Some Music Used
Every Promise of Your Word
Break Thou the Bread of Life
Texts: 2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:2; 3:14-17; 4:2-4
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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Today we begin a month-long focus on five key themes from Scripture that found fresh expression in the Protestant Reformation. My purpose is not that we have a month-long glorified history lesson, but that our congregation and those visiting with us hear freshly about faith, scripture, grace, Christ, and God’s glory. As I wrote in this month’s newsletter, these five basics were the primary themes of the Reformation and are perspective-changing, eureka, new start kinds of truths. This week we turn to God’s Word – the Bible – and consider the Reformation phrase sola scriptura, which translates as “scripture alone.”
The situation Martin Luther and the other Reformers faced in regards to scripture was that the general public had become completely cut off from direct access to God’s Word. The Bible only existed in Latin, which only the educated could read, and which only priests had any real access to. And even priests and monks had developed a tendency over the ages to depend on commentaries and tradition rather than direct study and interpretation of the Bible.
The emphasis on “scripture alone” was not an attempt to remove the teaching office of the clergy, but a recognition that God’s revelation of Himself in scripture took clear precedent over any interpretation of human beings or group of human beings. “Scripture alone” meant that the Bible was authoritative for our faith and life as Christians, and capable of explaining itself in matters of interpretation.
Along with the rediscovered emphasis on the Bible as God’s divine revelation about Himself and about His promised and fulfilled plan of salvation, the Reformation brought about the translation and printing of the Bible into the common language, making God’s Word available to all who could read. Again, this was not to say that a trained and educated clergy were not necessary, but it made it possible to “check” church teaching and practice against the very Word of God. We will see in today’s scripture lesson that this was the pattern established by the Apostle Paul in the early church, and God’s intent for the way in which we approach and use his holy Word.
Guarding the Treasure
Paul was in prison and near the end of his life when he wrote his second letter to Timothy. He had proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ across much of the Mediterranean and had started churches throughout the known world. And he was concerned that his ministry continue – not for his sake, but for Christ’s sake.
In this letter to Timothy, Paul emphasizes the message of the faith – the teaching and stories of God, particularly as witnessed in scripture and in the eyewitness accounts of those who knew Jesus Christ.
He calls this collective message a “treasure” and tells Timothy to guard, through the Holy Spirit, the treasure entrusted to him. Paul describes this treasure as the “standard of sound words” and “the sacred writings” of Timothy’s childhood. With these two descriptive phrases, Paul is referring to what we know as our New and Old Testaments. The Old Testament is the collection of “sacred writings” of the Jewish people of Paul’s day. And the “standard of sound words” is the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and followers of Jesus Christ who recorded the Gospels and wrote the letters to the early church. While we will not take time to go through the history of the formation of the canon (the process whereby the books of the Bible were put together), we will note that Paul is by and large talking to Timothy about the content that would become the Bible we know today.
What Paul writes about that Bible – those sacred writings and “standard of sound words” – is that it is a treasure worth guarding and passing on. It is not to be hoarded or holed away, but guarded as to its content and proclamation, and entrusted from each generation to the next. For it gives its readers and hearers “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” And it is, as Paul will describe, the inspired Word of God, revealing God’s gracious salvation in Jesus Christ and his plan and provision for the human race.
Entrusting the Treasure to God’s People
Paul instructs Timothy to entrust the Treasure of God’s Word to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. That Paul invokes “many witnesses” only verifies that the stories and messages he has proclaimed about Jesus Christ are true and consistent. Paul goes on to give Timothy several reasons for entrusting God’s Word to succeeding generations.
First, scripture is “inspired by God.” Some translations read “God-breathed.” It is not just the collected writings of holy men, but God’s Holy Spirit working through human hands to record God’s desired revelation of Himself. This makes the Bible a unique thing – it is not a human document, but a God-document… God’s words and God’s Word to us.
Second, because God has inspired scripture, it is profitable for those who read, hear, and obey it. Paul is still using treasure-language! Putting the treasure into play, entrusting it to succeeding generations will generate profit – we will be blessed and made rich by exposure to and reception of the treasure of God’s Word. And Paul writes that Scripture is profitable for a variety of purposes: teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness; and making us adequately equipped for every good work.
Third, Paul goes on to challenge Timothy to preach this Word all the time – in season and out of season. Again, Paul says that doing so will reprove, rebuke, exhort, and instruct.
The Bible is the collection of sacred writings and the standard of sound doctrine inspired by God’s Holy Spirit and written that we might be challenged, changed, and conformed into obedient and faithful children of God. The Bible is the treasure-house containing the promises and the gracious gift of God found in Jesus Christ. It is through scripture that we know God, hear God, understand God, and respond to God.
