Our Need for God’s Word

Our Need for God’s Word

Today, this last Sunday of October, is Reformation Sunday. Reformation day itself is October 31 which led to the birth of Protestantism. For on that day Martin Luther[1] is said to have posted his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in protest of the selling of indulgences, the sale of pardons for sins. As Thesis 86 asks, “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” This abuse of power gained by the sale of indulgences on the backs of the poor was but one of Luther’s concerns. He was concerned as well about doctrinal matters. As an infamous saying attributed to Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, stated: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory into heaven springs.” Yet Luther noted that this kind of salvation by means of the purchase of indulgences is nowhere to be found in Scripture which is to be our guide in all matters, especially theological ones. Subsequently, the Reformation has come to be known as asserting the theological convictions known as the five solas as I noted earlier in the piece sung by the Voice Ensemble this morning:[2] Scripture alone is our highest authority; God has made salvation possible by means faith alone, in Christ alone, by his grace alone. Therefore our lives are to be lived for the glory of God alone for having made this salvation possible.

Our passage this morning from 2nd Timothy is an appropriate one to consider on Reformation Sunday for it’s a powerful reminder to us of our need for God’s Word, of Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone being our highest authority. It begins with Paul exhorting Timothy in verse 14, “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” As we saw a couple of weeks ago,[3] Timothy was raised in the faith by Lois, his grandmother, and Eunice, his mother.[4] And although being raised within a particular belief system is certainly no guarantee that a person will follow in the steps of faith, in Timothy’s case this teaching of God’s Holy Scriptures from infancy did indeed take as he grew up to profess “faith in Christ Jesus.” This was so much the case that Paul throughout this letter did all within his power to encourage Timothy to continue in the faith he’d learned and “become convinced of,” having learned it not only from these two faithful women but also from Paul.

What is also important to note here is that the Holy Scriptures Paul refers to were the Hebrew Scriptures or our Old Testament for at this time the New Testament had not yet been completely written and compiled though some of it had.[5] I mention this because I suspect that we don’t often think about the Old Testament Scriptures in this manner, that is, as being “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Yet the Old Testament Scriptures do point to Christ. They are the promise of which Christ was the fulfillment. Jesus himself, after he rose from death, said to the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, “‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah[6] have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”[7] The Holy Scriptures Timothy learned from his infancy, the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament Scriptures, were what made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Now Paul calls these Scriptures “holy” for he rightly understood them to be sacred writing, writing that came from none other than God himself. As stated in verse 16, “All Scripture is God-breathed….”—a word that occurs only here in the entire Bible and that was probably coined by Paul.[8] To say that Scripture is “God-breathed” is to state that it has come not from the minds of men but from God. As our breath flows forth from our very being, so Paul speaks of Scripture as flowing forth from God’s very being for he is the Source who gives it life. God breathed out his Word by means of his prophets, his eternal Son, and his apostles. And he has preserved and continues to make this Word alive to us by his Holy Spirit.

Now because Scripture is God’s Word, it is to have final authority in our lives on all matters on which it touches. As Paul states, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” It’s important to realize that apart from Scripture you and I would know neither what God intends for us to believe nor how he intends us to live. For apart from God’s Word, we wouldn’t know what love for God or love for others looks like in practice. Therefore he gave us his law and left us his teaching that we might know him, know our need for him, and thereby repent from living according to our ways and instead turn to him and receive his guidance and help to live the holy lives he desires for our good.

Since Scripture is God’s Word, we need to resist the temptation of going against what it teaches. We need to resist the temptation of saying, “I know what the Bible teaches but I don’t care. I would rather live how I want, not how God wants.” To say such a thing is to deny that the Bible is holy, that the Scriptures are sacred, that they have their origin in God who made us. For again, apart from Scripture we are unable to know which behaviors will lead to our flourishing; which behaviors will be pleasing to God. Therefore, as Paul states, we must turn to Scripture,

first of all, for teaching in godliness; for teaching in how to live as God in Christ lived. This is true for every generation for every generation of believers must weigh what society teaches from the perspective of God’s Word. Every generation needs such instruction in godliness for if society teaches something that goes against that Word—for example, “Every man or woman for himself!”—we’re to reject that teaching for Scripture calls us to live as servants to God and others;[9]

Conversely, if society teaches something that is affirmed in God’s Word—for example being kind to one another as Ellen Degeneres often states on her talk show—then we can embrace that teaching for kindness is one of the fruit of the Spirit;[10]

Finally, if society teaches something that is neither affirmed nor rejected in God’s Word—for example, a particular exercise or weight loss program—then we should use our discernment and the reason we’ve been given by God in order to assess that teaching.

The point is that if we say we believe in the God who has disclosed himself in Scripture, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then we are bound to follow the teaching he has left us in that Word.

