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Healthy Ministry in Complicated Times

2 Timothy

The Word (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

Big Idea: Because of the Bible’s source, and because of what the Bible does, make reading or listening to the Bible a priority in your life.


For just a few minutes today, I want to explore a discrepancy, or a gap. Here it is:

  1. On one hand, there are few things more important than regular intake of the Bible into our lives. As one writer (Donald Whitney) says, “No spiritual discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.”
  2. On the other hand, most of us simply aren’t reading or listening to God’s Word as a regular part of our lives.

Let’s explore this for a minute. I could go on for a long time to talk about the importance of God’s Word, but let me give you just a few quotes.

Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Martin Luther, the great Reformer, said, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”

Elias Boudinot, an early American lawyer and statesman (1740-1821), said, “Were you to ask me to recommend the most valuable book in the world, I should fix on the Bible as the most instructive, both to the wise and ignorant. Were you to ask me for one affording the most rational and pleasing entertainment to the inquiring mind, I should repeat, it is the Bible; and the most interesting history, I should still urge you to look into your Bible. I would make it, in short, the Alpha and Omega of knowledge.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian of the last century, said, “Because I am a Christian, therefore, every day in which I do not penetrate more deeply into the knowledge of God’s Word in Holy Scripture is a lost day for me. I can only move forward with certainty upon the firm ground of the Word of God.”

A former participant in Gospel for Life said this about the Bible: “I LOVE it! Reading God’s Word everyday is something I’ve done long enough that I can’t stand to miss it! It is truly my anchor, rock, stability, everything that is good!”

I could go on. That’s the one side of the equation: there are few things that are more important than the regular intake of God’s Word into our lives.

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But here’s the other side of the equation: most of us aren’t doing it. In 2013, Angus Reid conducted a study of over 4,500 Canadians about their use, beliefs about, and attitudes toward the Bible. Here’s what they found:

  • Only 1 in 7 Canadian Christians reads the Bible every week.
  • Most Christians (3 out of 4) read the Bible seldom or never.
  • Only 1 in 4 Christians believes that the Bible is relevant to modern life.

In other words, few Canadian Christians are reading the Bible, and most Christians don’t think that the Bible is relevant to modern life.

More personally, I’ve talked to many people — including church leaders — who struggle with reading and applying the Bible in their lives. I remember talking to one church leader who told me that he found the Old Testament Scriptures as dry as dust, and very difficult to read.

Chances are that within this room we are living right in the middle of this gap. On one hand, we know that the Bible is important. We get it when people say that it’s alive and valuable and that it runs after us. We understand someone saying that they couldn’t miss it. But we also find it difficult to get into the habit of reading the Bible, and many of us just aren’t reading it on a regular basis.

So today I want to do something really simple. I want to look at why the the Bible is important, and what we can do about it.

Why the Bible Is Important

The passage we just read tells us, in just a few words, why the Bible is so important. 2 Timothy 3:15-16 says:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 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. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

We need to master and be mastered by what Paul says in this passage.

Paul says, “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed…” You know, we don’t have to come up with something new in order to grow. To advance, go back! Keep going back to the Bible. An 85-year-old theologian named Thomas C. Oden died last December. He once told a magazine what he wanted his epitaph to be: “He made no new contribution to theology.” He got it. Paul tells Timothy: don’t invent anything new. Don’t invent new theology. You don’t need it. Keep going back to the Bible. Keep discovering old truths rather than searching for new ones.

Notice what Paul says: that the sacred writings “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” He’s saying pretty much the same thing as he said in Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Rosaria Butterfield was someone who thought she would never become a Christian. She was completely opposed to the Christian faith. She was militant against it. But she became friends with a pastor. She decided that if she was really going to understand how Christians thought, she would have to read the Bible to get inside their heads. She says, “I approached the Bible with an agenda to tear it down.”

But what happened was surprising. The Bible got inside her head and completely upended her:

The Bible simply got to be bigger inside me than I … I started to see the Bible as the table of contents of my life. And I started to see how my pride (which manifested itself in my lesbianism) separated me from the holy God who made me and promised to take care of me … God made me to see myself in the context of his love, his design, his authority, his sovereignty, his salvation, and his holiness. I saw that in my pride, I was persecuting Jesus himself, the one and only source of atoning love. God changed my whole life. (Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert)

That’s what Paul means when he says that the Bible is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Joshua Harris puts it like this:

There is no genuine spirituality apart from God’s Word. We need God’s self-revelation to know what he is like. We need revelation to know who we are and why we exist. We need revelation to explain our purpose and the eternal significance of life on this planet. We need revelation to know we’re sinners and deserving of judgment. And we need revelation to know the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus.

