded.”

As the book of Acts makes clear, the earliest Christians took Jesus’ mandate seriously, as apostolic teaching was featured in their communities. I believe I’ve said this from the pulpit before, but their confirmation class, their membership class, last three years, not five or six weeks. By the time you got through that, you knew what you believed and why you believed, and you were ready to stand up for it, even in the face of persecution.

The Spirit sent by Jesus equipped some with the gift of teaching. The New Testament teaches that those who aspire to leadership in the community have to be competent teachers. I’m always glad to see somebody from the Session, one of the elders, up here up front, whether it be as liturgist and reading, or for whatever reason. Because in the Book of Order, even now, with our new Form of Government, it still says that elders should be ready at any time to step up to the pulpit and teach. Just think how much we could save on pulpit supply!

God’s people are expected to eagerly receive and obey apostolic teaching. In the Bible, then, God as Creator and Redeemer teaches his creatures through the agency of two institutions, the Word and the Spirit. We get the Word in us as we read, or hear read, the Bible. Over the centuries, and with many trials and tribulations and fights over which are and which aren’t, we have come to the canon that we now have.

We believe it is inspired and authoritative in all matters of faith and practice. That authority and knowledge are not communicated without the Spirit, because there are many who read it and are unchanged. But if we don’t read it at all, then the Spirit has no opportunity to act though that channel to teach us and grow us. There is a poem I found in another sermon; no author was given attribution, so I can’t tell you who wrote it. But it goes like this:

On the table side by side;
A Holy Bible and the TV Guide,
One is well-worn but cherished with pride,
(Not the Bible, but the TV Guide).
One is used daily to help folks decide,
No! It isn’t the Bible; it’s the TV Guide.
As pages are turned, what shall they see?
Oh, what does matter, turn on the TV.
So they open the book in which they confide
(No, not the Bible, it’s the TV Guide).

I’m not suggesting that you throw away the TV Guide (although that might not be such a bad idea). But we need to ask ourselves: do we refer to our Bible as much as we do our TV Guide? Over this past week, did you refer to your Bible as much as to TV Guide? There’s a second verse to this poem that goes on to say:

The Word of God is seldom read,
Maybe a verse ere they fall into bed.
Exhausted and sleepy and tired as can be,
Not from reading the Bible, but watching TV.
So, then back to the table, side by side,
Is the Holy Bible and the TV Guide.
No time for prayer, no time for the Word;
The plan for salvation is seldom heard.
Forgiveness of sin so full and free
Is found in the Bible, not on TV!

This understanding of the importance of God’s word is seen in Psalm 119. The author of Psalm 119 loved God’s word in a way that few today could match. Just think of how many verses and sections he wrote. He covered every letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

He wants to meditate on it. He notes how it must be learned, understood, and followed. He wants to observe it. He wants to walk in the way that it declares. He longs for God’s precepts, which cause a holy reverence to fall upon the reader towards God.

The passage in Timothy speaks of the need to do the same, as Paul speaks of it as being worthy to teach, rebuke, and guide the reader in the ways of God. We receive the Word in this manner primarily through the programs of the church. By that, I mean Sunday school, Bible Study, and the sermon at worship.

We get some through individual study; but we always risk the trap of reading whatever we want to read into it, rather than what the Spirit intends. Being able to check our understanding with others, and with or against traditional orthodoxy, is critical to retaining the authority of the Scriptures.

So, you need to get involved with a learning experience, regularly. At least once a week. And by getting into several that aren’t covering the same things, or perhaps in the same manner, you gain breadth as well as depth in your learning. That experience, that knowledge, will serve you in witnessing to others.

As we teach others, study with others, and practice with each other – holding each other accountable – we edify and build each other up. We learn of our God and start to reflect His love and nature. We become the church, and truly the Body of Christ who is our head. We accept the authority of the Scriptures, and, like the Psalmist, try to take them into our heart.

There is another way we can educate to edify, and that is by example. Timothy had his grandmother to mentor him. As noted earlier, the Bible instructs the old to teach the young in practical faith.

I read an article by Andy Stanley called “Why ‘Because the Bible Tells me so’ isn’t enough.” It was 17 pages long, so I won’t read it to you. The gist of it, I believe, is important, however. It notes we are in a post -Christian world, and most churches act and teach as if we were in a non-Christian world. And those are different.

Most Millennials and Gen-X individuals are not ignorant of the Bible. Many grew up in the church, and then left it. In studies and polls these days, they identify themselves as “Nones.” For some statistics and a description of how Barna came up with its criteria for “Nones,” you can read the Stanley article.

