Imagine, for a moment, that you are playing in a baseball game. You are playing second base and the pitcher on your team keeps trying to play your position. His goal is to do everything he can to get noticed by the professional scout sitting in the stands. So, he changes roles without the coach’s direction, plays other positions, and tries to restructure the game- justifying his means by his end (to get the attention of the scout). No surprise, he costs himself the game and the scout’s attention. Not only this, he costs his entire team the game. His goal wasn’t to win and so he didn’t play by the rules. If we believe that our purpose in life is to glorify God, then the means we use to pursue self-satisfaction will not gain us the victory. Not only will we lose that satisfaction, but we will cost ourselves victory in God’s glory. As Christians, we believe that God’s standard is explained in the Holy Bible:
WE BELIEVE that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, fully inspired without error and the infallible rule of faith and practice. The Word of God is the foundation upon which this Church operates and is the basis for which this Church is governed. We believe that the Word of God supersedes any earthly law that is contrary to the Holy Scriptures. (Nehemiah 8:8; Isaiah 34:16; John 17:17; 2 Timothy 2:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23-25; 2 Peter 1:2-4 and 1:21)
Is the Bible really the standard for life and ministry? What are the implications of such a statement?
2 Timothy 3:10-17
But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from them all. In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Scripture’s source (v. 16a)
As we begin this key text regarding what Scripture is and why it exists, we read that all Scripture is inspired by God. At this point in Paul’s ministry, Scripture was the Old Testament (2 Timothy 3:15). That wasn’t it. Scripture had come to include the Gospels (ref. 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes Luke 10:7 as Scripture). Peter considered Paul’s letters to be inspired Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul understood his own writings to have divine authority (1 Corinthians 14:37-38). When Paul writes in this letter to Timothy, he is insisting that the Old Testament, the Gospels, his own letters, and the writings of the other apostles are the inspired word of God.
We somehow get this idea that the New Testament writers had no idea that they were writing Scripture or that we get the canon from tradition later in history after the books were compiled. The New Testament writers clearly believed that they were writing the inspired word of God, and their writing was accepted as Scripture as it was being written. Consequently, the New Testament canon would be closed after the death of the apostles. The only thing the councils did was affirm what was already accepted according to the Scriptures while removing what had been added later.
What does it mean that Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) is inspired by God? This inspiration is not the same as me being inspired by the generosity of my church family (and I am) to be more generous. It is not the same as my being inspired to write a song or paint or cook a new dish. It is not the same as being inspired by fear or the prospect of failure. No, God’s inspiration of the Scriptures is such that the Scriptures are literally His words, though He didn’t simply dictate those words to people for immediate recording. God was working all things together in such a way that He moved human authors to write His words in their own hand (both the Old and New Testaments). 1 Peter 1:21 says this, “… no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” The word is God’s divine word written through the hands of human people being moved to do so by the Holy Spirit.
This fact suggests a profound truth about the way God chooses to use people in doing His own work. God is doing His work through His people. He is inspiring His people to carry about His work according to His purpose and the role that He has for each of His children. I am here doing what I do because this is the place that God has for me. He, by grace alone, chooses to do His work through a deeply depraved and wretched man like me. God wrote His Scriptures through His people that He chose for such a task, so He does all of His work through His people.
If God is the source of life (and all of creation), then His revealed word must be the knowable standard by which all of creation is measured. Do we know that we have the right set of Scriptures? If you haven’t seen the previous two sermons, I want to encourage you to go back and watch or listen to those and check out the apologetic resources on the blog (and get my book, Neat)
Do we really know that the Scriptures are infallible? We partially answered this question in the first sermon of this series. The Scriptures are authentic, reliable, and coherent. For something to be infallible means that in every generation and location it is just as relevant and accurate regarding matters of truth. Infallibility means that the Scriptures do not change and cannot be proven to be false to any degree at any time. If the Scriptures could be proven to be false, they could not be the revealed standard of God’s righteousness. We do not believe that the Scriptures merely contain the word of God or merely contain truth. We believe that they are the word of God and that they are truth.
Considering the fact that the Scriptures are inspired by God, the notion stands in stark contrast to the way we, in our unrighteousness, approach life and ministry. We usually feel as though we need to develop our own rules according to our own standards. If God’s inspired word is the standard for all of life and ministry, then we do ourselves a great disservice by trying to organize our own way of living and of doing ministry.
There are many television shows and movies. In a vast majority of the stories that are told, I notice two main claims being implied. The first is this: that our chief goal in life is to survive. The second is that our chief purpose in life is to find true love and so be satisfied. So, the highest aim most people have is to live a long and happy life. We invest much of our time and energy into accomplishing that goal. We pursue that goal the best way that we know while trying to justify any means we use in order to live this long and happy life.
If God, in the beginning, created everything that has been created, then it must also be the case that we were created not for our own satisfaction, but for the glory of God. If all things exist to the glory of God, then there are very real standards for life that are set by order of creation. It is likely that if I pursue my own satisfaction by making survival and happiness my goals, I will be a morally bankrupt person (Jeremiah 2:12-13)— failing in this life because I have not competed according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5).
Scripture’s purpose (v. 16b)
Scripture isn’t merely present so that we know some standard that we are responsible to keep before God. Too often, we receive the picture of Scripture like it is there to tell us how to be a good person or live a fulfilling life by following steps one, two, and three. Or worse, we think that Scripture sits there as some condemning religious, dogmatic, rule book. The Bible is very clear about its purpose.
