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My wife and I were married fifteen years ago; I met the only French girl in Florida, married her nine weeks later, and a year after that, left for France. People often ask what kind of ministry we wanted to do when we were there; the answer is, none. We went to France because Loanne missed her country, and I had never been, and we were still young enough to throw caution to the wind. Still, we were convinced God had something for us in France: we were both very new Christians who knew that France needed the gospel. We wanted to invest in a local church somewhere in France and help the gospel go forward.
Eight years later, we were living in the same town in Normandy we had landed in initially, and we were frustrated. We had both grown in our faith over those years, and grown in our certainty that France needed more churches, but we weren’t seeing it happening. We’d followed what Acts 29 had been doing over here for a long time, and we knew that’s what France needed—to see more churches planted—because evangelical Christianity is, by and large, totally foreign to France. Evangelical Christians make up 0.25% of the population, and most French people have never even met an evangelical Christian.
So finally, about three months after our son Jack was born, we moved to the east of Paris to do an internship with the first church in France to join Acts 29, and two years after that, they sent us out to plant a church. They asked us where we wanted to go—we had been thinking some smaller city in the south of France—but early on in the process, our pastor, Philip Moore (who is now European director for Acts 29), said very simply, “What about Paris?”
We had always said that Paris is the one place in France we’d never want to live in: it’s dirty, it’s noisy, it’s very expensive, it’s busy… But thinking about it from the perspective of planting a church there changed everything.
We finally decided to plant a church in the dead center of the city, as close as possible to the métro station Châtelet-Les Halles (the biggest métro station in Europe). We knew the area well already, and there were no evangelical churches there. Most areas of Paris have no evangelical churches, and while we want to plant churches in all of these areas, we thought that it would make more sense to have a kind of central hub where anyone in the city could have reasonable access to a church while we waited for a church to be planted in their area.
We also figured being close to the biggest and most central station in the city meant that we’d grow quickly.
We had no idea.
We grew from six people our first service to averaging 130 people on a Sunday morning today. We now have two elders along with me leading the church, and nine deacons. We’ve seen people come to Christ, Christians grow in their faith and disciple one another… It’s not perfect—we still have a lot to learn about organization and follow-up and strategy—but it’s been better than I imagined it could be.
And I’m convinced that it happened the way that it did for one reason. And it’s that reason I’d like to go through with you this morning.
Before we ever launched our first service, we had to decide how we were going to go about things. We knew we were planting in a young area—we predicted the average age of the people in our church would be around 25, and we were right—and we knew that at the beginning, most of the people coming to church would be Christians who had just moved into the city and were looking for a church.
So our question was, how do we make the church a place where unbelievers will want to come? and how do we make a church that will keep young Christians engaged and growing in their faith?
The answer to that question can be found—very clearly—in 2 Timothy chapters 3 and 4. So we’re going to read through these texts together—it’s a long passage—and see if we can boil it down to one simple imperative.
We’ll start reading in chapter 3, verse 1. If you remember, Paul is writing a farewell letter to Timothy before he dies, giving him his final counsel. Timothy is a young pastor in a church which sound very much like a lot of our churches: good, but not without its problems or dissentions. And Paul knows that more trouble will likely come soon—so he wants him to be prepared.
He’s going to tell Timothy—in a kind of roundabout way—about two different groups of people who will likely give him trouble. We see the first group in chapter 3, verses 1-9:

Enemies of the Gospel

3.1:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.
Now up until verse 5, we would think Paul’s describing a city like Paris: a hedonistic society, lovers of pleasure, devoted only to their own happiness and well-being. But verse 5 lays this quiet bombshell: he’s talking about people who claim to be Christians. They have all the appearances of followers of Jesus—they know how to play the game—but in reality they are all about themselves.
Paul continues (v. 5b):
All Scripture Is Breathed Out by God
Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
So again—these are people who are hiding in plain sight, perhaps without even realizing that’s what they’re doing.
Anyone who’s spent any length time in church will know what he’s talking about. Nearly every church has at least one person—or, more often, one group of people—who seem to make it their exclusive goal to pour sand in the gas tank. They always come up to you after the service to complain about something they disagreed with in your sermon; they criticize sin in others without ever dealing with the sin in their own hearts; they will constantly suggest (often passive-aggressively) that things would be so much better if they were the ones leading this church.
They spread rumors; they incite division amongst the members of the church; they are treacherous, reckless and swollen with conceit
Few things could better describe
And although Paul is not without sympathy for them—he says they are burdened with sin, they are unable to resist their own passions—he plainly says they shouldn’t be there. They are intelligent—always learning, Paul says—but never grasping the truth, and actually opposing the truth by their lives and by their thinking.
The second group of people are similar, but are very likely unbelievers who will simply hear what Timothy is saying and reject it. We find them in chapter 4, verses 3-4:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
So how should Timothy respond? V. 10:
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 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.
Now here’s where Paul arrives at his point. He encourages Timothy to persevere in godliness, as he had taught him to do, to persevere in the face of persecution at the hands of these godless Christians. And he tells him how to do it: continue in what you have learned…knowing from whom you learned it, and knowing where you learned it: the sacred writings you have known since childhood.
And if that wasn’t clear enough, he reassures Timothy that (v. 16):
Preach the Word
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
If you have the Bible, he tells him, you have everything you need. Scripture is God’s own words, and God has given you Scripture that you may be complete and equipped for literally every situation you might find yourself in.
So, Timothy, that’s how you deal with you. Continue in what you know. Continue in what the Scriptures tell you to do. Persevere in obedience.
OK—but what should Timothy do with all the others? Chapter 4, verse 1:
4.1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
(A weighty charge if I ever heard one. He’s telling Timothy, "You should treat this with the utmost seriousness. What I’m about to say is the most important thing I can tell you, as a pastor, to do.” So what is that charge? V. 2:)
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
That’s our summary. That’s the charge. Preach the word, in whatever context you find yourself in. Use the Word to reprove, rebuke, exhort and teach. Preach the Word.
Now you would think that on the heels of everything he’s said so far, that Paul would say something like, “If you preach the Word, these people who are giving you trouble will see the error of their ways and change. They will repent of their stubbornness and their sin. After all, this Word is breathed out by God—when God speaks, people will surely respond!”
But, almost jarringly, he doesn’t say that. He tells Timothy why he should preach the Word, and his answer is surprising. V. 3:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Do you see how shocking that is? He’s saying, essentially, “Preach the Word, because they won’t listen. Preach the Word, though they’ll reject it. The Word preached to them will be their judgment, because when they stand before God they’ll have no excuse for having rejected him. As for you, do your work. Share the gospel. Preach the Word.”
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
The fact is there is no promise in this passage that these unholy people—so-called Christians or outright unbelievers—will change. That’s not to say they definitely won’t—we all were unbelievers at some point—but we have no visibility in this regard, and God won’t give it to us. We have no idea who will respond to the gospel and who will reject the gospel.
What we have is a solemn and serious charge: preach the Word. Stay faithful. Persevere.

