“The Usefulness of Scripture”
2 Timothy 3:14-17
July 5, 2009
God wants to use his Word to change your life.
I. Life change through scripture (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
II. Scripture’s methods (2 Timothy 3:16)
D. Training in Righteousness
Marty had grown up in a well known church, part of a well known denomination, one which taught strict adherence to the commands of God. In fact this particular denomination taught that if you weren’t baptized, or weren’t taking communion or weren’t walking with the Lord, you weren’t saved. It actually came across even stronger than that to a boy like Marty. He was very sensitive to his sin. Every time he tried to walk closer to the Lord, he’d struggle with anger or lust, and feel utterly defeated, even mocked by Satan.
At the same time well meaning people were sending contradictory messages: ‘Yes, you’ve got to walk in holiness, but don’t worry so much. You’re making yourself crazy.’ In confusion Marty turned to the Bible. This church still said they believed Scripture, and the leaders said it was OK for Marty to study it.
So Marty did, but found no relief. If anything, studying made things worse. Marty could see clearly that God is a righteous and holy God who judges sinners, and Marty’s church had taught him that God required people to meet that standard of righteousness in their lives in order to ultimately be saved. Marty knew that in himself he did not have that righteousness.
So, should Marty give up on Scripture and just accept the teaching of his church? Is the tradition of men so strong Scripture can’t reach someone like Marty? Is the study of Scripture useless with respect to the real problems and issues in life? Yea, it’s useless. Close your Bibles and let’s go home.
What? You don’t agree? You think Scripture is useful? Do you really? When was the last time God’s Word made a real difference in your life? Last week? Last year? Never? Most would agree Scripture should make a consistent difference in our lives. Only a few would honestly admit it’s not happening.
Well this morning I want to reassure you that God wants to use Scripture to change your life. He promises that Scripture is useful, profitable, and he encourages us to take Scripture seriously so that Scripture can change our lives.
I. Life change through scripture (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
We’re going to spend a good deal of our time today looking at four fictionalized case studies of the impact of Scripture on lives. They’re fictionalized, but they are based on real people like Marty, people I’ve known or read about. And they demonstrate the truth of 2 Timothy 3:14-17, that God uses Scripture in very concrete ways to change our lives. Let’s begin by reading our very familiar text, 2 Timothy 3:14-17
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 infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed 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.
Paul is Timothy’s mentor. He’s sent Timothy to care for the churches in Ephesus, and he’s written him twice to give encouragement direction, teaching and advice. In this letter he’s been warning Timothy that he can expect trouble because sinful men will oppose him. Paul describes in great detail in this chapter how bad people will get as the time of the end draws near.
But then Paul turns and encourages Timothy to be very different from those evil people. He encourages him first to continue in what he has learned. Paul knows that he himself has taught Timothy the basics of the Christian life and Christian doctrine. He told him in chapter two to be strong in the grace of Jesus Christ “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
But Paul is convinced that the Scriptures themselves are profitable. Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother, Eunice were believers, and so from infancy they taught Timothy the Holy Scriptures, which, Paul says “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
You don’t think Scripture is useful? Paul says without Scripture you wouldn’t have enough information to be saved. Even the Old Testament, which is all the Scripture Timothy would have had, is enough to make you wise to your need of salvation. The Old Testament is very effective at showing how we fall short of God’s righteousness. It shows that we’ve sinned and disobeyed, that we’ve been rebellious, broken God’s good laws. It also shows we’re unable in our own power to save ourselves from judgment. Scripture teaches what we most need to know, that no human behavior, no morality, no religious tradition, no self justification will bring us into a relationship with God.
It makes us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Only Jesus can rescue us, and it’s because of what he did on the cross. Notice the emphasis on faith alone. You don’t have go far in the New Testament to find this truth, yet many are still not willing to accept it: they want to work for their salvation. Scripture teaches there is nothing you can offer God that will add to the sacrifice of Christ. He wants you to believe, trust that he alone rescues you.
Only Scripture is able to make you wise for this salvation. Literally, it has the power to make you wise. Now it’s obvious this is not mechanical: you can’t just read or hear the right Scriptures and all of a sudden you are ready. No, the Holy Spirit has to be at work as described in John 16, God has to give you the grace and the gift of faith as described in Ephesians 2. He has to draw you and you have to choose him, as described in John 6.
But you also need Scriptural truth. You have to have heard the Scriptural bad news that all have sinned and the wages of sin is death, and the Scriptural good news that because of his great love for us, Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again for our salvation. And, as emphasized here, you have to know this salvation comes through faith, trust in the finished work of Christ.
