Sermon: "Commitment to the Truth of God's Revealed Word"

Second in a Series on Central's Core Values,
Delivered January 17, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11

Sermon Text: 2 Timothy 3:14-17
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,
15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The statistics make us pretty mad don't they? You know those statistics that talk abut the percentage of high school youth who are graduated while still being functionally illiterate. Would be that you and I would get as upset over an even greater scandal that permeates the North American Christian church. The fact that we have basically produced a current generation of Christians who for the most part are functionally Biblically illiterate. Now I don't want you to leave here this morning in that category. So let me share with you the whole Bible. The whole Bible in 50 words. Hang on... here it is:

God made. Adam bit, Noah arked, Abraham split, Joseph ruled, Jacob fooled. Bush talked, Moses balked, Pharaoh plagued, people walked, sea divided, tablets guided, promise landed. Saul freaked, David peeked, prophets warned, Jesus born. God walked, love talked, anger crucified, hope died. Love rose. Spirit flamed. Word spread. God remains.

I read something that said 60 years ago, the average high school graduate knew more about the Bible than the average seminary graduate today. We no longer live amidst a culture that is influenced Biblically. We live in a post-Christian culture. When I grew up in Christendom, I learned the Lord's Prayer. Not in church, but in public school. Followed by a Bible story every morning. Those days are gone folks. And most people today, when it comes to an understanding of the whole of Scripture, are pretty much Biblically illiterate.

Here at Central Church, we say that there are two things that hold us together. That unite us. One, is the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the other is the authority of Scripture. Here at Central, we pride ourselves in being a Christ-centered, Bible-believing congregation . But if we are not careful, that is always in danger of becoming mere lip service. To hold the Bible up high and to emphasize its authority but not really know what it is about, becomes a sham. And we are not about shams here at Central Church.

Let's listen in this morning as the apostle Paul talks with a young pastor in the early Church, a pastor named Timothy, about what the inspiration and authority of Scripture is really all about. And I would invite you to listen in by turning with me in your Bibles to Paul's second letter to Timothy, the third chapter, beginning to read at the fourteenth verse. This is the Word of God -- and I would encourage you to keep you Bibles open during the sermon as I will continually be referring back to the text.

But as for you Timothy, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you have learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Join me as we pray. And now Father as my words are true to your Word may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Last week we began our sermon series on Central's Core Values and we talked last week about our number one value being a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and God. And we talked last week about the fact that our Core Values are our convictions, not merely beliefs. Remember: beliefs are those things that you are willing to argue about, but convictions are those things you are willing to die for. Big difference between belief and conviction.

In verse fourteen of our text take a look at it. Paul there reminds this young pastor Timothy that he should build his ministry upon his convictions. Those things that he is convinced of. And you and I as followers of Jesus Christ need to have convictions. Convictions about some of the essentials of the faith. Now this does not mean that you and I don't have doubts. I do. That is why I carry in my wallet, a 1970s Billy Graham column where he talks about his own doubts in the faith, and where he gives us some pretty sage advise when he writes, Believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts.

To have convictions also means that there is a place in our lives of faith for mystery. I believe the Trinity, but how God can be three-in-one, and one-in-three at the same time... that is a mystery to me. And to be convinced and convicted doesn't mean that there ought not to be in our lives of faith, some pockets of what I call healthy agnosticism. For example, there are Bible believing Christians who say that the Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus will return before the great tribulation at the end of time. They 're called pre-tribs. But there are also equally Bible-believing Christians who say, 'No, no, no, no, no. Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus will return after the great tribulation at the end of time.' They're called post-tribs. Now clearly Scripture teaches that Jesus will return one day. But Scripture is not so clear as to all of the details; therefore, I choose to remain agnostic about just how and when Jesus is going to pull all of this off. I am convinced he is coming. I am convinced that he is going to do it in his way, in his time, and on his agenda, no matter what you and I think. But amidst all of our doubts and the mystery and agnosticisms that float around; nevertheless, you and I are to have convictions as followers of Jesus Christ.

Here at Central we believe the Bible is the Word of God. And Paul in this text, goes to great lengths in verse fifteen to show this young pastor Timothy, that conviction, holding convictions is all wrapped up in a right understanding of the inspiration and authority of Scripture.

