I Timothy 3:16&17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
How important is the Bible? Let me ask the question this way. How important is it that we have the same attitude to the Bible as God the Son and his divinely commissioned and appointed apostles? If we don’t have that attitude then in that area of our lives we are not followers of Jesus Christ, are we? We are not Christians in this area of our lives. We may hold to many of the morals taught by Jesus but we don’t follow his teaching on the Bible. Is this important? It seems to me to be very important. The passage before us today is an important testimony to the nature of the Bible and its divine origin. It is one of the first verses many memorize when they become Christians. We say it is one of the great ‘3:16s’ of the Bible. It provides us with a testimony concerning what God the Holy Spirit thinks of the Bible.
- CHRIST’S APOSTLE TEACHES US THAT THE BIBLE IS GOD-BREATHED.
See how Paul makes a number of important statements one after another . . .
- Scripture is the voice of God. Literally, it is God-breathed. It is God’s exhalation (rather than inhalation–which is what the word inspired might convey). Have you ever tried to speak as you inhale? You know it is possible but it is distorted, because your larynx is built to respond to the air moving up out of your lungs, not down through it intoyour lungs. Let me show you what I mean. If I try to recite the alphabet while breathing in it is not very pleasant. Listen, “A.B.C.D.” That is inhaling. Scripture is not God in-spiring it is God ex-haling, God breathing out. You see the implications of that? What the Bible records is the voice of God. The Bible is God talking.
- All of Scripture is the breath of God. This is what we mean when we allude to the plenary nature of inspiration. All the books in the canon of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, are equally inspired. It is not that they are equally important, and we are not all equally inspired by reading, for example, the first three chapters of I Chronicles as we are in reading the three chapters of the death and resurrection of Jesus in John 19, 20 and 21. But there was a purpose the Holy Spirit had in recording those Old Testament books to their every detail, every “jot and tittle” the Lord Jesus said. Pilgrim’s Progressis a great book, but it is not inspired in this sense. Grace Hymns and Christian Hymns and the Trinity Hymnal are fine hymnals but they are not the voice of God like the Bible. Scripture is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God.
There are a lot of preachers and church officers who like to go through the Scriptures with scissors and paste and cut out things that they don’t agree with. They believe the evangelical parts, that God is love, but they spurn other parts. Thomas Jefferson, an early president of the USA went through his Gospels, and he cut out all the miracles of Jesus Christ, because he said that no reasonable man could possibly believe that Jesus did these miracles. But, “Jesus’ ethical teaching . . . ah, it’s wonderful, it’s inspired; it’s the most marvelous stuff in the history of the world . . . I love it. The miracles, though? Extraneous to Christianity; I’ll cut them out of my Bible . . .” But Paul says here that all Scripture is God-breathed.
Notice also the word Paul uses, it is ‘Scripture.’ He is talking about a script, something that has been written down. It is not just that the writers of Scripture were themselves inspired, or their thoughts were inspired: it is the words they wrote down and inscripturated in the Bible that were inspired. It’s not just that God moved by the Holy Spirit in holy men to have inspired ideas about him, though he did; it is that he caused them to write down on clay tablets and later on papyrus rolls precisely his messages, his revelation, to his people. Do you remember Paul saying to the Thessalonians, “I thank God that you received my word not as the words of men, but for what it really is: the word of God.” You see, that’s an apostle realizing that the word of Scripture that he had been helped to write is the actual word of God. And so we have a high view of Scripture as Christians, because it was Jesus’ view, and the Bible tells us so. Here’s how you are to think about this Book. God tells us in his word how we’re to think about his word.
iii. All the Bible is infallible/inerrant. In other words it is exactly what God wanted to be recorded as coming from him. It is from God, from the God who cannot lie, the God who prevents the apostle John on the isle of Patmos from writing down some things. “Do not write that,” he says. So, Scripture is characterized by its freedom from teaching errors. That does not make it unique, of course. Many books are like that. The manuals that come with the machines you buy are free from error. If there is an error then that’s corrected in the next edition. There has been no new editions of the Bible, but further claims to be also the Word from God – like the Koran, and traditions of Rome, the book of Mormon and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy are replete with errors. Not the Scriptures. As the 1689 Confession of Faith puts it: “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God” (1:4).
