All Scripture Is Breathed Out by God: Continue in It
Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville
Thank you, C.J. I chose to be here, nobody forced me. He’s a pretty persuasive guy, but I really, really wanted to be here. And therefore, the opportunity arose and I snatched it. And I’m thankful for it. I wanted to be here because I am excited about what God is doing in this church plant. I’ve been following it from a distance, and I’m thrilled with what is in the offing here in the mix of this city.
I’m excited to be here, secondly, because I love Sovereign Grace and what God is doing in it across the country and the world. Most emotionally significant, I’m glad to be here because C.J. is right; he is my friend, and he has meant a lot to me over the years both at the encouragement level of preaching and professional life — though nobody in the ministry is a professional — and even more at the personal family level of caring. So it’s really easy for me to stand here and be with you. It’s what I want to do.
I said to him when I walked in, “I’m pumped about this message.” I love the Word of God, I love to preach, and I love this book, and I’m going to talk about this book because it matters that this church plant relates to this book in a certain way, thinks about it a certain way, and feels about it a certain way. So let me read the text. If you have your Bible, let’s go to 2 Timothy 3:14–17. I’ll read it, then I’ll pray after I read this and ask that God would do what C.J. said preaching is. Second Timothy 3:14–17 says:
But as for you, 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, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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.
Continue in What You Have Learned
It’s a shame in one sense that in our particular political environment the words conservative and liberal are opposites. That’s a sadness. Originally, the word conservative meant one who conserves. It meant don’t throw away, don’t waste, and don’t squander; hold on to, preserve, conserve, and stay in. That of course, could be a terrible thing if you preserved and stayed in what is false, what is ugly, and what is wrong. But what a beautiful thing it would be if you preserved, conserved, and stayed in what is true, beautiful, and good.
The opposite of liberal, once upon a time, meant stingy, tightfisted, uncharitable, and small-souled. So to be a liberal meant to be generous and free-handed. Before the present state of affairs that we’re in linguistically, it was not only right, but it was biblical to be both. You had to be both to be biblical, once upon a time — to conserve, hold onto, stand, and not let go what was always true, always good, and always beautiful, and out of that to be free-handed, large-hearted, generous, and have a spirit of liberality. They’ve just always gone together. So here at the beginning of our text, Timothy is told to be conservative in this historic way, which is going to lead him to be liberal in the historical way.
Second Timothy 3:14 says:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed …
Paul is saying, “Continue in it, stay in it, remain in it. You learned something. You believed something and I’m telling you never, ever leave it. Stay there, Timothy. It’s true. It’s good. It’s beautiful. It’s life-giving. Don’t leave it. Don't ever walk away from it.” Now, the reason there’s a but at the beginning of the sentence in verse 14 is because just before it in 2 Timothy 3:13 there’s another kind of person, and he’s distinguishing Timothy from that kind of person who doesn’t stay. This is 2 Timothy 3:13:
…while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
So that word for go on — prokopsousin in the Greek if you care — that word means advance, or be progressive. That’s a word that might or might not, in our day, be attractive. It tends to be unattractive in my life, because it generally means verse 13. They went on, and they didn’t go on into what is good and beautiful and true. They left that behind. And he’s saying to Timothy, “But you, don’t be like that.” These are the people he speaks of in 2 Timothy 4:4 who will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
But as for You
They’re described as people who have ears that are itching. Do you have that? My dad grew up with an itching left ear. He would take his pencil and scratch it. One time he got the eraser of an automatic pencil stuck in his ear. And I can always remember him doing that and the sound it made. I do that all the time. My left ear itches all the time; it’s genetic. So this analogy is really relevant for me. But these people have itching ears in that they want their ego scratched, or their desires scratched.
They’re going to find a church in Louisville that will scratch their ears, and they’re going to keep moving on and progressing until they’ve got some preacher that’ll just scratch where they itch, thinking, “That’s what I’ve always wanted to hear,” which could be a bad thing or a good thing depending on whether you have gospel itches or if you have ego itches, lust itches, and mythological itches. These folks are wandering away from the truth. They are progressing from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, Sovereign Grace, continue, remain, and conserve what you have learned and have firmly believed.
