2 Timothy 3:14–17,
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
It’s a shame that in our theological and political era the words "conservative" and "liberal" are opposites. The true opposite of “conserve” is throw away, or waste, or squander. To conserve means to hold onto, to keep, to maintain. And of course that can be bad if you hold on to what’s harmful and good if you hold on to what’s true and good and helpful.
And the true opposite of liberal is stingy, tightfisted, uncharitable. To be liberal used to mean to be generous and free-handed. So before the words became politically and theologically stereotyped, it was good to be both. Hold fast to what is true and good and beautiful and precious. And be free-handed and generous and large-hearted with what you have.
Conservative in the Historic Sense
At the beginning of this text in 2 Timothy 3:14 Paul tells Timothy to be conservative in this historic sense: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.” Continue in. Remain in. Stay in. What you have learned and believed. Conserve the truth that you know and trust. Don’t leave it.
And the reason there’s a “but” at the beginning of that sentence is that Paul is contrasting Timothy’s staying in the truth with the group in the previous verse (verse 13) who do not “stay in” but “go on”. “Evil people and impostors will go on (proko/yousin) from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” The word for “go on” is “advance,” “progress,” “proceed.” So this is a group that does not “continue in” or “stay in” or “remain in,” the truth, but who “go on,” “progress beyond” the truth they had learned. They are the people in 4:4, “[They] will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Timothy, don’t “turn away.” Don’t consider it “progress” to leave behind what is true.
The Main Point of the Text
So the main point of this text is that Timothy is (we are!) to hold on to, continue in, stay in, remain in, the truth that he had learned and believed (3:14–17). So the point is stated clearly in verse 14a: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.” And the rest of this chapter gives at least six reasons for why he should hold fast to the truth he has learned and believed. And in principle, these six reasons are valid for you as well. They all point to the solid ground we have in the truth Timothy had embraced.
1. The character of the people who taught you the truth (verse 14b).
Verse 14: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” One reason we believe the truth is because of the reliable sources from which we learn it.
For Timothy this was probably his mother and grandmother. Notice how the next verse refers to Timothy’s childhood: “. . . and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings” (verse 15a). And recall that in 2 Timothy 1:5 Paul referred to Lois and Eunice as the source of Timothy’s faith: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”
The point Paul is making is that part of Timothy’s reason for standing his ground for the truth he has learned is the character traits of the people he learned it from. Verse 14: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” The point is not that nice mothers and grandmothers don’t make mistakes. The point is that there was something about these two women that should make Timothy very slow to forsake their teaching. In fact, it should hold him fast in what they taught him.
The test is not infallible. But Paul is saying: part of the foundation of your confidence in what you are taught is the kind of people who teach you. Reliable testimonies are a valid source of true knowledge. And the quality of the witnesses increases the credibility of the testimony.
2. The marks of divine holiness in the Scriptures (verse 15a).
Verses 14–15a: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings.” The term “sacred writings” means literally “holy writings.” Don’t forsake the Scriptures of your youth, Timothy, because they bear the marks of God's holiness.
The holiness of the writings refers to their divine quality. They are separate and different from other writings. They bear the marks of their divine author, the Holy One of Israel. Not only do we believe things because of the character of the witnesses, but also because of the intrinsic marks of truth — and in the case of the Bible, the intrinsic marks of divine truth. The marks of holiness. Just as God’s holiness is his utter uniqueness, so the Scriptures share in that holiness and have their own self-authenticating unique traits. So, Timothy, stay in what you’ve learned, because these writings are holy, they bear the distinguishing marks of the one and only God. Don’t turn away from them. Ask God to give you eyes.
3. The power of Scripture to save sinners (verse 15b).
Verse 14–15b: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, (1) knowing from whom you learned it and (2) how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, (3) which are able to make you wise for salvation.”
One of the ways we come to trust a message is by the power (ta» duna¿mena¿) it has to change people. In this case Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures give a kind of wisdom that leads a person to salvation. The Scriptures are uniquely suited to subdue folly and impart wisdom which can then see reality and embrace saving truth. So don’t leave the Scriptures, Timothy, there is no truth like this that has the power to change people by giving them a wisdom that leads to salvation.
4. The Scriptures brought you to Christ (verse 15c).
Verses 14–15c: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, (1) knowing from whom you learned it and (2) how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which (3) are able to make you wise for salvation (4) through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Don’t leave the truth of the Old Testament Scriptures, Timothy, because they led you to Christ. It is true that you met Jesus by name in the testimony of Christian witnesses back in Lystra, but it was the holy writings that made gave you a spiritual wisdom to recognize him and receive him. The Scriptures prepared your mind and heart to see Jesus for who he is and to believe in him. Don't walk away from the writings that brought you to Christ.
5. The Scriptures are God-breathed (verse 16).
Verses 14–16a: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, (1) knowing from whom you learned it and (2) how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which (3) are able to make you wise for salvation (4) through faith in Christ Jesus. (5) All Scripture is breathed out by God.”
This is one of the most important statements in the Bible. “All Scripture is God-breathed” — inspired, we usually say. Uniquely. Not like we might say a beautiful musical performance was “inspired,” but breathed out by God so as to make the Scripture God’s own words.