Many ministers find this objectionable. They claim that it is bibliolatry. But if we worship Jesus as the incarnation of God, the one who claimed “I am the truth” we simply ask, “What was Christ’s view of Scripture?” and once we learn that then we must conform our view to God the Son, if we want to be 100%, 24/7 disciples of the Lord Jesus. What was his view? When he was tempted by a full frontal attack of the enemy on his person and mission, what did he do? He cited the book of Deuteronomy, three times. Each time, saying, “It is written…” When his contemporaries were arguing about divorce, or about the right view of the Sabbath, Jesus cited the Bible. He said to his opponents, “You err, not knowing the Scriptures”. People say that he was a child of his time. No, we are children of our bad times. He was the Son of God of eternity. On the road to Emmaus when those two disciples were forlorn and the bottom had dropped out of their lives, what did Jesus do? He took them through the Bible, rebuking them that they had failed to believe it. “O fools and slow of heart to believe everything the Scriptures have spoken.” When he hung upon the cross, he was citing Psalms. He never appeals to anything else, never makes reference to the books of the Apocrypha. That is why they are not bound together with the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. They contain many truths, but they are not wholly the breath of God. They also have bad breath, and so they are never quoted by Christ. There is no doubting that Jesus believed the Scriptures to be the infallible word of God. And we have no choice but to believe the same if we want to be consistent followers of Christ. If you believe in Jesus as the Lord of your life, then you must believe what he believes. If you call yourself a Christian, you must love the Bible like he and his apostles loved the Bible.
These years have been a very important time in the history of the huge 13 million member Southern Baptist Convention – thirteen times bigger than the membership of the Church of England. There was recently a debate going on the floor of its annual convention. One of their most important denominational papers, The Baptist Faith and Message, was about to be changed. For many years it had said that Jesus was our final authority, but the new editors of the new Baptist Faith and Message were consistent Bible-believing men, and they were changing the foundation of the magazine to affirm the inerrancy, the inspiration, and the final authority of the Bible. So they altered a clause in The Baptist Faith and Message to make that very clear that Baptists submitted to the authority of Scripture. That was the debate.
Then a modernist commissioner stood up on the floor and he said, “I don’t like this. You’re making us declare our allegiance to a book, but our allegiance isn’t to a book; we don’t worship a book. We worship a person, Jesus, so our ultimate allegiance shouldn’t be to this book.” Now everyone in the vast auditorium held their breath, fifteen thousand delegates were wondering who was going to answer this man. Then, from the platform, the principal or president of the Southern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Al Mohler stood up and walked to the microphone, and he said, “That, my friends, is exactly the issue that is before us. Can we pit Jesus against the Word of God or does Jesus teach us to accept the authority of the Word of God?” And he did a little Bible study through the gospels as I’ve just done with you, and he showed how Jesus teaches us to receive the authority of God’s Word. You can’t pit Jesus versus God’s Word because Jesus is the Word made flesh and he himself by the Holy Spirit gives us the Word of God and so those two things are not in competition.