So the first, perhaps the most important, thing Scripture is able to do is make you wise for salvation. If that was all it ever did, it would be enough for us to joyfully and everlastingly label Scripture as very useful and profitable.
II. Scripture’s methods (2 Timothy 3:16)
But Paul doesn’t end there. Scripture is not only profitable for salvation but useful for life. Verse 16: All Scripture is God-breathed 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. I don’t need to say that these are the verses to mark and highlight in your Bible, to memorize. In fact this whole section is so useful you should probably memorize all of it.
All Scripture is inspired by God. All the Old Testament; all the New Testament, though some of it had not been written and little of it had been gathered at the time this statement was made. But Paul here changes his word use, from ‘the writings,’ Old Testament Scripture, to a more broad word for Scripture, a word he used in 1st Timothy to quote Jesus. So Paul considers Jesus’ words Scripture. And Peter, in 2nd Peter 3:16 considers Paul’s words Scripture.
All this Scripture is ‘God-breathed.’ That’s a literal translation. The first half of the word means God, the second half means spirit or breath. All Scripture is breathed by God, given by His Spirit. Thus it is both true and authoritative. Scripture itself claims this. Jesus says to the Father ‘your word is truth.’ Paul tells Timothy in this letter that he should be a workman who rightly handles the word of truth. Proverbs teaches us that every word of God is flawless. We read in Psalm 19 this morning that the Law of the Lord is perfect.
And the Bible is authoritative. The words of the Bible have the same authority as a word spoken directly from God. A king exercises his authority by his written decree. In the same way God, the sovereign king, has written his decree in the Bible; every word has his authority; He has the right to tell us what to do.
Because it’s God’s word it’s inerrant: ‘without error in the original manuscripts.’ When Paul, Moses or Isaiah wrote, theirs were the exact words God intended, given by the supervision of the Spirit through the author’s style and personality. 2 Peter 2:20 says: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Now if I make a copy of Paul’s letter and accidently add a word, which I’m capable of doing, I’ve introduced an error in my copy – but not in God’s word. In fact this has happened. If you compare any two Greek manuscripts, hand written copies of the Bible, you will find small differences due to copyist’s errors and mis-understandings. Now is this a major problem? No. Because there are so many excellent and early copies of Scripture, it is still possible to determine the original text with great accuracy.
So, all Scripture is inspired by God, true, without error in the original writings and authoritative today. But not only true, it’s useful; it’s profitable; it’s helpful. The Greek is from a root that means piling things up; Scripture heaps help on you, as a farmer heaps his crop into profitable piles in his barns.
It’s useful for teaching; rebuking; correcting and training in righteousness. I want to spend the rest of our time looking at those four benefits, and at case studies which show how God might use his Word in these ways in your life. God wants to use his Word to change your life.
II. Scripture’s methods (2 Timothy 3:16) A. Teaching
So, teaching: instruction. Scripture teaches everything we need to know about God and his salvation; about who He is and what he does; about who we are and what we need. Scripture is a picture window, surveying the very mind and heart of God, a panorama too vast, intricate and detailed for us to fully grasp. Scripture is a fountain, pouring forth streams of wisdom, knowledge and insight for right living. Scripture is an ocean, vast in its breadth to delight a child’s heart, but with hidden depth’s to satisfy the philosopher’s yearning. Scripture is a treasure house in which all truth is stored.
Remember Marty? He struggled with the truth of God’s righteousness. He’d been taught that God judges any failure to meet his righteous standard. And when Marty came to God’s word, he found Romans 1:16-17: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
Marty apparently meditated a long time on the phrase ‘a righteousness from God’ with what he later described as not only fear, but anger toward God, who required what he could not give. Then he began to look at the end of 1:17, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." He finally realized that the verse wasn’t talking about an achieved righteousness God demands, but a received righteousness He gives to those who believe. The sinner is declared righteous by God through faith in the work of Jesus, not by our merit.
And with this insight, Marty says he felt he was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. Now his conscience was at rest; now he was certain of his salvation. And from that certainty Marty (Martin Luther) went on to revolutionize and reform the church. Scripture is powerfully useful for teaching the truth. You and I need to be students of Scripture, for only the truths of Scripture have the power to change lives.
II. Scripture’s methods (2 Timothy 3:16) B. Rebuking
Scripture is not only powerful to teach us the truth but to rebuke us when we sin. Scripture rebukes when the Holy Spirit whispers or shouts to your heart that in a given area of life or of belief, you fall short of the Biblical standard. Scripture has taught the path, and you’re not on it. As a believer, you need to be told when you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Scripture rebukes us when we are wrong. Let’s take a case study. Emma is young woman of college age who’s been part of a Bible believing church all her life. She made a commitment to Christ when she four. As a teenager she mostly walked with Jesus, though not without turmoil. And in her first years away at John Brown University, that pattern has continued.
