Passage: 2 Timothy 3:14-17
Almost seven weeks ago, we began our long drive of roughly 2,200 miles from Allen Park, MI, to Apple Valley. It was a lot of driving, and at times we moaned and groaned a bit over how long of a drive we had to make. It ended up going by relatively quickly, and we enjoyed our fellowship with Tim and Mandy while we drove. But one of the ways that we encouraged ourselves several times not to grumble was to imagine what it must have been like to make that kind of trip, not in a quiet, air conditioned car in the matter of three days, but in a tiny covered wagon over the course of several months. It’s hard to whine about a car ride when you consider how difficult that must have been for those first settlers coming west. The people who made that trip had no promise of ever returning to their previous home. They left their family and friends for good, and they had to bring along all of their possessions or leave them behind. Packing well for a move like that would take great foresight because there are no do overs, and if you are moving into the wilderness, you can’t run to Wal-Mart and pick up whatever you forgot. You’ve got to bring everything you need, and to do so, you have to anticipate what life is going to look like, what access you will have to supplies, and what you could do without. That’s a big challenge isn’t it? Along those lines, consider the challenge for God of writing a book that is sufficient to answer every necessary question mankind would face from the close of the apostolic period until Christ returns. When God put the Bible together, he had to produce a book that would transcend time and culture and tell us everything we need to know about him, about salvation, and about how to serve him regardless of the time or place. This is an incredible challenge, and praise the Lord that he met this challenge through the Bible. This book is fully sufficient to answer every question we will ever need answered about God, salvation, and his will. It is a great gift to mankind, and this morning, I’d like to argue that it must be at the center of our life as a church and our lives as Christians. This morning, I’d like to talk about the priority of a “Word-Centered Ministry.” This will be the fifth sermon in our series “Foundations for Church Ministry.” We spent the first four weeks talking about our purpose of glorifying God by seeing people saved and discipled. I’d like to take the next four weeks to discuss some key principles that must guide how we go about fulfilling our purpose. The first principle I’d like to discuss is that we must be a word-centered church. To do so, I’d like to consider a familiar text (read).
To appreciate this text, we need to understand a few things about its context. Second Timothy was the last epistle Paul wrote before his death. He was about to be executed for preaching the gospel, and he wrote this epistle to encourage one of his closest disciples as Timothy struggled with the idea of Paul’s execution and with the challenges of pastoring a church in a hostile culture. Second Timothy 3:1–13 talk about the fact that the world was bad and would only get worse. How then was Timothy to respond to these challenges as a pastor of a local church and as a Christian? Paul answers in our text.
He begins with a command to continue in the truth of God’s Word, and he follows with five reasons why Timothy should continue. Let’s begin by considering the command.
The Command: Continue in the Truth of God’s Word (v. 14a).
What are we to continue in?
For the sake of clarity throughout this sermon, I think we need to ask what exactly is Paul commanding Timothy to remain in? As you look through the text, there are a number of references to the truth source Timothy is to continue in. Verse 14 mentions “the things which you have learned.” Verse 15 mentions the “Holy Scriptures” which bring salvation. Verse 16 again mentions Scripture, though it uses a slightly different word. But while Paul uses several different descriptions, he gives no indication that he isn’t thinking of the same body of truth throughout. Since Paul looks back on what Timothy learned from his Jewish mother as a child, the OT is certainly in view, but I believe that Paul also has in mind NT truth and ultimately the entirety of the NT. I say that because the things Timothy had learned from Paul, many of which are rehearsed in 2 Timothy, included truth that went beyond what is revealed in the OT. In particular, v. 15 notes that the Scriptures lead to salvation. Since the full gospel is not revealed in the OT, Paul must have been thinking of NT truth. In sum, when Paul talks in this passage about the truth of God or the Scriptures, he is talking about all of God’s specially revealed truth. For us, after the completion of the NT, that means our Bibles.