You know and have met Don Carson, the Chicago professor of New Testament who has spoken three times here in the Aberystwyth conference. Once he was lecturing on the apostle Paul and a liberal scholar raised her hand and challenged him on his interpretation of Paul. Now that liberal scholar held this view that it is not the words of the verses of the Bible that determine their meaning; it is we who determine what the words means. So she challenged Don with a question. And what he did was to repeat her question back to her as she had spoken it except in the negative. He was giving her words the opposite meaning! And she frowned and shook her head and said, “No, you don’t understand me. Let me ask my question again.” And she asked her question again, and once again Don repeated it back to her as she had said it except he put it in the negative. And with great frustration, she said, “No, that is not what I’m asking!” And he said, “Ma’am, you seem to be very concerned that I take your words exactly as you are saying them. All I’m asking is that people do the same for the apostle Paul, because we may not change Paul’s meaning on those occasions when we don’t agree with it. We cannot make up the Christian religion as we go along. We need to listen to what Jesus and the apostles are saying because that alone is Christianity.” We are asking for honesty especially in the pulpit. When I came here fifty years ago the chairman of the deacons resigned after a year and in his gracious letter he said to me that he was in fact a Unitarian. He did not believe that Jesus was God but that he was not prepared to lead a campaign opposing me. It would be for political reasons. I much appreciated his honesty and always got on well with him in other contexts until he died. Do you see how inconsistent it would be to say, “The gospels are not true, but I believe them and preach them.” Any sensible congregation will say, “What are you talking about? That’s crazy! If you don’t believe it is true then stop preaching to us. Obey our Lord Jesus Christ.” Why would you say, ‘Yes, I’m a follower of Christ, but whatever he thought about the Bible I don’t think it is the Word of God’?” You are a selective admirer of Christ. That is not the same as being his disciple.
Dr. Ligon Duncan, the president of Reformed Seminary in Jackson was a student years ago in Edinburgh and he attended a debate on the doctrine of Scripture at its University. It was between a fine evangelical named Dr. Nigel Cameron, and a man named Dr. Graham Auld, who was the head of the Old Testament department, and who was a radical liberal. And they were debating the doctrine of Scripture, and, specifically, the issue of inspiration. And so, at one point in the debate, Dr. Cameron said to Dr. Auld, “Tell me what you think ‘inspiration’ means. When you say that the Bible is inspired, when you quote II Timothy 3:16, what do you think ‘God-breathed’ means?” And Dr. Graham Auld said exactly what you would expect a twentieth century person to do (this was still in the twentieth century, when this debate went on. It was in the late 1980’s.). He said, “I think the Bible is inspired, because it inspires me.” And Dr. Cameron rolled back in his chair, and he said, “Ah! You’re a Coleridgian!” And Dr Auld said, “A what?!?” And Cameron said, “You’re a Coleridgian! That’s exactly what Samuel Taylor Coleridge said last century. And of course, it’s completely wrong, and no confessional Christian for 2,000 years has ever believed that about the word of God.” You see, the romantic poets of the nineteenth century said that they admired the Bible because parts of the Sermon on the Mount, and John chapter 1, and I Corinthans chapter 13 inspired them. So that is why they could say the Bible was inspired. In other words they believed it was subjectively inspiring – “the Bible is inspired because parts of it turn me on”. But what we have in our text is an objective statement about the word of God. These words of an apostle of Jesus Christ teach us – with all the authority of Christ behind them – that all the written words of the Bible are God’s words: they are so much God’s words that we can speak of them as being breathed out of his mouth. You smell the fragrance of the breath of your husband or wife. We smell the same fragrance in the Scriptures. They are the breath of heaven in this stinking world of ours.
Do you know, men and women, that this very congregation exists as it does because there were men and women who were committed to make sure that every man, woman, student, boy, girl and visitor would benefit from understanding that the Bible was the word of God, and they had this high view of Scripture because it was their Saviour, Jesus’ view of Scripture.
And of course that’s where Paul is going here. He doesn’t just want us to possess a theoretically high view of Scripture. Paul is calling Timothy, and calling the Ephesian Christians whom Timothy pastored, and Paul is calling you and me not just to say that you have a high view of the Book, but to live by the Book! You believe this is the inspired word of God? Live by the Book! Live by the Book where it makes you uncomfortable; live by the Book where you struggle to understand and grasp the truth of this Book.
