The world is a dark place, and it only seems to be getting darker. It seems to be almost impossible to find a good news story. Every morning, when you stop at the shop you will be meet with dozens of different papers with different takes on dangerous events in the world around us. Whether it is the political confusion caused by Brexit, the death of refugees trying to reach a better life; a bomb or explosion in one of the many places in the world where the government is lacking. The World is a dark place, and it only seems to be getting darker. Darkness seems to be everywhere, it can feel like there is an eternal night over our world, even under the brightness of the sun we can feel trapped by our fears, failures and the reality of our daily living. Sometimes even in the Church, which is meant to be the light of Christ into the world, it can seem like our fire is dwindling and our hope lessening, as our influence in the world lessons and our relevances to the world fades. We wonder how are we meant to bring the light of Christ into the world if the world will not look to us and perhaps now even considers our light to be a form of darkness. Thus, in a darkening world, it can seem safer to withdraw and put our light under a bushel. Yet, this reality is the reality for the majority of the church Global as it ministers in the darkest of situations and accepts the cost that comes with it. It was also the reality for Jesus, the apostles, and the early church. They knew that to follow Christ and to bring his light into a darkening world was to accept a personal cost, yet it was their bearing of the cost that showed the value of the light.
“It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt, It lies behind stars and under hills, And empty holes it fills, It comes first and follows after, Ends life, kills laughter.” – JR Tolkien
As Christian’s our worldview (How we see the world) tells us that when God created the world it was good, but sin entered and corrupted the whole process. and until Christ comes again, sin will abound in our lives and the world around us. Darkness will darken, and light will be fleeting. We are a culture so afraid of the dark that we are barely willing to acknowledge it. Whether it is the death of victims of human trafficking, another knife attack in London, a divisive and degrading comment from a political leader to another person or group, the growing extremes of society. The world is a dark place, and the darkness seems to be darkening. It is in that darkness that Christian’s are called to live, and by their living to be a light.
As we previously mentioned, the darkness we live in is not a new phenomenon, sometimes we can be foolish and believe that somehow today is worse or better than the times behind us. You hear different people saying:
“Thinks where a lot worse back in our day.”
“Back in our day…. We use to be able to leave the door open, and you could just walk into your neighbours’ house! Now, you would be afraid of being robbed.”
The reality is that every culture has it’s dark spots, today I think we see more of the world’s darkness with the advent of the media and internet which means so much of what might have happened and passed us by, now arrives on the screen of our phone as we sit sitting our lattes in Starbucks. We live in a darkening world, yet, for Christians, the call remains the same: To seek the light, and to bring the light. What matters is not the darkness we see, but how we live in it. As Christians, we are called to bring light.
The Reality of our Call: Bringing Light into Darkness
A Natural Way of Life
There are so many stories across the history of the church of people who lived in darkness and rather than be absorbed into it, or ignore it; they chose to confront it. They were those who had grasped the wonder of Jesus Christ and the reality of what it means to live for him. That we are saved not just from the darkness of the sin and the brokenness of the world. We are saved for something: to be those – like Jesus Christ – who drive out the darkness by living a life of light. In Christ, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and as we live by his power we drive out the darkness around us.
A modern Example: IJM
One such modern example I love is Gary A. Haugen, (Founder of IJM). Who through his work in law saw more darkness in a week than most of us experience in a lifetime. Yet, he didn’t run from it, nor did he close his eyes and pretend as he has never seen it. He didn’t even say that so great was the darkness that he could do nothing about it. He saw it and felt the burden of God to do something about it.
Throughout his career he had been confronted with the worst of humanity:
- whether working for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in the 1980s and investigating Human Rights abuses by the Philippine Government and Military against their people,
- In 1994 when working for the US State department he was seconded to the United Nation’s Center for Human Rights (UNCFHR) to direct its investigation into the genocide in Rwanda.
Confronted with the worst of human sins and the darkest corners of the world, Gary Haugen did not seek to withdraw but took the skills he had developed on the front line and put them to use for God. He set up the International Justice Mission (IJM). Now a global organisation that’s seeks to eliminate the slave trade everywhere. Confronted with the darkest parts of the world, Gary Haugen chose not to withdraw but to confront the darkness with the light of Christ and now through the work of IJM one of the largest Christian non-profit organisation in the world thousands of peoples lives are being changed for better. Consider the Philippines, one country where IJM seeks to bring the light of Christ into the darkest of human situations. In that one nation since 1998, 3801 people have been rescued, there has been a 79% drop in the availability of minors and since 2002, 697 pimps or human traffickers have been arrested and prosecuted. A dark world, yet through one organisation the body of Christ brings light, hope, and future to so many.