The main point of this text, 2 Timothy 3:14–17, is verse 14. Everything else is an argument. Everything else is supporting verse 14, which says: “Timothy, conserve, stay, remain, be solid, and be unshakable. Whatever comes when I’m gone, stay.” And then he’s going to give reasons for that, and there are six of them here.
Now, if you wonder, “What’s the point of this message?” I’ll just tell you right at the outset: Six reasons to believe the Bible. That’s the point of this message, because Paul is saying, “the truth that you have believed and in which you are standing, Timothy, is the truth of Scripture.” That’s going to become clear. He hasn’t said it yet, but that’s going to become clear. So the overall message that I’m bringing you is that there are amazing reasons for standing with the Bible — really strong, good, solid reasons.
There are six of them in this text, and that’s the substance of my sermon. I’m going to go there, but before I go there and give you from the text six reasons for why this church, and you as an individual, and you as a head of household caring about your wife and children if you’re married, should care about standing with the Bible, I want to reflect with you for two or three minutes on what’s about to happen in your mind and heart, because you need supernatural conviction, not just natural conviction. You need God-given solidity in your head and heart, not just a human persuading you with some reasons.
Think Over What I Say
Now if that’s true, if you will only weather the cultural breakers that are coming over you by a supernaturally wrought conviction in your mind and persuasion in your heart, then why am I giving to your mind reasons and rational arguments? That’s a really good question. This could be a sermon, but I’m reducing it down to two or three minutes, so I really want you to feel, “Why would you do that, if what we need is something supernatural? Why don’t we just have a prayer meeting to the end that the Holy Spirit would come and say to all of us, ‘The Bible is true.’ Bang. You’ve got a supernatural persuasion from the Holy Spirit, so let’s go out and tell the truth.” I don’t think that’s what we should do. I wouldn’t have been a preacher if I thought that’s the way God ordinarily gave persuasions and convictions to his people. Look across the page — at least it’s that way in my Bible — to 2 Timothy 2:7, where it says:
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
That’s just a massive verse for me. Paul is saying, “Timothy, I’m talking to you, think over what I say. God designed human beings to have a thinking organ, it’s called a mind. So think over what I say. I’m talking to you. I’m putting words and phrases together in some logical order that has a grammatical and syntactical structure called Greek. It’s going into your ear, into your head, so do something with it.”
God just made it that way. You might have thought he made us another way, so we don’t need language; we just need impressions — divine, solid, sure impressions, and that’s all we need. No, that isn’t all you need, or he wouldn’t have made you the way he made you, and he wouldn’t have given you a book. So think, and while you’re thinking and in the process of thinking, God will give you understanding.
That’s supernatural. It doesn’t say you will get understanding through your unaided mental resources, it says God will give it to you. That’s amazing. The supernatural and the natural meet in the process of human reflection.
So when I come to this point in the sermon and I ask the Lord, “How might I be used so that a supernatural conviction and solid persuasion concerning your word would be given to this church?” The answer is, “Ask for my anointing, give them my reasons, and tell them to think about them.” That’s what I’m up to. That’s my two or three minute sermon about how God gives convictions you’re willing to die for. He does not do an end-run around thinking.
Reasons for Holding Fast to the Bible
Here come my six reasons which will become, God-willing, more than rational information for you, but will be the kindling that inflames solid conviction.
1. The Ones Who Taught You
First, Paul says, “Timothy, remain, continue in, and be a conserving force in your church of God’s truth because of who taught it to you.” That’s 2 Timothy 3:14 at the end of the verse:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it …
The first argument is that the kind of people who taught you the truth are a very significant warrant for why you believe what you believe. Now, in Timothy’s case, that’s probably his mother and his grandmother in Paul’s mind, because it says in 2 Timothy 3:15:
…and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings …
It says he was acquainted with them from childhood — where’d he get that? His dad was a pagan. He didn’t get it from his dad, we’re told that in Acts 16:1–3. He got it from his mother and his grandmother, Lois and Eunice. Second Timothy 1:5 says:
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.
