NASHVILLE (BP) -- This weekly Bible study appears in Baptist Press in a partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Through its Leadership and Adult Publishing team, LifeWay publishes Sunday School curricula and additional resources for all age groups.

This week's Bible study is adapted from the YOU curriculum.

Bible Passage: 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 10-12, 16-17

Discussion Questions:

Why do so many believers fail to grow in their faith? What can false expectations of the Christian life as being easy or trouble-free lead to?

Food for Thought:

Imagine opening a package of seeds and pouring them onto a table. Will they grow just like that? Why not? What do they need? Now, imagine opening a package of seeds, planting them in a pot with soil and pouring water on them. There's a big difference in the outcome, right?

It doesn't matter how long the seeds are out of the package; they won't change one bit without the things required to help them grow. This lesson reminds us that we, too, can either stay like the unproductive seeds, or we can grow spiritually. Growing in spiritual maturity depends on our engaging with God in the journey He has set before us.

One time Jesus told His disciples that they were "like sheep among wolves" and that they should be "as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16). Paul echoed that truth here in his letter to young Timothy. It's like he was saying, "Don't be a fool, Timothy. Open your eyes. Sin is everywhere; run from it!" Paul's concern in 2 Timothy was a group of unnamed false teachers who opposed both Paul and the Gospel. He urged Timothy to know this, and that difficult times were ahead for Christianity.

The same is true for believers today. Evil surrounds us. If you haven't noticed lately, take a look at Paul's list of evidence: But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding on to the form of godliness but denying its power .... (3:1-5, HCSB).

Paul's "vice list" (a specific list of sins) is similar to those found in Romans 1:29-31 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10. Interestingly, the Romans list deals with pagan society, whereas this list refers to professing Christians who are in fact false teachers. Paul described these evildoers in 19 ways, and then gave Timothy a brief command to "avoid these people." Paul was not saying Timothy should have no association with unsaved or unchurched people (they need Jesus too). Timothy was to continually turn himself away from the attitudes and practices of those who held only an outward form of Christianity. It is absolutely critical for our own spiritual health that we exercise discernment by recognizing and avoiding all forms of evil.

You might know some good people who do good things. You might even be one. But spiritual maturity is not a place we can get to quickly. It's not determined by how often you go to church or how old you are. It doesn't come by doing good stuff so God will like you more. It's not a goal with a checklist of steps you have to meet to achieve. It can't be defined by how many times you post a verse or worship song lyric on your wall or even how good you look on the outside. Here's the honest truth. If you think you've reached a place of spiritual maturity, you haven't. It is a process, not an end. It's a journey, not a destination, and it involves avoiding evil every single day of our lives.

A list of nine virtues appears in verses 10-13 to offset or contrast the vices listed in verses 2-5. Timothy had followed Paul's teaching. More than that, he knew Paul's testimony, having seen faith lived out in the most difficult of circumstances. Paul warned Timothy that all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus would be persecuted. As Christians, believers should expect opposition for their devotion to Christ (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Timothy had two choices: live by the world's standards or let Paul's example spur him to grow and live a godly life. We have the same choice.

Paul summed up his instruction by emphasizing the importance of Scripture in equipping believers for good works. He identified these things as truth about all Scripture: inspired by God, profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness (vv. 16-17). Because of the trustworthiness of Scripture, Paul concluded that the person of God would be made complete, equipped for every good work.

Yes, the Bible has the power to teach, rebuke, correct and train each of us in righteousness. It doesn't give us warm fuzzies; love is not devoid of reproach. Rather in love, God's Word gives us what we need to confront our issues and grow in godliness. We must continually engage ourselves with God's Word, inviting Him to inspire our hearts and minds and perpetually change us and grow us closer to Him.

A challenge for all believers is refusing to accept a worldly level of spiritual maturity, but rather engaging in a lifelong process of growth in relationship with God. Remember that your life experiences are inadequate for spiritual growth apart from the truth in God's Word. The world says there is no absolute truth. The world believes that because of our different experiences, one person's truth can be different from another's. But there is absolute truth, and it is found only in God's Word. Choose to allow it to guide you on your daily journey.

YOU

Intentionally focused on urban and multicultural believers, YOU is biblically based with culturally relevant and affirming lessons to help your members connect, grow, serve and ultimately be engaged in impacting the world for Christ. This flexible, non-dated, all-in-one quarterly resource offers weekly Bible study for leaders and learners, devotionals, teaching plans and articles on hot topics and missions. For additional online teaching resources, visit LifeWay.com/YOU.

Other ongoing Bible study options for all ages offered by LifeWay can be found at www.LifeWay.com/SundaySchool.

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