Nature of the Command
With that in mind, let’s talk about the command. The concept is not hard to grasp. Timothy needed to stand firm and remain in the truth he had received. There are two issues at stake in this continuation. First, Timothy needed to continue to believe God’s Word and to let its truth remain as the foundation of his life. But true belief never remains solely in the head. Continuing also required that Timothy live this truth. Continuing required that Timothy’s life reflected the truth of Scripture and that he obeyed its commands. Paul is commanding Timothy not to be swayed from the truth of God’s Word or from living it out. I want to emphasize that the command is for a continuous lifestyle. You could literally translate the command as “keep continuing.” Don’t stop continuing but rather make this your pattern throughout all of life. One other thing worth noting is that this command is very different from the practice of the false teachers whom Paul mentions in this book. Notice vv. 6–7. The false teachers were never content with a foundation of knowledge. They were obsessed with novelty. Notice as well the warning in 4:3–4.
We certainly see this mentality at work in our day. People love novelty, and even Christians and Christian organizations often look for ideas or self-help methods that have never been thought of before. As we think about how to do church or how to live the Christian life, there is a lot of pressure to think that we need to modernize our thinking and methods to do the work God has called us to do. I’m not saying that we should never revisit our beliefs or consider new ideas, but we must always remain grounded in the truth of the Bible, committed to obeying what it says, and confident in its power to change lives. As the world becomes more and more hostile toward its teaching, Paul says that we cannot respond by fleeing from the Bible; instead, we must respond by being driven deeper into what it says. God’s Word must remain the foundation for how we think and how we live as a church and as Christians.
But why should we trust the Scriptures so highly and live accordingly? Paul follows with five reasons why we must remain committed to Scripture.
The Bible came from reliable sources (v. 14b).
Paul mentions Timothy’s experience of learning the truth. This is the same word which is often translated as “disciple” and so Timothy had been discipled in the truth and had been “assured” or “convinced” of its truthfulness. This assurance was in part the result of the trustworthiness of Timothy’s teachers. Since v. 15 mentions Timothy’s childhood, this statement probably includes Timothy’s mother and grandmother (Lois and Eunice). 2 Timothy 1:5 notes that these ladies provided Timothy with a godly foundation. But Paul is primarily referring to himself in v. 14 as a reliable teacher. Paul was a man of great integrity. He wasn’t out to make money or to build a big crowd like the false teachers. He was simply committed to doing what God had told him to do. He had seen the Lord and had received his message from him; therefore, Timothy could rest in the fact that the doctrine he had received was indeed true.
We can sometimes skip over it, but the NT is very careful to defend it’s own reliability. For example the apostles were honest and open about their faults in the Gospels. They were more committed to truthfulness than to making themselves look good. As well, the NT is clear that many people saw Jesus risen from the dead, and that the resurrection wasn’t a fable. And the NT authors went to great lengths to demonstrate that NT theology is consistent with and fulfills the OT. Because of these things, we can be confident that the Bible we hold in our hands comes from reliable sources. It is truth, and because of that we need to continue in what it says.
The second reason Paul mentions is that…
The Bible reveals the power of salvation (v. 15).
Here, Paul refers to the Bible as the “Holy Scriptures.” This title points to the sacredness of the Bible. It is no ordinary book. The Bible is holy because it comes from God.
Power to Lead to Salvation
Because of its divine origin, Paul says the Scriptures are “able” or literally “have the power” to provide the wisdom which leads to salvation. The basic idea is that what sets the Bible apart from every other book ever written is that the Bible reveals the answer to man’s greatest problem. It tells us who God is, it tells us that we are sinners who deserve the judgment of God, and it also tells us the answer. It tells us that Jesus died in our place, that he rose from the dead, and that we can have life in his name. The Bible reveals the most important message of wisdom known to man. And this message isn’t simply a historical record. It is accompanied by the power of God that is able to bring salvation to those who, as the end of the verse states, put their faith in Christ Jesus.