Here’s the point: Part of Timothy’s reasoning for why he should stay in the truth is the character of his mother and his grandmother. C.J. may remember this, and maybe a few of you will too. There we were, wherever we were in the city at the Young Center a few months ago, and T4G was there. I was on a panel about the Scriptures and Mark Dever turned to me with a microphone and said, “So John, why do you believe in the Bible?” And I said, “Because my mother told me to.” Everybody laughed, but I didn’t. Everybody was laughing, thinking, “That’s a funny way to start.” That’s a biblical argument. That’s just what it says.
Now, I’m not completely naive. There are terrible moms in the world who teach kids to believe the Quran, and the Hindu scriptures, and Ayn Rand as your god and your bible. So I know this is not an infallible argument, as if to say, “Any mom who teaches you anything, you should believe it.” That’s clearly not what he means; Paul is not stupid. What he means is that you should look at the kind of person who taught you this, knowing who it was. If you saw Lois and Eunice as pagan, selfish, wicked, self-serving people, you’d say, “Maybe I should rethink what they taught me.” But if you look at your mom and your grandmother, and you see in them the marks of God’s hand on them, you better be very slow to throw away what they said.
In other words, it is an argument, not the only argument. It is one of the things. This is the way we come to our convictions in life. Let’s be real. You don’t come to the convictions of your life by one or two infallible things that happened in your life; it’s a whole array of influences that pour into your life, and you assess every one of them and they begin to mount up with a divinely given yes to what you are learning because of all kinds of reasons. This is one of them. That’s number one: “Remember, Timothy, from whom you learned these things.”
2. Marks of Divine Holiness
The second argument is, “Continue, Timothy, in what you received and believed because it has the marks of divine holiness on it.” The Scriptures have the marks of divine holiness. We are at verse 2 Timothy 3:14–15 again:
But as for you, 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 …
They are holy. They are sacred and holy. Don’t forsake the Scriptures, because they bear the marks of the holiness of their author. They’re called holy Scriptures. Now, you might use that phrase “Holy Bible,” written there on my Bible as a throwaway word for you. It was not a throwaway word for Paul. He didn’t throw away the word holy. He never says, “holy buckets,” or, “holy mackerel.” I don’t say it either, ever. I discourage that kind of use of sacred words. Holy should be one of the most sacred words in our vocabulary — not to be too picky. He doesn’t throw away the word holy. When he says, “These writings are holy,” it means they are God-like. They participate in, they partake of, and have marks of holiness about them.
I was thinking this morning just trying to figure out how to say this. If you stood in the presence of God Almighty more directly than we presently are, and he said, “I am holy,” or the angels and the seraphim above him said, “Holy, holy, holy,” and you turned to me and said, “What is it about him that’s holy?” I don’t think I could answer you. I would say, “Just look. This is God.” And I would pray, “God, give him eyes to see.” This is God. He’s holy. He’s different. He’s in a class by himself. He is infinitely, transcendently pure and distinct. He’s just God — sui generis, in a class by himself. I can’t quantify this for you. That’s the way Calvin talked about the Bible.
He made a book. He breathed the book out, and it’s holy because it participates in that. It’s sometimes difficult to quantify and to isolate the holinesses of the Bible. You can try; it’s probably a good exercise to try. The one I thought of this morning, though it’s always inadequate to try to do this, is to simply say that, as I read the Bible, Old and New Testament, the way the Bible talks about me and about God are like no other book.
Any other book or person that would talk about God’s transcendence and God’s majesty, high and lifted up and down low with me, a sinner deserving of hell, is leaning on the Bible. Anything else that talks that way is leaning on the Bible, because it’s just so holy. That’s the second reason. He calls them sacred writings. They have marks of holiness or sacredness about them, which they get from God.
