The Bible, What is it Good For?
2 Timothy 3:10 - 4:5
The Bible, What is it Good For?
What is it good for?
War! What is it good for?
Some of you will remember that song by The Temptations in 1969. Re-released by plenty of others including Bruce Springsteen.
The only bit of the song that I ever remember is the refrain “War! What is good for?” And the answer comes back, “Absolutely nothing!”
It’s not exactly subtle, But I think that’s the idea of a protest song! To get your point across!
But I often meet people whose thoughts on the Bible are the same, “What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”
Or maybe they haven’t quite arrived at that conclusion yet, but they’re not sure, they’re asking the question, “What is it good for?”
And maybe that’s you this morning,
Maybe that’s why you’re here.
And it’s a good question to ask.
Here at Trinity we place a high value on reading the Bible,
Having the Bible explained to us,
We want to understand the Bible,
What is it good for?
Well, I hope we’ll come to a very different conclusion than The Temptations did! but that’s our question for today.
What is it good for?
And we’ve already spent lots of time thinking about false teachers, About the importance of teaching the gospel to others,
We’ve seen that we who teach here at TMB, either build up or destroy other people’s faith,
And so for the next little while, we’re going to spend our time mainly in this last part of chapter 3.
What is it good for?
Godly Christian living leads to persecution
Many of us can remember exactly where we were, when we heard significant news.
For some maybe it’s the assassination of John F Kennedy,
The dismissal of the Whitlam Government,
I can remember where I was when I heard that Princess Diana had been killed in a car accident,
Or when the news of the September 11 terrorist attacks broke.
Maybe Timothy can recall exactly where he was, when he heard about the sufferings endured by the Apostle Paul. See Paul doesn’t point here to his most recent sufferings, but back to what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, Lystra being the town where Timothy had lived.
Paul reminds Timothy of what he’d heard, “Quick, quick, some guys being attacked and stoned outside the city”, in order to point out, that wasn’t something out of the ordinary, but what’s to be expected for the Christian life.
See verse 12, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
Now, I think this is one of the most confronting and scary verses in the whole Bible.
And not because of what it pictures,
I mean it’s not a pretty picture,
But the reason I find this such a confronting verse, is because in many ways this isn’t my experience.
Paul says if you’re a godly follower of Jesus, you will suffer.
He is entirely unequivocal, isn’t it?
It’s not, “if you’re a follower of Jesus, and you’re particularly un-lucky”,
Or, “If you’re really outspoken and obnoxious, chances are, you’re going to suffer”,
He doesn’t say “Some Christians are going to suffer. It probably won’t be you, but I can’t make any promises!”
No, it is absolutely clear cut and sweeping, isn’t it?
everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, will be persecuted,
They talk about politicians and others leaving themselves “Wiggle Room”, you’ve heard of that?! It’s all about leaving room to soften what you’ve already said.
Well, there’s no wiggle room here, is there?
Now, as we noted a couple of weeks ago, we live in a society that has been shaped by men and women who have been convinced by the reality of the gospel.
Our experience has generally not been Timothy’s;, living in a world where the good news of Jesus is unknown, considered something new and foreign, and dangerous.
Although as we move further into a post-Christian age, that will be our experience.
And we should be very thankful to God for the impact the gospel has had on our culture and what that means for living as a Christian in Australia,
But even so, Paul is, categorical, isn’t he?
And so I’m forced to wonder if perhaps my Christian witness is not as obvious or effective as I think it is.
Is the reason that I’m not being persecuted for my Christian faith, because people don’t see my Christian faith?
There are plenty of reasons why this happens. Paul suffered in
The priorities of someone seeking to live a godly life in Christ cut across the priorities of the dominant worldview of the day,
Living for others shines a spotlight on those who are living for themselves,
If you’re living in a way that says, “it’s better to put myself last than first”, then the people who are committed to putting themselves first, will be threatened.
If you choose not to live in a particular way because you are in Christ Jesus, that can appear to those who do want to live like that as if you’re condemning them, or judging their behaviour,
There are those who benefit from people living their lives trapped in sin and destruction, so any sign of the spread of the Christian message is perceived as a threat.
Godly Christian living leads to persecution.
Jesus himself warned his disciples about it.
