The Bible, Useful for Teaching
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
A boy was sitting on a park bench with one hand resting on an open Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!” he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not.
Shortly after, along came a man who had recently completed some studies at a local university. Feeling himself very enlightened in the ways of truth and very eager to show this enlightenment, he asked the boy about the source of his joy.
“Hey” asked the boy in return with a bright laugh, “Don’t you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle.”
The enlightened man laughed lightly, sat down next to the boy and began to try to open his eyes to the “realities” of the miracles of the Bible. “That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across.”
The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible laying open in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naive young person to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go. Scarcely had he taken two steps when the boy began to rejoice and praise louder than before. The man turned to ask the reason for this resumed jubilation.
“Wow!” exclaimed the boy happily, “God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in 10 inches of water!”
How much do you know about the Bible? And how do you understand the message of the Bible? I was not telling you the sotry for fun. Through the story, I presented two ways to understand the Bible. Christians have argued forever with each other about the Bible. Some people are convinced that the Bible is totally inspired by God and one should never tamper with any of those inspired words. On the other hand, some people are not sure that the words in the Bible are all inspired by God. What do you believe?
Last year, Nick Page, who is a writer of many Christian books, published a book titled “God’s dangerous book.” It is a book about how the Bible was put together, where it came from and who decided what went in there in the first place. Also, the book presents how the Bible has always been a dangerous text. His main point is that the Bible is more than just a piece of literature. However, these days, many people treat the Bible as if it is nothing more than a piece of literature.
Once, Gandhi read the Bible and said, “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”
What do you think? Do you think the Bible is a piece of literature or an extraordinary text? If you think it is extraordinary, do you treat the Bible as it is extraordinary in your life? I am not telling you that the Bible is extraordinary because it is inspired by God. I am telling you that it is extraordinary because it is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This means that the Bible has the power to change one’s life and even the world. And that is extraordinary.
Let’s get back to the text. 2 Timothy 3: 16 tells us “All scripture is inspired by God.” The word “All” used in this context has been a troublesome word for the church. The ongoing debate regarding the divine inspiration of scripture has often greatly misused this text. Some believe and teach that every word in the Bible is inspired, as if to say God guided the pen in the hand of the writer and sort of breathed onto the page. Then we are admonished to neither add to nor take from the text.
Here is a question. Why did Paul use the word “all” in this letter? There is a valid reason for speaking of the divine inspiration of the scripture. At the time the text was written, the norm of the society was pluralism. All kinds of religious experiences and options were available. There was something of a religious smorgasbord to choose from. Focus was needed. Paul might believe that the people had wandering minds and had moved away from sound doctrine. In Paul’s time, it would be a reasonable excuse.
However, today, the word “all” in this way can get Christians into real trouble. For instance, what of the ending of Psalm 137:9, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” How terrible is this! Somehow that slip of the pen by an obviously angry psalmist seemed less than inspired by God. In this respect, Raymond Brown, who is recognized as a leading scholar of the New Testament, reminds us that the emphasis in verse 16 should be placed not on the inspiration of each word, but on the utility of the text. That is, all scripture is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
As Brown claims, we tend to focus too much on the nature of Scripture–as if “inspired” means it has some holy property. However, we should focus on the nature of the Bible as a useful tool for teaching. God reaches down and uses the Bible to be profitable for teaching. I believe that the message of the Bible always focuses on our life. Life! The messages of the Bible focus on teaching us how to live well in relationship with God and our neighbors.
Here is the challenge we face today. The Bible focuses on teaching us how to live well. The process of being taught is tough. This teaching includes reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. We face a lot of reproofs and get through continual corrections and lifelong training in righteousness. It is tough. And this is why many people give up following the teaching of the Bible.
Unhappy experiences tempt us to give up on the messages of the Bible. This morning, Jesus encourages us not to give up by telling a story from Luke 18. This parable has the most unlikely heroin, a widow. It would have been difficult to find a more powerless person in those days. However, she is held up as a model of persistence, prayer, and patience for never giving up or losing heart.
In those days, she had every reason to give up. Everything was against her. Even the name “widow” in Greek is “chera,” which means “empty.” She was a nobody to everybody. But she had a sense of dignity and self-worth. She never gave up on herself.
Also, she would not even give up on the judge, as unfeeling and corrupt as he was. She was not going to stop pestering him until he did the right thing by her. Her persistence and prayer made the corrupt judge do the right thing. She never gave up.
Moreover, neither did this widow give up on God. I believe that this is why she could not give up on herself or even this judge. Maybe she could have given up on God, because she was a miserable widow. In those days, to lose one’s husband might be seen as punishment from God for sins. But she did not see it this way. She had faith that God cared for her and would somehow help her.
Some people reach the point where they think about giving up on God because it is very hard to follow the teaching of the Bible and the reproof is so uncomfortable. Even we don’t want to be corrected. Moreover, the training in righteousness seems not necessary in these days.
But Jesus teaches us this morning through the story of a widow. Jesus would say to us, “Do not give up on yourself, your neighbors, or God. Have faith in God who cares for and helps each one of you. Use the Bible to teach yourselves for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that you may be complete and equipped for every good work to build the kingdom of God in the world.”
Let us pray.
Almighty and gracious God, we thank you for the gifts–the Bible, Scriptures–and ask that you use it to teach us, to reprove us, to train us in righteousness so that we may be complete, know you, and serve you. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.