Tonight in our series on Discipleship our topic is The Bible, still the best selling book in the world and which is vital if we’re to follow Christ. Why? Well what does the Bible say about itself here in v15-17?
…the holy Scriptures…are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
But before we go any further let me put what the Apostle Paul says here in chapters 3 & 4 about the Bible in context because it’s so relevant to us today. However even before I do that let me make two comments on what I’ve just said. You see if we’re to correctly handle the word of truth and properly apply what God is saying (as Paul states back in 2 Timothy 2:12), it’s usually important to understand the context of a Bible passage.
One person who was looking for guidance from God decided to open the Bible at random and to read the first words his finger landed on. The words were (and I don’t want to be insensitive but it’s a true story), “Judas went away and hanged himself.” So he quickly opened the Bible at random again and read the first words which were “Go and do likewise”!
You see a Bible passage without a context can just become a pretext. Now v15-17 of 2 Timothy 3 can be plainly understood on their own but the application becomes more powerful when we understand the context. And rightly handled the word of God speaks powerfully to us and to our world today. It’s eternal. It’s not just an ancient text to be left on the shelf gathering dust. No, says Hebrews 4:12:
the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
I discovered that and v15 of 2 Timothy 3 to be true when I was 15, many moons ago. I’d been going to a Christian meeting for about a year and hadn’t understood a word that had been said about the Bible. Perhaps some of you can relate to that. Not until I started reading Romans 5, another of Paul’s letters in the Bible. And God spoke to me powerfully from v8.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us..
I suddenly realised what the heart of the Christian faith was all about. Christ died for me to rescue me from my sin and I knew I had to accept him as my Saviour and Lord. Who needs to do the same tonight? Christ died for you. If that’s you or if you’ve still got questions don’t miss those Christianity Explored Taster Sessions.
But back to the context of chapters 3 & 4. Paul begins chapter 3 by saying there’ll be terrible times in the last days, i.e. in the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. Literally times of stress.
And the times of stress in which we’re living are very distressing. Sometimes one wonders if the world and parts of the church have gone mad, so strange are their views, and so lax their standards. And the reason is that the plain teaching of the Bible is rejected and so the Maker’s instructions are ignored.
Sadly some Christians are swept from their moorings by the floodtide of sin and error. Others seem to go into hiding thinking that’s the only way to survive and the only alternative to surrender.
But, of course, neither is the way to go for a Christian. The Bible teaches us the way, for God’s word is a light to our path and a lamp for our feet (Psalm 119:105). When I visited our link parish in rural Kenya last July we often visited people at night. There are no street lights so it is pitch black. You can’t see the way. All you can hear is the sound of hordes of frogs croaking very loudly. So Mwendwa, our link co-ordinator, always walks ahead shining his torch to show us the way through all sorts of obstacles such as the maize, coffee plants and banana trees. And God’s word lights our path and our footsteps to teach us both the way to God through faith in Christ and God’s ways by which we’re to live for Christ, in the power of the Spirit, in what is a dark world.
So what does the Bible say we’re to do in such times of stress? Paul says to us today as he did to a rather timid Timothy then: ‘But as for you stand firm’.
Never mind if the pressure to conform at school, university and the work place is very strong. Never mind if you’re young, inexperienced, timid and a bit weak. Never mind if you find yourself alone in your witness. You’ve followed the Apostle’s teaching so far. Now continue in what you’ve come to believe.
Even in the midst of these stressful times God’s Word can make you complete and equip you for your work. Spend time with God and his Word. Put it into practice in the power of the Spirit. Yes let the Word of God make you a mature disciple of God! Remain loyal to it (and therefore to Christ) – not adding to it or subtracting from it – and it will lead you on into Christian maturity. But why? Well that brings us to two fundamental truths about the Bible or Scripture which are asserted here. The first concerns
1. The Origin of Scripture v16
Where does the Bible come from? Before reading Romans 5:8 I cynically used to think that the Bible was rather like a book of fairy stories or legends about a hippy like figure and his band of merry men, written by those who wanted to con the world and make a name for themselves. But nothing, if you examine the evidence, could be further from the truth.
But Paul in v16 states very clearly that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful or profitable. Do you believe that? If you do
are you reading it? Billy Graham used to hold up a red Bible and say, The Bible must be READ! Simple but true.
But what does Paul mean by all Scripture? Today all Scripture means the whole of the Bible – the 39 books of the OT and the 27 of the NT. But you might be asking yes but when Paul was writing he obviously didn’t have the whole Bible we have. What he had was the OT. But there were also his other letters. And although he never explicitly calls them Scripture he directs them to be read publicly in churches alongside OT passages (Col 4:16). In them he often says he’s speaking in the name and with the authority of Christ (Gal 4:14) and calls his message the word of God (1 Thess 2:13). Once he writes that he’s using words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:13). And the Apostle Peter clearly regarded Paul’s letters as Scripture because when he refers to them he calls the OT the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16).
And, Paul continues, all Scripture is God-breathed. What does that mean? Well it doesn’t mean that Scripture itself or its human authors were breathed into by God. No rather that Scripture was breathed or breathed out by God. It was brought into existence by the breath or Spirit of God. It originated in God’s mind and was communicated from God’s mouth by God’s breath or Spirit. So the whole Bible is rightly known as ‘the Word of God’ for God spoke it. It is the word of truth. The second fundamental truth concerns
2. The Purpose of Scripture v15-17
“It is useful or profitable” Why is it useful or profitable? Precisely because it’s inspired by God. How is it profitable? Well look first at v15:
and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
You see the Bible is essentially a handbook of salvation or rescue. And the whole Bible, both Old and New Testaments, unfolds God’s plan of salvation. And the Bible instructs for salvation ‘through faith in Christ Jesus’ not by works. Someone has said that John 3:16 is the Bible in miniature:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
So the Bible focuses its attention upon Christ. He’s on every page of the Old & New Testament. All this is intended to lead us to repentance and faith in him.
