God is Speaking to You (II Timothy 3:14-17)
Passage: 2 Timothy 3:14–3:17
Not by Bread Alone
I. “No, Really. God Spoke to Me!”
About four months ago, at a car dealership in Lexington, Kentucky, one David A. Silva smashed the window of a new Dodge Charger. When a security guard confronted him, Silva told the guard he needed to steal the car. Why? Because God told him to steal it.
In almost every case, when someone in our day and age says “God spoke to me”, it's a sure sign of either mental illness or over-the-top excuse-making.
Most people have a hard enough time believing that God actually spoke to religious figures from way back when. Today, when there are so many con-men and crazed killers and religious fanatics making this claim, it isn't hard to see why many people think the idea of God speaking to someone is about as believable as the moon being made out of cheese.
So in light of this kind of climate, what would you do if God really did speak to you? If you knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Creator of heaven and earth had told you to do this or that, or revealed some important truth to you, would you tell anyone? If you knew that God himself was speaking to you, would you go if He said “go”? Would you stop if He said “stop”? Would you do whatever He told you to do, even if it involved the possibility of personal risk or embarrassment?
Keep those questions in mind and turn with me this morning to II Timothy 3. I'd like to focus this morning on verses 14 through 17.
II. The Passage: "All Scripture is Breathed Out by God" (3:14-17)
Let's read through these verses and then we'll go back and try to understand what's going on here, why Paul was writing to his younger co-laborer in the work of Christ. Look at verse 14:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 competent, equipped for every good work.
Now you may recall that Timothy was a young man that Paul met on one of his missionary journeys. Paul decided to take him along and train him as part of his ministry team. At this point though, Timothy is probably still overseeing the work at the church in Ephesus, while Paul himself is a prisoner for Christ in Rome.
But let's take a look back at our passage this morning as we try to better understand Paul's reason for writing to Timothy.
A. As For You, Continue! (v. 14)
Look again at that very first phrase in verse 14: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed...
Was there some danger that Timothy was not going to continue on the right path? And what does he mean when he says, “as for you”?
Well the immediate context in chapter 3, starting in verse 1, helps us understand the distinction Paul wants to make here when he says, “But as for you...”. Listen:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
We know from chapter 1 that Paul was concerned about Timothy himself, specifically Timothy's temptations to being fearful as a leader, and even being ashamed of Jesus and of Paul, who, in his chains, appeared to some as nothing more than a common criminal.
Paul knows that Timothy is in a very precarious place spiritually. And with the activity of “these men [who] oppose the truth”, even within the church at Ephesus, Timothy needed to stand firm. As Paul puts it here, Timothy needed to “continue in what [he had] learned”, in those truths he had “firmly believed”.
We might think, “Well if these are things he firmly believed, why is there any concern about his staying the course?” But if we turn the light back on ourselves, we not only need to ask if there are things we “firmly believe”, but if there are, do we still need encouragements from time to time, encouragements to “continue”. I know I do.
That is the moral exhortation this morning, that one word: “continue”. We need to hear the same thing this morning... “continue”. It's easy to slow down isn't it? It's easy to get sidetracked. It's easy to think that other path will be so much better. It's easy to feel defeated, discouraged, disappointed. But the encouragement for us is the same: “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.
B. The Servants of Scripture (vs. 14, 15)
But notice the reasons to “continue” that Paul begins to lay out here.
I want us to see this morning that all of the reasons Paul gives here to support the encouragement, the exhortation to “continue”, all of them revolve around what Paul calls in verse 15, “the sacred writings”. It is these writings, also referred to as “Scripture” in verse 16, it is these writings that contain what Timothy has learned and believed according to verse 14. At this point in history we know that Paul is talking here about the Old Testament, since the New Testament had not yet come together in the form we know today,
But the first Scripture related reason he gives is clear from verse 14 and the first part of verse 15: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings...
As Paul calls Timothy to continue, his first has to do with those we might describe as “the servants of Scripture”. The force of this encouragement only works if the people Paul has in mind here are people that Timothy respects, that Timothy knows are trustworthy, people of integrity; people who have proven that they have Timothy's best interests in mind.
Who specifically does Paul have in mind here? Well the term “childhood” in verse 15 is clue that points us back to chapter one, verse 5, where we read: I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
From “childhood”, Timothy had been instructed in the Old Testament by both his mother and grandmother. There were no ulterior motives with these women. They were not driven by pride or greed. Their integrity should inspire confidence in Timothy as he continues in what he learned from them.
But Paul also has someone else in mind in verse 14. Look back at verses 10 and 11 of chapter 3: You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.