This worldly darkness is what Paul describes in verse one of chapter three in 2nd Timothy when he writes: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.” Yet, through the example of Jesus and many of the saints who have followed him since we see the example of light that we are to bring. An Example that this passage calls us not to marvel at, but to mirror. We are to be people who bring light into darkness.
EVERYTHING BEARS FRUIT: WORLDY LIVING (1-9)
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree Luke 13:6-9
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
In Luke Jesus tells the parable of the barren fig tree as a warning message to those who are listening. Picture yourself as a fig farmer and imagine that you have a great forest of fig trees that are bearing fruit every year. Yet, amid fruitfulness is one tree that in spite of all the effort, bears no fruit. Every year you try something new, you change the fertiliser, you try new manure, you even try putting new soil around it: and, every year in spite of all your effort the fig tree bears no fig. It looks healthy, there is nothing obviously wrong and yet nothing.
It is a fruitless fig tree, which for the farmer means that it is worthless. The value of the fig tree is directly correlated to the fruit that it produces, thus, the only thing worse than a fruitless fig tree would be one that produces bad fruit. A fig-tree that bears bad fruit is as useful as a fruitless one. The lesson of the parable of the barren fig tree is one of fruitfulness. Specifically, we are all made to bear one fruit. A fig tree bears figs, an apple tree apples, and humans, as made in the image of God, are mean to bear the fruit of worshipping him. Hence why Paul writes in Galatians:
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (6:7-8)
The Law of the Harvest
It is the natural law of the harvest, that everything bears fruit (unless it is dead) thus not only are we called to be fruitful we will be judged by the fruit that we are producing. Not in terms of quality, but because the production of our lives points to the source of our life. Those who walk in the ways of the world will bear worldly fruit and those who walk in the way of the Spirit (of God) will bear fruit that correlates to that walk. Throughout the scriptures, the image of the Fig Tree is used as an image that correlates to the fruitfulness (of worship) of the nation of Israel. Thus, it is a spiritual metaphor of challenge, there is only one type of fruit the Worshipper of God and follower of Jesus must bear – Spiritual Fruit. If they are bearing any other fruit they are like a fruitless fig tree, and what happens to that is that it eventually gets cast into the fire.
The fruit that we bear in our walk with Jesus, is directly correlated to the life that we received from Jesus, as the Spirit of God works in us it bears fruit through us. That Fruit is also our shinning of the light of Christ into the world because the spiritual fruit born in us stands in contrast to the fruits of those who live according to the standards of the world. Our fruit is light in the darkness. Thus Paul’s challenge to Timothy to remain faithful in this passage, and to endure in Christ, for Christ is a call to keep on bearing the spiritual fruit of Life with God. it is given in the contrast of an image of a darkening world.
The Contrasting Fruits of Light & Darkness
Form the stark image of a darkening world in verse one of this passage Paul then expands that image of darkness by showing us the fruits that it will bear in the lives of those who live in it. Whereas the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The vices listed here, (fruits of the world) stand in opposition to such good fruits because instead of giving life they almost seem to take it. Those who live by the standards of the world will be a people who will “be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
What Paul describes here are not fruits unique to the days after Pentecost (the last days), they are the product of sin in the life of those who pursue everything but God. Yet, what Paul makes clear is that as God works in the world, and the Gospel bears fruits in the lives of the church and new believers. So too will those who are opposed to God work in the world and bear fruit. In the last day’s fruitfulness will abound – the challenge is what fruit are we bearing. The list of vices that Paul lists are summed up by the beginning and ending statements that “people will be lovers of themselves” and “lovers of pleasure rather than God.” We are all made to worship, and that which we worship bears fruit in our life. Thus, if we do not worship God then we will ultimately worship something else and on the last day, the idol that we will give our souls to will be the idol of self. Every worship bears fruit; and, the worship of self will bear the fruit of selfishness.
The Danger of the Fruit of the False Teachers
As Paul draws out this list of worldly fruit, he had always in mind the false teachers of the Gospel who have penetrated the church. Hence his statement and warning in verse 5: ”having a form of godliness but denying its power. ” Meaning, that on the outside they look like they love God, but on the inside, there is nothing – or worse, there is darkness.
