Two men who had greatly influenced me spoke at my ordination in 1975. One was my favorite professor in college. I had been in his home, one of my roommates had married one of his daughters, and I had enjoyed wonderful conversations with him. He encouraged me often in ministry. The other pastored a large, growing church in the city. He graciously gave of his time to me and other young guys preparing for ministry. He often encouraged me as well.
The professor presented me with a copy of the Bible at my ordination. In his remarks as I stood before him, he commented, “This Bible contains the Word of God.” I received it with gratitude and sat down.
The pastor then preached the ordination sermon. In his introduction he held up the Bible from which he preached and emphatically stated, “This is the Word of God.” I received his sermon with encouragement.
What was the difference between the comments of the professor and the pastor who preached my ordination service? One of them stated that the Bible contains the Word of God. The other sought to make a different point—the Bible is the Word of God.
Let me offer a simple analogy. In a closet off of our family room there are two large plastic baskets with a varied collection of toys for our grandkids. If I were to tell one of the kids, the red basket contains the three-legged horse, then I would be identifying one item out of dozens in the red basket while simultaneously excluding the other items. The grandchild would have to pick through the toys in the red basket that contains the three-legged horse in order to locate it.
Now, let’s transpose that to the comments from the professor. If the Bible contains the Word of God, then the implication is that there are other things, perhaps many other things in the Bible that are not the Word of God. So I’m left with the challenge of sorting through a book that has 1,189 chapters and 31,173 verses to determine which of them constitute the Word of God and which do not.
Does the Bible just contain the Word of God? If so, then for most of us who lack the necessary expertise to determine which is and which is not the Word of God, the Bible becomes an innocuous, somewhat useless old, religious relic.
Paul did not hold to that view of Scripture! He lumped all Scripture together and called it all God-breathed. Throughout his epistle he kept turning Timothy toward this Word of God as wholly sufficient for him in life and ministry. But that’s not just for Timothy. The Bible is God’s Word that continues to remain totally sufficient for life, salvation, and practice. But what does that mean for the Bible to be totally sufficient or reliable? Let’s investigate this together under two headings: stick with the Scriptures and the rationale for sticking with the Scriptures.
I. Stick with the Scriptures
We considered in our previous study that Paul told Timothy that he had two special gifts from God to help him know how to live in the midst of perplexing times. First, he had godly examples, such as the one offered by Paul, as well as those offered by his mother, grandmother, Luke, Silas, and other believers. The second gift is the Word of God which he now unpacks the implications. His emphasis on the Scriptures stands in contrast to the false writings, philosophies, and ideologies that had swamped a number of people in Ephesus. He wanted Timothy to know that he had no cause to put confidence in those things but instead, to put his reliance on the Word of God. That truth has never changed.
1. A godly heritage in the Word
Sometime we feel like we’re glued to our tracks. It’s hard to move forward in our spiritual lives. Or maybe we sense that we’re in a rut and the sides are too high to climb out. In such setting, we’re not told to jump higher or pull harder to get on track. Rather, “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them.” To continue means to keep abiding in those things, keep sticking to those things that you’ve learned and believed. The language offers a good insight for us. “In the things you have learned” points to the breadth of what Timothy had been taught. What had he heard? He listened to the reading and instruction from the Old Testament Scripture. But that was not all. Although the NT had not been put together by that time, the NT message of the gospel of the kingdom certainly had [W. Mounce, WBC: The Pastorals, 564]. Timothy had learned the truths of the gospel with its foundation in the OT Scriptures. He had heard those truths from his mother Lois and grandmother Eunice, as well as later by Paul and those traveling with him on mission in the Galatian region.