A pastor friend was in a meeting, and there was an evangelical Anglican pastor/theologian there, and he was doing a devotional, I think, from the end of Isaiah 50, and he spoke about how God would restore and strengthen the weary ones with a word; and he said these words in his devotional. He said, “You know, I very much resented the word-centeredness of the Reformed faith. I very much resented it, because I like pictures, and I like video, and I like the images that are shown me.” And then he went on to discourse about the glories of the new Star Wars movie, and all the visual spectaculars that went along with it. Then he said, “Though I very much resent the word-centeredness of the Reformed faith (because my personal inclination is to like pictures and images and video), I accept the word-centeredness of the Reformed faith, because that’s what the Bible and Jesus teaches.” My friend hearing him was delighted. Here was a person whose every natural inclination was to want something else, but when he came to the Book and the Scripture it told him, ‘You’re wrong.’ ‘God’s right,’ he responded, ‘Lord, you’re right, I’m wrong. I’ll go with the Book.’ And men and women, there are a hundred applications of that to us today, because all of us have certain inclinations that are out of accord with the Book. When we come to the Book, do we make the Book fit our personal inclinations? Or, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, are our inclinations changed, and our obedience brought into accord with the Book?
- CHRIST’S APOSTLE TEACHES US THAT THE BIBLE IS ALSO USEFUL.
Scripture is profitable; it’s beneficial. Notice what he says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” In other words, the apostle Paul is telling you not only that objectively – out there -Scripture is God’s very word – as much as the sky objectively – up there – is blue – but that Scripture is useful, it’s helpful, it’s profitable.
A lot of people will say, you know, that it’s the job of the preacher today to make the Bible relevant. Well, I want to tell you, the apostle Paul says, ‘No! It is not the job of the preacher to make the Bible relevant: it already is! It’s the job of the preacher to make sure that he doesn’t make the Bible irrelevant, because the Bible is already relevant! It’s already helpful! It’s already useful! It’s already profitable!
You know, you wouldn’t think it very profound if some people got up here one day and gave a talk on petrol in which they said, “Petrol is relevant to the running of a car.” You’d think, ‘You are wasting my time, because you are stating the obvious!’ Well, to talk about the word of God simply being “relevant” is wasting our time, because it’s stating the obvious. It’s not only relevant, it’s absolutely essential, just like petrol is absolutely essential to running the internal combustion engine. The word of God is helpful, it’s useful, it’s profitable; it’s the most practical Book in the world. What does Paul say here? By reading and studying the Scriptures, “the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v.HYPERLINK “http://biblia.com/bible/esv/2%20Tim.%203.17″17). By the Bible you are made ready for marriage, and parenthood, and a demanding job, and working in the church, and growing old, and dementia, and dying. You are not half equipped; you are not complaining that God merely gave you the Bible. You are not a victim; you have something that thoroughly equips you for every single good work you will ever meet in life.
Paul isn’t generalizing by using the expression, “man of God.” This is an Old Testament designation for a prophet. Paul is thinking of Timothy in particular, suggesting that when he has left this world, the work of the prophets will still go on through Timothy’s ministry. This Scripture (actually it is the Old Testament he has in mind) is specifically designed to shape and mold and mature Timothy into a “man of God.” Timothy may well have needed to hear that. He was probably too much into doubting his own abilities and usefulness. Of course, in himself, he had every reason to be. But armed with the Scriptures and the power of the Spirit, there was no limit on what he could accomplish.
The Scriptures are able to make you thoroughly equipped. Complete! In other words, churches whose preachers don’t believe that the Bible is the breath of God are going to be most incomplete churches. The Scriptures alone are sufficient to make God’s people complete. Well, how far can the Scriptures take you? They can take you to total maturity, that is to “be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” What lies before us? What duties, challenges and sacrifices will we be called upon to do? What burdens will you be called upon to bear? What challenges will you have to meet? The Bible will completely equip us for them. How may we grow and put away childish things? How can we become mature men and women? How will we become wise? How may we become conformed to the image of Christ? It is through the Bible – that is the divine way. It is the Scripture that sanctifies and perfects what is imperfect. The Scripture thoroughly enables us to meet the challenge of every good work – wherever and whatever God asks us to do. Every mountain God asks us to climb, every cross God asks us to bear, every service God asks us to give, every pressure God asks us to endure, every sacrifice God asks us to make – the Scriptures can enable us to do it all by comprehensively preparing us for every single good work. They tell us how to do it, why we should do it, give us strength for the task, and they also warn us how not to do it. The Scriptures will complete that good work which God has begun in us. The Bible helps us to put away childish things. The Bible saves a man from being a wimp, and delivers him from being a nerd. It transforms him into being “the man of God … thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v.17) It is a supernatural blessing, a necessary saving blessing from God to have the Bible.
