“God Has Spoken”
2 Timothy 3:14-17
June 1, 2008
We must learn and obey God’s inspired, authoritative Word.
Introduction: 2 Timothy 3:16-17
I. The inspiration of Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21)
II. The authority of Scripture (Isaiah 55:8-11)
III. Our obedience to Scripture (Psalm 119:9-16)
Over and over recently I’ve found myself using a certain phrase. It may have started when we studied Genesis. I remember saying we’re all Abraham, on a journey of faith. We’re all Jacob; we walk with a limp. We’re all Peter, speaking before we think. It’s identifying with Scripture, allowing it’s events and teachings to be as real and important as our own experiences. We’re seeing ourselves in the characters and crises of Scripture, and accepting as true the answers of those episodes.
We’re all Paul, in jail, cold and lonely, writing to Timothy the key truths that will insure the faithful transmission of the Gospel. We’re all Timothy, young and timid, facing crises and temptations not our own choosing. In Paul’s letter, 2nd Timothy we find all kinds of encouragement, but especially in our relationship to Scripture, God’s word. Paul gives a description of the Scriptures, their nature and use, so precise that it captures much of what we need to know about God’s word.
He says “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
This summer we’re studying the proposed Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America. Last week we began with the doctrine of God; his eternal existence in three persons and the greatnesses of his character, nature and acts. That was the right place to begin, because before there ever was a Bible, God had revealed his glory in creation and made himself know through what he had made. But if we want to be specific about what we believe we first need a doctrine of Scripture. What is the Bible and what is it to be used for?
The Statement of Faith says: We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.
Again, this is a mouthful. I think there are three main ideas - the inspiration of Scripture, the authority of Scripture and our response to Scripture. So important are these truths to who we are at Trinity that I’m able to take my big idea directly from our vision statement: we must learn and obey God’s inspired, authoritative Word.
I. The inspiration of Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21)
The Bible is God’s inspired word. “We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings.” God has spoken. The God who created the universe, who created mankind in his image - relational, communicating, personal - did not remain silent toward his creation, but has given us his own words to teach us, challenge us, guard us and guide us.
In one ultimate sense God has spoken through the incarnation of Jesus. The gospel of John says “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . the Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us.” Jesus is God’s message, the ultimate voice of God’s truth. So the author of Hebrews says “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”
God has spoken to us by his Son, but the record of that speaking, like the record of the prophets, is found in the written word. 2nd Timothy tells us that all Scripture is inspired or ‘God breathed’. The Greek word is ‘theopneustus’, from the word for God, ‘theos’ and the word for breath, ‘pnuestos’. God has spoken, his breath inspired formed the words, he is the author. And because Scripture contains the very words of God, it is inerrant, without error in the original writings. Nothing the Bible affirms as true is wrong; the meaning of every text is true. Jesus says this very clearly when he prays “Sanctify them by the truth; your Word is truth.”
Let’s explore what inerrancy means. First, we take Scripture literally. Scripture means what the author intended it to mean. We don’t spiritualize it, allegorize it, second guess it or impose our meaning on it. On the other hand we don’t take Scripture literalistically or out of context. We allow the Bible to use ordinary everyday speech, just as we allow ourselves to say the sun rises even though it’s a scientific error. We round numbers; when the Bible says that 8000 died in a battle we know it’s approximate. We recognize indirect quotes that accurately paraphrase. We allow eyewitnesses to remember different things about the same event.
Further, we allow the Bible to teach through poetry, metaphor, figure of speech and other literary devices without losing a literal meaning. We know a camel can’t literally go through the eye of a needle, so did Jesus. It’s the author’s intent, the meaning that counts when the Bible teaches spiritual, emotional, historical or scientific truth.
And we recognize that Scripture was not mechanically dictated. At times God does say ‘write this down’, but most often he uses the human brain and hand to create the words. The Bible was written by God through human authors: Moses, David, Jeremiah, Luke, Peter, Paul. Their writings have their own styles, vocabularies, genre’s or types of literature and their own historical research and sources. Yet we affirm that the words they wrote were the words God intended to be written.
