TEXT: 2 Timothy 3:1-9
At the beginning of this new year, many of us are naturally inclined to adopt a spirit of optimism regarding the future. The symbolism of an old year passing away and a new year coming into view gives us the ability to look at the world with fresh eyes and to give ourselves a clean slate. We can’t help but think that things will be better this year, that we won’t make the same mistakes, and that the world will learn from the failures of the past year. However, often, that is not the case. As the exuberance of New Year’s Day wears off, we look around and see that the world is still pretty much the same — or worse.
A recent Reuters news article stated the following: “From financial crisis in Russia to cyber warfare with North Korea, 2014 has generated new flashpoints right into its final days, setting 2015 up to be just as turbulent. Almost all of the major confrontations, such as the battle with Islamic State militants, the West’s stand-off with Russia over Ukraine and the fight against Ebola, will rumble on. Others could erupt at short notice.”
“A 2014 report by the Institute for Economics and Peace showed that world peace has been in decline for the seventh consecutive year since 2007…”
Despite this negative news, one good thing about the progress of time and the coming of the New Year is that, although we do not know the day or the hour when Jesus will return, we do know that today in 2015, we are closer to Jesus’ Second Coming than ever before. And, as we look around, we see signs in the behavior of human beings that point to that return, to the end of time, and to the end of the world.
One of those signs which we talked about last week is that people are becoming increasingly “unthankful” to God. We learned that this ingratitude is connected to pride because an ungrateful person is not willing to humble himself or herself and admit that they would not be where they are in life without God and others.
Next, Paul turns our attention to those who are “unholy.” The Greek word translated “unholy” is “anosios” — the prefix “a” meaning without, and “hosios” meaning holiness or righteousness. One of the commands we receive from God is “be ye holy for I am holy.” God is perfect and righteous, and we as Christians ought to be striving to emulate Him.
However, we live in a world that is not conducive to those who wish to be holy as God is holy. We do not live in a world that celebrates and encourages those who wish to live godly. In fact, later in this same chapter, Paul writes, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
When we look around at our society, we see that unholy living is often highlighted as something desirable or at least something that is approved of, permitted, applauded, and promoted. Ask yourself, what is celebrated on much of reality television and in much of the movie industry? Greed is celebrated and glorified as people are encouraged to pursue money and material riches. However, the Bible tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Violence and killing is highlighted in movies and video games. However, the Bible tells us that “the Lord…hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” “Coming out” as a homosexual is celebrated and applauded by secular society and even governmental officials such as President Obama and Vice President Biden. However, the Bible tells us that such a lifestyle is an “abomination” in God’s sight. Our society views it as normal for two unmarried people to be sexually involved with each other and live together. However, the Bible tells us to “flee fornication.” We could go on and on with more examples that show how holy living is not the norm for most in our society.
However, the unholiness that Paul is writing about goes even deeper than just people breaking the laws of God. William Barclay states that “Men will refuse to recognize even the ultimate decencies of life… This unholiness does not so much mean that men will break the written laws; it means that they will offend against the unwritten laws which are part and parcel of the essence of life.” For a Greek living in Paul’s day, it was ‘unholy’ to refuse to bury a dead body or to commit incest. There didn’t have to be any laws written against such things; they were just wrong and everybody knew it.
The unholiness that is becoming more evident in the last days is the unholiness of men and women who sin not only against God and against their fellow human beings, but they sin against nature and against themselves. The person who lives an unholy lifestyle is driven by self-love to gratify his own lusts and passions with no thought to propriety, decency, or reputation. I hope none of us here today ever fall to such a level.
We should value holiness and righteous living just as God values it. We should avoid, at all costs, anything that would cause us to sin or displease God. James tells us that “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is… to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.”
In the forests of northern Europe and Asia lives a small animal called an ermine. The ermine is known for its snow-white fur in winter. It instinctively protects its white fur from anything that would soil it. Fur hunters take advantage of this unusual trait of the ermine. They don’t set a snare to catch him, but instead they find his home, which is usually a cleft in a rock or a hollow in an old tree. They smear the entrance and interior of the ermine’s home with grime and dirt. Then the hunters set their dogs loose to sniff out and chase the ermine. The frightened animal flees toward its home but it doesn’t enter because of the filth. Rather than get its white coat dirty, the ermine is trapped by the dogs and captured — however, its clean coat is preserved. For the ermine, purity is more precious than life.
Ask yourself if you are willing to go to great lengths to be holy and to live in a way that is pleasing to God. It may be tempting to turn our backs on righteous living and simply do as we please, but we are commanded to be holy in an unholy world, righteous in an unrighteous world, Godly in a world where many are rejecting God godliness, and light in a world of increasing darkness. The 19th century theologian John Brown said, “Holiness…consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wills.”
In this world of increasing evil and peril, may we start thinking as God thinks, willing as God wills, and doing as God would have us to do.