Progression by Abidan Shah, PhD

PROGRESSION by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  Have you ever been stuck in the snow, when the ground is too soft, and you start spinning your tires? That happened to us years ago; actually, it happened to Nicole. We were living in the parsonage on the other side of town. It had snowed sort of heavy, but it was beginning to thaw out. I left that morning to go to the Seminary in Wake Forest. When I got back, our 1996 Chrysler New Yorker was sitting in the middle of our front yard in the snow! Nicole met me at the door with the question, “Did you see the car?” I replied, “Of course, I did. What happened?” “I was trying to get out to run to the grocery store, but I got stuck.” “How did you get stuck in the yard, 20 feet from the driveway?” “Well, I was pulling out from under the carport, and I decided to turn around because I didn’t want to back out on the road with all the snow and ice.” “I understand, but why 20 feet into the yard?” “Because I got stuck in the sludge, and I started spinning the tires. Then someone came by and tried to help me, but they got it more stuck. So, they gave the advice – ‘if you can’t pull forward out of the yard, why not back your way all through the yard.’ The further they backed up into the yard, the worse it got. Then, the person left.” Now, I had to get down in the nasty wet cold muddy snow, with a flashlight and two wooden planks to inch it out, and 4 hours later… We laugh now, but I was not happy then. Unfortunately, that is the story of many Christians when it comes to growing in the Christian life. Their wheels are turning, but they are not going anywhere. They seem to be learning, but there is no real knowledge of the truth, no progression. Main point: True progress in the spiritual life happens when true disciples are engaged in discipling others in the truth of God’s Word. Spinning your wheels in the sludges of life is an indicator of either bad discipleship or false knowledge, or sometimes both. Truth is more than a proverb and a principle; it is the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 3         7 “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.”

Context: “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” and “they will progress no further” – What is this talking about? Who is this referring to? Once again, context is the key. The section we just read actually begins in 2 Timothy 2:1. Keep in mind that 2 Timothy was Paul’s final letter to Timothy, his son in the ministry. He was about to be beheaded on the Ostian Way in Rome at the hands of the wicked Roman emperor Nero. So, before he left, he gave him an important task – 1 “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Knowing that his time was near, Paul wanted Timothy to multiply his impact. It’s the mark of a great leader to train and empower more leaders to multiply growth. John Maxwell said, “Success is how well I’ve done for myself; significance is how well I’ve done for myself and others; but greatness is how well I’ve done and inspired others to do well for themselves and for others.” This is especially true in the church. Our goal is not just to draw people to the worship hour, but to lead them to become disciples who make disciples. We want every person to move past the sanctuary into the Sunday School classroom, Wednesday Evening Bible study, and Small Groups or Inner Circles. Today’s message applies on two levels:first, it is the importance of true disciples making more disciples; second, it is the failure to progress due to bad discipleship or false knowledge or both. To do that, there’s a lesson to be learned, there’s a truth to be affirmed, there’s a pitfall to be avoided and there’s an urgency to be maintained. When these don’t happen, we end up spinning our wheels in the sludges of life.

#1. A lesson to learn: Hardships are part of the process.

2 Timothy 2       3 “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Paul said those words for Timothy, but also for those whom Timothy will entrust with the task of teaching others. 4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. 5 And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.” Most people are undisciplined, unruly, and unsteadfast in their desire for growth in the Christian life. Just like the soldier, we must be disciplined and turn away from distractions. Just like the athlete, we must follow the rules and not cheat. Just the farmer, we must keep working hard and not quit.

#2. A truth to affirm: Salvation is through Christ alone.

2 Timothy 2        8 “Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, Paul reminded Timothy, and through Timothy to those whom Timothy will entrust with teaching others, of the importance of the true gospel. 9 for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Most people are unsure and unclear regarding the exclusivity of the gospel. Once you understand that this is the only way to salvation, then no amount of persecution can and should stop us. To that effect, 2 Timothy 2       11 “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. 12 If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” People get all worried about “if we deny him, he also will deny us.” In the context, it is about false teachers who ran at the first sign of persecution.

#3. A pitfall to avoid: Godless empty talk

2 Timothy 2       14 Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. For those who may not know, AWANA comes from this verse – “A Worker Approved Not Ashamed.” 16 “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.” I’m amazed at the some of the things that people get caught up in! Right now, profane is the approval of homosexuality by the church and woke theology. Idle babblings is the Hebrew roots movement and whatever else trendy that will come down the pike. 17 And their message will spread like cancer. (The Greek word is “gangraina” from which we get our English word “gangrene.”) Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, 18 who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” 20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. 21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 Flee also youthful lusts; I am so sad and disappointed at the fall of Christian leaders in not being able to flee youthful lusts. but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. Again, this was not just for Timothy, but also for those whom Timothy will entrust to teach others.

#4. An urgency to maintain: Last days will bring false teachers.

2 Timothy 3        1 “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, (According to Jewish tradition, these are names of the two magicians who opposed Moses in the book of Exodus) so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.” 10 But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. We use this passage in many contexts, which is fine, but, in its original context, it is the opposite of always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth, it is the opposite of progress no further.

Invitation: If we ignore the context, then we get only one part of a much larger discussion. But, once we take the whole context into consideration, then we realize that this is about: first, the importance of true disciples making more disciples; second, the failure to progress due to bad discipleship or false knowledge or both. Where do you find yourself? Are you growing in your faith or are you spinning your wheels in the sludges of life? Who is discipling you? Are you saved? Is your faith built upon the salvation that comes through Christ? Who are you discipling?

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