Over time, their fruit will be found out, as even though they appear to be “Holy” the fruit they will produce will not bear witness to that reality. It will not be spiritual fruit, it will be worldly fruit. They have an outward appearance of holiness and God, yet there is no power in the lives, literally meaning that their life is void of presence and working of God in the lives. Earlier in this letter, Paul links the power (of Gods present working) to the active life of a disciple: It is Gods present power that enables one to defend the Gospel (1:14) and persevere through suffering (2:1).
Thus, the people that are being described in these nine verses are those who love not themselves but God, and those who’s lives are void of the presence and working power of the Holy Spirit. In the second part of verse 9, Paul gives his only instruction in this whole section of scripture – to such people says Paul to this young leader in the faith there is nothing to do but avoid them. To protect the good crop, there are times that we must avoid that which corrupts.
A Historical Example of Dark Fruit
Jannes and Jambres are the names given in some of the early Extra-biblical Jewish texts to the two magicians who opposed Moses when he was trying to set the people of God free (Exodus 7). They are a type of the enemy of God, who for a time succeeded in corrupting the mind and opposing God. Yet, this section finished with a message of hope. While we must work against the fruits of the world and the dangers of false teachers, we must not lose hope. For as with Jannes and Jambres and a stage it looked like they where bearing success against God, history testifies through the plagues and the Exodus to the power, sovereignty and victory of God, so to will false teachers meet the same sovereign God’s power. Even when the schemes of the enemy are bearing fruit and increasing darkness in the world, even when all hope seems to be lost, the Christian and the Church must stand firm and not lose hope, we must look to our history and remember that God works all things for his Glory and our Good. Just as at the beginning of the Exodus no one would have believed the rescue that would have come, and just as on Good Friday on Calvary’s hill the followers of Jesus would not have believed what Sunday would have brought so too must we hold fast to the power of God and the truth that he is working in the world in ways that we do not understand. This is what Paul means when he writes: “But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.” – Eventually, their fruits will find them out and Gods power will overrule them.
LIVING LIGHTS: SHINNING THE GOSPEL INTO THE WORLD (10-11)
Darkness is of itself nothing, it is not something that exists in a tangible sense. Darkness is simply the absence of light, thus to drive our darkness we turn on the light. Thus amid a dark scene, and a darkening world Paul reminds timothy of his call to bring the light of Christ into the darkest of situations, by reminding Timothy of the things that Paul taught, and the example he set. His example of bringing light into the world through his words and actions is to be our way of life. The Way to defeat darkness is to bring light, and as Christians, we are called to be bringers of light. Thus, Pauls instructions at the end of this section are to remember his example of living, remember his endurance in persecution and to remember his perception of all things. Through remembering these things, and then modelling them Paul reminds (and instructs Timothy) how to bring life.
Living Light: The Lifestyle of Paul (10)
Different to the World
Pauls lifestyle was radically different to those who sought to live according to the ways of the world, where as all they did was for themselves and their own Glory, Paul lived for something greater than himself – he lived to advance God’s purposes in the world and to bring Glory to Christ’s name. Thus, the fruit of his lifestyle was radically different from the world fruit. Hence his reminding Timothy of his “Teaching,” “Conduct” & “Purpose” – Paul lived out in the open and in his living his reason for living was made known. Like so many other faithful disciples over the history of the church, Paul lived in a way to bring the Light of Christ and the hope of the Gospel to the darkest corners of the world.
We then today are challenged to live in a way that stands in contrast to the prevailing culture that we find ourselves in, to live in a way the shines the light of a better way – the light of Christ. Thus, the way of Christ that we are called to follow is radically different to any lifestyle the world can offer – and as we live it, the life of Christ in us shines out into the world around us. Our living should point to a better way of living. As Paul lived for Christ let us be those who in the same way live in the world, but differently to it – and thus, by our living shine a light brighter still. Let out lifestyles be the living light of Christ.
Living Light: The Endurance of Paul (11)
The Example of Paul
Since the time they first meet in Lystra, Paul and Timothy had spent considerable time together in the ministry. As Paul recognised a gift in the young Timothy, nurtured it and then released it. While so much of their relationship and discipleship would have been Paul imparting wisdom to Timothy, there would also be the learning by the example of living. Timothy would have watched how Paul lived and see something of the light of Christ in his living, that in the most difficult of situations Paul held firm to his faith and following of Jesus. Hence Paul calls Timothy to remember his suffering at “Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra” – all places that Timothy would have known well, and thus all occasions of suffering for the sake of the Gospel that Timothy would have easily recalled. Paul summarises all of those occasions by proclaiming the sufferings he endured.