Paul says that there is salvation in the message of Scripture, but that it comes through faith. That phrase is very important. The gospel is a powerful message, but it only belongs to those who put their faith wholly in Christ for salvation. If you’ve never done that before, I hope that today you will put your trust in Christ for salvation and receive the gift of eternal life.
We must remain in the Scriptures because they reveal the most important and the most powerful message in the world. Again, the theme that I am working toward this morning is that we need to be a Word-centered church. And a primary reason we should be a Word-centered church is because the Word reveals the answer to man’s greatest need. It tells man how he can be right with God. Our society has come up with all sorts of methods to help people have a better life. If you look online or in a bookstore, you will find all sorts of plans to improve your physical, mental, and spiritual health. We have highly paid professional counselors and expensive drugs to help you function better, and the church can easily fall in love with many of these pop methods. My point is not to say that we can’t learn from modern research. But we need to remember that the ultimate answer to man’s greatest need is found in the Bible. The answer is the gospel and it is right here in this book, and because of that we need to be a Word-centered church and Word-centered Christians.
The third reason we need to continue in God’s Word or be Word-centered is because…
The Bible is inspired by God (v. 16a)
This little phrase is very significant to an orthodox understanding of the nature of Scripture. It is so significant that liberal scholars have put a lot of effort into robbing it of its message. I won’t bore you today with the grammatical arguments; rather, I’ll just say that the reading I just read is clearly correct. Paul claims that “all of Scripture (not just some of it) is inspired by God.”
To understand this claim, we need to focus in on the word that is translated “inspired by God.” Paul uses a rare compound word theopneustos. It combines the Greek word for God, theo, with the word pneustos, which means spirit or breath. Therefore, the literal meaning of the term is “God-breathed.” It describes the origin of Scripture. The Bible originated with the speech of God. Second Peter 1:21 expands on the idea when it says that the Scriptures came into being when “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” That’s why the personalities of the human authors come through in Scripture. God didn’t dictate the Bible to the human authors. They were more than scribes, but God directed and controlled their speech to the extent that our text says the Bible is the product of God’s breath or his speech. It is God’s inspired Word.
Why should Timothy continue in the Word, and why should we be a Word-centered church. The central answer is that the Bible is God’s message to us. What we hold in our hands isn’t the outdated opinions of people who lived long ago and aren’t up with the times, as people in our society will often say. It’s not merely the ideas of some wise people that we may or may not be able to benefit from. No, the Bible is the inerrant, authoritative Word from a sovereign and all-knowing God to his creation. This fact has tremendous significance for us. It means that we must believe and obey everything it says. We don’t have the right to pick and choose what we will believe or what we will obey no matter what society says about right and wrong and no matter what experts may say about how we can more effectively reach people with our message. It also means that the Bible must be the engine that drives everything we do as a church. In our Scripture reading this morning, we saw that God’s Word is powerful, and it always accomplishes its purpose. We can’t improve on the Bible. We must be a Word-centered church.
The fourth reason is…
The Bible is profitable (v. 16b)
The idea behind “profitable” is simply that the Word is useful, beneficial, and effective. It gives real answers and real help to the needs of people. Paul adds four ways that it is profitable. The first two terms have to do with right doctrine or thinking, and the second two have to do with right practice. Paul is going to say that the Bible is effective in telling us what to believe and how to live.
The first way the Bible is profitable is for doctrine or teaching. The Bible tells us everything we need to know to develop a right understanding of theology. It tells us everything we need to know about God, everything we need to know about the gospel, about the church, and about the future. That qualifier “everything we need to know” is important because there are many things that the Bible doesn’t tell us, but it does tell us everything we need to know in order to develop correct doctrine. But the Bible doesn’t just instruct us in right doctrine; Paul adds that it also is profitable for reproof. The idea is that it is able to correct false doctrine. The Bible is fully sufficient to answer every false belief and objection to biblical truth. That’s pretty incredible. Consider again my covered wagon illustration. Since the NT was completed, people have come up with all sorts of bad ideas. But over 2,000 years, man hasn’t come up with an false doctrine that the Scriptures haven’t been ready to answer. God packed everything we would need in the Bible.
