2 Timothy 3:14-17
14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,
15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of performing one of my favorite duties as a deacon in our small church: I helped with the baptisms of three adult believers. We truly joined with the angels that day in celebrating the salvation of those three souls, and the joy was evident on the faces of all who participated--witnesses, pastor, deacons, and of course, our new brother and sisters in Christ who got dunked in the river. My prayer that day was from the Bible itself:
1 Peter 2:1-3
1 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking,
2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,
3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
My desire for them is that as new believers, they shall crave the pure, unadulterated nutrition of God's holy Word, that they should read and study the Bible so that they may grow as both Christians and as fellow human beings. The great Psalmist, David, understood the benefits of reading God's Word and studying all that lay therein:
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
Who wouldn't want wisdom and joy and enlightenment and truth? Who wouldn't want to be warned about the bad things in life and guided toward the good? Who wouldn't want the reward that awaits those who adhere to God's Word?
12 "Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.
13 "And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you."
That is why I so love today's passage from Paul's second letter to Timothy, because it reminds us why Scripture is so important in the lives of believers, new and old alike. Earlier in this passage, Paul reminds Timothy that he was raised on the Word, that he had heard the gospel as a youth and grown up watching Paul's career as apostle and evangelist, so Timothy should remember that no matter the trials Paul faced, "out of them all the Lord delivered [him]." It is just a plain truth that "all who desire to live godly in Christ will suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12) But there are those who will live falsely, imposters and deceivers who will try to lead people astray--especially leading astray new believers! It is against those false teachers that we must arm ourselves, and so Paul admonishes Timothy to remember the teaching of his youth.
The most important thing to remember is that Scripture--the whole Bible itself, both Old Testament and New Testament--comes from God Himself. It is, as the original Greek puts it, "God-breathed." The Bible is only the words of men in that it is in a language and idiom we can understand, but in its original tongues--Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek--the Bible is the exact and utterly true Word of God. And while many may question the provenance and the translation of the Bible at the hands of men, none can deny the power of the Word to transform and guide our lives. THAT is all the witness we need that the Bible is true.
Knowing that the Bible comes not from fallible men but from our infallible, loving, and merciful God, we therefore must see how it is "profitable" (or "advantageous") to apply it to our lives.
1) The Bible is useful for doctrine--i.e. teaching us what God wants us to learn. Yes, the Bible contains the gospel by which we were saved, but there is so much more there. As David noted in the passage from Psalms 19, the Word of God contains God's testimonies, His statutes and laws, His commandments and judgments. But as we have also notes, it contains His PROMISES, the very record of His covenant with us through the blood of Jesus Christ. And, of course, it contains His wisdom, revealed through the lives and teachings of men and women speaking across centuries of faith. Why would we NOT want to learn all of that?!?
2) The Bible also is good for reproof, for convicting us and admonishing us when we might stray. The stereotype for men is that we never ask for directions, we always like to just think we know the way somewhere. Well, the same could be said for ALL men and women when it comes to living godly lives! People all too often come to Christ, and then think that we've just got it all figured out--without ever cracking open the Book that will show us the way God wants us to go. And the Bible's teaching is not so much about knowing what's wrong in our lives as much as it is about how to seek out what is right. Yes, we should be convinced and convicted of our trespasses, our sin, but we can avoid sin altogether by learning from the Bible.
3) The Bible is great for correcting--literally "straightening up"--our lives. What better way to get back on the right path than to have our way corrected by the One who made us in the first place? So the Bible not only tells us when we've lost our way, but it also helps us find our way back again.
4) The Bible has lots to teach us about righteousness. Some may think that means the Bible is about being "good", but righteousness is much more than mere goodness. Righteousness means being right with God--i.e. living up to His standards, and in fact, living in the way He Himself would live if He were among us. That is what is so great about Jesus: He literally WAS "God With Us" ("Emmanuel"), and so we have Jesus' example of how to live our lives. More than that, we have Jesus' own death that MAKES us righteous in the eyes of God, and so our task then is to work out that salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that we are not worthy of the mercy and grace shown us. We should learn as much as we can about righteousness, about the character of the God we say we worship, so that we can indeed be more like Him.
Paul reminds us that these things make a man of God "complete" or "perfect." In the original Greek, the word Paul uses is artios, which literally means "fresh," as in being matured and ready for that moment--like an athlete who has finished his training and is prepared to run the first leg of a race, or a soldier who is armed and ready for battle. Such a person who continues in the teachings of Scripture is thoroughly equipped--literally, "finished out" or completely freshened--for every good work. Not just "some" good work, not just a few things and not others, but for EVERY GOOD WORK. In other words, Scripture readies us for the battle against falsehood, against lies, against evil. Scripture strengthens us and trains us for being men and women of God in a world that tries to deny God's very existence. Scripture prepares us for living as Christ lived.
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Even Paul knew he had not completed all he was sent to do, all that he could learn or know about Jesus Christ. He continued in teaching and evangelism so that he, too, could learn and grow, so that he might be perfected along the way. Those new believers baptized last weekend are just beginning a faith journey that will span the rest of their lives. I pray that they are not content where they are, flush with the joy of new life, but that they should seek to grow in their knowledge and faith. I pray that they should grow and lead others to Christ, that they should use the Scriptures God Himself has given us as their guide so that are fresh and well-equipped to do all that God has prepared for them to do.
Dear gracious, heavenly Father, my prayer for every believer is that he or she would seek out the Bible and study it, desiring the "pure milk" of Your Word so that they may grow. My prayer is that we should not content ourselves with the teachings of mere men, not settle for books ABOUT the Bible, but dig into Your God-breathed Word itself. My prayer is that believers everywhere would seek to become more like You, our holy God, by learning about You through the very Word You have given us. My prayer is that all believers in Christ Jesus would seek to equip themselves to live the gospel in their lives, so that Your goodness and mercy and love are manifest and You are glorified in everything we do. All this I pray in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.