Accordingly, we organize our entire worship around God’s Word. Notice in the bulletin that we gather, proclaim, respond to, and go out bearing God’s Word. We do so because we only know God through Jesus Christ, as witnessed to in the Bible.
Now there’s a whole lot more in that direction that I could say; but our topic today is “scripture alone.” Our message is on the priority and the importance of recognizing that scripture stands above human authority. Is that merely a history lesson that we need to understand? Was it only the Church of Martin Luther’s day that set up structures and doctrines that competed with the truth of scripture?
No – if anything, I believe we struggle even more than the Church of the 16th century when it comes to looking to “other treasures” for our direction, illumination, and instruction about God, life, and salvation.
Paul knew human nature well enough to know that a time would come (if it weren’t already there!) when people would turn away from the sound doctrine. They would seek easier standards and teaching that accommodated their lifestyles and told them what they wanted to hear. Listen to 2 Timothy 4:3-4…
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.
The language barrier between the common people in the 16th century and the Latin scripture led to some of this. But what about us? Are we immune because we can read the Bible for ourselves?
We can readily think of examples of false teachers or cults which distort biblical teaching or simply disregard it because doing so produces teaching more pleasing or more in line with the leaders’ motives. But for you and me, here today, I believe there is a more specific application for looking to “scripture alone” as God’s Word and our authoritative guide for faith and life.
More subtle than cults or false teachers is the mindset or the “worldview” we have. Our “worldview” is the interpretive lens through which we view everything around us and everything we do and think.
I suspect that most of us have a worldview that is, at times, alarmingly un-biblical. And I’m not just talking about questions of what I should eat or which movie I should watch. I’m talking about the big life-questions. Consider a few:
QUESTION: Where did I come from?
What would it mean to approach the question of where we came from with scripture alone as our ultimate authority for truth about reality? I’m not talking about ignoring science, but considering the authority you do or don’t give to scripture in relation to science. Minimally, even scientists who do not approach the question from a creationist perspective, but who do start with the presupposition that there COULD be a God come to radically different conclusions than those who deny the possibility of a God from the outset.
QUESTION: Why are we here?
If you are an average Oprah-watching American (even if you are a Christian), your gut response to this question may well be closer to a Dr. Phil answer than a biblical one. American pop psychology has ground into us notions of self-fulfillment and happiness that really are quite far from the sacrificial and self-giving model of Jesus Christ. What would it mean – as we seek employment, raise our children, offer our closest friends a shoulder to cry on, and look for someone to date and maybe even marry – to apply biblical teaching and standards in each of those areas? Do we raise children who get everything they want or who at least keep up with the neighborhood children, or are we teaching them boundaries, obedience, and respect of elders? Do we seek a job that will maximize our income, security, and leisure time, or do we look for a job that will offer us a place to work with integrity and with time and space for God and our family? What are our values and where do they come from?? Is God’s Word our treasure or is something else?
QUESTION: And what about being happy?
Since I mentioned self-fulfillment… how can I be happy in life? Do I look for that answer in the pages of scripture or in the latest movie or novel? Will living like the “Friends” from TV make me happy? Would the lifestyle of actors, rock stars, or politicians make me happy? Jesus talked about serving, giving, loving, and forgiving. What is my standard for truth and life?
QUESTION: And all the rest…?
And those big questions are just the start. What about politics, law, economics, family, retirement? Do we think there is a biblical approach to all these topics or is our faith relegated to a Sunday morning religious activity? What Martin Luther began was eventually called the “Reformation” because it so thoroughly changed life and faith. That’s what standing on scripture alone as the Word of God will do to our lives. It will reform us – change us and mold us into the likeness of the one to which it testifies… Jesus Christ.
A Biblical Worldview
Am I telling you not to listen to my words, but only to the Bible? No, there is a place for preaching by educated pastors who are afforded the time for intense study and explication of the scripture. But you have the privilege and the responsibility of the Word of God in your language. I am not infallible! But you can and should check what you hear from me or from anyone against the Bible itself. If you ever think I am at odds with scripture, come talk to me and if I am in error, I will change quickly and make it known.
And make use of the treasure you have. God’s Word should be so woven into your life and mindset that it is constantly reforming, changing, and shaping your thoughts and actions. Don’t be tricked by the culture’s “word” – in some cases, you may have heard that word since childhood. Rather, take every thought captive to the Word of God and stand on the treasure God has entrusted to us. It is as trustworthy as God is, and will not fail you.
If the whole concept of worldview is new to you, consider reading an excellent book that we studied on Wednesday nights a few years ago. It is by Chuck Colson called, “How Now Shall We Live?” It is thick, but pretty easy to read. It is thick because Colson touches on so many of the areas of thought and life affected by worldview. Or, I’d be glad to talk further with you.
Stand on scripture alone – it is God’s inspired Word to you, able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ. Amen.