The following sermon is based on 2 Peter 3:14-18 and was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on May 9, 2010.
“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” You’ve heard that before. It is the slogan of the United Negro College Fund. Advertising executive Forest Long coined the phrase in 1971 as part of a UNCF fundraising and public awareness campaign. Since that time, it has become one of the most recognized phrases in American advertising history. Such a statement emphasizes the value of an education. As they say, “knowledge is power.”
In addition, the Church might see an education as a pathway into the soul. We could say: “A soul is a terrible thing to waste.” God often works on the soul through the mind. The Christian faith is an educated faith. Cultivating a love for learning from a Christ-honoring perspective is one of our responsibilities as God’s people. This is why Central has included Christian Education as one of our Core Values. Central defines this as: “…studying the Bible to gain knowledge and understanding about the past, present, and future, in order to foster our life-long spiritual growth through faith in Jesus Christ.”
What does the Bible say about education? Lots, I would argue. It fits under the larger topic of Christian growth, a continual progression. Someone once said: “Christian growth is like riding a bicycle. Once you stop, you fall off!” Today, let’s look at the words of the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:14 and understand some important aspects of our growth as believers. We first learn that…
I. CHRISTIAN GROWTH IS, IN PART, A PRODUCT OF OUR DESIRE AND EFFORTS.
Notice Peter’s words in verse 17: “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness…” Peter’s admonition is a diligent attitude towards truth. Christians are taught to be on guard against false teaching. This takes effort. Two weeks ago we learned of the importance of studying the Bible. It is interesting that Peter here, places Paul’s writings on par with the Old Testament. Paul received his commission from Christ Himself (Galatians 1:1 and Romans 1:1). The Bible consisting of all 66 books of Old and New Testament is God’s written word to us, telling us about the Living Word, Jesus Christ, the center of our faith.
But Peter states that the Bible is not always easy to understand. And those who are unprincipled and unlearned can easily lead others astray. Edwin Blum states: “The difficulty in Paul’s letters stems from the profundity of the God-given wisdom they contain.” Evidently, the false teachers in Peter’s day (circa. A.D. 64) would take Paul’s words out of context and stretch them to mean something he never intended. That’s why it is important for Sunday School teachers to both love and learn the Scripture. For years, a ceramic Bible was open on Rev. Karen’s desk that said: “First we learn, then we teach, God’s word.”
Every Christian has a responsibility for what they learn. There are some things to embrace; other things to jettison. Do you know the difference? Very important to be able to discern truth from error, especially in today’s world. This is a key aspect of Christian growth. Secondly…
II. CHRISTIAN GROWTH IS ALSO A PRODUCT OF GOD’S GRACE.
Christian growth and Christian education is not just the result of being exposed to literature. It stems from grace. 2 Peter 3:18 says: “… but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
The benefit of studying Scripture is described as nutrient food for the soul. Paul says in 1 Peter 2:2: “…like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,” Christian growth entails spiritual maturity. It’s a development over time. Our individual perception of truth certainly can and does change. John MacArthur explains: “…we gain better understanding as we grow. …we move from a merely childlike knowledge to a more mature grasp of truth in all its richness and relationship to other truth.” Of Jesus, it was said: Luke 2:40 And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. What’s more is that Paul attributed the growth in the church at Corinth to God when He said in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “…I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”
God oversees our growth, but we must be careful of how we define it. Today, it is “en vogue” to be broad-minded, permissive and inclusive- even at the sacrifice of traditional behavioral and doctrinal principles. Christian growth, on the other hand, produces a deeper knowledge of God’s word and its application. Notice what G.K. Chesterton said about growing in knowledge and grace. about growing in conviction: He states: “The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions… The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions, it is rusty…. . He went on to say that when human fail to embrace structure and convictions, they “…sink slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.”
If Chesterton was true, then one of the tasks of Christian Education is to not only instill knowledge but also conviction. We progress from knowledge to conviction. My Nsw Testament professor in undergrad was from Louisiana, and he used to say, “It’s mhaaaaaa conviction.” As one person said: “Convictions are not those things you have. Convictions are those things which have you!” There is a necessity for progress in Christian living.
So what are some practical suggestions for Christian education? How do we grow as Christians? What are some steps to Christian growth? First of all, we must identify the source of our learning. We must study the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:14: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Nothing can replace studying your Bible as the most basic avenue of spiritual growth. When God converted Augustine, he heard the words again and again, “Take up and read.” The book of Romans was God’s tool to change his life.
Next, we should cultivate a habit of prayer. All the great Christians of the past have also been people of prayer. They have seen the fruit of communion with God. If not careful, we look at prayer as something that is mechanical- a mechanism to work to get what we want. But according to Jesus, prayer is interaction between a father and His child. Notice Jesus words in Luke 9: 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” But as one Christian author recently pointed out- God does not listen to prayer, as much as He listens to people. God listens to His people that pour themselves out to Him. God has given us the wonderful blessing of communicating with Him. He is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Through an ongoing dialogue with God, you will grow spiritually and develop the spiritual discernment that God wants you to have.
Next, a growing Christian is also a worshiping Christian. Psalm 122:1: Of David. I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.” The worship service is a time for you to center your thoughts on God through interactive exercises in a large-group setting. Here, you will sing hymns, hear songs played and sung, pray, read Scripture, and hear a message. God will speak to you through many, if not all of these vehicles.
Lastly, a growing Christian is one who gets involved in informal study with their peers. This means that you take advantage of a Sunday School class and/or a small group Bible study. Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” One of the keys to the success of the Methodist church in its early days was an emphasis on small group Bible study. We learn well in a small group setting of 6-12 people. Many of our Sunday School classes offer this type of setting. We also have small group ministries at different times during the year.
Lastly, serve in some way. James 2:26: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” There are lots of opportunities to serve at Central Schwenkfelder Church. For instance, you can help with the all-church fair in September. Ladies’ Aid has various service projects. Men of Central do things from time to time. Every November, a group of us travels to South Philadelphia to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the needy. Serving is a way to put faith into action.
All of these compliment each other and provide a well rounded educational experience. When we respond about a life changing experience, we might be tempted to say: “It’s an education.” Christianity is truly an education that never stops. Caspar Schwenckfeld called this the School of Christ. Caspar Schwenckfeld wrote these words: “The Christian also goes to school, drawn by the Spirit of God into the school of Christ, the teacher of divine mysteries. Although God instructs His pupils, the Christians, inwardly in the spirit, He has also appointed preachers and teachers to interpret Scripture and to instruct the outer man, to direct him to God and to the crucified Christ; to teach him the malice of sin through the outwards worship-service, teaching, preaching, reading, studying admonition and ceremony.” It is all done with a goal in mind- God’s glory. That’s why Peter ends with the phrase: “To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
 Edwin A. Blum, “2 Peter,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Volume 12, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 288.
 John MacArthur, The Truth War, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), xxi.
 G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (John Lane Company, 1905)
 Selina G. Schultz, Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig: A Course of Study, “A Christian,” (Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication, 1964), 67.