WE THE LEARNERS
2 Timothy 3:10-17
In the previous meeting we have been largely engaged with the Lord Jesus as Teacher; what He taught, and what He has left us by way of His witness to the truth. I would like, in these few minutes, to speak of the other side of this matter. The Lord Jesus is the Teacher; we are the learners, and these passages have something to do with our own place as learners.
It is an interesting word, ‘learning.’ We all know from school or work that lessons that need to be learned are not all learned in a moment. Learning, as I understand it, is not quite like coming to the Lord Jesus for the first time as Saviour. We are either saved or we are not, and thank God for every one who is saved – one lasting transaction with the Lord Jesus.
But learning is something that takes time, and it also takes some application. And in a sense, as in natural things, so it is in spiritual things. We have to limit that, of course, because making progress in Christianity is not a matter of being clever or anything of that kind. But still, the need for application is there, and giving heed to what is said, and also, as we shall see, to Who it is that is saying it.
So I began in this familiar passage in Matthew’s Gospel. It is an interesting and very feeling one, because it is a chapter in which the Lord, I would say, faced up to the rejection of His ministry. As God in His Person, of course, He knew how His ministry would be received, but this is a chapter that lays bare that His ministry was not received. You and I, if what we have to say is not well received, depending upon our temperament, may rather retire into ourselves and give up. But these verses make it plain that in no way did the Lord Jesus give up, but He approached things in the Spirit – what we speak of as the Spirit of Christ.
It is worth noticing how these verses begin: “At that time, Jesus answering.” What is He answering? I do not think He is necessarily answering God, because in the previous verses God has not been speaking, that I can see. I think He is answering the whole circumstances in which He found Himself, with His ministry largely rejected by those who had been best placed to profit from it. And so we see what His response is. The first thing is, He praised the Father. He acknowledged the authority of the Father as Lord of the heaven and of the earth. And neither the state of things in Capernaum nor elsewhere – Chorazin, Bethsaida, all these places and the state of things there – can in any way detract from the fact that God is Lord of the heaven and of the earth. The fact that man largely goes his own way at the present time does not in any way detract from Who is the One Who has the true authority: God is Lord of the heaven and of the earth.
Now we come to something which the Lord says God has done in His own wisdom, “Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes.” Now, we get perhaps rather used to this expression being in Scripture, but I think we should take account of it, dear brethren. God sees all His creatures here in this world, men and women and children, and, we might say, He has a choice. He could look to those who seem to be the most religious and devout, and maybe important, too, in their own eyes. But God says, ‘Those are not just whom I am going to deal with. I have something of Myself that I want to reveal and I am going to reveal it to some rather different persons from that: I am going to reveal it to babes – people who have not got any status as yet; people whose spiritual lives are just beginning.’ Those are the kind of people to whom God is going to reveal His mind.
Now this, of course, was the trouble in these cities in which most of His works of power had taken place. All that was needed there was that they should repent, and they had not repented, they just went on as they were. They were wise, they were prudent, in their own eyes, but the word of God found no entry among them. And it really finds entry with us only as we take the place of being babes in Christ. We have to begin somewhere, and that is where God would have us begin.
Now, the Lord says certain further things: “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father.” That is abundantly confirmed elsewhere; “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things to be in His hand” (John 3:35). Where Jesus was, God was; when Jesus spoke, the mind of God was being perfectly revealed. So we can read the Scriptures and see what Jesus said, and in seeing what Jesus said we are seeing word-for-word what God said. We are not to depart from that, we are not to qualify that in any way. What you and I may say, even with the best of motives, and as seeking to serve the Lord, may well be spoiled by what we are naturally. But with the Lord Jesus it was never spoiled. All things were committed to Him.
And then He says some more – I am just going through these verses, for the moment, a little at a time because they are, actually, the Lord’s teaching. He begins by addressing the Father, but then I think there comes a point where there is a word which is for us all, and He says, “No one knows the Son but the Father,” and I commend that to us all: the Person of the Lord Jesus is something for contemplation, and very profitable for contemplation, the marvel of God manifest in flesh. But anyone who has ever tried to analyse the Person of Christ is guilty of that old sin of looking into the Ark (1 Sam 6:19), and it always caused disaster. So, dear brethren, do not attempt it. Take it as the Scripture says: the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Man; here He is, He is speaking.
But “nor does any one know the Father, but the Son.” If we stop there, we might say, ‘Well, the two are in perfect balance – the Person of the Lord Jesus is inscrutable and the Person of the Father is inscrutable.’ But the Lord does not say that. He says, “The Son, and he to whom the Son may be pleased to reveal Him.” So, there is what is open to you and me to know, but only if the Son sees fit. If you and I have some knowledge of God as our Father, that is because the Lord Jesus, of His own accord, has revealed it to you and me.