3. Power to Save
Third, Paul says, “Timothy, continue in what you have learned and believe because of the power of Scripture to save sinners,” in the second half of 2 Timothy 3:15, but let’s go ahead and read 2 Timothy 3:14–15 again just to get the flow:
But as for you, 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, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
I don’t know when Timothy got saved. I don’t know when the transaction with Jesus actually happened. It was either in the mouth of Paul or somebody in Lystra, his hometown, before Paul got there, but it’s the disciple in verse 14, which means he’s a follower of Jesus, not just an Old Testament saint. So Somebody opened their mouth and spoke to him about Jesus, and of course, he believed in him. Why did he believe in him? Because the Bible made him wise unto that.
The Bible made him wise. The Bible has the power to get people ready to meet Jesus. The Bible has the power to expose sinfulness, reveal who we really are, and create a sense of longing identity, emptiness, craving, and aching that can only be satisfied by Jesus for the production of salvation. So it makes you wise that it exposes as folly everything anti-Jesus. It exposes as wise every ache you have for heaven. It makes you wise unto something. Sometimes we think of wisdom as having arrived; this is a wisdom unto something. Wisdom unto salvation is what the Bible has the power to do, and no other book can do it like this.
Any other book that does it is leaning on the Bible. If you got convicted by reading one of C.J.’s books or one of my books it’s because we said something from the Bible. So the kind of books you should read, I think, are Bible-saturated books.
4. Faith in Jesus Christ
This point is almost the same, but I separated them and maybe you’ll see why. The emphasis here is to stay in what you have heard. Continue in what you have learned and believed; first, knowing from whom you learned it; second, how from childhood you have been acquainted with the holy, self-authenticating writings; and third, how they’re able to make you wise for salvation. And now, the fourth point is: Through faith in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures make you wise unto salvation through Jesus Christ. This simply makes explicit how the trajectory of that wisdom that the Bible alone can create terminates on the Savior, Jesus. In other words, Paul is saying, “Timothy, don’t walk away from this book, because if you walk away from this book, you’re going to walk away from Jesus. This book is the connector between you and Jesus.”
You don’t have any other connector that’s going to work in this world. As long as we are in this world with these brains, these eyes, this kind of heart, this kind of mind, and a book in front of us, to throw the book away is going to be to throw Jesus away. So, Sovereign Grace in Louisville, you don’t want to do that. You don’t worship this book. Don’t let anybody get in your face, saying, “Oh, you’re a bunch of bibliolaters.” Just listen to that and feel sorry for them. Just say, “This book is precious to me. I would die for this book, but I don’t worship this book. This is just my only access with any authority to my king. So don’t mock my book, it’s like mocking a bridge. You know? I don’t worship the bridge; I cross the bridge. I want Jesus.” We’ll come back to that thought later.
5. God-Breathed Words
Paul says to Timothy, “Continue in what you have learned and believed, because the Scriptures are God-breathed.” That’s 2 Timothy 3:16. Let’s read it again. He just keeps mounting up these arguments. He is saying, “Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed; first, knowing from whom you learned it; second, from childhood you have been acquainted with these holy writings; third, they are able to make you wise — do something inside of you to lead you towards salvation; fourth, they bring you square to Jesus Christ, the goal of them all, so you find salvation there; and fifth, is 2 Timothy 3:16, which says:
All Scripture is breathed out by God …
That’s one of the most important sentences in the Bible. Sometimes we use the word inspired, but the ESV translators probably chose against the word inspired because we use the word inspired for secular performances of music, saying things like, “I was just inspired.” And I’m okay with that. Everybody knows what that means when we say that. It means there’s a lot of energy in it. It’s just an unusual coming together force that made this song, or this piece of music, unusually powerful in my life. I’m okay with that. But if you confuse that with what God did to make this, then you’re confused — really confused. So it seems like they probably made a good decision here to be really literal with theopneustos. This is God-breathed Scripture.