But this spring she was invited to be in leadership at the University Fellowship on campus. The current leaders encouraged Emma and the others to examine themselves in light of Scripture to see if they were in the right place to begin leading others. They were challenged very specifically in the area of their wholeheartedness for Christ. And as Emma began to study the Scriptures she was rebuked, in the area of self-centeredness versus Christ centeredness.
It started with Philippians 2:4 where she was called to look out not only for her own interests, but also for the interests of other. Then her mentor took her to Exodus, and she began to realize that like Pharaoh, her self-centeredness was achieved by hard-heartedness toward the things God really wanted her to be doing. She felt she was living the Christian life her way, not God’s.
She knew she was under rebuke when she read the triumphal entry in Luke 19. When Jesus said if the children stopped praising him the stones would cry out she felt her own heart was harder than a stone. It was tough to accept.
And just to finish the story, God also gave Scripture that corrected and encouraged her. Philippians 3:7 “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
II. Scripture’s methods (2 Timothy 3:16) C. Correcting
Do you see it? God uses his Word to rebuke selfishness, hard heartedness or sin. He teaches what’s right, rebukes what’s wrong, and he corrects our course. The teaching of Scripture tells you the path. The rebuke tells you you’re off the path. The correction of Scripture puts you back on the path.
Reggie Stevens was a father of four young children, husband of Mary Ellen. He had a good but not well-paying job, and the family had trouble making ends meet. Reggie became pretty hard headed about counting every dollar, and took the approach that giving to the church was definitely a low priority. In fact he came to begrudge the little they did give, and often forgot to give.
Well, I won’t go into how Reggie was rebuked for that sin. Some pastors have the gift of preaching stewardship sermons, but I’ve never been one. I do know the pastor pointed to 2nd Corinthians 9: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
There is rebuke here to those who give grudgingly, sparingly or under compulsion. That’s what Reggie had been doing.. But there is also correction, a change in attitude to one of generosity and even cheerfulness, a change from putting giving last to putting it first. As Reggie processed this correction, he decided the old Biblical tithe, ten percent, while not mandatory in any way, was what he wanted to give to the Lord. And he began to look forward to carefully calculating that and taking it right off the top of his pay check.
Then he lost his job. The first time someone gave a gift to pay his bills, he looked at it long and hard: then he put it in the bank and tithed off it. And Reggie would testify that though there have been hard times, God has been faithful, provided for them, and allowed giving to continue to be a joy for the family.
II. Scripture’s methods (2 Timothy 3:16) D. Training in Righteousness
Scripture teaches what is right, rebukes when we’re wrong, shows the correct path and trains us in righteousness. The word ‘training’ is used in Greek of one-on-one tutoring, traditional education, and, in Hebrews 12, of the discipline by which the Lord parents us. God uses Scripture to build the disciplines we need, the attitudes and behaviors of a righteous person.
Irene Walden’s family is in transition; she still has elementary age children, but the older ones are leaving the nest. And Irene finds herself battling both fear and discouragement as she looks at the evils and dangers of this world, at places she and her husband have fallen short, and at the personalities and needs of her children. She prays for them to be safe, but she knows even if they follow God safety isn’t promised; and she isn’t confident they all will.
Scripture speaks to these fears. In this case the teaching is gentle: “For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” The rebuke is gentle: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
And God wants to train her to trust. One day Irene is listening to the radio when a preacher begins to teach from Psalm 57. He sketches the setting of the Psalm, David’s discouraging situation. Then he shows that in that moment, David does three things. First, he cries out, tells God his circumstances and his fears. Then he looks up, like a child looking to a father for help. Finally, he holds fast. Even as the difficult circumstances continue, he clings to God.
As Irene takes hold of that, it serves her well. It’s training in righteousness; it’s the walk of a believer: “Cry out; look up; Hold fast.” Irene finds that when she can step away from her fear toward the God of all comfort, she finds peace.
God wants to use Scripture to change you. To make you wise for salvation, then to teach you, rebuke you, correct you, train you in the disciplines of the Christian life. But you do have a responsibility. Open the book.
I’ve always liked the old story of skin flint Ebenezer, who decided he really needed to win the lottery. Every day he prayed ‘Lord, let me win the lottery today’. Nothing. The next day ‘Lord, let me win today.’ Finally after weeks of this he heard a voice from heaven: “Ebenezer, buy a ticket.” If you want God’s word to change you, you’ve got to buy a ticket, to open the book.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.