It is a great blessing, actually, to realise how much is of God’s own side in the things of God. Yes, we have said we are to apply ourselves, but any real knowledge of God is according to His wisdom and according to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It underlies that verse in John 6, “They shall be all taught of God” (v45). It is a very wonderful thing to be taught by God, and to have His mind revealed to us because it is the mind and will of His beloved Son to bring us into those secrets.
And now, in these last verses, we can be quite sure that the Lord Jesus was speaking to you and me. “Come to Me,” He says, “all ye who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” I was sobered, dear brethren, when some of us were here last night and, probably not of any of our seeking, we had to face up to the question of those who are not truly at peace with God. And it has arisen, once again, this afternoon – not, I think, of anyone’s seeking. I think we do well to take that to heart, dear brethren. Basic as it may be, without that firm, sound basis there can be no real progress in the things of God, because, you and I, we would not be sure of God’s favour.
We may speak about being seated in heavenly places and being taken into favour in the Beloved, but if I am not quite sure that I can trust God, if I am not quite sure that God loves me and that He has forgiven my sins, committed before I was converted and after, then where am I? I am in what the Bible calls bondage. God would not have His saints to be in bondage. I appeal to us all – and, forgive me, I know most of you here, a little, anyway; I have nothing personal in mind as regards anyone – but this question of settled peace with God is too urgent to be passed by lightly. The Lord Jesus says to everyone, “Come to Me, all ye who labour and are burdened.” Labouring, trying to please God; burdened, groaning under the weight of my sins, and things which I do not feel have been cleared and forgiven. Well, the Lord Jesus says, “I will give you rest.” You will not find it anywhere else. Well, it is the simple truth; dear brethren, make sure you have made it your own – it is best if I just say that.
Now, He has something more to say: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me.” That is where learning comes to the fore in these verses, and here is how to learn: “Take My yoke upon you.” Learn from the Lord Jesus Christ. What have I got to learn? In these verses the Lord Jesus does not say we need to learn about heaven or about our eternal destiny. That is all true, but He has something else to say here. He says, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” That is the Lord Jesus down here, and it is what you and I need to be down here.
We need to be quite sure – I feel it for myself just as keenly as I would for any one, and more so – as to taking on the features of the Lord Jesus and actually seeking and desiring to be like Him; “I am meek and lowly in heart.”
Sometimes – I do not know about you, but – I wake up and say, ‘Well, what is different about being a Christian from being a man of the world?’ And, well, yes, I have got my sins forgiven; I have got, I trust, peace with God, and, I trust too, knowing the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. But how am I different? Am I just actually the same as the next man at the office, or the next boy or girl at school? Would anyone think I was the slightest bit different? Well, here is one way: meek and lowly of heart. I do not need to try to analyse those expressions, you and I know perfectly well what they mean. The meek man – the Lord Jesus was meek, it does not mean that He just let everything go, let things slide. It does mean something about the spirit in which He met things. Just look at the way that He spoke to people. He was concerned for their good. He was concerned for their salvation. He was also concerned for the truth, and He maintained it in a right spirit. And from that we learn something of God Himself. I know God is in glory, and all the rights are His, but when He came to be represented by His beloved Son here on earth, what He wanted set out was meekness and lowliness. That is what God wanted to be seen.
“And ye shall find rest to your souls.” Those who have ministered on this passage have pointed out that there are two rests (CAC vol 28 p80; JBS vol 10 p242). There is the first rest in verse 28, which may have particularly to do with coming to the Lord Jesus as Saviour. And here in verse 29, there are those who are seeking to be Christians down here; they need to find rest for their souls.
“For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” And that is what the Lord Jesus said. You and I may sometimes look at our fellow believers and wonder how light the burden is. We hear of these dear saints, and I would call them saints, in other parts of the world. It was very sobering to see a letter from believers who are suffering indeed in the Central African Republic, and wanting to get help as to why God in His government has met them in this way on account of their own unfaithfulness – that is what they say! You see, it costs something to believe that, that God is disciplining His saints so that they might the more become partakers of His holiness.
These are sobering things, beloved, because there are those – we shall come to it later, but – there are those who suffer persecution, and you never know when it may come our way. In my lifetime there have been plenty of believers who have suffered for righteousness’ sake in Europe; very much so. I know of a young man, put to death in France during the war for sheltering Jews. You know, these are practical things. What is your commitment to Christ?