There’s an important contrast underlying Paul’s comments. He has been talking about those who had gone astray from the truth (2 Tim 2:17–18), who gave themselves to “foolish and ignorant speculations” (2 Tim 2:23), and who with depraved minds, opposed the truth and rejected the faith (2 Tim 3:8). Timothy was to compare them with those who had taught him the OT Scriptures and the gospel. Take a look at the way they live, the way they approach life, the way they face trials, the way that they treat others, and particularly, the way that they value Jesus Christ and the gospel. “Knowing from whom you have learned them,” reminds us that we must consider the character and practice of those who seek to teach what they claim to be truth. Someone may lay out some nifty arguments and clever words but consider their character; consider the way that they relate to the body of Christ; consider their view of the cross; consider how their teaching affects their conduct and relationships. Does it ring true to the gospel and its implications? If not, then run from it! A title or position is not enough to give yourself over to a teaching. A godly heritage in rightly interpreting and applying God’s Word must ever remain essential to us in learning how to stick with the Scriptures.
2. The only means of salvation
Paul further explains what he means: “and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” First, we notice that Paul refers to “the sacred writings.” That was a common way that the Hellenistic Jews referred to the OT Scriptures. So he’s talking about the Word of God not other religious writings.
Second, we notice that Timothy had been taught the Scriptures from the time he was a child. Rabbinic sources instructed fathers to teach their sons the Torah or Law from around 5–6 years old and upward. Timothy’s faithful mother and grandmother did this with him. We only know that his father was a Greek (Acts 16:3) and presumably an unbeliever or else deceased, since there is no mention of him teaching Timothy the Scriptures. Here we see the beauty and power of parents teaching their children God’s Word. By the time that Paul made his way to Lystra (modern south central Turkey) to preach the gospel, Timothy had already developed a good foundation in his understanding of Scripture, including the gospel. His mother and grandmother did not sit back and wait for his father, presuming he was living, to become a believer and begin to teach his son. They pressed forward and laid a gospel foundation in his life.
Timothy had been learning the Scripture since childhood. I don’t want to pass this without a moment of important application for all parents and grandparents. Do you seek to teach your children and grandchildren the Word of God? Read the Bible to them; discus Bible stories and passages; read devotional material; utilize the children’s catechism; talk about what they’re studying in Sunday School or on Wednesday night (make sure they’re in Sunday School and our midweek gathering!); help them develop a biblical worldview by discussing events in their lives and relating them contextually to Scripture. None of us can estimate the immeasurable value of training our children in the Word of God. Even when we think they’re not getting it, don’t stop. Keep training. God’s Word has a way of accomplishing His purpose!
Third, we see that the Scripture is the only source of saving wisdom. The false teachers in Ephesus had flaunted their ideas among those in the church. But clearly, they reeked of worldly wisdom, such as putting your trust in genealogies or in the law rather than in the good news of the crucified and resurrected Savior (2 Tim 1:3–4, 7). You can be sure that you are developing a right understanding of the whole teaching of Scripture when it “leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The Scripture, OT and NT, ultimately points to Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (Isa 45:22). “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Note, that just knowing about the Scripture does not save anyone. The saving wisdom in the Scripture leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. The Word of God takes you to putting your trust in Jesus Christ to save you from your sins and from the judgment of God.
Some err at just this point. They have a lot of knowledge of Scripture but have failed to see its saving wisdom that takes them to faith in Jesus Christ.
Fourth, Paul emphasizes a process by which the Word of God is layered in our lives, ultimately leading us to faith in Jesus. The Word is“able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation.” There’s inherent power in the Word. Never despair of layering the Word in the lives of your children or grandchildren or friends or co-workers or fellow students. Paul reiterated the process in this epistle (2 Tim 1:13, 14, 2:2, 8–9, 15, 24). Why do we travel thousands of miles to attempt to talk with people whose language we don’t speak in order to engage them enough to give them a copy of the Scriptures in their own language? Because we believe that the Word is able to give them the wisdom leading to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Let us never despair, whether with our children or with a Muslim or animist or a religious but unbelieving co-worker. The Word is able! That’s why we preach, witness, teach, send gospel notes, pass out tracts, offer Scripture portions, and give away Bibles, et al.
Let us stick with the Scripture! It’s our only way to learn of the only One who saves through His bloody death all who come to Him.