For us it’s more likely to be ridicule, or exclusion, than physical harm, imprisonment, like Christians in other parts of the world endure.
But even though we have much to be thankful for in terms of being spared the worst kinds of hardships, if this is not our experience at all, it’s probably worth us asking ourselves if we really are seeking to live a godly life, in view of those around us,
Or have we slipped into, picked up the patterns of the world around us, such that we’ve become indistinguishable, from those we’re seeking to reach with the good news of Jesus.
Continue in the Scriptures (v14 – 15)
And so because living a godly life in Christ will lead to persecution, Timothy, and those who are committed to the spread of the good news of Jesus, must continue in the Scriptures.
You’ll be left high and dry, defenceless in the face of opposition, unless you continue in the Scriptures.
Verse 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
Of course, not all of us will have had Timothy’s exact experience. He had the great blessing of being taught the Bible since his infancy. But the point is not how long you’ve known about the Bible, but whether or not you will continue in it from now onwards.
In chapter 1, we learn that Timothy’s grandmother and his mother, were both followers of Jesus. And just as Timothy knows Paul’s life and character, like he mentioned in verse 10, he can have confidence in the power of the Scriptures, because he knows the life and character of those from whom he learned it.
And some of us are able to thank God, for people;, for parents,
Sunday school teachers,
Youth group leaders,
Friends and family, who taught us the message of the Bible, and whose life we could look at, as evidence of the Scriptures’ power.
But friends, to whom can we say, But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it
Those of you we’ve commissioned for ministry today, will you be able to say to peopel in your ministry area, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it
Parents, can you say to your children, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it
Those of you involved in evangelism and discipleship beyond TMB, will you be saying continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it
But what is it to continue in what you have learned?
Well it stands in contrast to the deceiving and being deceived of the previous verse, doesn’t it?
It means not turning to the right or the left,
It means not changing the message,
It means immersing yourself, in the Holy Scriptures,
Last Sunday, when Will was sharing with us what God’s been teaching him, what he learned on camp, he said he’s determined to read his Bible every day.
That’s part of what it is, to continue in the Scriptures.
Thomas Cranmer laid the foundation for the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in the 16th Century. And in the collect, or special prayer, for the second Sunday in Advent, he wrote these words:
“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:, Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ;”
hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest,
That’s how we have to approach the Bible, if we are to receive the benefits it offers us.
We’re not going to be able to discern the imposters from the real servants of Christ,
We’re not going to be able avoid being deceived, and then deceiving others in turn, unless we know the Scriptures,
Why is what Will wants to do so important that I said we should all text him every evening to encourage him in it, and he encourage us?
Why do we have SOAP daily readings?,
Why are a whole bunch of Bible Study Groups kicking off in March,
Why do we offer 1:1 Bible reading with anyone who’s interested?
Because the Bible makes known God’s salvation in Christ.
The Bible makes known God’s salvation in Christ
Verse 15 again, how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
The author C S Lewis opens his Preface to A Paradise Lost with these words:, “The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship, from a corkscrew to a cathedral, is to know what it is - what it was intended to do, and how it is meant to be used.
If Lewis is right, and he usually was, then we can’t understand the Bible, without understand that it’s “intended to do.”
And maybe you’ve struggled to make sense of the Bible,
Maybe you’re not a Christian, but you’ve read some of the Bible before, and it didn’t seem to make any sense,
Well Lewis says we need to understand what it was intended to do, and how it’s meant to be used.
What is the Bible intended to do?
to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus
That is, the Bible teaches us the salvation that is ours, can be ours, through faith in Jesus.
The Bible is how we know about God’s plans for salvation that centre on Jesus.
There are some things that we can know about God apart from the Bible. In Romans 1 Paul explains that God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature, can be seen by looking at creation. It’s got God’s fingerprints all over it.
But we don’t know about God’s salvation from looking at a beautiful sunset,
We can’t see the terrible picture of our sin and rebellion by enjoying a walk through the bush,
We don’t learn of our need for a saviour by staring up at the stars in the heavens.
No, to learn of our sin and rebellion,
Of our need for a saviour,
Of God’s provision of a saviour,
Of the means by which we can take hold of this salvation, we need the Bible.
But of course the Bible itself is not enough!