The Freedom of This Charge

This can seem like a downer, admittedly. I wish Paul had given Timothy better assurance here—your work as a pastor will bear fruit that you can see. But he doesn’t. Timothy has no idea whether any of these people will actually come to faith and repent or not. That’s not something God has chosen to share with him.
The only assurance he has given him is that Scripture is God’s own words, and Scripture will make men and women of God ready, and equip them for every good work.
And that assurance is enough.
We planted in Paris with a desire to see people saved, but we considered the very real possibility that no one would. We have no power to guarantee results. We have one job here, and it is not to make sure that people are converted; it is not to do all we can to drum up “decisions for Christ,” even if those decisions are motivated more by peer pressure or fear or a simple desire for Jesus to give us a better life. Our one job is to preach the Word.
What I’ve learned over the last few years is strangely liberating. If I have no guarantee of what will happen, I feel no compulsion to make it happen. When I know that that part’s not up to me, then I know I don’t have to worry about it. We pray like crazy that God would save sinners. We look at what Christ has done for us—this amazing reality that he lived the life we should have lived, and suffered the death we deserve, and applied his righteousness to us at his resurrection—and we so desperately want other people to know that too, and to respond to it as we have…
But we have zero power in ourselves to make that happen.
All we can do—the only weapon in our arsenal—is the preaching of the Word.
If we know that Scripture is our main tool, then that frees us up to do things that seem foolish.
That frees us up to not try to be cool. Our church is filled with young people, and we learned really quickly that you’ll never be able to make Jesus cool enough.
Our area of the city is filled to the brim with all manner of sin (if you’ve been to Châtelet-Les Halles, you know). It is an area with a very heavy Muslim population. It is an area with lots of drug abuse and prostitution.
No matter how friendly and socially sensitive you try to be, at some point they’re going to hear Jesus say that what they’re doing is sinful, and incompatible with what he created us to do.
And knowing that Scripture is our main tool frees us up to say that, openly and plainly. It frees us up to not put all of our chips onto the power of apologetics.
It frees us up to not try to be cool. Our church is filled with young people, and we learned really quickly that you’ll never be able to make Jesus cool enough.
So we don’t try to make Jesus cool.
We don’t have a band; most Sundays it’s just a guitar and a couple vocalists, who are turned down almost all the way, just high enough to be able to guide the songs along. Why? First of all, because we want the church to be able to hear themselves sing: we don’t want to fall into the trap of putting on a concert to draw people in. (We’d never be as good as Hillsong anyway, and Parisian audiences have very high artistic standards.)
We don’t really do evangelistic events. We have one event every year—a Thanksgiving lunch—that we do, and that is as much a celebration of our diversity as it is an evangelistic event. Otherwise, it’s the members of the church who build relationships with unbelievers and share the gospel with them and live the gospel in front of them.
We don’t really have any church-sponsored activities—what we have are community groups during the week, and people who spend all their free time together, and invite their unbelieving friends along for the ride.
I’ve gotten heat from other pastors about the fact that we don’t do these things, specifically because we have so many young people. How are you going to keep them engaged? How are you going to keep them interested?
The answer we always give is the one Paul gave us: preach the Word. Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
And what we’ve found is that it works.
Paul knew what he was talking about.
Our area of the city is filled to the brim with all manner of sin (if you’ve been to Châtelet-Les Halles, you know). It is an area with a very heavy Muslim population. It is an area with lots of drug abuse and prostitution.
No matter how friendly and socially sensitive you try to be, at some point they’re going to hear Jesus say that what they’re doing is sinful, and incompatible with what he created us to do.
And knowing that Scripture is our main tool frees us up to say that, openly and plainly. It frees us up to not put all of our chips onto the power of apologetics.
Rather than running ourselves ragged trying to make programs that will be enticing enough for unbelievers to stomach, we want to let God do that work. We go through books of the Bible together in our sermons; we come back over what we saw on Sunday in our community groups; we talk about what Jesus did week in and week out, and we invite people, as Jesus did, to come and rest in his finished work of redemption.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
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