2nd Peter describes the process: the things the apostles taught were not cleverly invented myths, as doubters of the Bible still claim, but eye-witness testimony. This testimony reinforces our confidence in Scripture: “we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Verse 20: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. That’s a great explanation of the inspired nature of the Scriptures: Men spoke from God.
The statement of faith adds that Scripture was thus inerrant in the original writings. It was without error when they wrote it. We know some of the subsequent copies made from those originals contain errors: we compare any two copies from those early centuries and see differences. And we don’t have the original texts. So some say ‘you can’t claim you have the inerrant Scriptures if all you have is fallible copies.’
But we do claim that, for two reasons. First is the number of copies. Of all the ancient works we take seriously, whether Roman history, Greek philosophy or Egyptian mathematics, the Bible is the best attested. We might have ten or two relatively recent copies of those others, but we have over 5000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, some dating back almost to the time of the original writings.
Second, because we have so many copies, we can compare them logically and determine the original reading, with great accuracy. My son-in-law, Tim Rask has been helping with this at seminary. One of his professors has access to some Greek manuscripts found some decades back. They have never been collated or compared to other texts. Tim and a couple of other students have been helping.
As a result of hundreds of years of this kind of work, we have a Greek New Testament and a Hebrew Old Testament that are at least 99 percent identical to the original writings. And where uncertainty exists, it does not touch any significant doctrine.
By the way, notice that I’m talking about accuracy in our Greek and Hebrew Bible; I’m not talking about accuracy in translation. English translations differ in philosophy, in target audience, and in literalness versus thought-to-thought accuracy. Some are better than others. None is perfect. So when I study Scripture I compare several translations and look at the original Greek or Hebrew, and sometimes I’ll mix and match words or phrases into what I then call the DeGray Standard Version. And this is not rocket science: you can learn to do this well using readily available tools.
II. The authority of Scripture (Isaiah 55:8-11)
So the inspired Bible is inerrant: it is breathed out by God himself even as it was being written by men. And as the very word of God, this Bible is thus authoritative.
There are many ways of defining the authority of Scripture, but my favorite is simply that Scripture has the right to tell you what to do. The verse we just looked at said “We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it.” God has the right to tell you what to dothrough Scripture.
This authority of Scripture has eternal implications. The statement of faith says it is “the complete revelation of his will for salvation.” 2nd Timothy says “from childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” God reveals the way of salvation through Scripture.
In the Old Testament we see prophecies of Jesus, pictures of Jesus and the awful truth of our need of Jesus. We see God’s law, which convicts us of our sin, because we are all lawbreakers. But the Old Testament also shows God’s promises of forgiveness through a Messiah, through a suffering servant, though a sacrifice.
And the New Testament reveals that Savior, Servant, Sacrifice: the Word made flesh. It was Jesus who came and died and rose again for our salvation. It was Jesus who proclaimed of himself “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus taught that “everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
As Paul reminded Timothy, these Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other book that will do this. There is no other religious teaching that brings salvation. There is no other faith but faith in Jesus as revealed in Scripture that will rescue us from hell and give us eternal life.
But the authority or efficacy of Scripture is not limited to the realm of salvation. The doctrinal statement says that it is “the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged.” This includes science, politics, economics and history as well as spiritual life and ethics. Whatever God’s word says in these areas is true, though sometimes we do mistake the meaning for a time. And there are things the Bible does not say, in science and history, that are true.
God has in a very real sense given his word the authority to accomplish his purposes. Isaiah 55 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11so shall be my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
God’s word is authoritative in every realm, because it reflects a higher knowledge, a higher intellect, a greater power than we’re capable of understanding.
And God doesn’t not speak in vain. His word is powerful and effective. It accomplishes His purposes. Just as rain has an incredible power in transforming a seed to a crop, so God’s word has a tremendous power in transforming both his people and his world. Therefore when we frame our lives in Scriptural categories and approach the world with Scriptural truth; when we take hold of the words of Scripture to guide ourselves and to communicate God’s love to others, it will be transforming.