In contrast to the character of certain troublemakers at Ephesus, Timothy knows very well that Paul is a man of integrity. Thus, Paul says, continue in these things, knowing the kind of people you learned them from.
For many of us, we can also look back to a mother, a father, a grandparent, a leader, a friend, someone who introduced us to and/or instructed us in the Bible. And in some cases, God does use their character and integrity to encourage us to stand firm.
But for some, the Bible has a place in their lives or on their bookshelf for no other reason than the influence of a parent, leader, or friend. Some sit in churches today listening to the Scriptures taught for no other reason than “that's just how I was raised”. Well, just as Paul has more to say in this passage, there must be more than family history when it comes to what we believe about the Bible.
C. The Salvation of Scripture (v. 15)
Paul gives his second Scripture-related reason to “continue” in at the end of verse 15. Listen to the whole thing again: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Moving past his focus on the servants of scripture, Paul now emphasizes for Timothy the salvation of scripture.
Even though the Old Testament does not mention Jesus by name, it can “make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”.
The Old Testament teaches us incredible things about the sin from which Jesus rescues us, incredible things about the wise and righteous life to which Jesus calls us, incredible things about the grace which Jesus represents in its fulness, incredible things about the God to whom Jesus reconciles us, and incredible things about the future which Jesus will bring about.
What Paul is reminding Timothy of here is the fact that he should continue in biblical truths, not simply because that it what he's always known or because that's what the people he respects believe in. Timothy should continue on this path of truth because these writings have been and will continue to be a path to salvation.
Salvation here in verse 15 does not simply mean the moment Timothy was born again through initial faith in Christ. That's clear because Timothy was already 'saved' in that sense. But these sacred writings “are able”, not “were able”, “to make you wise for salvation”.
Paul's appeal is two-fold here: he appeals to what the Scriptures have done in Timothy's life AND to what the Scriptures are still able to do in regard to Timothy “working out” this salvation “with fear and trembling” as Paul expressed it in Philippians 2.
Remember, the men who are causing problems at Ephesus are men who “oppose the truth” (3:8). Those whom they teach are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (3:7).
What Paul is doing here, in some sense, is appealing to Timothy's self-interest as a way of encouraging him to continue. He has pointed him to others in his life, those who love him. And now he directs his attention to Timothy's own life, his own salvation, as he encourages him to continue.
Of course, we also need to remember how the truths of Scripture can make us wise for salvation. But we also need to see, as I mentioned before, that we cannot stop here.
Just as what we believe about the Bible cannot be shaped simply by the character of those who spoke to us, in the same way, our perspective on these sacred writings cannot ultimately be about self-interest.
When our perspective on the Bible is shaped solely by self-interest, we run the risk of seeing these writings as merely a handbook that describes a formula, or as a machine that dispenses practical advice: opening the Bible is like dropping in the coin, studying the Bible is like cranking the handle, and receiving instruction is like retrieving your candy bar from the little slot.
Our understanding of what Paul is saying here will be skewed if be do not forward.
D. The Source of Scripture (v. 16a)
Remember what Paul is doing here: in the face of destructive influences in the church at Ephesus, Paul is urging Timothy to continue in the truths of Scripture, first, because he knows the trustworthiness of those who taught him the word, and, second, because Timothy himself has found and will find wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ. Paul has appealed to both the servants of Scripture and the salvation of Scripture.
But only when we get to verse 16 do we find the climax and linchpin of his entire argument. Look again at verse 16. Paul urges Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed” because...All Scripture is breathed out by God...All Scripture is breathed out by God.
Our perseverance in the truth is not ultimately about the other people in our life, even though they have and do play a pivotal role. Our perseverance in the truth is not ultimately about us and about what we have experienced. No, our perseverance in the truth must ultimately be about God, about the fact that the Bible is not the words of men about God, it isn't even a book that simply contains the words of God. The Bible is itself the word of God.
Now, at first, that statement probably sounds a little anticlimactic in a setting and for people who are familiar with and agree with that idea that Bible is God's word. But I think our familiarity with that truth can sometimes keep us from thinking about the astounding implications of II Timothy 3:16.
When Paul says that All Scripture is breathed out by God, he is telling Timothy that as this young man reads the words of these sacred writings, he is, in fact, hearing the voice of God. God is speaking to Him. And how could he not “continue” on the right path if he knows that God himself...not Paul, not his mother, not his grandmother, not even his own desires...God himself has spoken, is speaking, and will speak to him every time he listens to those writings he has known from childhood.
Let me take you on what may appear to be a rabbit trail. Let's go back to Paul's first letter to Timothy, chapter 5. Listen to what he told him in this earlier correspondence. I Timothy 5:17, 18: Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Now what I want you to notice here is the word “Scripture” at the beginning of verse 18. There's our connection to II Timothy 3. But what does this mention of “Scripture” have to do with “all Scripture” being breathed out by God.
