The following message was delivered at Olivet Baptist Church in Paducah, Kentucky on the 19th day of July, 2015:¹
The Bible isn’t like any other book in the whole world, is it? I was reading a story about two college students who shared a dorm together. One was a Christian and the other was a Muslim, and as they became friends, their conversation quickly turned to religion, as you’d expect. The Christian asked the Muslim if he’d ever read the Bible before. He said, “No, but have you ever read the Koran?” The Christian responded, “No, I haven’t but I’m sure it would be interesting. Why don’t we both read together, once a week, alternating books?” The young men agreed to the challenge, and their friendship deepened, and only during the second term the Muslim became a believer in Jesus. One evening, late in the term, he burst into the dorm room and shouted at the Christian, “You deceived me!” “What are you talking about?” the Christian asked. This new believing Muslim opened his Bible and said, “I’ve been reading it through, like you told me, and just read where it says the Word is living and active!” He grinned and said, “You knew all along that the Bible contained God’s power and that the Koran is just a book like any other. I never had a chance!” “Now you’ll hate me for life?” asked the Christian? “No,” he said, “but it was an unfair contest from the start.” The truth is, the Bible is not like any other book. It is not a textbook, it is not like the Koran, the Buddhist scriptures, the book of Mormon, or even Christian literature.
The word of God is breathed out by God, it is useful for the Christian, and it equips us for Christian service. That’s what we’re going to learn tonight. It is also important to know what we believe about the Bible, for all of our beliefs about Christ, God, the church, salvation and last things, come straight from God’s holy word. What we believe about the Bible is without exception our most important belief. For from it flow everything else we believe about . . . everything. We’re going to see tonight that: the Scriptures are inspired, the Scriptures are useful, the Scriptures are equipping, and finally how to use the Scriptures.
The Text: 2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Preliminary: “All Scripture.”
First I have to make an important note here. Paul begins with saying, “All Scripture.” Paul is not beating around the bush here—everything that he is going to say about the Bible is going to apply to all the Bible. Not just a few parts. If the Bible says that all Scripture is breathed out by God, then all Scripture is breathed out by God. If the Bible says that all of it is useful, then all of it is useful. If the Bible says that all of it is equipping, then it is all equipping. There are not levels of importance in the Scriptures—all of it is important, all of it is God’s word. I’ve heard people say before that the historical parts of the Bible are not reliable or true, but the doctrinal parts are true. Folks, if God lied to you in Genesis and other historical accounts in the Bible, then why are you believing Him in John 3:16? If some parts of the Bible are not true, then none of it can be reliable or trustworthy. But because all parts are true, the whole Bible is trustworthy.
I. The Scriptures Are Inspired (v. 16a)
First of all, notice that the Scriptures (all of them) are inspired/breathed out by God. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (v. 16a). Scripture is God-breathed, it’s inspired by God—it’s not inspired the way a poem or song is—it means its origin is from God. The Greek word for “breathed out” by God is theopneustos, the only occurrence of it in the Bible, meaning that the Bible is divine in its origin—the Bible is literally God’s breath, God’s wind, God’s words. Think about what happens when you speak. Whether you’re lecturing students, talking with your spouse, or verbally disciplining your children, your words are “you-breathed.” Because when you speak, your breath pours forth speech doesn’t it? You breathe out your words, and they are a reflection of your inner self. That’s what Paul means here by the inspiration of the Scriptures. He is saying that God has breathed His character into Scripture so that it is inherently inspired. If the Bible is not inspired by God, then there is nothing inherently special about it. We could say that it is helpful literature, we could say that it is a carefully crafted book of history, poetry, and narrative.
But the Bible is more than that. The Bible is inspired by God meaning that it has power, a divine Source, and is useful for God’s people. It is “the word of God [that is] is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). If Scripture is breathed out by God, this bears obligation on us as Christians. If it’s inspired by God, then it’s the most valuable thing we have. Just if we found the location to some buried treasure, because of what the Scriptures are, we are compelled to value them, pursue them, and study them. Do you realize that the Scriptures are alive because they are inspired by God? Do you treat the Bible as breathed out by God?
