This year I am working with a committee from my high school in planning our twenty-year reunion. I am looking forward to seeing people I have not seen in a long time. It will be a joy to hear about their families, where they are living, and what they are doing with their lives. One thing will be certain: changes have occurred. A lot happens in twenty years.
I have the privilege of serving at a church in my hometown where I graduated. As I have been reflecting on the past twenty years, I have noticed there has been a major change in the spiritual landscape of my community. Many churches that were once thriving are now struggling. Even though there has been a significant population increase, churches have not seen growth. As I talk to other pastor friends around the country, I am hearing the same things. What has changed in the last twenty years?
When the twenty-first century began, our society entered the Innovation Era, a new technological, digital age. I distinctly remember sitting in my dorm room working on my large computer and waiting minutes for my internet to dial up. Now, I can connect online in a second. This digital world enables us to talk to almost anyone anywhere at any time.
The Innovation Era has brought about a lot of good. Technology has played a role in the growth of the kingdom of God by making it possible to reach many people with the gospel who were previously unreached. Christian colleges and seminaries that provide online learning are educating the masses. Along with all the progress this age has brought, there has also been great harm. Pornography has ruined marriages and ministries. Work is much more difficult to turn off. Countless worldviews are being shared as anyone who can get online has a public platform to discuss their ideas. Unfortunately, many in our society are buying into these opposing worldviews and are drifting from the Lord and His church.
The world I find myself living in is a world like Timothy’s, where “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4).
In 1 and 2 Timothy, Paul warned Timothy about false teachers who were coming from inside and outside the church (1 Tim. 1:6, 19; 4:1; 6:10, 21; 2 Tim. 2:18). There were four issues that kept coming up in the church from their teachings:
- Myths that referred to Old Testament figures from extrabiblical writings would excuse immoral behavior (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4).
- The Jewish law was wrongly interpreted, and heresy was being taught (1 Tim. 1:7; 2 Tim. 2:18).
- Speculations and theories were formed without firm evidence (1 Tim. 1:4; 6:4).
- Greed was promoted by teachers who claimed that God would bless His people with riches if they had stronger faith (1 Tim. 6:5–10).
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Just as in the days of Paul and Timothy, people today excuse immoral behavior by forming their own truth that is no more than relative. The Word of God is being wrongly interpreted and heresy is promoted. Speculations are evolving in the church as conspiracy theories are on the rise. The prosperity gospel promotes consumerism. Think of all the words that promote self: self-care, self-help, self-identity, and selfies. The claim of consumerism is that everyone deserves to be happy, and if you work on yourself, God will bless you.
As our world changes, many are turning away from listening to the truth and wandering into myths. What should Christians do? Paul charged Timothy to keep doing four things, and these four things are ways that Christians can remain faithful in changing times.
“As for you, always be sober-minded” (2 Tim. 4:5).
We are living in such divisive times politically, socially, and spiritually. People are quick to react to the latest news and to jump on the most recent bandwagon. Anger mounts and tempers flare on social media. Amid a chaotic culture, Christians are called to take the higher ground and display self-control. They must keep their heads in all situations (2 Tim. 4:5). People are looking for stability, and Christians are called to stay poised.
“Endure hardship” (2 Tim. 4:5).
To endure means to hold up, to hold oneself firm, to sustain. As things become more difficult in this society, Christians must take hold of the armor that God has given them to fight the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:10–18). We need to quickly repent and rely on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that His grace is sufficient in our weakness.
“Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5).
Evangelism takes work. In our changing world, people are looking for hope and answers. Even though there will be many who will reject the truth, there will be others who will receive it. For the regenerate who are being saved, the evangelist will be a sweet aroma; to others, a bad smell. God commissions Christians to speak the truth in love and to spread the aroma of Christ (2 Cor 2:15–17).
“Fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5).
To keep performing does not mean churches and Christians need to put on a show. The church is here not to entertain but to remain faithful in performing its duties. Paul charged Timothy to “discharge all the duties of your ministry.” This means to complete the ministry God has given.
A military discharge is given when a member of the armed forces is released from his or her obligation to serve. A discharge is generally based on whether the person completed his training and then fully and satisfactorily completed his term of service.
Unfortunately, some troops get a dishonorable discharge for bad behavior or for not following an order. God has given His people an order that should not be taken lightly. Christians need to keep performing their duties for His glory and for the good of others.
As I interact with my friends at the twenty-year reunion, it will be interesting to see what everyone looks like. People will see that I no longer have hair! It will be fascinating to hear about what has taken place in their lives. What I am looking forward to most is that despite the many personal and social changes, there will be a handful of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters who have remained faithful in these changing times. It will be encouraging to see how they have grown in their spiritual maturity.
Christian, although we find ourselves living in different times than we did twenty years ago, the Christian’s job description remains the same: keep poised, keep persevering, keep proclaiming, and keep performing the duties that God has prepared in advance for you to do.