Inspiration of the New Testament
Now, let’s deal with this issue. Clearly this is the Old Testament he’s talking about, right? At that time the New Testament didn’t exist yet; it was coming into being. And we are a people who have a book, and much of it isn’t directly referred to in the text. So we have the Old Testament covered, but not the New Testament in this text. I don’t think you should think that way. Let me give you four reasons now, under reason five. I’m going to give you four reasons why, by implication, you should think of the New and Old Testament when you read, “The Scriptures are God-breathed,” even though when it was written, it was not the immediate intention because it didn’t exist yet. Here are my four reasons as to why you should now think that it implies both.
First, when Jesus came — the one to whom the Old Testament pointed, and the one for whom the Old Testament made Timothy wise for salvation — he spoke with an authority above the Old Testament. He said:
You have heard that it was said…but I say to you … (Matt 5:27–28).
Or in John 14:10, he says:
…I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
So when Jesus speaks, the Father is speaking and working. This is a claim to massive authority. There were 400 years of silence between Malachi and the incarnation, and now here is the Word. Hebrews 1:2 says:
…in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son …
So this is new, right? This is a new situation on the planet. God has shown up in Jesus Christ and we would totally expect that the word is happening. There was a prophetic, authoritative word until Malachi, then it was shut down. God waited, and then in the fullness of time, he spoke again, and now the Son is speaking. What would you expect to happen now? What would that mean? He’s going to be here for a few years and he’s going back. He’s unleashing the Church, and the Church is going to be built on the rock of Jesus. How would he do that? Would he just leave it up to us to figure out church, and figure out the cross, and figure out everything that’s new? You would doubt that, and you should. You have a warrant to doubt it.
Second, Jesus prepared his apostles to speak with divine authority, like the Scriptures. For example, John 16:13 says:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth …
There we have it made explicit to us that this authoritative spokesman about the new era and the fulfillment of everything that had been written in the old is not going to leave it to chance. He’s going to send his Spirit and guide these 12 chosen apostles into truth, so that as they found the Church — the church is built on the apostles and the prophets (Ephesians 2:20) — he’s going to help them be a solid, sure foundation. That’s what he says he intends to do, so we should be inclined to think that’s what he did.
Words Taught by the Spirit
Third, the apostles claimed to be speaking with inspired words like that. This is 1 Corinthians 2:13:
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit …
You can multiply texts like this from the Apostle Paul and his amazing claim to authority. In another place he says: “If anyone does not recognize us, he is not recognized” (1 Cortinthians 14:38).
Paul laid claim along with the other apostolic spokesman to an authority equal to the Scriptures. He says, “I am speaking inspired Spirit-breathed words.” Do you see that? Let me read it again from 1 Corinthians 2:13:
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit …
These are words taught by the Spirit, and he’s saying, “We’re speaking those words. We are providing the foundation.”
Fourth, Peter referred to Paul’s teaching as Scripture. Second Peter 3:16 says that some twist Paul’s letters as they do the other Scriptures. So you can take a deep breath and say, “Okay, I get it. I get it now. God has provided an Old Testament to be an authoritative, inherent, infallible, inspired record of his interaction with the world and with Israel, then he let the world go for 400 years before he spoke again. He then brought his Son into the world, who spoke with an authority above Scripture, who then authorized 12 men, who then in their speaking and teaching as teachers of the Church, completed another chapter of Scripture. And then it closes and the cannon is closed, and we rest.”
This is the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. We rest upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. So when I read this fifth argument that the Scriptures are God-breathed, even though in the immediate context Paul is telling Timothy to not walk away from the authoritative Old Testament, everything about the way he’s teaching, and the way he’s thinking about Christ, and the way the revelation has come, would lead us to say, in being faithful to God’s overarching purpose and intention, “The whole Bible is inspired by God. The whole Bible is God-breathed.” That’s argument number five.
Carried along by the Holy Spirit
Let me say another word before I leave this thought. Contrast the way Paul talks about the inspiration of Scripture with the way Peter talks about it in 2 Peter 1:21. Peter says:
…no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter talks about men being inspired; Paul doesn’t. Seeing differences deepens our appreciation of both; it doesn’t question either. They were carried along. God was sustaining them, protecting them, keeping them from error, and causing them to write out what he breathed forth. Paul speaks of the product of that process here in 2 Timothy 3:16. He says that all graphē, all the words, all the writings, all the Scriptures are God-breathed.