In addition to teaching, Paul next notes that Scripture has been given us that we might rebuke behavior that isn’t in keeping with Scripture. As we’ve noted before, one of the themes Paul has had to address in this second letter to Timothy is that of false teachers. This is why in verse 14 of chapter 2 Paul exhorts Timothy, “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.” Those who are doing such quarreling, in other words, are to be rebuked. For a believer’s focus ought to be what the Scriptures teach, not “godless chatter” which only leads people to “become more and more ungodly,” spreading like gangrene.[11] Those who are teaching or living in ways contrary to Scripture are to be rebuked in order that they might live lives in keeping with what God intended. For, again, God’s intentions are always for our good.

Similarly, and third, Scripture has been given for correcting, for putting an error right. In the closing verses of chapter two Paul similarly tells Timothy, “25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”  The devil is the father of lies[12] and when we are deceived we are inadvertently following in his path rather than in the path of Christ. Believers are instead called to follow in the ways of Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life.[13] But important to note here as well is that in our attempts to correct we must follow Paul’s admonition and do so gently. Wrong teaching should be gently countered with right teaching, again “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” In all of this we are to turn to Scripture as our pattern.

Finally, Paul notes that Scripture is to be our guide for “training in righteousness.” Since by our fallen nature we don’t know how to be holy. Since because of our fallen nature we don’t know how to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and each other as ourselves, we must turn to God’s Word to learn how to do so. Scripture is to be our training manual in learning how to live according to the ways of God who has given and left us his Word.

As Paul states in verse 17, all of this teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness are “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Have you ever considered that “good work” is the reason for which you and I have been created and saved? In the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul teaches one of the key fundamentals of the faith affirmed by the Reformers, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” And immediately after pointing out that our salvation is by faith, not works, Paul goes on to teach, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”[14] In other words, good works aren’t the basis of our salvation; they’re the result of it; and they’re the purpose, the end for which we are saved. In advance of our salvation God prepared good works for us to do—so let us go and do them! And let us do them with God’s Word as our source, his Holy Spirit as our guide, and with the help of one other, Christ’s body, to the glory of our Father in heaven!

As we turn to chapter 4 in 2nd Timothy, we’re presented with part of Paul’s final admonitions to his spiritual son beginning in verse 1: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge.” With such an introduction, invoking none other than God and Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and dead when he returns, we can feel the gravity of what Paul is passing on to Timothy. Again, though Paul is not in his death bed, he is nearing death. As he states beginning in verse 6, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Knowing that his end is near, we can better understand and appreciate the urgency of his charge to Timothy.

The first part of this charge, of this responsibility, of this baton which he’s passing on to his dear spiritual son in the faith, is found in verse 2:

First, “Preach the word.” Since Scripture comes from God and is the foundation of our faith, we’re called to preach it, to publicly proclaim and teach it, that God might be made known through his Word;

The second part of Paul’s charge to Timothy is “be prepared in season and out of season.” Being a Christian isn’t something we only are on Sunday. It isn’t something we only are on Easter. It isn’t something we only are on Christmas. No, we are called to live as followers of our Savior and LORD Jesus Christ, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, 365 days a year until he calls us home. We are Christians all the time, whether awake or asleep, eating or fasting, talking or in silence, suffering or rejoicing, working or resting. At all times we’re called to live and act as those who belong to Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

In the third part of his charge Paul reiterates what he stated earlier, namely, “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” Misunderstandings are sure to come but we’re never to tire in our task of being holy, of living how God in Christ calls us to live, of helping one another live by the light cast from the lamp of God’s Word.[15] And we must do with “great patience” for we can be slow to learn and dull of hearing and therefore need such “careful instruction.” In the hymn How Firm a Foundation we sang earlier this morning, the first stanza asks, “What more can He say than to you He has said, To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?” What more, indeed?! For in Christ taking on human form in the person of Jesus, God the eternal Word has made known what he is like and how he intended humanity to live, dependent in prayer upon our heavenly Father and in obedience to the Word he has disclosed by his prophets, himself, and his apostles. This is what the Reformers meant when they spoke of the sufficiency of Scripture, i.e., that the Scriptures provide all we need to know in order to live lives in service to God and others; the Scriptures are sufficient for living the holy lives God intended.

In this I’m reminded of Jesus telling the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. As the rich man suffered in torment due to the of the way he had lived while on earth, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his family, his five brothers, to warn them “so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” But Abraham responded by pointing to the sufficiency of Scripture, of Moses and the Prophets. When the rich man insisted that they would listen and repent if someone from the dead were to go them, Abraham rightly responded, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”[16] Scripture, breathed out by God, is the means he has provided us for knowing and following his will. If we don’t believe God through his Scripture, we won’t believe him through any other means. We ignore Scripture at our peril.