Yes all Scripture is profitable including the OT. Paul says of the OT Romans 15:4
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Scripture was written for our instruction, so that as we patiently endure we might be encouraged to hold fast our hope in Christ.
All Scripture is also useful or profitable in terms of both what we believe and how we live and grow, to both creed and conduct. And of course the two go together. False teachers always separate the two but we must marry them.
Do you really want in your own life and ministry to overcome error and grow in truth and to overcome evil and grow in holiness? Then it’s to Scripture that you must primarily turn. Why? Because Scripture is profitable for these things. Look at v16&17 again
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
You see Scripture is the chief means which God uses to bring the man of God to maturity. Who is meant by the phrase ‘man of God’? Well in one sense it refers to all Christians. The words in the original simply mean ‘the man who belongs to God’. And it’s only by reading, studying and applying the whole of the Bible that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
But there’s also a particular emphasis here. Paul’s already written to Timothy using this phrase ‘a man of God’ in his first letter (1 Tim 6:11). So Paul is also referring specifically to men called to positions of responsibility in the church and perhaps especially to those whose task it is, under the authority of Scripture, to teach, rebuke, correct and train.
So am I, are you reading, studying and applying the whole of the Bible? Or do we just go back to our favourite bits? Perhaps you’re unsure where to start. John Stott’s Through the Bible Through the Year is helpful and available from both the Bookstall and the Bible Notes stall.
But we’re not to keep God’s Word to ourselves and within our small groups. We’re also to preach the Word as Paul charges Timothy to do in chapter 4. So thirdly and finally
3. Preach the Word 4:1-5
Timothy is charged with preaching the word, to speak what God has spoken. He’s not just to hear it, believe it, obey it, guard it, suffer for it and continue in it but also to preach it to others. It’s good news. So he’s to proclaim it like a herald in the market place. He’s to lift up his voice without fear or favour and boldly make it known.
And we are too. Now we’re not all Timothys, so not all of us from the pulpit not everyone is called to preach in that way but instead heralding it or gossiping it to our neighbours, colleagues and friends. Sharing it with a captive audience such as our hairdresser. Including it in a card or a letter to someone. Texting it to our mates. Teaching it to our children or grandchildren. Reading it with people when we visit them in their home or in the hospital. And we can also invite people to hear God’s word preached, such as at the Curry Night.
Now this part of the Bible contains some of the last words of the Apostle Paul. He’s probably writing within days of his martyrdom. He was probablybeheaded on the Ostian Way just outside Rome. Obeying God’s word will lead to persecution as Paul says in 3:12. And these are stirring words. Look at v1&2:
1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared [or be urgent] in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction..
So we’re to preach the Word – God’s Word – the Old and New Testaments. We’re not to invent our message but only to communicate the word which God has spoken. And were to do so with four characteristics.
First we’re to preach the Word urgently. Surely all true preaching should convey a sense of the urgent importance of what’s being preached. The preacher or herald is handling matters of life and death. He’s announcing the sinner’s plight under the judgment of God, the saving action of God through the death and resurrection of Christ, and the summons to repent and believe. How can we treat such themes with cold indifference? As Richard Baxter put it in his book The Reformed Pastor:
Whatever you do let the people see that you are in good earnest…You can’t break men’s hearts by jesting with them, or telling them a smooth tale. Men won’t cast away their dearest pleasures upon a drowsy request of one that seems not to mean what he speaks or to care much whether his request be granted.
And such urgent preaching must continue in season and out of season (v2). In other words when it’s convenient or inconvenient. There’s no excuse for sloth.
Secondly the Word of God is to be preached relevantly to correct, rebuke and encourage. Why? Well because some people, including some of you are tormented by doubts and need to be convinced by arguments. Others have fallen into sin and need to be rebuked. And yet others are haunted by fears and need to be encouraged. God’s word does all this and more. We are to apply it relevantly.
Thirdly we’re to correct, rebuke and encourage patiently – indeed with great patience (v2). We’re to be patient in our manner as we proclaim God’s word. And we’re also to be patient in waiting for the results of proclaiming it. The results are the Holy Spirit’s responsibility so we can afford to wait patiently while holding on to the promise of Isaiah 55:11 that God’s word does not return to him empty.
And fourthly also intelligently – with careful instruction. We are literally to preach the word with all teaching. It’s what Paul did in Ephesus for three years. He taught the whole counsel of God both in public and from house to house as we learn in Acts 20. Timothy was to do the same. And we must continue to do the same. Not just here but throughout the North East, where there’s such a famine of God’s word, and in other parts of the world. A systematic expository teaching ministry to proclaim the Word with all teaching in all the major urban and rural areas of the world is what is needed. I saw that opportunity on my recent sabbatical especially throughout Asia. And the time is now. The opportunity is there now.
So let’s not get distracted - continue in what you have learned – stick to the word of truth, the Bible, live it and preach it. The book, as it’s been said of the King James Bible in its 400th Anniversary year, which changed the world.
3 For [v3] the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.