This is the season of the year for baccalaureate services and commencement exercises. We are so thankful for the achievements of young people and particularly of those who are making an effort to devote themselves to the Lord. We celebrate with their families and rejoice in their futures and their hopes and their dreams. But our prayer for our young people and for all of us is always the same. That is that we be able and ready for life for each new day, that we be prepared to take on the responsibilities our Lord has given for each one of us as his servants in this world.
It seems to me that the closest thing we have to a baccalaureate address in the New Testament is Paul's second letter to Timothy. In this moving letter, which has all through it a note of hope and of confidence, you find circumstances that make it certainly a requirement that somebody have the resources to face life. At the time of the writing, the apostle Paul is in a Roman jail. He has made one defense already and at that defense, all of his friends abandoned him for fear of the persecution that Paul himself was going through at the time. It was clear to Paul that the close of his ministry was at hand. He speaks of the good fight as something that he has fought and of the course as something that he has finished. And so Paul writes to the younger man Timothy, his child in the faith as he calls him in the beginning of this letter, to encourage Timothy to be ready for life and for the new stages of life that were about to come before him, and that Timothy then be faithful to his charge in living for God and serving the Lord from then onward.
When Paul speaks to Timothy about being ready for life, he encourages him to remember some things. In particular in a familiar passage at the end of II Timothy 3, when you read it from this perspective, it becomes an impressive lesson for all of us as we think about life before us. In II Timothy 3, beginning in verse 14, notice that Paul says, "But as for you," (in other words, no matter what else goes on with anybody else in the world or anywhere else, as for you). "continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." In that reading, Paul in essence, asked Timothy and all of us to be ready for life by remembering three things.
First, he says, "Timothy, remember what you have learned," not just all the different facts but remember what you have learned. Notice that here in verse 14 he says, "continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed." Now, he is asking for something more than for Timothy to just remember all the facts he has learned all through life and all through his education and training so far. It would be impossible for any of us, wouldn't it, to remember every little fact we would learn. How would you like to be judged at the end of life by how much of your algebra equations you remember from your school days? How would you like to have to give an answer for every term with regard to how to diagram a sentence that you may have discovered in an English class somewhere, or for every fact that you learned in world history (or at least that we hope you learned in world history)? That is not what Paul is asking Timothy to do here. Instead, he is asking Timothy to go on living in keeping with what he has been taught, with what he has learned. He is saying, "Timothy, I want you to abide in the way of life which you have been taught. I want you to continue living based on those great principles about life which have been handed to you."
If you take a look at what Paul is saying, it even is more important than that. If you look at what he is saying at the beginning of verse 14, you will notice that there is some sort of a contrast implied here, "but as for you." And when you look at the situation he is describing, he is describing a world in which things go from bad to worse. He is telling Timothy in verses 12 and 13 "that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted." Then he explains, "while evil people and imposters will go from bad to worse." Paul is saying to Timothy, "but you even in that kind of situation can go on being you. You can continue to be the person that you ought to be. You can continue to abide in what you have learned and what you have become fully assured of. You can continue to have the integrity to live by your convictions. You don't have to be one of those people who graduates from school, and who a year later are completely opposite to everything you have been taught." Paul is saying to Timothy, "there are some principles about life that are going to be true wherever you go and wherever you are and at whatever time it is." There are some things about how life works that you are going to need to remember no matter what happens in your life. There are some things about God's will, what God wants for us, in our character, in our service to him, our worship to him, and for our ultimate goal and destiny that are going to be true no matter what.