Now what does the apostle say in our text about the uses of Scripture? What is the Bible for? Well, he tells you in the second half of verse 16: “It’s profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” In other words, Paul is saying that the Bible is useful. It’s beneficial; it’s a practical book. Useful for what? For discipleship! For being taught, for being corrected, for being steered in the right direction, for being trained in righteousness. It’s profitable for godliness. So what is the Bible? It’s the inspired Word of God. It equips us, Paul says, look at verse 17, it enables us to live the Christian life, “that the man of God may be competent, equipped for very good work.” One consequence for Wales as church-going people were taught not to have confidence in the truthfulness of the Bible has been that they have lost confidence in the Scriptures’ relevance and ability to equip them for life, and nothing was given them by preachers to replace the Scriptures.
Our text is crucially important. It tells us that the Bible is great for (i) Teaching, instructing — it addresses the mind and our thinking; it is great for (ii) Rebuking, convincing — it addresses the conscience and our willing; it is great for (iii) Correcting, – it addresses the personality and affections; it is great for (iv) Training — it addresses the life-style and our daily living. In other words the Bible molds us into the shape that God desires from us. Our prayer, as we study the Scriptures ought to be: “Teach me, rebuke me, correct and heal me; then send me forth as a trained disciple of Jesus Christ to his bidding.” Nothing can help us cope with our emotional problems like the Bible can. Don’t ever put yourself down because you seem to be failing to overcome a painful shyness, or because of bouts of depression that the doctors and pharmacists are helping, or because of a worrying disposition, irrational phobias and anxieties. Don’t rubbish yourself. God bears with people like that. God has greatly used people like this by the Bible. David Brainerd was an extraordinary evangelist, and William Cowper one of the greatest of all hymnists. Both suffered from melancholy. B.B.Warfield’s wife was an invalid throughout their marriage, so was William Carey’s, so was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, so was J.C.Ryle’s second wife, so was Brian Edwards’ first wife, but their husbands’ care for them did not prevent them being eminent defenders of the Christian faith. None of their colleagues or church members told them they ought to give up their preaching and pastoring to sit with their wives. Their friends loved them too much and profited too much from their ministries. In fact having those sick wives enriched their preaching.
The Word of God comes in all its rich divine authority and it scrutinizes our lives, challenging us, encouraging and helping us to believe the truth and through the Word of God finding love, joy, peace, contentment and deliverance from despair. There is no secret to living the “Happy Christian Life.” Know the Bible! Sit at the feet of this Wonderful Counselor and have him speak to you, challenging you, and then doing what he has said.
There is this intriguing context to this passage of Scripture. Paul tells us that the objective reality of a Book is subjectively confirmed to us and in us by our own experience. Twice he says to Timothy, you know these things (vv.10 & 14). Timothy had seen how the Scriptures had changed the lives of his family, the members of his congregation, and especially Paul. From his parents’ mixed marriage to the sufferings of the apostle Paul, Timothy witnessed at close quarters the effect of the Bible on the lives of God’s people. He saw the word at work. He saw what it could it do! He saw how the church is kept and nourished and revitalized by the Word, the Scriptures. From infancy he had noticed the way the Bible helped Christians grow. Timothy himself, to cite Calvin, “drank in godliness with his mother’s milk”
Could it be true, that the reason some of you are at sea, is because you are not abiding in the Word of God? Thomas Watson, the English puritan, once put it this way: “Think in every line you read that God is speaking to you.” The greatest difficulty of all, is not the Word itself, but our own appetites – or lack of appetite! We read the opening psalm in the book of Psalms and we meet there the blessed man. We are told that, “His delight is in the law of the Lord and in that law does he meditate day and night”. Here is a man who really loves the Bible. Now that is a searching test of the Christianity of any man, not only that we have the correct revealed doctrine of Scripture, and read it diligently every day, and sit under the best preaching that we can hear each Sunday, but more than all those things, that we actually do love it, that we have fallen in love with the Bible. Now, is that our relationship to Scripture? Is it not true that sometimes our preference is for other literature, that the delight has shifted from divine oracles to J.C.Ryle or Lloyd-Jones.