These behaviors highlighted by Paul and taken from Scripture—correcting, rebuking, and encouraging with great patience and careful instruction—should typify believers in Christ. But Paul knows they will not always be in line with what people want to believe or how they want to live. As he goes on to warn starting in verse 3, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” A modern-day example of this is how easily so many people—even Christians—have been lured in by accounts written by people claiming to have been to heaven. The most notorious one perhaps is The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life Beyond This World which was a best-selling Christian book written in 2010 that claimed to testify to Alex Malarkey’s experience in heaven after a tragic traffic accident in 2004 left him a paraplegic. Many people with “itching ears” preferred Alex’s version of heaven over anything that God’s Scriptures had to say. Over a million people didn’t heed Paul’s warning preferring instead a doctrine “to suit their own desires.” There is something in human nature that would rather believe how we would like things to be than how God has disclosed things to be in his Word. This is the source of much heresy.

However, in January of 2015 Alex, who is still a paraplegic, released an open letter in which he admitted that the entire account had been made up. Therefore he asked Christian bookstores and Tyndale House, his publisher, to remove the book from its shelves. Listen to some of what Alex had to say:

Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short. I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to Heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible. It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough. In Christ, Alex Malarkey.[17]

Though I’ve never met Alex, I feel proud to read his words for they reflect the proper posture we’re all to have towards God’s Holy Scriptures—that it is sufficient, the only source of truth, and the only place we can learn about Jesus, the Son of God, who died for our sins that we might be forgiven. It is only in Scripture that we can learn about heaven, our need for repentance, or anything else we need in order to know God and live our earthly lives in the manner he intended. To quote Alex again, “The Bible is enough.”

Well next Paul reminds Timothy—and us—about the importance of keeping our heads in all situations as he ends his charge in verse 5, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” Whether we are met with a supernatural testimony about heaven from a little boy that challenges what the Scriptures say;

or with claims from our culture about what human behavior ought to be;

or our own impulse to believe things that go beyond what the Scriptures teach,

we should seek to keep our heads and measure and weigh these claims by the Word our gracious and kind God has left us.

Further we’re to “endure hardship” for believers aren’t spared the effects of the Fall but we, too, have to deal with aging bodies—and disappointments—and financial struggles—and difficulties in relationships. Yet as we do, we have God’s Word as our guide, and his Holy Spirit who indwells us praying for us,[18] as does our Savior and Lord Christ Jesus,[19] and other believers to come alongside and help us come what may.

And as we seek to keep our heads in all situations, and endure hardship with the help of Christ and each other, we are to do the work of an evangelist, sharing with others the good news of who Christ is and how he came not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him;[20]

And we are further called to discharge all the duties of our ministry as we care not only for people’s spiritual needs but also for their emotional, material, and physical needs as well. This essentially is Paul’s charge to Timothy—to continue the Kingdom work on earth that Christ Jesus, our King, began when he was here. For this is what God’s Scriptures teach and this is what we’re called to do.

Sisters and brothers, our need for God’s Word is a great need. We have a need for his written Word for in it he has disclosed who he is and how he would have us live. That written Word points us to our need for Jesus Christ, the Living Word who became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.[21] And his written Word points us to his Risen Word now seated and ruling at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

As we’ve seen in these words from Paul to Timothy, God’s Word makes us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus alone (3:15);

Our need for God’s Word is great for in it we learn how we ought to teach, rebuke, correct, train in righteousness (3:16) in order that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (3:17);

Therefore let us preach God’s Word (4:2);

And let us be prepared in season and out (4:2);

And let us turn to that Word as a guide to correct, rebuke, encourage one another with great patience and careful instruction (4:2)

And let us keep our head in all situations, endure hardship, evangelize, and care for others (4:5) that all our lives might be lived to the glory of God alone.

Let us pray.

[1] 1483–1546.

[2] Reformation Song by Bob Kauflin.

[3] October 13, 2019 sermon on 2 Timothy 1:1–14, Christ Jesus, the Destroyer of Death.

[4] 2 Timothy 1:5: I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

[5] See, for example, 1 Timothy 5:18: For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” The first quotation is of Deuteronomy 25:4 but the second is of Luke 10:7 [Jesus, in sending out 72 disciples, tells them,  in vv. 5–7: When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.]. See also 2 Peter 3:15–16: 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. [emphasis added]

[6] The Hebrew name for the Greek “Christ.”

[7] Luke 24:25–27.

[8] Greek θεόπνευστος, ον.

[9] See, for example, Matthew 20:25–28: 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

[10] Galatians 5:22–23: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

[11] 2 Timothy 2:16–17: 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,….

[12] John 6:44: You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

[13] John 14:6:Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

[14] Ephesians 2:8–10.

[15] Psalm 115:105: Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

[16] The passage may be found in Luke 16:19–31. The verses quoted above are 27b and 31, respectively.

[17] Found in <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boy_Who_Came_Back_from_Heaven>

[18] Romans 8:26–27: 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

[19] John 17:20–21: 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

[20] John 3:16–17: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

[21] John 1:14: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.