The Inspired Word
I begin today by paying tribute to those who’ve so ably and graciously led me to embrace the discipline of biblical exposition. I’m deeply grateful to God for the nearly thirty years I’ve spent at Heralds of Hope and the six years of mentoring I received under the founder, Dr. J. Otis Yoder. He often reminded me of the importance of being faithful to the Word.
Biblical exposition is a discipline. Like any other discipline, there are practices and procedures that must be followed to achieve accuracy and effectiveness in handling God’s Word.
Some of you [listening] are businessmen. You’re successful because you diligently follow proven principles of business. You dedicate time and effort to stay current with the latest developments in your field. You do all you can to make your business profit and grow.
But as I review the Church through the lens of my own experience and my interaction with others, I fear we often fail to approach the Word of God with the same level of care and diligence. We claim a ‘high view’ of Scripture. But too often we’re haphazard in fulfilling the command to “rightly divide the Word of truth.”
The goal of my teaching is to encourage a deeper love for the Word of God, a deeper commitment to obedience, and greater service in the local church.
When we study a portion of Scripture, we must look for the main ideas the writer wants us to grasp. It’s also important to note that whenever we examine a Scripture text, we mustn’t do it in isolation. Every text appears in a wider context. Dr. J. Otis Yoder, who taught expository preaching to many pastors, was fond of saying “A text without a context is a pretext.” Our text for today will be II Timothy 3:14-17. The message will focus primarily on verses 16 and 17.
In this text, Paul informs us of several non-negotiable CHARACTERISTICS of the Word of God. Our embrace of these characteristics will determine how well we’re prepared for God’s calling upon our lives – to handle the Word of God with care and authority.
The First CHARACTERISTIC (of the Scripture) is,
It is Inspired
In verse 15 Paul reminds Timothy that he was taught from childhood from the Holy Scriptures; the Old Testament. Timothy was continuing to study those same Scriptures and the result was – salvation through Jesus Christ.
The “all Scripture” of verse 16 refers to the Old Testament. That’s all Paul had at the time. But the statement leaves room for the later formation of the biblical canon. At the time of Paul’s writing this letter, some of his earlier letters were already in circulation.
In I Corinthians 2:13 Paul claims divine inspiration for his writings as being taught by the Holy Spirit. And Peter endorses Paul’s writings this way; “just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” II Peter 3:15 and 16.
I remind you; that this subject of inspiration is a big one and we can only scratch the surface of it because we have two other characteristics of the Word to address.
Do you believe the Word of God is inspired or expired? The reason I asked that question is because the word, inspired, causes us a bit of a problem. It comes from a Latin word meaning “breathe in.” We call that inhaling, right? I believe the ESV, NIV, and others capture the meaning better by translating theopneustos as “God-breathed.” That is, to use the medical term, expired. It is exhaling. So, expiration is a more accurate way of stating what’s meant by God-breathed. I can only imagine the response if this teaching was titled would have been “The Expired Word.”
In Genesis 1:2 Moses writes about the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the deep. The Hebrew word for spirit is ruach. In many places, it’s translated as wind or breath. The effect of God breathing out in Genesis 1 is the creation of life. In Genesis 2:7 God “breathed out” into man’s nostrils the breath of life and man became a living, immortal soul. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, uses the word phero.Peter says in II Peter 1:21 that “…holy men of God spoke as they were moved (phero) by the Holy Spirit.”
The concept of inspiration gives divine approval to all the words of Scripture. All Scripture is so inspired by God that everything in it, its narratives, prophecies, citations, ideas, phrases, and words – are such as He saw fit to be there.
In II Timothy 1:13 Paul tells Timothy to “retain the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me.” The very words of Scripture should be carefully guarded. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but (my ideas shall not pass away); no, my words shall not pass away.” Apart from the words, there is no message and no inspiration! If we want to be fully equipped for every act of service, we must embrace the inspiration of Scripture.
The Second CHARACTERISTIC is,
It is Profitable
“All Scripture is God-breathed and therefore useful.” John Quincy Adams said: “I have for many years made it a practice to read through the Bible once a year. My custom is to read four or five chapters every morning immediately after rising from my bed. It employs about an hour of my time and seems to me the most suitable manner of beginning the day. In whatever light we regard the Bible, whether with reference to revelation, to history, or to morality, it is an invaluable and inexhaustible mine of knowledge and virtue.”
The copy of the Scripture you hold in your hands is God’s message to humanity. Because it is His message it is profitable; that is, it is advantageous to you, it is helpful, and it is useful. In our text, Paul outlines several ways in which it is useful.
First, it is profitable for doctrine. The ESV and others say, “profitable for teaching.” Yes, that’s correct. But teaching also speaks to the authority of the teacher. Why did the Holy Scriptures make Timothy wise unto salvation? Because the teaching was backed up by the authority of the Teacher!