The other day I was remembering some things about our own kids growing up, and I remembered in the year or two before Rob graduated from high school and went off to college, Kay undertook the project of teaching him to do his laundry. She figured that he might need to know how to do that himself when he got off at school at the dorm. She carefully taught him, when it would have been easier for her to do it herself, to separate the whites from the colors, etc. and then how to take care of that important project in life. Well, he knew it well. But when he got off to college, things were busy and washing machines ran on coins and you wanted to get by on as few loads as you could. So, apparently it seemed like to Rob it made good sense to load his new maroon Oklahoma Christian sweatshirt with his white underwear. About the first time he came home, everything was pink, sweatshirt and underwear. I am not sure that was the best arrangement living in the dorm at the time, but he had apparently not remembered one important thing that he had learned. He had not continued to separate the whites from the colors. Now if something like that, which is just a minor thing of course, if we can see that it is important to keep on with what we have learned, then how much more important is it to keep on with what we have learned when it comes with how to live, how to be yourself, how to honor the Lord? How much more important is it to honor your deepest convictions about what is true and what is right and what will last through a lifetime? It is so important for all of us to learn and then to remember what we have learned.
In the Old Testament, the Psalmist in praise of the law of God, said in Psalm 119, beginning at verse 9, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word, with my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." Do you see that? You won't remember every word that you ever learned in a Bible class; you won't remember every phrase that you ever read from your Bible. You sure won't remember every sermon that you have ever heard. But Paul is saying, with the Lord's word in your heart, with what you learned a part of you, you can keep your way pure and you can overcome temptation and you can be guarded and guided through a lifetime of happy living. Remember what you have learned.
And then secondly, in this passage, Paul says "remember from whom you have learned." This is an important part of Paul's instruction that might be easily overlooked here. He says in verse 14, "knowing from whom you learned it." What difference does that make? As long as I have learned, what difference does it make from whom I have learned? But when you stop to think about it, there are some reasons for what Paul is saying here. Carefully thinking about "from whom I have learned" might remind me that I have been taught by the people who loved me most. Remembering the care and the devotion with which they tried to help me learn the Lord's way might remind me that here are things that have come, not because somebody was trying to take advantage of me or make things hard for me, but because someone loved me so much. And then thinking about the outcome of their lives and being reminded of their integrity and seeing the unselfishness and the service with which those individuals have tried to live, might be a gentle motivation in my own life for me to keep on and for me to stay with it and for me not to be drawn aside by the latest whim of the world or the latest leading of popular culture. And besides all of that, remembering from whom I have learned, might remind me that my life touches other lives, so many of whom I am deeply indebted to. There are people who have invested themselves in me. There are people who sacrificed and prepared and who gave of their time and their effort so that I might know what the Lord wanted me to do. And it would be the worst kind of ingratitude for me to treat those teachers or those who have instructed or encouraged, as if once I have used them, they might be cast aside like an empty coke can. So Paul is saying, "Timothy, if you are any kind of a man, remember from whom you learned."
Who was it that taught Timothy? Well, one clue is found here in verse 15. "How from childhood you have been acquainted with the Holy Scripture." If you look back at chapter 1 and verse 5 of this letter of II Timothy, Paul says, "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and now I am sure dwells in you as well." This sincere faith that was a part of Timothy and his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures that had come from early childhood started with his mamma and his grandma. And we learn from the early verses of Acts chapter 16, that his mamma was a Jewish woman who had become a believer. But his daddy was a Greek and apparently his dad was not a believer in Christ. The word for childhood that Paul uses is a word that means from infancy. I learned in working on this that ordinarily a young Jewish boy, if he was going through training from that standpoint, would begin learning the Old Testament scriptures at age 5. This has to mean, then, that his mamma and grandma before he was 5, even though his daddy was not a believer in those scriptures, his mamma and his grandma through their loving and patient training and teaching, had taught him the holy scriptures before he was 5 and he had known them all along. And of course he learned more as he grew, but you see the point. "Timothy, remember the devotion and the concern and care your own mamma and grandma invested in you, and honor them with what you do with that training." More than that, I think Paul is telling Timothy, "Timothy, remember your family in the Lord, those in it who have given of themselves for you."
Here in this passage, if you back up to verse 10, it is clear that the apostle Paul's own attention to Timothy were a part of his learning. "You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, even my persecution and sufferings." Timothy has learned from Paul. That is why Paul can talk to him as my child in chapter 1, verse 2. If I could extend this point just a little bit, I think Paul is saying, "Timothy, remember your home congregation, remember the people who, even if their talents were not always what they wanted them to be, and even if they had their weaknesses, people who loved you, who clipped your name out of the paper, who were there when you obeyed the gospel, who taught you from the red room, from the nursery on up, who tried to go through life with you, remember what you owe to those folks and honor them with the way you live."