The Reason Why
Why if you are trying to encourage someone in the faith would you remind them of all the times that it has been difficult? Simple – no one ever said that to bring the light of Christ into a darkening and hostile world would be easy, in fact, it is as Eugene Peterson so aptly put it in his paraphrase “Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble; there’s no getting around it.” Suffering is the mark (and cost) of bringing the light of Christ into a darkening world. Thus, when it comes and we endure through it we shine even brighter for Jesus, and through our endurance bring more honour and glory to his name. This is why Paul reminded Timothy of those moments of hardship, because when darkness assails the Christian who stands firm the light of Christ shines brighter still.
In those moment’s of suffering the power of God is made known because we can trust God to act in them. Paul quotes directly from Psalm 34:19 when he refers to the rescue of God, a Psalm where David celebrates his deliverance from God and the eternal deliverance form God. The call to follow God was never one that was promised to be easy, but it is on in which it will be worth it. Thus, in that call, we can trust the work of God in us to strengthen us to it, and the rescue of God as we live for him. Timothy is called here by Paul to endure through hard times so that the light of God shines brighter still and the worth of God is made known. He is to endure by trusting in Gods strength through the workings of his spirit, and by being reminded by Gods faithfulness to his people (Psalm 34). In our enduring for Christ in a dark world, the hope and beauty of Christ will shine brighter still.
THE CONTRAST OF LIGHT AND DARK (12-13)
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (13) while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. – 2 Timothy 3:12-13 NIV
It is almost that it seems too obvious for Paul to actually have to mention, that any true disciple of Jesus would not need to be told it. Almost, as if it is such a part of following Jesus that to mention it is also insulting to the hearer: everyone who wants to live a Godly life will be persecuted. Matter of fact – if you live for Jesus, because of that true you will suffer. Why? because as we live for Jesus and we seek to stand firm for him, to endure and grow in our relationship with him, which means we become more different to the world around us. As the roots of the Gospel go deeper into us, as we pursue more of Jesus, then the light shines brighter out of us into a darkening world, our living will draw the attention of the world around us.
The Beauty of Endurance
Thus, our enduring righteousness stands in contrast to a world that is decaying constantly. Pauls picture of endurance and godly living is illuminated by the evil at work in the lives of those outside the kingdom of God where people are going from bad to worse, deceiving those around them because of selfishness and then foolishly themselves being deceived. It is a picture of a selfish world that stands in sharp contrast to the kingdom of God, where the greatest is the least, power is found in weakness and disciples are called to serve one another. That is why those who live righteously will suffer, because their living stands is a contrast to the world, and demands something from the world – something the world is unwilling to yield, thus rather than face the consequences of choices it will seek to destroy that which challenges it. Yet, we cannot have any complaints; the call to follow Christ is all encompassing, so as we live for him we must expect to live like him – meaning, we will face all that he faced. The world rejected the Son of God, the promised messiah, can we expect anything different. As the influence of the false teachers leads more people down a dangerous road, as the world darkens the Christian is to stand firm in Christ and will stand firm because they do not stand alone. The call to endure is given in the context of the dwelling power of the Holy Spirit, thus, our endurance is a testimony to the gift that we have received in Christ. As we endure, we shine brighter, and as we shine brighter for him – the wonder of Christ is made known to more people as God calls them to himself. Our enduring is our testimony in a darkening world.
CONCLUSION: HE IS WORTH IT
This section of the passage finished with a call to Timothy to stand firm and endure: Stand firm against the false teachers who are corrupting the church, even if that means he must stand alone; Endure the suffering that will come for such a stand. Why? because in the person of Jesus Christ we have found all that we need, and all that the world is looking for (even though it does not know it) He is more than sufficient for all our needs and desires, coming to him is grasping that, growing in our relationship with is allowing that truth to become truer to us: as we knew him more, we want to know him more and the competing cries of the world become less attractive to us. Yet, like any relationship or pursuit of anything or value – there will be a cost. Hence, Paul reminds Timothy of the cost that he has borne in his life (willingly) and the cost that anyone who chooses to follow Christ and stand for him will face. It is the cost of being a light in a dark world and the cost that we must willingly bear as we seek God and are used by him.