Sermon on II Timothy 3:14-17

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.

              Communication is vital in any relationship. To keep their marriage strong, husbands and wives need to communicate with each other. Parents and children need to communicate, not only when the children are young and living in their parents’ houses, but also when the children are older, active in the world, raising children of their own. Friends cannot remain friends if they do not keep in touch. Neighbors need to speak to each other. Those who share a community, a state, or a nation need to speak to each other and to their leaders, and the leaders need to tell the other citizens what is happening among them and in the surrounding world.

              Clearly, then, we also need to communicate with God. We need to speak to him, telling him the things that matter most in our lives. We pray, talking to God, sometimes using prayers we have memorized and sometimes creating our own prayers from our own minds and hearts. Jesus urges us to be persistent in prayer and not lose heart. In ancient times, Jacob wrestled with God, and some Christians today describe their prayers as wrestling with the Lord. God has promised to hear our prayers. He has promised to answer our prayers. He has not given us magic power to control the world with prayer. He has not given us power to control him, to make him do things he does not want to do. But God hears us when we pray. Jesus meant what he said: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.” The Holy Spirit guides us when we pray, speaking to our Father in heaven even with groans that words cannot express. Our line of communication to God is always open, always available, never threatened by a power outage or dead battery or computer fault. But what about God’s communication with us? Do we hear his voice? Do we pay attention to the things God says to us?

              God is almighty. He can do anything he wishes. God wishes to speak to us through his Word. In earlier times, he chose messengers and told them what to say to his people. Moses and all the Old Testament prophets brought God’s Word to his people. These messages from God, sent through Moses and the prophets, were written to be saved for all God’s people of every time and every place. Jesus authorized apostles to supplement the message with a New Testament. These messages, this Scripture, was breathed out by God. It is inspired. It carries the power of God, telling us what we need to know.

              The idea of inspiration is complicated; it can be confusing. Some people imagine God dictating, like a boss in the office telling his secretary (or administrative assistant) what to write. Other people picture God inspiring prophets and apostles the way a sunset over a lake in the mountains can inspire a painter or poet or musician. Some people think that God’s message is hidden in the Bible among many human opinions and perceptions that we can pluck out and ignore. Some even seek hidden messages in the Bible by reading every fifth letter or changing the letters into numbers and then decoding the numbers. But the Scripture, breathed out by God, is straight-forward. It has no hidden messages. It tells us what we need to know. We can trust the same Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles also to be with us and to guide us when we read and hear the messages God has for us.

              When we say that God inspired the Bible, we say that everything in the Bible is trustworthy and true. We compare the Bible to Jesus himself, who is completely God and also completely human. Everything in the Bible comes from God, even though everything in the Bible came through human beings chosen by God. We cannot discard any part of the Bible, saying that it came from certain human beings a long time ago and no longer means anything for us today. But we remember that the human beings, inspired by God, remained human. Matthew and Mark and Luke and John all wrote the truth about Jesus, but they saw and heard different things and communicated them in different ways. Matthew dealt with statistics and numbers in his day job, and his descriptions tend to be dry and terse and straight-forward; Mark, writing the preaching of Peter the fisherman, contains far more active and vivid language. Moses and David and Isaiah did not have the same background and the same experiences; of course they had different ways of saying things. But they all gave the same message from the same God, meant to be shared with all God’s people so all of us would know what we need to know about God, ourselves, and the world around us.

              To fully comprehend the Bible, then, we need to know something about the times in which the writers lived, the ideas that shaped their thinking, the cultures to whom they were first speaking. The Bible must be translated, not only from language to language, but also from culture to culture. When we know the essential message of the Bible, though, we do not need to perplex ourselves with every detail. The Bible is not a textbook about biology or economics, or even about history and geography. The Bible is about God our Creator and about us. Some things change in the world, but God does not change, and people are essentially the same. We read a book on chemistry to learn about chemistry. We read a book on cooking to learn about cooking. We learn God’s book to learn about God. As Paul told Timothy, all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

              At this point it is tempting to concentrate on those four things and to struggle to discern the shades of meaning between teaching, reproof, correction, and training. But in Paul’s Jewish culture, similar words often were piled together, not because of their differences but because they reinforced each other. Teaching and training essentially mean the same thing; correction and reproof are synonyms. God tells us how to live our lives. He made us, and in the Bible he gives us an owner’s manual for ourselves. He tells us why we exist, why we are in this world. He tells us what to do and what not to do. He equips us for good works so we will do those things God wants us to do.

              We learn that we are here to give glory to God. All creation sings God’s praises, and we also sing God’s praises. The stars shine for the glory of God, and the flowers bloom for the glory of God, and the birds sing for the glory of God. So we also do what we can do for the glory of God—not only by singing, but by imitating Jesus. In every decision, we choose to do what Jesus would do. He lived the perfect human life. He is the example all of us should follow. Our lives remind the people around us of Jesus when we are living the way we should live. We sin whenever we are not like Jesus.