Paul says in Romans 1:17 that through the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. The teaching and embrace of God’s Word develop our faith one step at a time. Augustine said, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”
Next, Paul says the Word is profitable for reproof. It means to cross-examine or to question for the purpose of convincing. None of us like to be reproved, yet we all need it. This word is only used twice in the New Testament; here and in Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction [evidence] of things not seen.”
The Word of God convicts us; it rebukes us for ungodly behavior or false beliefs. It brings us to the point where we agree with what God says about us. Sometimes that reproof comes through reading the Word, sometimes in a sermon, or a word of counsel from a brother or sister. Truth can sometimes come to us from unusual sources, even from the lips of unbelievers.
And then there is correction. It literally means “to set right.” It’s bringing a restoration to the truth when there has been error; correcting one’s faults. It includes the reformation of one’s character and conduct. There are all kinds of methods being used today in an attempt to reform conduct and character. But the Word of God, accepted and applied, is the ONLY thing that will bring about true reformation!
Several years ago, I was involved in a weekly Bible Study at a facility for female, juvenile offenders. In one of our Bible studies, I showed the girls a rose and asked them what makes it a rose. They gave several answers but eventually realized it is what it is because of its nature; it is what it was designed to be and has no power to change itself.
Then I asked them why we humans sin. They realized it is in our nature; it’s who we are, and we have no inner power to effect lasting change. In order for our conduct to be corrected or set right we need a new nature. No amount of self-effort, or discipline, will change who we are at the core of our being. Only Christ and the Word can set right what has been lost in the fall; we exchange our sin nature for the Divine nature. When nature changes, the behavior changes; we make choices out of the new nature.
And finally, the Word is advantageous for instruction in righteousness. Plato said, “Education is the constraining and directing of youth toward that right reason which the law affirms, and which the experience of the best of our elders has agreed to be truly right.”
In biblical usage, another meaning has come into this word which recognizes the necessity of correction or chastisement in discipline. It’s used of God’s chastisement by means of sorrow and evil. This word is used in Ephesians 6:4 where fathers are to nurture their children. This includes instruction by example, by warning, by kindness, and by biblical discipline.
Today many want Jesus, the Savior, to provide forgiveness for their sin, but they don’t want Jesus as Lord with his demands of discipleship and His instruction in righteousness. But that’s not the way God designed the plan of salvation. Genuine conversion is the birth process of discipleship. Spiritual growth and development must follow.
God’s Word meets our deepest needs. It transforms us from the inside out. People need God’s Word more than our observations and practical suggestions. Sure, there are times to offer practical suggestions and counsel; I’ve done some of that. However, we must distinguish between “good stuff” and “God’s stuff.” If you’re involved in ministry to people, give them God’s stuff: God-breathed Scripture! God’s Word is profitable!
The Final CHARACTERISTIC (of the Word) is,
It is Sufficient
The London Baptist Confession of 1677 proclaims “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture; unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
Just prior to our text Paul warned Timothy that deception will increase as we approach the end of the age. Too many professing Christ followers are being “tossed about with every wind of doctrine” because they have not embraced the sufficiency of the Word. If they believed the Word was sufficient it would affect their daily choices.
Paul’s teaching here convinces me that the Word of God MUST BE THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS! All the information we receive, (and we live in an age of information overload) must be held up to the divine plumb line of Holy Scripture. It alone is sufficient to meet the needs of fallen and redeemed humanity.
Whatever problem or need we have; whatever situation or circumstance we face; whatever besetting sin or addiction that binds, the Word of God is sufficient to set men free! When the Scriptures do not address an area specifically, we can ask the Holy Spirit to give us light and understanding.
As a young man, we had a situation in our church not specifically addressed in the Word. Our leaders called a meeting of the membership to discuss the issue. It soon became apparent that we weren’t all in agreement. So, they called us to search the Scriptures, to fast and pray. Some weeks later, another meeting convened and the unity evident in that meeting proved that God heard our prayers and brought us together in a way that was humanly impossible.
Our text says “…that the man of Godmay be complete, equipped for every good work.” Incidentally, the word man is Anthropos (human being). God needs men and women who are fully equipped for every good work.
What does it mean to be completely equipped? It means competent, sufficient, completely qualified; “having a special aptitude for given uses.” This is what happens when we implement the other characteristics in this text into our lives.
Though we can’t see it in English, Paul here uses two forms of the Greek word for equip (an adjective and a participle) to make his point. The man or woman of God is super-equipped by the Word of God. That’s a wonderful thought: “super-equipped” by the Scriptures! John Stott wrote, “Scripture is the chief means which God employs to bring ‘the man of God’ to maturity” Completeness speaks of a harmonious combination of different qualities and abilities that allows God’s purposes to be fulfilled in us.
As Christ-followers, we are ambassadors for Christ. We’ve been given a solemn charge, an awesome responsibility. If we truly believe the Word is God-breathed, then we will find it advantageous in every area of life. And as we submit ourselves to the Word, we will find ourselves fully equipped to perform every good work.
Will you renew your commitment to these characteristics of the Scripture? Will you demonstrate by your life and ministry that the Word is inspired, profitable, and sufficient?