So you have men who are putting something on a parchment, and then you have what’s there as they put it down, which is God’s Word. These are God’s inspired spokesmen, and what they write is God’s word.
I don’t know the kind of confessions you’ve got here. I haven’t read the Sovereign Grace documents. But at our church, here is what paragraph one, section one of the Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith says. This is just very historic. We’ve borrowed almost all this language from historic confessions:
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.
A lot of people just ask, “What is this language for? Why do you say verbally inspired in original manuscripts? What’s the point of that?” That is simply an attempt to take seriously Paul’s way of talking about the process of inspiration. Paul takes inspired men and then addresses his claim to the graphē — the writings. So when I say they are verbally inspired, I’m just trying to say what Paul said about how the Scriptures are inspired. It isn’t just the men, but the Scriptures themselves. These words that we have here are God’s words. That’s what we’re trying to preserve in this statement. It’s what we want to stay in and conserve.
And when it says in the original manuscripts, some people feel like that weakens things. I think it strengthens things, because it is saying that there really was a moment, a piece of paper, a pen, and an action of God Almighty on a human being, who actually put the mind of God on a piece of parchment. That’s a stunning reality.
It’s not that they were all just close to God, or something. This is a moment in time when the mind of God went onto a manuscript, and then to the degree that this translation is faithful with God’s words, we have it. The remarkable thing is that liberal scholars and conservative scholars — to use those terms in the new way they are understood — all agree that we’ve got it.
I could tell you a story. I studied in Germany for three years. Germany is not a hotbed of evangelicalism. I was assigned, with agreement, that I would do my doctoral dissertation on Matthew 5:43–48 regarding the command to love your enemies. I was going to try to discern if this statement went back to Jesus, how it was affected in the oral process of transmission, how it was used in the epistles, and how it made its way forward in the Church. That’s the way, if you’re in Germany, you have to write a dissertation. For the first doctoral candidates meeting I came to in Germany, I had done one month’s worth of effort in textual criticism.
Textual criticism is an effort to discern if we have the original wording, and I said, “I’m a scholar. I’m supposed to not take that for granted. I’m going to find out.” I wrote a 20-page paper on this paragraph in Matthew 5, using every critical resource I could get my hands on to argue that we’ve got the original words. So I read the paper to six doctoral candidates and Professor Leonhard Goppelt. Goppelt was sitting there the whole time, sometimes with his eyes closed, and I was thinking, “Oh no, maybe it’s my English,” because they did let me read the paper in English, and all the discussion was in German. So we got done and I finished, and he said:
Herr Piper, das ist sehr gut, aber wir brauchen das nicht tun.
Which means, “This is very good, but we don’t need to do that.” And then he took his Nestle-Aland 26th edition of the Greek New Testament and he said, “We’ve got that. You don’t need to do that work,” meaning, “We, the high, cutting-edge, frontline, liberal German scholars don’t even worry about that anymore. We’ve got it right here. This is what they wrote.” And I thought, “Fine. I thought I needed to do that here.”
I’m saying that to the skeptics among you who say, “Yeah, you say they’re verbally inspired in original documents and all that, but this is an English Bible.” I’m just telling you, you can go all over the world and find out. Even Bart Ehrman, I don’t think — and everyone seems to think he’s so far gone on the way he talks about this — is going to say that any of the major doctrines are called into question by textual issues. But that’s another issue.
6. Scripture is Profitable
Paul is saying, “Continue in what you learned and believed, because the Scripture is profitable.” It is inestimably profitable. This is 2 Timothy 3:16–17:
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.