All Scripture is profitable.
As Paul describes the purpose of Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments), he describes them as profitable or beneficial. The Greek word there (ωφελιμος) is explicit. It means “profitable, beneficial, or advantageous.” There is no way to mistranslate this one. God’s written word is given for the purpose of profit in the lives of people. It is meant for our good, that we might benefit, and that we might gain the advantage in life and ministry.
It is profitable for teaching.
It is designed that we might benefit in the teaching of the Scriptures. There is a reason that this is the material we use when teaching. There is a reason I don’t simply stand in front of a group every week and give a motivational speech. This word is beneficial for us. I strongly desire that every person profit from the teaching of the Scriptures.
It is profitable for reproof.
It is designed that we might benefit in our being revealed to be wrong according to the Scriptures. As we practice good discipleship (the root word, there, is discipline), it is for our good that when, according to the Scriptures, we realize that we have a misunderstanding about who God is or are shown to be in sin. God did not mean for us to use the Scriptures as a point of condemnation, but so that we might profit as our insufficiencies are exposed by the text. The same principle applies to running a business or balancing a household budget. We can’t experience more gains if we don’t count the deficits. Only with life, the stakes are much higher than they are with a household budget.
It is profitable for correction.
It is designed that we might benefit in our being corrected and pointed in the right direction according to the Scriptures. Directly following reproof comes correction. The Scriptures don’t merely tell us how we fall short of God’s glory, they give corrective principles for the purpose of our sanctification. The Scriptures count our moral, emotional, physical, and mental, deficits and grants moral, emotional, physical, and mental gains for us. Scripture is corrective for the purpose of our gaining the advantage in life and ministry (for our good).
It is profitable for training in righteousness.
It is profitable as we learn from the Scriptures to live in the righteousness of Jesus Christ (the only truly righteous one). Just as with anything else, training is necessary. One does not become physically healthy by eating badly and not getting proper exercise. One does not gain knowledge without the work of study. In the same way, we do not learn to dwell in the righteousness of Jesus Christ without training. The Scriptures are profitable for that training.
So, we do not merely teach from the Bible or teach while using the Bible. We resolve to teach the Biblical text in everything- for it is the living and active word of God (Hebrews 4:12). This is also why our goal is not to entertain people into a building or into a seat. The Scriptures alone are profitable for life and ministry. We want to give people what is profitable and nothing less. This is why we say, as protestants, Sola Scriptura. Scripture alone is sufficient for all of life and ministry.
At our church, we read many books. This truth stands, none of those books, as helpful as they may be, can profit us like the Scriptures. One of the reasons we read other books is because they often help us to understand the Scriptures. Scripture alone is sufficient for all of life and ministry. In the Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus would say to the crowds and to His disciples, “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers” (23:8). This is humbling for me as a pastor. My words are unimportant. In Christ, I am on equal ground with my brothers and sisters. We only have one teacher- Jesus Christ. That is why we teach His word.
Scripture’s result (v. 17)
Why do we need teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness according to Scripture alone? We need these things because we naturally do not compete according to the rules. We are always trying to define our own way. That is the purpose God has for sin- to reveal to us our deficits compared with His own glory. The universe operates according to rules. Why would we ever expect human life and existence to be any different?
The Gospel bears on our disobedience. The story of the Scriptures is that no one is able to practice the righteousness of God by keeping God’s standard. So, Jesus Christ came, fulfilled the Law, and clothes unrighteous people in His righteousness alone. So, our existing in God’s glory for God’s glory is achieved only in Christ. Verse 17 makes two points.
First, this profit works out for the man (here, generic meaning people) of God. So, only the spiritual people of God actually benefit from the work of the Scriptures. Those who are not in Christ do not necessarily benefit. This makes sense considering the fact that all people are unrighteous. Without being moved first by God, being clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and having our hearts regenerated, we will be unable to submit to the authority of the Scriptures. Our salvation does not begin with our understanding of the Scriptures or our submission. That would be another works-based righteousness. If that were the case, we would have reason to boast and our religion would be no better than that of the Muslim, Catholic, or Mormon. God completes His own work of salvation and does not depend on people. When He regenerates our hearts, then we gain a desire to hear the words of God, being subject to them, and profiting as a result. It is the people of God under the proper instruction of Scripture who have every advantage in life and ministry for their eternal good (not their momentary satisfaction on this earth).
Second, the Scriptures make the people of God adequate, equipped for every good work. This is the advantage that we gain. The advantage is not that we will gain material prosperity on this earth. That prosperity will not last for anyone. Th advantage is not that we would gain some worldly status or position. The advantage is that, through the teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness by Scripture alone, the people of God are made adequate. That means basically able to live life well for the purpose life has (to glorify God). There, in adequately accomplishing our purpose for being, is where we find our highest satisfaction (yes, higher satisfaction than the closest intimacy). In becoming adequate, the people of God are equipped for every good work. As we are brought into God’s glory alone, we are being made into greater servants. We are joyfully decreasing as Christ increases. In this, we are satisfied.
“For just as rain and snow fall from heaven
and do not return there
without saturating the earth
and making it germinate and sprout,
and providing seed to sow
and food to eat,
so My word that comes from My mouth
will not return to Me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do,
You will indeed go out with joy
and be peacefully guided;
the mountains and the hills will break into singing before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:10-12).
God’s word accomplishes God’s work in the lives of God’s people. God’s people are filled with joy and see the whole world in a new light.