One of the intriguing things is what some people claim that they do for relaxation. Now when a person relaxes he does something he loves doing. Do you say, “I study the Bible because I have to, because it is food for my faith, it is part of my discipline, but to relax I do something else”? Then that whole element of delight has passed away and we have ceased turning to God’s Word for pleasure. When we want delight we go to something else; but we go to God’s Word for duty, discipline and information. Before we know where we are, we have ceased to delight in the law of the Lord.
I think increasingly we make some distinction between our religion and our affections. There are people who would never think of coming to a Christian conference for a holiday, who would never consider the prayer meeting as a night out. We have lost this commitment to the delights of the Word of God, the joy of our devotion. But the blessed man who is described for us at the beginning of the book of Psalms delights in the law of the Lord. His pleasure is religion. There is no dichotomy between his faith and his enjoyment. His chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him. That is his preferred occupation. When he has time you will find him reading the Bible and meditating on it. He is reflecting on the law of God. He loves the Bible! Sometimes when he finishes reading it he will hug it to his chest as his greatest treasure. God’s infallible word can take his breath away. He is intrigued by it day by day, never growing weary of it, but increasingly struck by the evidences of its inspiration, the marvelous accuracy of every word, the complexity of so many of its statements, its stirring concepts, even its remarkable use of prepositions. He is moved by the details of its language and he is quite taken up by Scripture. Here is a man loving the Bible; he is enthused by Scripture. It is a miraculous book that we may yet handle and weigh. It is one of those tangible proofs that God exists, that God is. It is the great evidence for the reality of God. We worship the God who inspired this Book. So the Christian is in love with the Word of God.
There is nothing like the power of affection to strengthen desire. A youth may struggle to learn the language of a foreign country in school to little avail, but if he falls in love with a girl from that land how strong is his appetite for mastering its language. The love of Christ is the strongest constraint to knowing the Scriptures and if we have little desire for the Bible we should ask if we indeed know the Savior or if our first love has been left. Let us begin here, let us be sure that we are in love with the Word of God: “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119.97). Does not this create and maintain our desire to read the Bible?
O may these heav’nly pages be My ever dear delight;
And still new beauties may I see, And still increasing light Anne Steele
You know I think evangelicals, by and large, have done a pretty good job of defending the authority of Scripture over the last hundred or so years. But where we’ve had a harder time is in making sure that we live under the authority of the Word rather than under the authority of the world. There’s a lot of the world in the church. There’s a lot of the world in our thinking and in our living. And the apostle Paul says the reason God has given us his inspired Word is so that we would be discipled and equipped for godliness. So embracing the authority of the Word of God is vital for discipleship. Why? Well, one reason he has told us in the previous verses. The Word of God is where you find out the way of salvation. We learn from the sacred writings how we can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. So if you don’t accept the authority of the Word you don’t know the way of salvation. Furthermore, the Word of God is how you know how to live the Christian life. The Word is given to us for all things necessary in faith and life and if you’ve lost confidence in the Word you won’t know how to live.
17 April 2016 GEOFF THOMAS
*This sermon was preached on the Sunday at the close of the annual Banner of Truth ministers’ conference in Leicester, and there was an additional funeral service to be taken 150 miles away from Aberystwyth on the Friday. Time was limited and so I have taken chunks of four sermons from my friends Derek Thomas and Ligon Duncan and used them in this messge. I feel like our Dutch friends, reading to their congregations a sermon of such men as M’Cheyne and Spurgeon. May God bless my friends’ words, and those that are also mine.