For me, what was important was that these people we are trying to reach aren’t ignorant. They simply don’t believe the Scriptures are authoritative. They can’t accept that a Book written by 40 some authors over 1500 years is really one coherent work of a single author. They are skeptical about much of what is in the Bible regarding miracles, etc. In our culture today, science has become, in many ways, “God.”

Stanley notes that the way to reach these folk, rather than depending on the authority of the Bible, however authoritative we believe it to be, is to point to the authority of the people in the Bible rather than the words themselves.

It is the means that the disciples used when approaching Gentiles – after all, they didn’t have a New Testament. They were busy writing it! They pointed to themselves or (in some cases) others as credible eyewitnesses of what occurred. They focused on the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ as giving Him authority.

And this miracle (that is, the resurrection) is attested to beyond a shadow of a doubt. By every scholarly standard we have today, the witnesses of the Gospel, and other secular sources stand up to scrutiny as credible and true.

I know he was not the first to say it, but my dad used to like to say, “It takes more faith to not believe in the historicity of Jesus and the resurrection than it does to believe.” Should you ever wonder about how those things are laid out, The Case for Christ by Lee Stroebel is a good book that is easy to read on that topic.

Why bring this all up in a sermon about being the church and about education? Because human nature and need haven’t changed. The best education today still comes from a credible witness to the truth of a matter, or a belief. The “Nones” out there get to see this witness as we mentor those newer in the faith, or younger. The children in the church get more solidly grounded as we share our understanding, and our hard-won wisdom through experience.

They are prepared emotionally for the hostility of the world as we prove to them we can be leaned on, turned to, and shared with, when they have questions and doubts. They are prepared intellectually, as we share our understanding of the Word, and our own struggles and challenges – and how we overcame them through faith in the Word and the Way of God. No matter what we’re doing, it can be related to God and His plan.

I know that may sound like a grandiose claim, but if you think about it, for those of you who are farmers and you’re out in the field and you’re working with one of your children or grandchildren, you can point to the creation, you can point to Scriptures that speak of how God brings the rain and the sun, how with all the work that you do – and you work hard – you still need God’s blessing and providence to bring home a crop.

If you work in a factory and you’re doing manufacturing on a line, you can still look at the amazing parallel. You take a piece, you put it into place, and it becomes a greater whole that was designed by somebody else, usable by others to improve their lives.

There are just so many ways. Once I renewed my faith, science became an opportunity for me to see the wonder of God, in the order that rested in our very cellular structure, that is far beyond what random chance could ever create.

No matter, even if you’re fishing, hunting, leisure activities, I suppose even golfing, you can still point people towards God.

But to reach them, and to be the church, edifying, encouraging, and educating, we must be willing to invest the time and the energy necessary into the lives of others. Too often churches fall into the old 80/20 rule. You know what that is? Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people. That’s not just in the church. It exists in most organizations.

But in the church, we need to change to 100/100 – or as close as we can get to it. We need to build those relationships I spoke of in the very first sermon, and then we can share the faith with, strengthen the faith of, and defend the faith to, others. The more coherent and singular we are in this purpose, the more successful we will be.

Now some of you are saying, “But I do all that, pastor,” and I commend those of you who have been doing all this. We need more to do so. So many people say, “I wish we had more younger people” or “I wish we had a Sunday School” or “I wish we had this” or “I wish we had that”.

Well, go get it. Start it. Lead it. Share it. Announce it. Advertise it. Most of skill and competency, as you folks should know, is not education in a book sense. It is practice, practice, practice. Challenge one another. Support one another as each attempts something outside their comfort zone. This should be a safe place for experimenting in our witness and our faith. Not experimenting in our doctrine, but in ways of communicating, in ways of sharing, in ways of being.

Not everything will work, and that is OK. The authenticity and the love behind the efforts will make an impact on someone, somewhere. God will use it. I don’t guarantee that – He does. The Scriptures say “His Word will never return void.” But in order for it to return, it needs to be sent out.

It won’t happen by accident. You need to plan for it, prepare for it, and then work on it. That is how God works in this world – through us. We are Christ’s hands and feet, and dare I say it – His mouth. We are heralds of Christ, speaking for Him in this world today. We are the witnesses to the truth of the Gospel, and to the hope that is within us through Christ. We won’t be perfect, but we can be better – with each other. And that is what being the church is all about, isn’t it?

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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