The Scriptures in view here are the Old Testament. That is what the Jewish family of Timothy and Lois and Eunice knew and believed and loved. But there are really good reasons for treating the New Testament as having the same God-breathed authority.
- One is that Jesus saw his own teaching on a par with Scripture (Matthew 5) and having the authority of God (John 14:10, “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”).
- Another is that Jesus prepared for his apostles to speak with divine authority for the sake of the church (John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”).
- Another is that the apostles claimed to be inspired by God (1 Cor. 2:13, “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit.”).
- Another is that Peter said that Paul’s letters were part of the authoritative Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16, Some twist his letters “as they do the other Scriptures.”).
So when Paul speaks in 2 Timothy 3:16 of the Scripture being inspired, it refers by implication to the Old and New Testaments.
A Focus on the Writings Themselves
Now contrast what Paul says here about the Scripture with what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:21, “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.” So what Peter emphasizes is that the writers of Scripture were inspired. God “carried them” so to speak — influenced their minds — so that God’s word is spoken truly by the prophets.
But Paul focuses on the writings themselves, not the writers. He tells Timothy (in verse 16) not to forsake the truth of these writings because the writings themselves (pa◊sa grafh\) are God-breathed. God’s influence was not simply on the mind of the writers in general, but his attention to the process of Scripture creation was such that when their minds and hands composed actual Scripture words, these words were so much God’s words that Paul says the writings themselves are God-breathed.
The Very Words of God
This is the main reason that the Elder Affirmation of Faith at Bethlehem begins in Section 1.1, “We believe that the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts.” The term “verbally inspired” and the reference to the “original manuscripts” both flow from the focus of 2 Timothy 3:16 on the very writings themselves.
Timothy, continue in what you have learned and believed, because the holy writings your mother and grandmother taught you are the very words of God. Bethlehem, we hold in our hands the very words of God translated into English. Have you ever been half as amazed at this as you should be? The Creator of the universe has breathed out a book. A book. We can read the mind of God revealed in this book. We have access to knowledge that is unshakably true and infinitely valuable. Infinitely. Do you treasure and love and read and meditate and memorize and study this book in accord with its infinite worth?
One Divine Voice
We are in the process of one of the greatest transitions this church has ever been through. It is inevitable and it is good. And God has wrought wonders for us in the last eight months. One human voice will replace another human voice.
But the divine voice sounding from this pulpit stays exactly the same. For his word never changes. It is fixed forever in God-breathed Scripture. If there is any key to God’s merciful blessing on the history of this 141-year-old church it is this: We have continued in (stayed in, remained in) the God-breathed, Gospel-centered, inerrant word of God. It has been our salvation and our treasure and our sweetness.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)
And so I say to the elders, and to Jason Meyer in particular, “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.” If for the next thirty years Bethlehem is to be a place of salvation, and a place of treasure, and a place of sweetness, continue in the Scripture — these holy, God-breathed, inerrant, infinitely valuable words of the living God.
That is the most foundational reason, Timothy, why you should continue in the truth you have learned and believed. It is the truth of God-breathed Scripture.
6. Finally, the Scripture is profitable—inestimably profitable (verses 16–17).
Verses 16–17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Because the Scripture is the very word of God it is supremely profitable. This word “profitable” is used in 1 Timothy 4:8, “Bodily training is a little profitable, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” This “godliness” that is profitable in every way, even into eternity, is explained here in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 as coming from Scripture.
The profitable effect of Scripture, according to verse 17 is “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” “Equipped for every good work” — that’s what godliness is. And the way it comes about is by the Scripture. Scripture, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, has the power to make us the kind of people who can discern and do the good that needs to be done. “Equipped for every good work.” Transformed, empowered, enabled, to do the good that needs to be done.
Equipped for Action
The God-breathed Bible aims to make us godly. To make us doers of good in this world. Don’t miss that. The doctrines of the Bible are designed to produce deeds. Good deeds. And they do it by teaching, verse 16, and that teaching has three sequential effects: Reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.
When we are rightly taught by the Scripture are first reproved, that is, our errors are pointed out and we are stopped in our tracks. Then we are corrected, that is, we are turned around from the harmful way we were going, and pointed in the right way. And third, we are trained in righteousness, that is, the Bible enables us to be trained, to grow, in righteousness. And as the teaching does these three things (reproof, correction, training) the Scripture equips us for every good deed.
So, Timothy, don’t forsake your mother’s teaching. Continue in it. Stay in it. Remain in it.
- Because of the character of the people who taught you the truth.
- Because of the marks of divine holiness in the Scriptures.
- Because of the power of Scripture to make you wise unto salvation.
- Because the Scripture brought you to Christ.
- Because all Scripture is God-breathed.
- And because the Scripture is profitable—inestimably profitable
A Closing Question
Perhaps the most pointed question I can ask as we close is: If Paul says that bodily exercise is a little profitable, and godliness is profitable for eternity, and if the Scripture is the key to equipping you for that godliness, then are you giving as much care to the godliness of your life as you are to the physical health of your life? Husbands, heads of households, are you taking as good care to feed your family with Scripture as you are to feed them with food?
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Feeding yourself and others is a joyful task.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)