It is supremely profitable, so don’t throw it away. Keep it, stay in it. Let me reach for that word profitable from another place in 1 Timothy 4:8. I’m sure you know this verse, it says:
…bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
Eating right, sleeping right, and exercising right is a little profitable; godliness is really profitable in every way, forever. Now, how does that relate to our text right here in 2 Timothy 3:16–17? Because that godliness is what the Scriptures produce. Do you see that here? It says they are profitable for teaching. How does teaching work? It does three things: Reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Stop there and look at this.
For reproof, you are going the wrong direction, thinking wrong about something, feeling wrong about something, or acting wrong about something. What does the Scripture do with its teaching? Notice the sequence. It is profitable for teaching. Why? Because it reproves you. That’s number one. It is profitable to say, “Stop. You’re going the wrong way.” That’s reproof. And then the second one is correction. So he turns you around on this issue, whatever it is. Maybe you’re sleeping with your girlfriend, and it says, “Stop. Bad idea. Don’t do that anymore.” That’s correction.
And then thirdly, it trains you in righteousness. Then it’s described in 2 Timothy 3:17, saying, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” That’s the godliness that is so profitable in every way back in 1 Timothy 4:8. It is profitable in every way. The world really cares about whether the Bible makes Christians good — it’s one of the evidences of the truth of the Bible. And they should. It produces good works that come from doctrine. May this church be devoted to doctrine that includes all the truths of the Bible that are designed for what? To equip you to produce a life of godliness, beauty, and goodness, which will then circle back and authenticate the doctrine and the Bible.
The Bible aims to make you godly, and in that profitability, producing a new kind of loving, humble life of service very much like Jesus, the Bible will show itself to be true. So Paul says, “Don’t leave it, Timothy.”
Those are six arguments. Let me rehearse them. I’ll just name them. First, hold fast because of the character of the people who taught you the truth. That’s not an infallible argument. It’s a good one. I certainly would say that about my mother and father. I would look back and say, “Boy, I better be really slow to walk away from what Bill and Ruth Piper taught me, because Bill and Ruth Piper were of a cut that I don’t see very often.” Now, you may not have that argument, and that’s okay. You don’t need all of them; you just need some of them.
Second, hold fast because of the marks of divine holiness in the Scriptures.
Third, hold fast because of the power of Scripture to make you wise — to cause something to happen in your heart so that foolishness is seen as foolishness, and wisdom is seen as wisdom, leading you on to the climax, which is number four.
Fourth, hold fast because the Scriptures brought you to Christ.
Fifth, hold fast because all Scripture is God-breathed, so that the very words themselves are his words.
And sixth, hold fast because the Scripture is profitable. It’s profitable because it empowers and enables you to perform the kind of good works, or godliness, that people look at and say, “That needs an explanation,” and the explanation is God in his word.
The Scriptures in Daily Life
So how shall I close? Here’s one thing I want to say, and then I have one or two other applications. This is for heads of households in particular. I don’t know the lay of the land here at all, I’m a stranger, but I feel this for myself as a dad still. I’ve got kids who are 40, 37, 32, 30, and 17. That’s amazing. I’ve been parenting forever, and now that I know my 40 year old and 37 year old, I know I’m going to be parenting forever. As the head of a household, I need to hear this.
I care about putting food on the table for Noël and Talitha. I think it’s my job to work and be faithful, and to protect them and provide for them. I want them to get the food that will keep them healthy. I want them to get the rest that will keep them healthy. I want them to get exercise that will keep them healthy. I care about their bodies. And my question then for you and me is, do we care vastly more for their souls? Do we care about putting the bread of heaven on the table? Those other things are of little value for your wife and daughter, these are a value in every way. This book is of value in every way forever. And if you pour all your energies into providing a house, a table, and protection for them, and think you’ve done your job while this is languishing on the shelf, you haven’t done your job. You haven’t loved them the way you ought.
I’m preaching to myself here because we really struggle with how to do family worship and family devotions in a way that feels life-giving to a 17 year old. She’s not a rebel. It’s just a challenge.
