13th Sunday after Pentecost August 27, 2023
1 John 2:24-28
2 Timothy 3:1-17
Worship Supplement 2000 #746, 648, 528:1-5, 433
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Lord Jesus Christ, You have entrusted to Your people the task of teaching all nations. Enlighten with the wisdom of Your Holy Spirit those who teach and those who learn that the joyous truth of the Gospel may be known in every generation; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Amen. (Romans 15:13)
Dear Fellow Christians, if you’ve flown lately you have undoubtedly noticed how expensive that has become. Yet if you have flown lately, the fact that you are here means that a rather amazing machine lifted you about 6 miles into the air and delivered you safely to your destination. Air travel has become “take-it-for-granted” safe. Most of us would be hard-pressed to come up with the last time we heard of an aircraft crashing because of some system failure. There’s a reason for that, which is part of why air travel is so expensive. There are multiple redundancies built into every critical function of modern commercial aircraft. In fact, it’s not uncommon for critical flight software to have four separate and independent systems, each of which was written by a different team and hosted on separate systems to avoid systematic errors. I, for one, don’t really want to know how often even one of those systems fails. It’s just nice to know the lengths manufacturers will go to keep all of those tons of metal and plastic in the air. It’s also a lesson in the value of redundancies—especially in areas where failure is just not an option.
Can you think of any example where failure is even less of an option than air travel? I can—our relationship with our Savior-God. Surely if it is important to safeguard human life, it is even more important to safeguard spiritual, eternal life—our relationship with the One before whom we must all one day stand. One way or another, it is an absolute certainty that this life will end, the time and manner known only to our God. If only we could identify some redundancies in this life to safeguard that critical relationship we have with our Creator. The good news is that just such redundancies have been put in place by our wise and loving God. The only question is whether or not we will employ them, whether or not we his children will deem it important enough to make use of the critical redundancies established by our God.
The text that will instruct us in this regard this morning is found in the 2nd Chapter of John’s First Epistle, beginning there with the 24th verse:
Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie— just as it has taught you, abide in him. And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. (ESV)
This is God’s Word. With complete confidence that these are in fact the verbally inspired words of our God, his revealed word and will and safeguards for our eternal lives, so we pray: “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
Our God in his wisdom and love has established three separate systems for our spiritual safety: the home, church, and Christian education. It’s a marvelous system our God has put in place to protect and strengthen his beloved children. Yet the awful reality is that you and I have the terrible power to short-circuit every part of God’s loving design.
Go back for just a moment to those critical redundancies built into modern commercial aircraft. Some might consider four separate systems to be overkill. Here’s why it’s really not. Suppose one system fails. In that case the pilot still has three systems to “vote” on the correct course of action. If flying at night, or in dense cloud cover or fog, what if one of those back-up systems erroneously tells the pilot that to fly straight and level he needs to point the nose of the aircraft down? If there is only one other backup system that contradicts this instruction, the pilot has no idea which is correct. With three back-up systems, a two-to-one vote will overrule the faulty backup, and all is well. Otherwise he has to guess, which is not a great option at 35,000 feet.
Now plug that sort of scenario into God’s loving design for the safeguard of our eternal futures. Would anyone here be comfortable disabling even one of God’s systems? Would anyone consider their own eternal future, or that of their beloved children, to be unworthy of all of God’s critical redundancies? Of course not. Nothing could possibly be more important. Nothing could ever be more critical than eternity. Our text identified the importance in simple, stark fashion: “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.” Therefore, on this Christian Education Sunday we examine each system—how it is supposed to work and how we can actually make it fail.
The first and obviously primary system that God established is the home, and the instruction that must begin there. God the Holy Spirit through Solomon spoke of the importance of this first system when he wrote in Proverbs 22: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) This responsibility God included in the headship duties of fathers: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4 ESV) That does not mean, of course, that fathers are required to conduct all of the Christian instruction in the home. It means they are responsible to see that it is done. In some cases, moms can be better equipped for this than dads.
Our text alludes to this critical, primary instruction when it says, “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” This passage assumes Christian instruction in the home, which actually begins already in the womb with mom’s regular exposure to the power of God’s Word, and it continues throughout a child’s development. This system, however, can be disabled simply by removing the Word of God from a child’s home life and instruction.
Have you ever encountered a friend or acquaintance who disables this primary safeguard by withholding religious instruction from their children until those children are old enough to decide for themselves? Perhaps the best response to this spiritual recklessness is to ask on what basis their children can possibly make that sort of decision when they haven’t been given the information they need. How can a child possibly choose the truths of God’s Word when they have no idea what those truths are? For the most part this argument is just laziness, masquerading as virtue and progressive thought. Don’t fall for it.
In our text John addressed the attacks we should anticipate. In verse 26 he wrote: “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.” The devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh all want to see all of God’s safeguards disabled, and the attacks on the home have been growing steadily in intensity. The devil knows that that’s where it all begins, and he enlists society to ridicule and our Old Adam to assign greater importance to pretty much anything else in life. Don’t allow him to succeed. By God’s design, Christian education absolutely needs to both begin and continue in the home.