I owe a whole lot, and so does Barney, to some dear common folks at Clarkridge. We sat in a class before either of us were Christians, which had to be watched over by a Christian lady named Purna. There were no men to teach the class. Purna had to get quarterlies ordered from one of the brotherhood book stores, hand it to one of the teenage boys and watch while they tried to follow the quarterly. I tried it first not long after I became a Christian. Purna said, "you could be a teacher some day if you would try." That means that if I have ever done any good, I owe a lot to her. I don't want to forget that. It would be a shame if our young people got to the place where they thought they were smarter, better, than common folks who gave of their hearts for the sake of the lives of those youngsters.
Remember what you have learned, remember from whom you have learned, and then Paul says, "remember, Timothy, why you have learned." What we learn from the Lord's word is not just so we can succeed on the MAP test. I know our teachers in our schools must get so tired of having to try to just prepare for some achievement test to be taken. That is not the ultimate reason why we learn, is it? And it sure isn't in our study of the Lord's way, either.
There are three great reasons for learning that are mentioned in this passage. We learn first in order to live well. In verse 16, Paul says all scripture is breathed out by God, it is inspired by him, it is from his awesome mind, and therefore it is profitable. It is profitable for teaching us how to live, for warning us when we are headed for danger, for correcting us when we have made mistakes, and for conditioning and training and exercising us in living right, in doing the right thing. We learn to live, not just by following the herd, but by learning to use the Lord's word to make good choices and to conduct our lives properly.
Secondly, Paul says, "you have learned, Timothy, in order to do some good." In verse 17, he observes that this teaching comes that the man of God may be complete or competent, equipped for every good work. I noticed in the recent war there was a lot of attention given to whether the soldiers were properly equipped. Did they have the right equipment, etc.? Well, the equipment that we need to do some good comes from what we have learned about the Lord and his way for our lives. We want to go out to be vessels for honor. In chapter 2, verse 21 said, "therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work." You don't want to be an old article ready for the garage sale. You want to be instead a vessel for honorable use, prepared for every good work. You can't do that without learning, learning of the Lord and his way.
And third, Paul says, "Timothy, you have learned so that some day you will be able to arrive at home." The sacred scriptures which you have learned are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ, verse 15 says. There is a power to the Lord's inspired word, and that power is that it can help us to do what nothing else can. It can help us go to heaven some day! I have observed the different graduation commencement exercises that I have been to. I have noticed there is a different attitude often down there on the floor from what there is in the crowd in the stands. I can look down there and I can see youngsters who have tried to see if they can sneak a beach ball by the security people, or an air horn to the group down on the floor. They see it as just something they have to get through to get their diploma. But up here in the crowd, there will be some people around my age (unfortunately, a lot of them are a little younger now), and I look around at them and they have those little programs and they are searching them inside and out. And as near as I can tell, the difference between those misty eyes up in the crowd and those folks down on the floor, is people just looking for one name, one name. They're trying to see if it's spelled right and if they were careful to put there all of the awards and the achievements and things that that one name ought to have attached to it. It is all about that name.
Paul is saying, Timothy there will come a time when all of us are going to be wanting to know if our name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life. And what you have learned from the scriptures about the gospel of Christ can make it possible for your name to be written there. He is saying, Timothy, no matter what else happens in your life, you are not ready for life until your name is in the Lamb's Book of Life.
Please remember what you have learned, from whom you have learned, and why you have learned - to live well, to do some good, and to go to heaven some day. Are you living and keeping with what you have learned? Are you needing today to be obedient to the gospel of Jesus Christ which is able to save our souls? Have you lived by that commitment that you originally made to the Lord? Is there something you are needing to do to renew that and make it right today? If there is some way we can help you, won't you come?