Without the Bible there is no saving knowledge of God. Without the Bible we would not know or understand the meaning of the Cross and Resurrection. Without the Bible there is nothing for us to put our faith in.

The Bible is important. It’s necessary. But that’s not all. Paul says that there are two things about the Bible that make it important for our lives.

The first is the source of the Bible. He says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” When you speak, the words come from your mouth. Right now the words that I’m speaking are Darryl-breathed. Paul says that, when it comes to the Bible, the words have their source in God. They’re God-breathed. The words of the Bible originated in God’s mind and were communicated from God’s mouth by God’s breath or Spirit. There’s no other book like it. It’s completely unique.

That alone makes the Bible important for our lives. The words come from God. The words that are in the Bible were written by human beings, and expressed through their personalities. But they were written in such a way that they express exactly what God wanted to say. The words of the Bible are God’s words to us.

Here’s the other thing that makes the Bible important. The first thing about the Bible is that God is the source of the Bible.

The second is what the Bible does in our lives. Verse 16 says that it’s “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” You can split the list of benefits into two categories:

  • It helps us think right (teaching and reproof). It instructs us positively and helps us stay away from heresy.
  • It helps us act right (correcting and training in righteousness). It corrects improper behavior and teaches us proper behavior.

It doesn’t get more practical than that. We need to think rightly. We also need to act rightly.

One of the few books that really changed my life is called The Heart of a Servant Leader. It was written by Jack Miller, a pastor who himself experienced a deep change in his life when he rediscovered the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit. One of the concepts that’s always stuck with me is that a life of praise and repentance is a form of sanity.

I like to think of repentance and praise as allied to each other—both forms of sanity. Repentance is a return to God as my center. Praise is the lifting up of God in honor as my center. But to move out away from the center without repentance or praise is to be eccentric, irrational, and insane. But what a simple thing it is to humble the heart and return to sanity by repentance and praise.

What an amazing concept. To paraphrase him just a little, we read the Bible so that we can think and act like sane people. When we think and live apart from what God’s revealed in Scripture, it’s a form of insanity. When we think and live according to what’s revealed in Scripture, we’ve just returned to sanity. If you want to live a sane life, we need the Bible. It will help you think rightly and live rightly.

In fact, this passage ends by saying that the purpose of Scripture is to make us “complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul actually uses the same word for equip twice in this passage. One translator paraphrases him: “The man or woman of God is super-equipped by the Word of God.” If you ever meet someone who is spiritually mature, I can tell you how they got there: they are a man or woman of the Bible. What tool does God use to help us think rightly and act rightly? What tool does God favor for equipping us and bringing us to maturity and completeness? The answer is clear: the Bible.

We don’t need anything new to grow. We have the Bible. Continue in it, Paul says. Only Scripture is God’s Word. Only Scripture can help us think and act rightly. Only Scripture can bring us to maturity. We need the Bible.

The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon gives us a great challenge:

Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord—not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord.

The goal, he says, is that we’re so full of the Bible that if someone pricks us, they find that our blood is biblical.

“Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.

That’s our goal: to be people who are so shaped by the Bible that it flows through our veins as our very life.

What We Can Do About It

Here’s the invitation for us today: to become people who are shaped by the Bible. And here’s the reality: most of us are facing a gap from where we are right now and where we’d like to be. So how can we close this gap? How can we begin to become people of the Word? How can we begin to take baby steps toward this goal?

Well, we have to start somewhere. So here’s my advice: take a small step to read or listen to the Bible every day.

Here’s what I mean. Laura Vanderkam gave a TED Talk recently. She talked about how busy we all are, how many goals and priorities we’re all juggling. She says that most of us try to save time so we can fit important things in. But that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.

One of the women she studied came home one day and found her water heater broken. There was water all over her basement. It was a mess. Organizing the cleanup and repair took seven hours out of her week that she didn’t have. But she fit it in because it was important to her. It had to be done.

Her advice? To treat our priorities as the equivalent of a broken water heater. Don’t try to make time for them; fill your life with things that really matter the most, rather than trying to squeeze them in later.

This week in Gospel for Life, we’ll be helping you to build this habit. Start small. I’m really enjoying The Bible Project app. You may find an audio Bible works better for you. Whatever you do, take small steps to read or listen to the Bible every single day. As you do, read it so that it changes your thinking and changes your behavior. Ask God to use it to make you sane.

Take this advice from David Mathis, author of Habits of Grace:

At the end of the day, there is simply no replacement for finding a regular time and place, blocking out distractions, putting your nose to the text, and letting your heart and mind be led and captured and thrilled by God himself communicating to us in his objective written words.

Because of the Bible’s source, and because of what it does in your life, make reading or listening to the Bible a priority in your life.

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