II. The Scriptures Are Useful (v. 16b)
We’ve first seen that the Scriptures are inspired by God, and as you would expect, notice secondly that the Scriptures are useful. Paul says in the latter part of v. 16: “[The Scriptures are] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Paul says that the Bible is profitable. If the Bible is inspired by God, then it is surely useful—simply because of what Scripture is implies that it is useful in one way or another. Thankfully for us, Paul didn’t leave us wondering why the Scriptures are useful. He spells out four ways in which the Scriptures are useful.
1. For Teaching. Paul first says that the Scriptures are useful “for teaching.” This is one of the most fundamental uses for Scripture. Paul says that Scripture “was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4). This is because of what Scripture is. Because it has been breathed out by God, because of its content, it has this fundamental use of instructing us. The word of God teaches us how to live godly lives, and it is our primary and only source of doctrine. In fact, another word for teaching here is doctrine. For example, what we believe about God, ourselves, the world, and eternity is all informed by Scripture. As believers, we need to make sure that we are being informed and taught by the Scriptures. I’m afraid that much of people’s doctrine (or what they consider to be doctrine) is not informed entirely by Scripture—through its use of teaching. Just interview a few people on what they believe God, Christ, salvation, and many other important theological truths, and you are sure to see that misconceptions run rampant. This is because many people think what they believe is sound doctrine, but because of their ignorance of this use of the Scriptures, what they believe often times is just unbiblical.This should drive us to baptism in the Scriptures! If we are not studying the Bible regularly, in our personal lives and in the local assembly, how can we expect to recognize teachings that are unbiblical? And thinking of the historical context here, there were many heresies that were facing Timothy, Paul’s young protégé, and Paul emphasizes here that the source of sound teaching comes from Scripture alone. This is the first use of the Scriptures, and perhaps the most fundamental.
2. For Reproof. Secondly in this list, Paul says that the Scriptures are useful “for reproof.” Reproof is best defined as a criticism for a fault. This too, is one of the fundamental uses for the Scriptures. Paul could be referring to a reproof that exposes the false teaching of the heretics that Timothy was dealing with, or he could be referring to the rebuke that Scripture has on our personal lives. But either way, Scripture does both. Scripture can serve as reproof for doctrinal errors, or it can show sinners like us our many failures, and show us what we need to do about it. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, He prays for us and says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17, ESV). Being sanctified means being set apart. Daily it is a struggle to be set apart from sin in our lives, and that’s how Jesus prays for us—that we would be set apart for God. But how is this accomplished? “. . . in [through] the truth; your word is truth” (emphasis mine). That’s how it happens—through God’s word. And if we’re honest, it’s not very pleasant when God points out what needs to change in our lives. But that is one of the functions of God’s word, and if we ignore reproof we are fools—if we listen to reproof we “gain intelligence” (Prov. 15:32).
3. For Correction. Paul says thirdly that the Scriptures are useful “for correction.” The Scriptures not only rebuke our wrong behavior, but they also point the way back to godly living by correction. Once the Scriptures have convicted us and rebuked our sinful behavior, then they aim at the goal of recovery. After the Bible reveals our sin and the deep things of our heart, then it works to repair us and build us up again. Again, no one likes to be corrected, but praise God that not only are our wrongs revealed to us, but we are shown how to stay on the “way of the righteous” (Psalm 1:5). When you are convicted of sin, do you search the Scriptures for ways to overcome it? Do you search the Scriptures and allow the Scriptures to search you in order to be corrected when you are in the wrong?
4. For Training in Righteousness. Finally in this list, Paul says that the Scriptures are useful, “for training in righteousness.” The Scriptures are designed to train us in godly living. Training involves the action of teaching a person to acquire a particular skill or type of behavior. The idea here is that Scripture, by its teaching, rebuking, and correcting functions, trains us to live “in righteousness.” The Scriptures produce conduct in our lives whereby doctrine is actualized—that is, the Bible makes doctrine come alive in all areas of our lives. All of these uses for Scripture are intermingled and sometimes overlap, but they are all for training us in righteousness—putting us through a spiritual workout program to develop godly muscles for being under pressure from sin, and having the strength we need to carry out the commands of God.