Standing with the Word
That’s one application. Let me give you a couple of others. These come out of our supper last night, Rick. I was lying there brooding over this conversation we had about our culture and where it’s gone in the last years. Let me relate the Bible to the present state of American culture at one or two levels. There was a time, and it was just yesterday, historically speaking, when to be Christian in a secular context meant you were a stupid, foolish, naive, though tolerable and good person. It was like a pat on the head, saying, “You believe those myths and we don’t, but we’ll get along.”
That day is over. You’re not naive anymore, you’re wicked. If you say what the Bible says about a few issues today, you’re not just naive, you’re not just foolish, and you’re not tolerable; you are intolerant and you are evil. Now, here’s my question. You can fill in the blanks there, I don’t need to get on that. That’s another sermon I’d be happy to preach. I’m asking you, how are you going to endure that? And my answer is, “Timothy, remain in what you have learned and believed because it is true. It doesn’t matter.”
Let God be true though every one were a liar …
It takes a lot of arguments with a lot of supernatural persuasion, so that as the fists are raised or the eyebrows are raised, whichever scares you, you’ll stand. That’s the second application.
The Ordinary Means of the Extraordinary
The third application is that you want to know God, and according to 1 Samuel 3:21, God revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh through the Word of the Lord. I love that verse. Now, there were other kinds of epiphanies in the Old Testament where an angel shows up, or a burning bush shows up, or a light shows up, or a cloud shows up. Normal showing up is right here in the Bible, and I want him to show up every day. I’m not going to wait for the extraordinary. I’m happy to receive it anytime he wants to get at me in an extraordinary way. I’m not going to push it away, but I’m not waiting for the extraordinary. I want the extraordinary ordinary right here — Jesus.
This morning I got up and I had my agenda — one hour in the book — not for you, but for my hungry, desperate, sinful, needy soul. Every day I’m in the book, listening and saying, “Speak to me. Reveal Yourself to me. I need You. I’m not a bibliolater. This is my bridge to heaven. Would you get on it, Jesus? Come to me.” So if you want him, don’t go to the woods without your book. Go with your book. The woods are good — the heavens and the woods are telling the glory of God, and that helps. But you get wrong messages if you leave the book at home. So that’s the third application. If you want to commune with him, he wrote a book.
Written for Your Joy
And finally, this last application is so crucial when taking the cultural thing into account. Most of us have grown up in America and have felt kind of at home in what was the Protestant hegemony during the 1950s, which made it feel like being a Christian was normal. Only the secular establishment would have said you’re foolish or you’re naïve, but everybody thought you were normal.
Those of us who remember that can have emotional reactions to the new day when, say, our president will not even oppose kinds of abortion that are partial birth, where they’re three quarters of the way out and you stick a knife in their spine. He won’t even oppose that, and he celebrates a lifestyle that the Bible says damns people. My response to that, and you can hear it probably, is to get angry. Anger isn’t going to save anybody. There’s a holy anger, but this church, and the Evangelical Church in America now, shouldn’t respond to the loss of our land or influence — which never was our land — with bitterness and anger, and retreat into our little circle. We should have a circle where holiness is done. Churches should be wonderful places of sexual holiness. But my last point is that the Bible is written for your joy. And I’ll just read you the key verse in John 15:11. Jesus says:
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
We were talking last night over dinner that one of the virtues that needs to be recovered, if you haven’t already, in a world like ours is the virtue of hospitality, where you don’t just say, “I hate this word. I hate my neighborhood. I hate the news. I hate TV. I hate movies. I hate the internet, because they’re all so wicked.” Well, you’re not going to be of any use to anybody like that, even though I think that’s all true. After saying things like that there’s a “Okay, now what?” And the “now what” is that we should be the happiest people on the planet. I mean, you sang the best news in the world. We have a Savior. He’s going to win. We should weep for our neighbors who are buying into the cultural drift that is not a drift, but a tidal wave.
We should weep, and in our weeping, we should want them to have our joy which is why we should open our tables. We should invite them into our homes. They might say, “Whoa, you’re one of those.” But we will say. “I want you to come, and we can talk.” These things are written so that Jesus’s joy would be in you, and that your joy might be full. So hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, and be the happiest person in your neighborhood.