2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 Preach it!

Last year a mixed media artist called Jorge Mendez Blake put together this art piece.

(see here: https://mymodernmet.com/brick-wall-installation-art-jorge-mendez-blake/)

It is a 75-foot-long brick wall with quite a noticeable bulge in the middle! When you look closely you might notice something. At the very bottom is a single book. This book causes the whole shape of the wall to change. The salient point is that a book can have a large impact.

We know that books are powerful. This image visually reminds us of just how powerful they can be.

It’s likely that there are one or two books that have meant a lot to you or shaped you in some way through your life.

Out of all of the books in the world, the one that cracks the best seller list every year is the Bible.

There are lots of popular books out there. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has sold 85 million copies, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy has sold 150 million copies, but more than 4 billion copies of the Bible have been distributed. Every year around 100 million copies are sold or given away. The Bible has been translated into more languages than any other piece of literature. It’s considered a powerful book, it’s a book that has been banned from many places, a book that has had a huge impact on our culture and traditions throughout the world.[1]

Today’s reading from Timothy acknowledges the power of this book and it poses a couple of questions for us to consider.

1)   Why does the Bible matter?

2)   Why does Preaching the Bible matter?

In this morning’s we jump in half way through a conversation. Paul says…”but as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed.”

Lurking in the background of this story is vs 13 in which Paul refers to wicked people and imposters who are deceived and deceive others. In this letter Paul refers to his opponents who are preaching a message contrary to that of the good news of Jesus. Paul urges Timothy not to be swayed by their versions of the Gospel that are at odds with the message that has been passed on from the eyewitnesses of Jesus and from the Scriptures that he has received.

According to Paul these teachers are wrong.

But why are they wrong?
What we can infer from what he says to Timothy is that Paul’s opponents are wrong because they have deviated from the witness they were given through the Scriptures.

What is key in this whole conversation between Paul and Timothy is this: that the Scriptures are the authoritative witness to what God has done and therefore they are the basis for Christian proclamation.

Today still there are people who claim to teach in the name of God but who ignore the Bible or who misquote it or who twist its meaning beyond belief.

Every preacher, including myself must be wary of this. Every congregation ought to expect that they hear the Bible preached and not just some nice ideas or self-help from a well-meaning pastor.

Today’s sermon in this sense is self-directed, but what I hope is that it encourages us all to see just why it is that the Bible matters and why we should expect it to be at the centre of our conversations about who God is, who we are, and what the good news of Jesus is all about.

 

WHY THE BIBLE MATTERS

So, let’s start thinking about just why it is that the Bible matters and what the Bible is for.

Verse 15 highlights the heart of the matter. “The sacred writings are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”

The overarching purpose of the Bible is to introduce us to Jesus so that we might know how to be saved, so that we might know how to have right relationship with God.

All of the Scriptures in this sense bring us to Jesus. In him they find their fullness. The words of the Bible bring us to the word made flesh – to Jesus. So, these words aren’t just stories, maxims, wise sayings, commandments or teachings that we should apply as helpful or as good advice or something like that. The whole of the Bible is an introduction to Jesus, an invitation to relationship. We can’t therefore treat the Bible like any other book – seeking to extract information from it – rather we must let it speak to us. Why? Because when we do we are encountering the very words of God to us.

Verse 16 says this:

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

All Scripture is inspired by God, or some translations say “God breathed”, that is that God’s very life and breath and words are at work in them.

It’s important to note that the Holy Scriptures mentioned here by Paul don’t refer to the whole Bible as we have it today. It references the Old Testament Scriptures that both Paul and Timothy would have studied closely in order to know who God is.

The Christian Canon, that is, the whole collection we have bound together in our modern Bibles would come to be the way it is centuries later – but here Paul refers to the Old Testament.

I think that it is fair though to apply this to all of Scripture, to the New Testament as well as it is implicit in the writings themselves and in the belief and witness of the church.

So, this letter in Timothy puts forth the idea of inspiration, that the Bible is a living document through which God speaks to us. This makes it different from every other book we know. How does this work? Lots of people find it a struggle to believe that this rag tag collections of all kinds of books over a large stretch of time and in all different genres can have any sense of coherency at all, let alone be a book through which God speaks.

I found what I think is a helpful and useful analogy put together in the Alpha Course, an introductory course to Christianity. So, I want to share a short clip with you which explains inspiration in the Bible…

 

YOUTH ALPHA CLIP on inspiration – human and divine. Sir Christopher Wren and St Paul’s Cathedral.  

 

I like the image of God the architect, the creative and loving mind behind the Scriptures, breathing life into them, choosing to reveal Himself to us in them.

How else might we know who God is other than God acting in history and God’s acts being communicated to us in language and concepts that we understand?