II. The rationale for sticking with the Scripture
For some, it may not appear sensible to stick with the Scriptures through thick and thin, through the whole of life. They fear that limiting their lives to The Book may short-shrift them in marriage, career, and enjoyment in life. They have a broad horizon of where they want to go and for some reason or another, think that the Bible will squash their dreams.
If the Bible is just another religious book, like the Book of Mormon or the Qu’ran or the Vedas of Hinduism, then I’m in complete agreement. It would be pure folly to limit your life to the teaching of the Bible if it is like other religious books.
But if it is uniquely given by God the Creator to reveal Himself and reveal His purpose for us, then it would be pure folly to limit our lives in order to exclude the Word.
1. Uniqueness of God’s Word
These verses are often quoted to remind us that the Bible is not like any other book—not simply because of its content but due to its source. “All Scripture is inspired [God-breathed] by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The Message translates it, “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed”; the ESV, “All Scripture is breathed out by God”; and the NIV, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” John Stott explains that the Greek verb theopneustos is better rendered by ‘spiration’ or ‘expiration’ rather than the way that we consider ‘inspiration.’ He makes the point, “Scripture is not to be thought of as already in existence when (subsequently) God breathed into it, but as itself brought into existence by the breath or Spirit of God” [BST: 2 Timothy, 102]. And yet this breathing out by God did not eclipse or destroy the human personalities who authored the Scripture. Rather, as Stott continues, “It originated in God’s mind and was communicated from God’s mouth by God’s breath or Spirit” (102). That is, the Word came from Him and He breathed it out to the human authors who with research in some cases, with varied educational backgrounds, with different levels of literary skills, and with unique personalities, the Lord so breathed out the Word, superintending it so that we can say with assurance, the Bible is the Word of God.
Although Paul’s emphasis in this text is on the source of the Word rather than the manner of inspiration, it is important for us to recognize the Bible as a divine book with human authors [Mounce, 566]. No personalities or backgrounds were by-passed as God breathed out His Word. That’s why you can read Mark’s repetitious phrase, “immediately,” and realize that his personality and bent is on every page of his Gospel and yet God breathed out the Word to him so that Mark might write the very Word of God.
No portion of the Word is excluded: “All Scripture is God-breathed.” We don’t have to look in it to find the portions that containGod’s Word. It is all God’s Word.
2. Usefulness of God’s Word
The Bible is not a book about religious theory. It’s the most practical book that has ever been penned because it touches all aspects of life and eternity. While being God-breathed, it is also “profitable.” That word means that the Bible stands in contrast to the stash of religious writings that can never get you to God or help you live as a disciple of Jesus. It is “profitable” or useful, never a waste of time or effort in reading, studying meditating, memorizing, or applying. John Calvin notes the emphasis on the profitability of the Word, pointing out that it is sinful abuse of Scripture “when this usefulness is not sought” [Calvin’s Commentaries, XXI, 249). In other words, if we simply use the Bible as good literature or as a means of hammering someone else’s beliefs or a point of constant argument, then we’re misusing the Scripture. God’s Word is meant to be profitably applied in our lives in living as disciples of Jesus Christ. As such, the Bible is always advantageous, useful, and beneficial as we invest ourselves in understanding and applying it to our lives. But what areas is it profitable? The Bible does not tell us anything about changing a tire or making a red velvet cake. So it’s not to be twisted and misused to suit any purpose that we may have. Its profitability is found in specific areas designed by the God who breathed it out.
The series of prepositional phrases explain the advantageous nature of the Word. “Profitable for teaching,” or instruction or it could be translated as doctrine or doctrinal teaching, reminds us that the Bible alone is the foundation for the Christian’s understanding of God, man, salvation, eternity, the church, the Godhead, and everything related to the Christian faith. While we value confessions, creeds, and catechisms as compendiums of the truths of Scripture, ultimately, their value lies in how accurately they reflect the teaching of Scripture.