Mobile phones are a great help today aren’t they? With all of their gadgets and applications, they can be hard to use, but once you learn how to work the basics, they are nearly the most useful tool in the 21st century. There are apps, calculators, dictionaries, image-editing software, and much more on today’s phones. In fact, I’ve heard it said that our mobile phones today are really mobile computers with a calling app. Mobile phones are very useful, and because they are so useful, we take them everywhere we go—we value them. They have a lot to offer, but we must simply access its many resources. Listen, the Bible has much to offer us. It is much more useful than a mobile phone—it is useful for teaching us, showing us where we are wrong and making it right, and for training us to be pleasing to God. I wonder what would happen to our Christian lives and communities if we viewed the Bible as valuable as we do our mobile phones? Do we turn to it when we need direction? The Scriptures are useful, but we must use them. Do you use the Scriptures? Do you use the Scriptures to teach you and correct you? Do you justify sin in your life because you think it can’t be corrected or do you turn to the Bible?
Set aside time each day to study the Bible. Get books that will help you understand the Bible. Once you start getting into the word and allowing the word to get into you, you will begin to notice that you are becoming exactly who God wants you to be—more like His Son every day through the ministry of the word of God. If you hope in your own life to overcome error and grow in doctrine, overcome evil and progress in personal holiness, then we must turn to Scripture, because it is profitable for these things.
III. The Scriptures Are Equipping (v. 17)
We’ve seen that the Scriptures are inspired by God, and we’ve looked carefully at the four individual uses for Scripture, so now let’s look at how the Scriptures are equipping. Listen to Paul in v. 17, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul tells Timothy here about the purpose for which God intended the Scriptures to be useful. Paul tells Timothy that all of these uses for Scripture serve one chief purpose, for the spiritual maturity of the man of God. This phrase “man of God” can apply to any Christian in general, or it can refer to a Christian leader. But by implication anyway, it will refer to all of us as believers.
The idea here is that the Bible is able to help us meet the demands that God places on us—to equip us with what we need to be “complete [and] equipped” for God’s purposes. First, Paul says that the Scriptures uses are for the man of God to be complete. This means that the Bible enables us to be capable of doing God’s work. In other words, we have all we need in the Bible to do God’s work in the world, to be obedient to His commands, for the Bible (considering it is used properly) makes us complete as believers. But secondly, Paul says that the uses of Scripture are for the Christian to be “equipped for every good work.” Similar to being complete, this means that the word of God enables us to meet all the demands of godly and righteous living.
Have you ever had problems with your plumbing? I know I have. We’ve just recently redone our entire bathroom plumbing system—it’s really a lot of work and sweat. Many of you have had problems with your plumbing before and have likely hired a plumber to take care of the job. Well, suppose you have a leak under your sink and you hire an experienced plumber to fix it. But there’s a catch: the plumber arrives at your door without any equipment—no wrenches, no clamps, no pipe, no tool belt, or anything. And he says, “Okay, I’m here to do the job!” How confident would you be? Probably not at all. Why? Because this man has no equipment to do the job!
For believers, we have a far more important job to do than fix a sink, and it is living godly lives—but we cannot and will not do this job without our equipment, the word of God. How can we expect to accomplish the job of godly living without our equipment, the Bible? How can we expect to know how to do God’s work without God’s word?
IV. How to Use the Bible (Selected Scriptures)
For many people, the only time their Bible is open is on Sunday—and those same people wonder why their devotion to God has grown cold, well no wonder. If you eat about three times daily to sustain your body’s strength, but you only get one meal of God’s word a week, no wonder you might be so malnourished in your life of faith. Because of what the Bible is and because it has many uses, I want us to look at a couple of ways to use the Bible. If God’s word is inspired, if God’s word is useful, and if God’s word equips us for Christian service, then how can we get the most from our Bibles?
1. Read the Bible. This is the most basic way we can use the Bible. Do you read the Bible every day? Everyone reads and learns at a different pace, so it may take some time to adjust to reading the Bible regularly—but perhaps the best way to read it is by reading a few chapters a day, in the morning and the night. A good Bible reading plan is also very helpful—helps keep you accountable and track your progress. We must take time out of our busy schedules to read God’s word. If you’re too busy to read the Bible, you’re too busy. The good part about it is that the more we read it, the more we will want to read it, and the more we will be equipped with its teachings.