And sometimes Christians like us get accused of elevating the Bible too high, people say we worship the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures. Just so you know, if someone says that to you, they’re calling you an idolater,
They’re saying you have a false God,
They’re telling you you’re going to hell, right? Let’s just be clear on that!
But so there’s no misunderstanding, let’s make sure we see this; The Bible itself doesn’t provide us with salvation.
The Bible doesn’t achieve our rescue from sin,
The Bible doesn’t pay the ransom for our rebellion against God.
Christ Jesus offers us salvation,
Rescues us from sin,
Pays the ransom so that we can be reconciled to the God who we had rejected.
The Bible makes known salvation, as it makes known Jesus, God’s chosen king.
The Bible tells us of our need for salvation,
Tells us how God works for our salvation,
Tells us that we can’t do anything to earn our salvation,
Tells us that Jesus died for our salvation,
The Bible calls on us to have faith in Christ Jesus, and so receive salvation.
The Bible makes us wise for salvation.
And maybe that’s the piece that you need, to make sense of the Bible,
Knowing what it does,
Knowing what it can do for you, will help you understand it.
And maybe there’s something you can pray for your friends and family, who perhaps think that reading the Bible is just a complete waste of time. Ask that God will help them understand what it’s for.
And Paul explains some more about that in a moment, but let’s just notice one more thing that he says here.
The whole Bible makes known God’s salvation in Christ
And that’s that the whole Bible makes known God’s salvation in Christ.
By that I don’t mean, that every single verse, or every sentence, teaches something new and distinct about salvation.
But remember Paul’s said to Timothy, from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation
Now, what do we know about Timothy?
He’s a young man, 1 Timothy 4:12,
He was half Jewish. His mum was a Jew and his dad was Greek, Acts 16:1,
His mother and grandmother were also believers, and they discipled Timothy, we saw that already.
Historians think he was maybe born in about 20 AD. That’s a bit of a guess, but it’s going to be in the ballpark, and that’s about 25 years before the first parts of the New Testament were written down,
And yet the Scriptures that he has known from his infancy, are able to make him wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Do you see what Paul’s saying?
The Bible that Timothy was taught as a child was not what we call the New Testament, it was the Old Testament.
Certainly, by the time Paul writes to Timothy, the early Christians are treating the Apostle’s writings as Scripture, on a level with the Old Testament, But when Paul is talking about the Scriptures in the days of Timothy’s infancy, he’s talking about the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,
The picture is certainly not complete in the Old Testament, but as we often say, the Bible is one unified story of salvation, that centres on Christ.
And so Timothy’s mother and grandmother, were able to prepare him for the salvation that he would come to know through faith in Jesus, through what God had made known in the Old Testament.
And then when Paul turned up in Lystra, their hometown, in about 48 AD, preaching the gospel from the Old Testament as was his habit, those 2 women came to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, and eventually so did Timothy.
The whole Bible makes known God’s salvation in Christ.
I think as Christians we feel a particular affinity with the New Testament. It’s written closer to our day and age than the Old.
It’s teaching is more distilled,
And of course the New Testament was written to people in exactly our situation. Not geographically, But to people living after the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, who are waiting for his return.
That’s our situation.
It’s not wrong to say “I find the New Testament easier to understand”, but the whole Bible makes known God’s salvation in Christ.
We mustn’t neglect the Old Testament,
We mustn’t think that it’s sub-Christian,
We mustn’t think that only the New Testament speaks into our lives and situations today.
And of course this shapes the parts of our life together here at TMB, when we sit under the Scriptures. Our Sunday teaching,
Our Bible Study Groups,
How we train people for ministry.
And if you want to know some more about how this works itself out in the life of our church, come to God, Church & Me, because we talk about this some more.
The Bible is useful because of its source
But Paul goes on with his statements about the Scriptures, saying that the Bible is useful because of its source.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Again, notice all Scripture, The Old Testament and the New, is God-breathed, breathed out by God, it’s what Christians mean when they say the Bible is inspired.
Certainly we know that various human authors physically wrote the words of what we now call the Bible, but to say that All Scripture is God-breathed means we understand that behind the many human authors, stood a single author, the Holy Spirit of God.