“Reproof” or correction or conviction or proving expresses this term that implies the refutation of doctrinal error or the rebuking of sin [ELKGNT, 506]. It expresses strong disapproval in order to make doctrinal or practical correction.
“Correction,” translates a term that means to set upright on one’s feet. When kids in school used to slouch with a look of disinterest while in their desks, the teacher would shout out, “Sit up straight!” That meant more than posture. It implied a correction in attitude and disposition. There’s something of that idea in this word that suggests restoring something that back to usefulness or bringing about an improvement when there’s been decline [BDAG, 359].
“For training in righteousness,” uses a word that means to train a child. It’s the same word used in that regard in Ephesians 6:4.Training implies a process by layering the Word of God rather than a simple fix. For instance, one does not train a child by offering a solitary command. It happens through giving examples, clarifying instructions, and returning again and again to the issue at hand until the child makes improvement. We might translate this as ‘developing in righteousness,’ which suggests that the more we learn the Word and apply it to our lives, the more it affects the way that we live out the righteousness rooted in the gospel.
So investing our time and energies in the Word of God will be profitable for teaching truth, correcting doctrinal or behavioral errors, restoring us to usefulness, and developing through the layering process lives that live out the implications of the gospel. The challenge to read through the Scripture each year that we’ve done for quite a few years is not just to check the box. It is so that we might find the Word to be profitable, and in doing so, conform us more to the image of Jesus Christ as we apply God’s Word to our lives each day.
When I look back on my 40+ years as a follower of Jesus Christ, the single most important discipline that God has enabled me to practice is that of reading and studying the Scripture so that I might layer it in my life. Some of the verses that I memorized as a teenager still stick in my mind. Some of the passages that I studied while going through difficulties continue to direct me years later. I can testify thatthe Scripture is profitable!
3. Aim of God’s Word
The purpose clause in verse 17 shows us where the Bible takes us every time that we read it or study it or listen to it. “So that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Lest you get the idea that Paul only has preachers in mind due to the phrase, “the man of God,” remember that he’s writing to Timothy initially and then working outward from there. Several translations rightly express this as “the person of God.” The intention is not only masculine! “Man” is used generically so that all who follow the Lord profit from the Word.
The word “adequate” means that the Word read, studied, and applied makes us well fitted for living as the people of God in a rebellious world. This word expresses completion, proficient, or capable. In other words, without the regular discipline in the Word of God we are incapable of living like we belong to the Lord.
I cannot tell you how many times that I’ve talked with people who have struggled in their spiritual walks. Somewhere in the conversations I’ve asked, “Are you disciplining yourself to regularly read, meditate on, and apply God’s Word in your life?” Inevitably, almost every time, the answer is “no.” Yet, despite neglecting the very means that God gives for us to be fit, sufficient, and capable as Christians, those believers wonder why they’re having so much difficulty with the Christian life. You cannot grow in the Lord apart from the Word. You will not enjoy the Christian life apart from the Word. We’re created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph 2:10), and the Word enables us to be adequate for every good work.
The word “equipped” expresses this well. It means to fully furnish or to fully equip or fully supply or outfit someone. When I was about 16 or 17, I traveled to Ely, MN with eleven other guys to spend 10 days canoeing in the Canadian wilderness. Our backpacks contained clothes and fishing gear for the trip but that’s it. We depended on a canoe outfitter to pack all of the supplies that we needed to live on for ten days. They equipped us with all the food, cooking gear, and shelter supplies that we needed for the entire trip.
That’s how Paul uses this term in reference to God’s Word. The Word loads your canoe with all that you need or supplies your wagon for the entire journey. Why? So that you might be well prepared to engage in every good work that Christ has ordained for you, whether in service, relationships, disciple making, obedience, communicating, etc.
I want to offer you a challenge in light of what we’ve considered, that we need to stick with the Scripture in all things. Make every day a day to read and think about God’s Word. I still remember Stephen Olford exhorting my college ministerial group with timely advice: “No Bible, no breakfast.” Get into the reliable Word consistently, faithfully, and engagingly.