The Bible is inspired by God so that we might know God and we are also told by Paul that it is useful.

I love this point.

Firstly, the Bible is useful.

John Calvin says: 

“Scripture is useful.” It follows from this that it is wrong to use it to gratify our curiosity or satisfy our desire for ostentation or provide us with a chance for foolish conversation. God meant it for our good. So the correct use of Scripture will always benefit people.

At times I have found myself in endless speculation about passages of Scripture or in long and tedious Bible studies that don’t seem to go anywhere.

The point is that there is a point.

Scripture when applied to our lives is useful.

What is it useful for?

It is useful for teaching us and training us in righteousness. These words remind us that the Bible not only introduces us to Jesus, it also teaches us to follow Jesus, to become more like Jesus, conformed to His image.

The Bible will help us become mature Christians, it will deepen and grow us in our life of prayer, in our character, in our relationships and in our service to the world.

This involves an uncomfortable reality.

The Bible is for reproof and correction.

Mark Twain once said: “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, I have always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.”

Does this resonate with you too?

When was the last time you read the Bible, heard it deeply, and changed because of it? That is a question worth sitting with and dwelling upon.

(pause)

Don’t dwell upon it to feel bad. Dwell upon it knowing that God wants to stretch you and grow you, to transform your life for good of you and all those around you, to make you ready and equipped to do good work for God’s kingdom.

Paul teaches us that the Bible is God’s word to us, it introduces us to Jesus and it challenges us to grow to be more like Him.

 

WHY PREACHING MATTERS

Then in chapter 4 Paul gives a charge to Timothy. He invites him to preach form this Bible boldly.

Here we see just why good biblical preaching matters. (slide)

 

Chapter 4:1-5 – Paul’s charge to Timothy.

Paul tells Timothy to preach the message. Whether or not people are into it or not, this is what he is called to do.

Why? Because it is God’s word, and it is God who will judge Timothy and every other preacher for his faithfulness or lack thereof.

In verse 1 we hear whom the most important audience is: “In the presence of God who is to judge the living and the dead…”

Paul reminds Timothy that God will hold him accountable for what he says.

We see this theme elsewhere in the book of James which says

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)

Preaching after all is quite a presumptuous thing to do isn’t it? In one of my favourite novels of all time, “Gilead”, by Marilynne Robinson, we meet John Ames an elderly retired minister who throughout the book reflects on his ministry. He reflects saying this:

“I had a dream once that I was preaching to Jesus Himself, saying any foolish thing I could think of, and He was sitting there in His white, white robe looking patient and sad and amazed.”

I just love that description of Jesus listening to the sermon.

Every preacher must be aware of this, of our own limitations and frailty, our ability to say even foolish things.

What matters the most for Paul is that Timothy proclaims the message he is given rather than makes one up.

This is what all congregations should hold their preachers accountable to. Why?

What might go wrong?

In verse 3 we hear this:

“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”

Paul uses this comical imagery to make a serious point.

We have itchy ears – we will hear what we want to hear. We must presume that it isn’t only Timothy’s congregation that had itchy ears – perhaps our ears are a little itchy too?

We all operate with a kind of confirmation bias in which we look for evidence to support what we already think or believe about things.

To paraphrase the Anglican reformer Thomas Cranmer: “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”

We all have ears that will itch or turn away at times from the truth of the good news of Jesus.

When Jesus wants to admonish us or challenge us, perhaps highlighting a sin that we are struggling with or grow us more in grace and humility – it is likely that we will put up a fight. The temptation is this – rather than fight we might even just decide to change the message all together. Paul warns against this, and as he passes on his teaching mantle to Timothy he instructs him to stick with the message he has been given.

This requires humility and it requires trust.

We live in an age in which the Bible is seen as less trustworthy than perhaps it once was. Many folks are sceptical that God would speak through it or that it has any authority to speak into our lives.

I, in the tradition of Paul, one of the earliest witnesses to the Christian faith want to affirm once more how central the Bible is to being a Christian. Without it we don’t know who God is, without it we wouldn’t understand Jesus’ love for us or how we might grow as Christians. The Bible is our daily bread. We are invited today not to skip meals or to reject it for what looks nourishing but is nothing more than junk food.

I want to finish with these challenging words of a great theologian who took time to articulate just how important the Bible is. Karl Barth once said this:

“Finally, as regards the doctrine of inspiration, it is not enough to believe in it; one must ask oneself: Am I expecting it? Will God speak to me in this Scripture?[2] Amen.


[1] Statistics on the Bible from Youth Alpha films 2018, Session on “Why and How do I read the Bible”

[2] Karl Barth, quoted in Donald G. Bloesch, Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 85.

Josh Taylor