Now, I move to the Epistle to the Ephesians. As is well known, the first three chapters take us up, in a sense, to the heart of glory. But chapter 4, and what remains of the Epistle, have a good deal to tell us about the results of the heavenly calling while we are still down here. There is practical counsel as to the building up of the saints and of the Church in the first part of chapter 4. But then, in this second part, the apostle is calling upon the saints in Ephesus not to be tainted by the spirit that was in the pagans of Ephesus, any more than the pagans of London or, yes, Defford, I expect. But here he gives quite a list of the kind of features that mark that pagan, unchristian, sometimes anti-Christian world.
But he says, “But ye have not thus learnt the Christ.” Which means, as I understand it, that they have pursued some understanding of the mind and will of the Lord Jesus Christ. I doubt whether any of them – there might be some – I doubt whether any of those in Ephesus had lived in the land of Israel. What they knew of the Lord Jesus was by way of the testimony that was rendered to them by the apostles, and by their own seeking Him, the Lord Jesus, and seeking His mind. That is how they had come to learn the Christ.
And the apostle goes on to say how that works out: “If ye have heard Him.” Well, I think it is fair to say that maybe few, if any, had heard Him when He was here. Ephesus was a good long way away. But they had been instructed in Him. That is to say that they had been taught and had absorbed the teaching; and it is “according as the truth is in Jesus.” That is where the truth is to be found. The Lord Jesus has favoured us; the Holy Spirit has favoured us with a substantial record of what He had to say.
Now there is a practical effect: “Having put off … the old man.” Now, dear brethren, we speak quite often about the “old man” and the “new man.” I hope we recognise both of them for what they are. This may sound a bit like a gospel preaching; well, perhaps it does not matter. You and I recognise the old man in ourselves. Do I ever try to bring the old man into the things of God? That will be a disaster. We need to be careful, dear brethren, that we rightly represent God in what we do and what we say. I am sure I come short as much as any, if not more, but I would hold to this, that the old man was condemned at the Cross of Christ. He is not salvaged, he is not improved. There is no repair programme at all for the old man: “God, having sent His own Son, in likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). That is full and final, and there is no rescue for the old man. What there is, is the new man: “Having put on the new man,” which is not my work at all. According to God it is “created in truthful righteousness and holiness.”
Who does the creating? God does the creating. “If any one be in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And believe me, that is not a theory! Have you ever met someone that you knew as an unbeliever and met them again when they were converted? However feeble their experience may be, you will know the difference between the old man and the new. Let us know it in ourselves, too. There is the old man and there is the new man.
There has been a good deal of ministry down the years as to the new man. You are not, as it were, left naked with something to put on that will help you along. It is God’s own creation, but you need to make way for it. I need to make way for the new man. What is he like? Well, he is “created in truthful righteousness and holiness.” So it is not difficult to see what the new man is like. Actually, he is like Jesus. That is what the new man is like. And he is marked by truthfulness, he is marked by righteousness and he is marked by holiness. And those were all features that marked the Lord Jesus Christ.
We would not want to speak about the Lord Jesus as the new man, because we would never want to suggest that anything of the old man marked Him. But these features of the new man are like the Lord Jesus: truthfulness, righteousness, holiness. It is always a grief when you find any fellow Christian a bit slippery about the truth, a bit slippery about right and wrong. I do not need to enlarge on that, but it is a sorrow because they are not learning that from the Lord Jesus. If I am like that, it is not the Lord Jesus that has taught me to be like that. I need to learn from the Lord Jesus Christ and take on His features. I just leave that word, dear brethren, as to how we are learning what Jesus is like, and what it means to be like Him.
And now, just a word as to 2 Timothy. I need hardly say that the Second Epistle to Timothy is written for difficult times. The apostle says that in the beginning of this chapter: “In the last days difficult times shall be there.” And I think we could say without hesitation that we are in those difficult times. So we had better pay heed to what the apostle said about how to cope with them.
At the beginning of the chapter – I did not read it all – it tells us a good deal about the present state of the world. And then there is a contrast: there is the world, and then there is this one dear man, Timothy. Just one man: “But thou.” He may have the universe against him, “but thou” – just one man on his own. What has he got? Well, he has got something. He has Paul’s teaching and, what is more, his example. When it comes to the teaching that we receive from one another, and we can be very thankful for it, I think we might do well to look at what Paul had to say. He did not just say, “Thoroughly acquainted with my teaching.” He had several other things to say. He spoke about his conduct, that is, the way that Paul behaved. His purpose – what was his end in life? If you want to know more about Paul’s purpose in life, read the Epistle to the Philippians, and chapter 3 in particular. That was Paul’s goal, “I pursue, looking towards the goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus” (v14). That is where Paul’s mind was set, the bent of his mind.