And just as when we speak, it’s our breath that carries our words,
My words are breathed out by me,
So all of the Bible is God’s Word, breathed out by him.
I said to someone the other day that I get to preach some of my hobby horses this week! And here’s one of them. Some of you will know that I don’t like red letter Bibles! Bibles where the words that Jesus spoke are printed in red.
Now, I know, actually, that it can be hard to find a Bible that’s not a red letter one, so I’m not judging you if you have one of those, I promise you that!
But aside from the fact that every study ever done has shown that reading words printed in red decreases legibility and decreases understanding, which is probably not what you want to do with Jesus’ words!
But that concept, that approach that says some words in the Bible are more special than others because of who spoke them, that flies in the face of what Paul says here.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
And of course a more serious application of this passage is when it comes to working out which parts of the Bible have authority,
Which bits we’re called as followers of Jesus, to submit to,
If we’re evangelicals, that is, if we believe the Bible to be how God speaks to us, which bits do we listen to in order to hear God speak?
Well, the answer’s obvious isn’t it? All Scripture is God-breathed.
We don’t get to say, “We’ll submit to this bit, but not to that bit.”
We can’t just pick and choose which bits we like, and which bits we’d prefer to leave behind.
It’s all come to us from God.
In fact there’s a number of places in the New Testament, where the Old Testament is quoted, and the New Testament author introduces the quote with something like “God says”, even though in the passage that’s being referred to, God is not the speaker in the first instance.
It might be a Psalm, we don’t even know who wrote it, but the New Testament tells us “God says.”
This week I came across a group of Christians who proudly call themselves “Partial Bible Christians.” They unashamedly say that they’re really only interested in some bits of the Bible, and they’re quite happy to leave the rest of it.
Perhaps I should have been warned by the fact that this group calls themselves “Red Letter Christians”!
To decide which bits we like and which bits we don’t,
Or which bits we think speak into our world, and which are irrelevant, is to put ourselves in a position above God, who breathed out these words too us.
This is the most well-known statement in the whole bible about the Bible, and I don’t think that it’s any surprise or any accident that it comes in a context of, remember, evildoers, imposters, and deception!
When evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
When people will set themselves over the Bible, and above God, deciding for themselves which of the Bible’s words are useful, this is what we remember:,
That All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
Paul’s point here is to show the link between the origin of the Bible, on God’s lips, so to speak, and its usefulness.
Like, some of you, I’m a coffee drinker, and so maybe if I’m in town, I’ll go to the Sazon Espresso that’s in the city. You know, support local businesses that have expanded into the big smoke! It’s all about serving others!
And so I go in there, and they might be advertising “single origin coffee”, now I don’t really understand what’s so great about single origin coffee, right? But I know that unless I order it, all the coffee snobs in the café are going to look down their noses at me because they’re convinced single origin is better.
Paul points to the single origin of the Bible, and says what’s so good about. It’s its single origin, breathed out by God, that makes it useful.
So let’s spend the rest of our time, looking at this other part of the picture of what the Bible is good for.
The Bible teaches us
And, possibly because Paul knows that Timothy is surrounded by those who want to promote a false message, or maybe just because he knows that importance of passing on the truth of the gospel from one person to the next, he starts by saying the Bible teaches us.
Slightly more boringly we could say “the Bible is a source of doctrine.”
How do we know about the world?
How do we know about God?
Where do we learn to think about ourselves rightly?
What is our source of knowledge about Jesus, God made known?
And again, remember, it’s all Scripture that teaches us, The New Testament and the Old Testament.
And this word teaching, is the same word that Paul used to describe his own ministry back where we started in verse 10. So there’s no doubt about the content of Paul’s teaching.
Paul taught people, as he explained the Scriptures to people.
As he wrote letters like this, people were taught,
And still are taught.
The Bible rebukes us
Teaching if you like is the positive side, rebuking is the negative side of the same coin.
And this has both big picture and little picture implications.
We can’t say, “Well, I don’t teach people, so I don’t need to be rebuked.”
Rebuke here does mean correcting the theology of some false teacher, and certainly there will be some here who will be called upon to do that in some form during their lives,
But rebuking also means calling out sin and ungodliness in our personal lives.