What if that primary system fails? Knowing the importance as he does, what is God’s back-up plan to protect and preserve his beloved little lambs if parents “disable” the primary? The church, of course, but that too can be effectively disabled by simply never utilizing what the church offers. It can also be short-circuited by choosing the wrong church. A church that holds to the inerrancy of God’s Word, together with a pastor who faithfully instruct on the basis of that Word alone, are invaluable gifts from God. Yet each individual plays a role in the safeguarding of that safeguard. In this same Epistle God gave us these instructions: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (1 John 4:1-3) Since no human being is infallible, everyone’s feet must be held to the fire—which again points right back to the infallible Word of God as our only sure source of divine truth. In our text, John wrote: “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.” No, that doesn’t mean that you can stop coming to church and Bible Class, or that students should (citing the Apostle John himself) solemnly proclaim to your parents that you are dropping out of school. John goes on to explain: “But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie— just as it has taught you, abide in him.” Of course we need ongoing instruction. The point is that that instruction, for both young and old, can never, must never, contradict the Word of God—that divine power by which God the Holy Spirit first “anointed” you; that is, brought you to faith. There is nothing that is more important than, or supersedes, God’s Word. To safeguard our Christian faith and our eternal future, we need nothing beyond the Word of God, and we want nothing in any aspect of our lives that in any way contradicts that Word of truth. It should therefore be part of our daily thanksgiving to our God that he has provided a church home where his Word alone reigns as the ultimate authority, introducing no uncertainty, no conflict.
An interesting, disturbing dynamic takes place, by the way, when home and church are at odds. Multiple studies have found that irrespective of what is taught in the home, failing to attend church regularly results in even poorer attendance by children when they are grown and on their own. In other words, disabling the second safeguard (church) also tends to compromise God’s primary safeguard (Christian instruction in the home). Dads play the lead role here, as their actions most dramatically affect their children’s later church participation. That means it doesn’t cut it for dads “to send the little woman and the young’uns off to church” while dad opts for something else. Children tend to imitate dads when they later make decisions about church attendance as adults.
We come finally to the third critical redundancy: Christian education—which is by no means an insignificant part of God’s plan. From the time children reach somewhere around the sixth year of life, and typically right up until they leave the home, children spend about half of their waking hours in school.
Return one last time to those critical redundancies in airplanes and consider a scenario where there are just three systems and one fails. You are down to two. How important is it that both of those functioning backup systems be reliable? To put it another way, would you be satisfied and comfortable, cruising at 35,000 feet, knowing that one system was completely unreliable, and that you could never be certain which one routinely provided faulty information and which could be trusted? Again, the pilot would just need to guess, continually. Obviously unacceptable.
Now switch back to God’s critical redundancies for our Christian walk and salvation, for the preservation of our Christian faith and eternal future—the Christian faith and eternal future of our beloved children and grandchildren. If given the choice, how could it ever be considered safe or wise to knowingly adopt a system that injects both truth and error into tender human hearts for roughly half of every waking moment of their formative years—simply hoping that Jesus’ little lambs would be able to consistently separate truth from error? That’s not a fail-safe. That’s not God’s plan for critical redundancy. In fact, it’s just the opposite since it introduces error and uncertainty. You recall how John warned in our text: “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.” Is there a greater source of deception today than our society’s public education system? Children’s programming on television perhaps runs a solid second, but public education still wins that race by about a hundred furlongs.
And it doesn’t have to be. You have options. Some are blessed with the amazing gift of a Christian Day School. Some opt to home school. God’s third fail-safe is fully intact and functional in both of these. No contradictions, only harmony. We can no longer rely on the public school system to teach objective truth, like the “3 R’s.” There is, of course, objective truth outside of the Bible. There is just no such thing as objective truth that in any way contradicts God’s Word. The square root of 9 is 3, even though that information is not provided in God’s Word. The argument is, therefore, that secular education can be trusted to stay in their lane and communicate only objective truth that does not conflict with the Word of God— in which case God’s third redundancy is disabled, but at least you aren’t causing any harm. Maybe that used to be true. It demonstrably no longer is. Some may well live in a fairly conservative school district, but public schools cannot teach from a Christian perspective, and God’s Word speaks to that. In Proverbs 9:10 we are told that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” In Proverbs 1:7 God the Holy Spirit broadened the point, telling us in fact that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Knowing and believing in God, and in his Savior Jesus the Christ, isn’t just the starting point of wisdom, it is the gateway to all true knowledge—the only path by which truth can be accessed. Math, for example, only works because God designed it to work. Science is rudderless, hopelessly lost and adrift, unless you begin with the basic truth of God as Creator. Sociology, geology, astronomy, botany, biology, anatomy—nothing works unless it begins with the foundation of the Triune God as Creator and Lord.
Here’s what ties all of this together. Every part of our earthly existence, by God’s loving design, all centers around saving faith in Jesus Christ. Nor can faith in Jesus be thought of as an add-on or extra-curricular. The fact that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on Calvary’s cross and that we now stand holy and forgiven through faith in him alone is not just important. It’s everything. God knows this, which is why he provided his critical redundancies for our lives. Everything in God’s plan is designed to first create and then protect saving Christian faith. Just after our text in this same letter, the Apostle John wrote: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1) Why would anyone want to disable any of the blessed redundancies that our God has established for our protection? Why would we ever consider removing Christ-crucified as the center of the home where we live, the church where we belong, or the school where our children are taught? God knows us now as his children, and his loving desire and plan for our lives is that we continue to exist as his children for all eternity. Trust his plan to safeguard that privileged status that is even now your personal possession through faith in your Savior. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.