2 Timothy 3: 14 – 4: 5 Lots of Information, Not Much Interpretation   November 7, 2021


Lots of Information, Not Much Interpretation

2 Timothy 3: 14 – 4: 5


(preached November 7, 2021)


When I was growing up, my family, like a lot of American families in the 1960s, would gather after dinner in front of the TV.  Just about every evening, we would watch the news.  Our favorite news program was the evening news with Walter Cronkite.  If you also tuned in to Walter Cronkite, you may remember that he always concluded his newscast with the same words.  Every night before signing off, he would say, “And that’s the way it is.”


And that was the way it was.  Week in and week out, year after year, we counted on Walter Cronkite to tell us the way it was.  His report of world events made us feel well informed. These days I imagine that many households still turn to the news on TV, but we have a whole lot of other ways to get the news.  There’s CNN and other cable stations, and a bunch of websites on the internet, not to mention social media.  There are more and more ways to get information about anything and everything.  We seem to get better and better at getting information.  For a lot of us, a home computer has become an essential way to stay informed.  But these days, if you have a cell phone, you don’t even need a computer.  You can get information wherever you are: weather forecasts, stock market updates, maps, and of course the latest on your favorite pop stars.


It’s great to have so much access to information, but I find it overwhelming at times.  And I wonder, how do I know which sources of information are reliable, and which have a bias, or some axe to grind?  How do I use this information to help make decisions about my life?  Most important, as a person of faith, how do I use this information to live a life faithful to God?


Information is easier to come by: at home and on the run.  It’s like a tidal wave.  But what we don’t have in such abundance is interpretation.  How do we interpret all this information?


The young man Timothy, to whom Paul is writing in our New Testament passage for today, didn’t have a tidal wave of information to deal with.  In Timothy’s day the Hebrew Scriptures had been written on scrolls, but what we call the New Testament hadn’t been written down yet.  Timothy heard about Jesus by word of mouth:  from his mother and grandmother.  They shared the stories of Jesus’ healings, the miracles he did, and the good news he preached about God’s love and righteousness.  Timothy was inspired by those stories.  He was inspired by their faith to share those stories, to go out and spread the gospel.  In this letter, Paul is writing to encourage him in his ministry.


Paul and Timothy had traveled all over Greece and Asia Minor for twenty years or so, starting new churches.  But when he writes this letter, Paul is no longer on the road.  He’s in prison in Rome.  The Roman authorities want to stamp out the message of Jesus and Paul has been sentenced to death.  Paul writes that he has run the race God set out for him, and now is passing the baton to Timothy.


Paul knows that Timothy will face challenges different from the ones he faced.  The church is becoming more established, but new challenges have arisen.  Even as the churches are more established, some in those churches are preaching a message different from what Jesus preached.  Teachers who claim to be sharing the message of Jesus are actually sharing a different message: one that undermines the teachings of Jesus.  Some church members are being drawn to those teachers.


This is what Paul is talking about when he warns Timothy that “the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”


The teachers Paul is referring to are members of a sect called Gnostics.  The Gnostics took their name from the Greek word, gnosis.  Our word knowledge actually comes from that Greek word.  Gnostic teaching highly valued knowledge. To put Gnostic teaching very simply, they taught that God was distant, aloof from humanity.  They taught that the way to be closer to God was to attain special knowledge, the kind of knowledge that included all kinds of insider language and secret passwords.  The Gnostics taught that only those with the intellectual gifts, and the time, to master all that special knowledge, could be close to God.


But the message of Jesus is different.  He taught that God is not aloof, but as close to us as a loving father or mother.  Because of Jesus, we believe that God has come to us.  And we believe God comes to all humanity: those with a lot of special knowledge, and those without.  That was the message Paul and Timothy preached: Because God has come in Jesus, no special knowledge, no insider language, is needed to reach God.  All we need is a heart willing to turn away from sin and embrace God’s ways.  When we embrace God’s ways, we begin a living relationship with Jesus: a relationship that will guide us for the rest of our lives.  But that message didn’t always satisfy the folks who had what Paul called “itching ears:” the seekers who were always looking for the latest special knowledge.


Today a lot of ears are itching, seeking the latest knowledge, seeking more and more information.  Or maybe it’s not itching ears but restless fingers, searching and scrolling and clicking on the latest thing to light up our screens.  And it can be a good thing to have so much information at our fingertips.  I like being able to go online and watch the weather radar to see if a storm is headed my way.  I like that when I google “Abraham Lincoln speeches,” my screen lights up in seconds with the Gettysburg Address.


But there’s a need for some interpretation of all this information.  How do we know which sources of information are reliable, and which have a bias, or some axe to grind?  How do we use this information to help make decisions about our lives?  Most important, as people of faith, how do we use this information to live lives faithful to God?


Here’s the good news.  Thanks be to God, our community can be a place for interpretation.  In our community here, and in the community of the wider church, we can talk together and pray together.  With God’s help, we can see how to use information to live lives that are faithful to God.  We don’t need a lot of special knowledge.  All we need to know, or to put it better, whom we need to know is Jesus Christ, who lived and died as one of us, and is risen from the dead.  When we begin a living relationship with Jesus Christ, he will guide us for the rest of our lives.  We live out that relationship in the community of the church.


My friends, we may be bombarded from every direction with information, but our community of faith, and the communities that have gone before us, can be for us what Timothy’s mother and grandmother were for him.  The gospel that is preached in churches all over the world can carry on the tradition that they began: making Jesus known and inviting seekers into a relationship with him.  In that relationship all of us can learn to live according to God’s gracious and loving ways.



Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 24