And maybe you’ve had that experience, it’s certainly happened to me, you’re reading the Bible, or hearing someone explain the Bible, and you feel the finger being pointed at some area in your life that is out of step with your identity as a follower of Jesus .
The Bible rebukes us, as our sin, or error, or ungodliness is brought to light,
As we’re reminded of the truth,
And called back to faithful obedience to Jesus.
None of us like that. But it’s essential, isn’t it?
I remember when I was learning to drive, my driving instructor rebuked me once because I did a right hand turn across an intersection
, without checking carefully enough for oncoming traffic.
It was certainly no fun being rebuked, but I’ve never turned across traffic again without paying very careful attention!
The Bible corrects us
Next in the list, the Bible corrects us.
Obviously it’s a very similar idea to rebuking, the sense of putting something right, literally Paul’s word means to straighten something out.
If you’ve ever visited Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, or another one of those pioneer villages, where everything’s set up like it was in the 1800s, you can go into the blacksmith’s shop, and watch him working.
And if he wants to make something long and straight, he’ll stick a piece of iron the fire, and then when it’s hot, he’ll put it on his anvil, and whack it with his hammer. Over and over.
Heat it. Hit it.
Heat it. Hit it.
What’s he doing?
He’s straightening it.
And sometimes the straightening, the correction of the Scripture is a bit like that, isn’t it?
It can feel like it!
Fire! And then getting hit!
Fire! And then getting hit!
Interestingly, this word for correcting is related to the word that Paul uses in his letter to Titus, where he says that Titus needed to put in order what was left unfinished.
There it’s not so much a sense of righting the wrongs, but filling up what is lacking.
And certainly we can see how that can be true of the Bible, can’t we?
How do we fill up what is lacking in our understanding,
In our maturity,
By listening to the words that God has breathed out for us.
The Bible trains us for righteous living
The last of Paul’s little list, is the assurance that the Bible trains us for righteous living.
Do you want to live a holy life,
Do you want to be set apart for Christ?
Do you want to be useful to your master, like we saw last week?
If you serve in leadership here, do you want to deepen your understanding of the truth?,
If you’re committed to the cause of Christ in Mount Barker, do you want to overcome error,
Put sin and evil behind you, and grow in holiness?
The Bible is good for that!
The Bible will train you, for righteous living.
But of course, remember where we started? A godly life, righteous living, will lead to persecution?
If we let the Bible do this work in us, we know what’s in store, don’t we?
And we, Trinity Mount Barker, of all God’s people, all around the world, are unique, in that God in his kindness, has given to us, a very special reminder of this training in righteousness that the Bible accomplishes for us.
Cornerstone College has names for all the buildings on campus.
Who knows the name of this building?
It’s a Greek word, and it’s the word that Paul uses here!
Did you know that every Sunday, you come in, to Paideia.
You come in to “training”,
You walk in,
You sit yourself down, within training for righteous living.
How kind of God, before we even got here, to name the building as a reminder to us, of exactly why we’re here, and what the Bible is good for.
And just be thankful that we don’t meet in the canteen! That’s called cibo bello, which just means, “nice food”!
Well, let me finish.
We, of course, can say those things;
The Bible teaches us,
The Bible rebukes us, and so on,
Those are objective truths, born out by people’s experience.
But to say those things are true, is not the same as saying those things are true of, me.
Or of you.
You have to let it.
Generally speaking, if I ask my children to do something, they’ll do it. And if you’re a parent, you’ll know that the generally bit, does vary from time to time!
But generally, I don’t do much to my children against their will.
And that’s how the Bible generally works.
There certainly are occasions when we’re reluctant, or not really interested, and God’s Word kind of grabs us by the neck and shakes around a little bit! not that I do that to my children,
But most of the time, the Bible is useful to us, because we allow it to be,
We submit to it.
And maybe you think “well my experience of the Bible isn’t teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, and so my first question to you is, are you letting it?
Are listening to it?
Are you submitting to it?
When John Stott, the British pastor and author was in Adelaide in 2002, he said “the Christian who has a Bible, and doesn’t read it, is no better off than the person who doesn’t even own one.”
Are you willing to let God teach you,
And train you in righteousness,
So that you can be equipped, to please him in every good work?
If the answer’s “yes”, then continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, and keep opening your Bible this week, and every week.