Paul next adds that the Bible is profitable for correction. As I mentioned, this term has to do with behavior. The Bible corrects our faults, it convicts us of sin, and it shows us how to get back on the right path. Sometimes the Word can really cut can’t it? As Hebrews 4:12 says, the Word can be “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” This isn’t always pleasant is it? I’ve had it happen to me many times, where my thinking, my emotions, and my actions are sinful. But I read the Word, and it cuts. It performs a painful but necessary surgery. The Word has great power to correct. And finally, it is profitable for “instruction in righteousness.” The Bible doesn’t just correct our faults; it also builds positive righteousness. It reveals the character of God, and it shows us through the commands of Scripture and the examples of godliness how to live in a way that reflects his glory and pleases him. This instruction doesn’t just help us glorify God; it also is full of wisdom that helps us avoid pain and live a profitable life of value and joy. Sometimes we can be afraid of what the Bible tells us or dread obeying its commands, but Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28–30). The Word is profitable. It gives us everything we need to think right and to live right.
This fact leads naturally into the final reason why we must be Word-centered.
The Bible fully prepares us for life (v. 17).
Verse 17 is set up to communicate the purpose or result that God intends from the fact that the Word is inspired and profitable. Why did God give us this complete book? The word translated “complete” describes someone prepared for a task. They are capable of fulfilling a responsible and proficient in doing so. The word translated “thoroughly equipped” is actually just an intensive form of the same word which is translated “complete.” The purpose of the Word is to prepare us for every good work God has called us to do.
You could say that God has packed us a suitcase for life. And in his infinite wisdom and knowledge, he put everything in that suitcase we could possibly need to live a life of wisdom and to do his will. Praise the Lord for this book. Because of it’s great value, we need to be Word-centered.
I’d like to conclude by noting some implications of this truth for us as church and as individual believers.
For Our Church
Preaching and teaching must be central to our life as a body.
The Bible is God’s authoritative message to us, and it has the answers to our greatest questions and needs. Because of that, the central ministry of the church is to preach and teach the Bible. Programs and activities are great, but we better never think that they can take the place of teaching the Scriptures. The foundation of our effectiveness is teaching the Bible.
The Bible must drive our efforts at evangelism and discipleship.
Again, we live in a day, were we have access to many incredible resources for evangelism and discipleship. There are all sorts of cool displays, pictures, videos, and activities available to help the church fulfill its mission. Many of these things are helpful, but we better never think that any of them change a life. What changes a life is God’s Word. Because of that, if we want to reach people for Christ and build disciples, we need to give them the Word above everything else. We must be Word-centered in everything we do.
For Us as Individuals
Believe and Obey the Word.
The fact that the Bible is God’s inspired message to us means that it is your authority. You don’t have the right to pick and choose what you will believe and what you will adapt or to pick and choose what you will obey. We must revere this book and submit all of our lives to what it says.
Hunger for the Word.
First Peter 2:2 commands us to “desire the pure milk of the word” “as newborn babes” desire milk. Psalm 1:2 says that the blessed man “delights in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” Do you spend time in the Word like it is profitable for every need that you have? Do you read it and meditate on it all of the time? I’d like to add that one of the best ways you can fill your mind with the Word, is to worship with the church at every possible opportunity. I realize it’s not always possible, but what is going to do your soul more good on a Sunday evening, taking a nap or watching the game or praising God and listening to the teaching of God’s Word. If the Word is profitable, we need to hunger for its truth and fill our minds with it. God has given us a great gift. Let’s treasure God’s Word and strive to be Word-centered believers in a Word-centered church.