              Being like Jesus, we find ourselves managers of God’s property in this world. We are given money (and the opportunity to earn money), and we use that money to do God’s work. We do not give ten percent to God and the Church and do whatever we want with the other ninety percent. All of our money belongs to God. We care for ourselves, our bodies, our health, our well-being. We care for the members of our families. We help our neighbors when they are in need. We also support the work of the Church, continuing the work of God in this place and helping to send missionaries into the rest of the world.

              We have been given different amounts of money and different opportunities to manage that money, but we all have been given the same amount of time, twenty-four hours every day, seven days every week. With our different abilities and different opportunities, we manage that time in different ways, but we were created so we could manage that time for the glory of God. We dedicate some time directly to God, coming to church on Sunday morning and taking time each day to pray and to read the Bible. But the rest of our time is not for us to do whatever we want. Again, we manage that time for the glory of God and for the benefit of our neighbors, doing what we can to make the world a better place.

              Behind all our management is the obligation and the opportunity to love. God is love, and God made us in his image. We are here to be loved by God, and we are here to love God. We also are to love our neighbors. All the commandments of God tell us how to love, how to manage our time and our possessions to show our love for God by loving our neighbors and helping them. That includes not only food and clothing and shelter; it also means forgiving them when they sin and sharing with them the hope that we have in God, the good news that we can share because we are the people of God.

              All Scripture is inspired by God. It is useful for teaching, correcting, reproof, and training. It guides us in good works, which we were created to do. But those commandments from God, his rules and regulations, do not make us perfect people. Instead, they diagnose our sins. They show us how we have fallen short of God’s glory. The more we focus on teaching and training, on correction and reproof, the more we see that we have failed. We have sinned. We have broken God’s commandments. We are not the people God intended us to be.

              If God’s Word was only about our good deeds, we would be in trouble. If the Bible was written only for teaching and training, its message would leave us hopeless and in despair. People who love to quote II Timothy 3:16 often fail to look at the important verse that comes before it. The Bible tells us how to live, but it also tells us how to have life. Scripture makes us wise for salvation. That wisdom, more than any teaching and training, makes us God’s people and gives us hope for today and hope for the future.

              The Bible tells us about our Creator. It tells us how our Creator wants us to live. But the Bible also tells us how our Creator sees our problems and chooses to help us. With the commands come promises. With the correction and training comes a solution for our problems. That solution is not found in our efforts to obey God’s commands. His solution comes through the work that God does for us. Knowing that we would sin and fall short of God’s plans, God created a second plan. His second plan, the good news of the Gospel, shows how God rescues us from sin and claims us as his people even when we have failed to obey God and no longer deserve to be called his people.

              To rescue us, God became one of us. Jesus of Nazareth is human like us, but he is also completely God, equal to his Father in every way. He entered this world, not merely to teach us and train us, but to rescue us. He lived for us, obeying all the commands of his Father. Then he exchanged lives with us. He credits us with his righteousness, giving us credit for his perfect obedience. He takes our sins and our guilt upon himself. He goes to the cross, paying our debt in full so nothing in our lives—and nothing in the world around us—can separate us from the love of God.

              The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was also a battle in the war against evil. Jesus won that battle. He defeated our sins. He defeated all our enemies. He even defeated death, rising from the grave on the third day to promise us eternal life. Teaching and training do not get us into heaven. Correction and reproof do not get us into heaven. They guide us in these lives, but only the perfect work of Jesus takes away our sins and makes us heirs of the kingdom of heaven.

              Jesus is with us now, guiding us by his Word, but also giving us life through his Word. We read the Bible, not only for teaching and correction, but also for the promises, the good news that makes us wise for salvation. As we read the Bible, we look for Jesus. In the history of ancient times, we find the promises of God to send a Savior, and we see those promises acted out in advance through the lives of his people. In the poetry of the Psalms and the prophets, we find the same good news repeated, telling us to put our trust in the promised Savior and not in our own good deeds. The apostles show us how Jesus kept the promises of God. They show us our Savior, and they give us power to believe in Jesus our Savior and to receive from him forgiveness and everlasting life.

              The Word of God gives us power to believe his promises. That same power brings us forgiveness for our sins and the ability to imitate Jesus, doing good works. We gather around God’s Word as his Church. The Word, combined with water, washes away our sins and adopts us as children of God. The Word, with eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table, guarantees us forgiveness and everlasting life and victory over all our enemies. That Word equips us to be like Jesus, forgiving the sins of others and sharing with them the hope that God has given us through his promises.

              God’s Word makes us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. When we pray, we cling to the promises of God’s Word. We even remind God of his promises when we pray. If we feel that, like Jacob, we are wrestling with God, we wrestle with confidence, knowing his promises cannot fail. We do not lose heart; since God is for us, no one can prevail against us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. To Jesus our Savior be thanks and praise and glory and honor, now and forever.                            Amen.

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