His faith – tested constantly – it was not just a doctrine but, as you read through the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s faith, actual faith in God, was constantly tested. I have often felt drawn to the first chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians as to what Paul says he experienced. He says they despaired even of living (v8). They thought they had come to the end of everything, death was the next step. He says, ‘God saw fit to preserve us,’ and thus he speaks of the “God of all encouragement” (v3). A very beautiful chapter, just giving his own soul experience with the Lord.
“Longsuffering.” All these are features we need to take note of: “Longsuffering, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings.” And when he comes to persecutions and sufferings, he has a little more to say, and you might like to look up in the Acts of the Apostles what he is actually referring to. They were very, very real experiences. In some places the apostles were hounded out of town, they had to escape for their lives. But he does say, “And the Lord delivered me out of all.”
I feel it right that we do refer to these persecutions. Believers who are persecuted at the present time should make us the more thankful for the circumstances in which we ourselves currently – and I stress, currently – are. But, if they are true believers and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they are part of the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us how we are to regard other members: “If one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member be glorified, all the members rejoice with it” (v26). That is the way that the body works, and that is simply the truth as I understand it. Let us not be narrowed in our concern and our affections, dear brethren. This is not a question of whom we can walk with or share things together with by way of day-to-day fellowship. It is whether we acknowledge that there are those who belong to the Lord and who suffer because of their commitment to Him. I think it is healthy for us all to keep that in mind, and keep such ones in mind, too, in our prayers. We may have to say that we cannot do much for them, but we can pray.
“And all indeed who desire to live piously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It is a solemn statement and is a kind of a warning, I suppose, to Timothy, as to what he might already have experienced and what he must expect.
“But wicked men and juggling impostors shall advance in evil, leading and being led astray.” Well, the apostle has already spoken of this, but we are to take note of it, dear brethren. False doctrines are all around us, and they can come very near home. The apostle, and the Spirit of God, do not mince matters when he comes to speak of those who are wicked and impostors; he speaks of them very, very severely. They lead astray, and the result of that is that they are soon led astray. How am I to avoid being led astray? “Thou, abide in those things which thou hast learned.”
The truth had come Timothy’s way, and in his measure, and according to all that was in him that was of God, he sought to pursue it and serve faithfully. But he needed to cling to what he had learned. And again, “Of which thou hast been fully persuaded” in complete conviction; and, “Knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” I suppose one would be Paul, but we could go back a bit further, because he immediately goes on to speak of what Timothy had known “from a child.” He had had the benefit of a good mother and a good grandmother (ch 1:5). Those of us who could in any way be similarly described are very thankful for it, and should be.
The result is a knowledge of Scripture that is able to make you “wise unto salvation.” Take careful note, dear brethren, of the words used here: “Make thee wise” – that is, they give you the knowledge of the truth that is needed to point you in the way of salvation. So that you are not mystified as to what sin is or what righteousness is – all the things that go to make up the way of salvation – you can find them accurately described in the Scripture. But the Scripture does not save you: you are not saved by your knowledge of Scripture. You are saved “through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The Scriptures point us to the Lord, and it is by Him that we are saved. I commend that we should look at each of those words carefully, “Able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
Then, if you feel a little surprised by the precision with which some Scriptures are expressed, just give some thought, I suggest, as to why it is quite so precise. We are not saved simply through reading the Bible. I can think very readily of at least one dear brother, now with Christ, who was saved through reading the Bible. But it was not the Bible that saved him, it was through the word of the Lord that came through the Bible, and it was the One to Whom he consequently turned that saved him.
“Every Scripture is divinely inspired.” This would, surely, attract us to the Scriptures. Divinely inspired “and profitable for teaching” – and, yes – “for conviction.” That is as the word actually enters into my soul. Now, “For correction.” That is where I may begin rather to resent the word of God, because it tells me that I have not been quite right the way I have been going. Perhaps I have been very wrong in the way I have been going. “For instruction in righteousness” – every Scripture is of value in that regard.
“That the man of God may be complete, fully fitted to every good work.” Well, I did not want to pursue that very far, because “the man of God” is a very distinctive expression, I am sure. But it would be good for all of us to be fully fitted for every good work. The way to that is by being well-taught by the Lord, and to learn with diligence.
It was the prayer of our brother before this occasion that the Lord might be magnified, and I trust He is. I do not want to occupy the brethren with themselves, but rather to point them to where true teaching, and to where true instruction, is to be found: it is in the Lord Jesus Christ. May the Lord help and bless us all, for His name’s sake. Amen.
5 October 2013
 An Outline of Matthew’s Gospel