Well notice the two Scriptures that Paul cites in I Timothy 5. The first, about the ox, is from Deuteronomy 25:4; a verse, a book that Timothy would have know from childhood. But the second quotation is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10 verse 7.
Now, some might say, “So what. Big deal.” Well, this is a big deal; a huge deal! Paul, a devoted Jew, in that one statement, has just made clear that God is continuing to breathe out his words beyond what He has already breathed out in the Old Testament.
And what's even more amazing is that as Paul wrote those words, even as he wrote II Timothy 3:14-17, God was exhaling His sacred word at that very moment; which means...are you ready...which means that every time we read those words this morning, we have, in fact, heard the voice of God. God himself has spoken, is speaking, and will speak to us this morning. Did you hear him?
What would you do if God really did speak to you? If you knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Creator of heaven and earth had told you to do this or that, or revealed some important truth to you, would you tell anyone? If you knew that God himself was speaking to you, would you go if He said “go”? Would you stop if He said “stop”? Would you do whatever He told you to do, even if it involved the possibility of personal risk or embarrassment?
Brothers and sisters, if we are to continue in the truth, it cannot be because it’s a family tradition...it cannot be because the Bible is relevant or practical or helpful or moving or venerable or able to give us a good, moral compass. No, if we are to continue in the truth of Scripture, we must do so with the firm conviction that all Scripture is breathed out by God himself.
You hold in your hands, not simply a book, but a burning bush. You hold in your hands, not simply a book, but a prophet's voice. You hold in your hands, not simply a book, but the thunder of Mount Sinai. You hold in your hands, not simply a book, but the utterance of Jesus Christ himself, who spoke and the crowds were amazed, who spoke and blind eyes were opened, who spoke and the storm was still, who spoke, the night before His death, and a squadron of soldiers and temple officers were knocked to the ground.
The Bible and the Bible alone is the voice of God. It alone is God's word to us. I love the way our full Essential Beliefs statement expresses this: The Bible is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it teaches; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; and trusted, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.
Do we know, do we really understand what we possess? Do we understand what is happening when read or hear proclaimed the words of this book?
III. Are You Equipped?
Notice how Paul finishes verse 16, into verse 17: 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 competent, equipped for every good work.
Because every book, chapter, verse, and word of the Old and New Testaments are breathed out by God, they are “profitable”. All Scripture is profitable.
What Paul is doing in verses 16 and 17 is expanding on and explaining what he meant when he said in verse 15 that God’s word is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”.
How does it make us wise for salvation or for what we might call “the saved kind of life”? Well the key word here is in verse 17. God’s word equips us to be competent. What does it equip us for? Through the word of God, through the Scriptures, we are “equipped for every good work”.
As a pastor over God’s people, as a man of God (remember, that phrase “man of God” from the OT was often used in connection with the prophets, those who guided the people by being God’s voice), as a man of God, Timothy needed to reminded the Scriptures alone, that all Scripture was sufficient to equip him for every good work that God called him to do.
What do the people need to know? Don’t give them your opinions, Timothy, but teach them all of God’s word.
How can you confront those who are working against God’s purposes? Don’t respond in anger, Timothy, venting your feelings, but rebuke, reprove them with all of God’s word.
How can you direct the misguided and deceived back onto God’s path? Don’t use emotional manipulation or gimmicks or just hope they’ll figure it out, Timothy, but correct God’s people with all God’s word.
How can you present every person complete, mature in correct? How can you help every follower of Jesus walk in a manner worthy? Don’t resort to legalism and brow beating, Timothy, but train them with all of God’s word.
There is a word at the beginning of verse 16 that is repeated at the end of verse 17. It is the word “all”. In English, we translate it “all” and “every”. But the point of those ‘bookends’ is so important. Every part of Scripture equips us for every good work. All Scripture equips us for all we are called to do as God’s people. God’s word is sufficient for living a godly life. Do you believe that?
Are you “equipped” to “continue” for Christ, to “continue” in faith? Like a pitcher without a ball or glove, like a sniper without his rifle, like a painter without his brush, like a ballerina without her feet, like a judge without the law, like an astronaut without a rocket, like a teacher without students, like a carpenter without his tools, we have nothing without the word of God.
Whether or not people think we’re crazy, the only way for God’s man or woman to live for Him is when they are consistently straining toward Scripture, believing that God himself is speaking to us.
What will that belief look like in your life this week? Will you continue this week in what you have learned and firmly believed? Let’s pray that God, through the cross of Christ, through His grace, let’s pray that God would equip us as we hear what He has breathed out.