Biblical Math. A while ago, I did a little math to calculate how long it would take someone to read through the entire Bible. The Old Testament, consisting of 929 chapters, would only take you 26.5 weeks to read all the way through if you read 5 chapters a day. That’s reading through the entire Old Testament in about 6 months. The New Testament, consisting of 260 chapters, would only take you 7.4 weeks to read all the way through if you read 5 chapters a day. That’s Matthew through Revelation in under 2 months. If you read 5 chapters of the Bible daily, you could read through the whole Bible once and read half of it over again. . . In a year. In a small 5 year period, you will have read through the entire Bible nearly 8 times.
2. Meditate on the Bible. This is not simply a suggestion, for the Bible implies that we should meditate on the Scriptures (Psalm 119:15, 48, 97). Do you remember the first Psalm about the godly man who was blessed in every way? How did he get blessed? How did he become so prosperous? It was because “his delight [was] in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Scripture meditation involves pondering and thinking deeply on what we’ve read. We think about what they mean for us, and ponder how to put them into action. Meditation involves allow the Scripture to dictate our thought lives—to let it swim and boil in our hearts and minds throughout our daily commute. Do you have some Scripture that you’ve been meditating on?
3. Pray the Bible. Many people do not realize the benefits of this or see that it’s even necessary, but praying the Bible helps us to align our prayers to God’s will. That’s the only kind of prayers God answers anyway—according to His will:
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15).
God’s will is revealed in the Bible, so if we want to pray according to God’s will, wouldn’t it make sense to pray the Scriptures? Sometimes we pray for the wrong things, but if we want to pray for the right things, we need to be praying the Scriptures. When you’ve read your Bible each day, let what you read compel you to prayer, and then pray about what you’ve read.
4. Memorize the Bible. This one, like the others, seems to be implied by the Bible itself as a command. We are familiar with Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The psalmist there says that his defense against sinning was that he had stored God’s word in his heart. Scripture memory involves not only getting into the Bible, but allowing the Bible to get into us. It is allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). Scripture memorization involves taking time to memorize the Bible, whether a few verses or a few chapters.
It is very beneficial, for we can call to mind a Scripture that is especially helpful for us in a time of need or for someone else in a time of need. Because the Spirit of God can’t call to your memory a Scripture you’ve never read or memorized. Do you take time to memorize the Bible? You can write it out on paper until you have it memorized, or you can repeat it back to yourself time after time, or you can simply read it over and over again. I’ve put Bible verses on note cards and slipped them in my pocket as I go about my daily tasks. That way, when I get my keys or phone out, I can always look at that verse first.
5. Study the Bible. Studying the Bible is key. It involves the most effort, but yields the best results. Studying the Bible is observing it, interpreting it, and applying it to our daily lives. We might spend a while studying a verse of Scripture, a chapter, or a whole book of Scripture—but studying involves doing much work to excavate the deep truths of Scripture. A good study Bible helps with this, good commentaries, or other helpful books like Bible dictionaries and Bible handbooks. In studying the Bible, we focus on it—think through it intellectually and emotionally. We discover what the particular author is saying about his subject and what it means for us today. Do you study the Bible? How much time a week is spend studying the Bible?
Conclusion: A Man Who Really Valued His Bible
We must value the Bible because of what it is—and if we truly value it, we will take the time to study and read it. I read a story once about a man who really valued his Bible. During King Philip’s War, a war between the Pilgrims and Indians during 1675-1676, there were a group of Indians who launched an attack on the Pilgrims. In March of 1676, a group of nearly 1500 Indians attacked the village of Rehoboth. As the inhabitants of the village watched from their garrisons, 40 houses, 30 barns, and 2 mills went up in flames. But only one person was killed. He was a man that believed that as long as he continued reading his Bible, no harm would come to him. Refusing to abandon his home, he was found shot to death in his chair by Indians—the Bible still in his hands. That’s someone who really valued the Bible. I wonder if we could say the same about ourselves. Do we really value our Bibles? Do you value your Bible like this Pilgrim man?
God grant us that we might pray with the psalmist in Psalm 119:
“With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word” (vv. 10-16).