III. Our obedience to Scripture (Psalm 119:9-16)
God has spoken. His word is without error. It is the complete revelation of his will and powerful to accomplish his purposes. So how do we respond to the existence and authority of this word? I have a suggestion. Get yourself a Bible. Take it home and find some out of the way corner of your house, and just set it there. Next year at this time we’ll do a little survey and see who’s got the thickest layer of dust.
Absurd? Yes. But too common even among us who claim to hold the Word in high regard. Maybe we don’t do this physically, just psychologically. We study the Scriptures, we’re comforted by them, but we’re not willing to let them make a difference. It’s too scary. Folks, this book isn’t supposed to just be what Bob talks about for 27 minutes on Sunday. If that’s all it is to you, I quit. I’m going back to mechanical engineering. This book isn’t here to tickle our ears: it’s here to transform our lives.
How do we respond to the world of God? The doctrinal statement says “it is to be believed in all it teaches, obeyed in all it requires and trusted in all it promises.” 2nd Timothy says it’s “profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God who is greater has spoken, and it’s supposed to make a difference.
This is Scripture’s teaching about itself in countless places:“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
The longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, is all about responding to Scripture. We’ll only take a quick look at verses 9-16: How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. 10I seek you with all my heart; do not let me wander from your commands. 11I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. 12Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. 13With my lips I declare all the laws of your mouth. 14I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. 15I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. 16I will delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living or walking or keeping it or guarding it according to God’s word. Scripture was never designed to be theoretical, though it answers life’s greatest questions. Scripture was designed to be lived. The key to purity of mind, heart and life is obedience to Scripture. For a believer the battle with sin is won or lost on the basis of Scripture’s dominance of our lives.
A few years ago I began to recognize what I called “life dominating verses.” Certain Scriptures are so powerful, personal and challenging that taking them seriously must change our lives. Our text for today, 2nd Timothy 3, was on the list. But the key was examination and application: “examine yourself and make a list of the ways you either fake obedience to this command, cop-out on obedience to this command, or rationalize incomplete obedience to this command. Write two or three steps you will take to make this truth a reality.” It’s supposed to make a difference.
Verse 10: I seek you with all my heart; do not let me wander from your commands. Verse 12: Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. Ultimately Scripture is supposed to effect our hearts, our behaviors, our emotions and our minds. It is to be sought: “I seek you with all my heart”, and learned: “teach me your decrees”, and obeyed “Do not let me wander from your commands.”
There is no substitute in our lives for time in the word, time when we seek God through his word, when we open ourselves up and make ourselves vulnerable to what he has taught; time when we humbly submit ourselves to him for the strength to change.
Verse 11: I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Verse 15: 15I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. Memorization and meditation are key tools in learning and obeying the Word. The process of stuffing God’s word into our hearts changes the shape of our hearts. In the same way the process of meditation, of chewing on the Word provides nourishment for our souls.
I’ve been reading a book called “Transformation” which I think was given to me by Anna Abrman. Author Bob Roberts talks about having an interactive relationship with God, which sounds modern and mystical. But when it comes to a sub-title, the chapter is called “the combination of God, a Bible, a pen, a journal, soft music and Starbucks in order for great things to happen.” His contemporary church has found that real transformation happens when people spend real time with God in the word.
Gail and I have taken four groups to Bible Immersion Camp, and we’ve seen it. When people sincerely dig into the Word, God speaks. All we do is give a basic outline for inductive study of the Word, highlight a few tools for making that study easier, and turn people loose with enough time to actually do it. Then we debrief what they’ve seen. After a day of this we do one more study with a strong emphasis on application, and God speaks life changing truth into peoples lives.
It’s the furthest thing from boring or stuffy. Verse 14: I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. Verse 16: I will delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. God’s word can and should be a source of rejoicing and delight. I can’t tell you how often I delight in God’s word on Tuesday mornings. But we neglect God’s word to our own harm.
So what have we seen? That the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God. That it is the authoritative word of God, speaking truth into every area of life. And that it is supposed to make a difference. It’s supposed to make us wise for salvation. It’s supposed to teach, rebuke, correct and train us in righteousness. We are supposed to respond to it with heart and soul and mind and behavior. We must learn and obey God’s inspired authoritative word.