Last week, our Core Value #1, like I said, was a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and God. And we talked about the fact that faith is a personal relationship with Christ. Now look at your text in verse fifteen. Paul says, he reminds Timothy that it's the Scriptures, it is the Scriptures that give you and me the wisdom that leads into that faith relationship with Christ. You can't have an authentic relationship with Jesus disconnected from the Bible as the Word of God. It is just impossible to do that. Parents, have you ever wondered when is the right time to begin to expose your kids to the Bible? Well, look at the word Paul uses here in verse fifteen. He tells Timothy, he reminds Timothy, that Timothy has grown up in the Scriptures from infancy and the word he uses there is the Greek is brethos, which can mean unborn child, even embryo -- how about that! Studies today show that children are able to learn even in utero. If you are here this morning and you are pregnant, it is not too soon to begin to read the Bible to your unborn child. And parents, all through your kids lives, beginning at birth, read them Bible stories from Bible story books or the regular Bible. At meal time, at bed time. When you and I do that, God begins to work through that to make our kids wise onto salvation.

Yes, here at Central Presbyterian Church, one of our Core Values is that we believe the truth of the revealed Word of God. We elevate the authority and the inspiration of Scripture. But why do we do that? Well, we do it because we take at faith value Scripture's own testimony about itself.

Let's move on to verse sixteen. Look at what Scripture says about itself. Paul reminds Timothy that all Scripture is inspired and the word he uses in the Greek, the NIV translates it literally and says all Scripture is God-breathed. That means that all Scripture finds its origin, its source, and its ultimate authorship in the heart of God himself. There are all kinds of theories about how the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Let me just say that it is more important to believe that the Bible is inspired than to understand the theories. I'll tell you what it is not though. The theory that we don't accept here at Central is the theory that says that well, inspiration of Scripture means that God dictated the Bible to a human secretary. Paul, take a letter. No!! And neither do we believe the theory on the other end of the spectrum that says, 'Well the Bible is inspired sort of like that same way that Shakespeare and Milton are inspired. No!!

We believe that when Paul says all Scripture is God-breathed, that means that somehow, in a mystery that we can't completely figure out, God through his Holy Spirit chose to work through real live human being authors using their minds and hearts, using their own words to get recorded in Scripture all of those things that God wanted recorded about himself, and about his plan of salvation for you and me.

An article in USA Today, told about some Harvard astronomers who have built an 85-foot in diameter radio telescope. Sort of to be an ear pointed to the heavens. And this thing is so high tech, that they can listen simultaneously and analyze 128,000 frequencies. 24 hours a day. All in the hops that somewhere out there they might pick up an intelligent message from beyond planet earth. Well friends, you don't need to go out and build an 85-foot in diameter satellite dish in your backyard. The reality is, every time you and I pick up the Bible and open it, and read it, that's exactly what is happening. You and I are receiving an intelligent message from outside of our planet. A message from the very heart of God himself to you and me. To believe the truth of the revealed Word of God, is to believe that in the Bible God reveals his very self to you and me. In words, in word pictures, in prayers, in songs that you and I can understand on a human level. It is in Scripture that we peek into the very heart of God. And that is why Paul goes on to say to Timothy, there in verses sixteen and seventeen, 'You know Timothy the Bible is extremely useful.' And if I was translating I wouldn't go with useful. You can also translate that word profitable which I think is a whole lot better. Useful seems understated to me. And speaking about the profitability though of Scripture, listen to this Dear Abby column of a few years ago,

Dear Abby, A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. (All the 16-year-olds, including my daughter back here are king of picking up now.) Bill and his father had spent months looking at cars and the week before graduation they found the perfect one. On the eve of his graduation, Bill's father handed him a gift wrapped Bible. Bill was so angry, that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house. He and his father never saw each other again. It was only the news of his father's death that brought Bill home. And as he sat one night going through his father's possessions that he was to inherit, he came across the Bible that his father had given him. He blew off the dust and opened it, to find a cashier's check dated the day of his graduation, in the exact amount of the car that they had chosen together.'

I guess that is one reason to get into the Word. In our text this morning, Paul gives us five so much more important reasons why the Bible is useful or profitable for you and me.Let's go through them.

The first thing he says is that the Bible is useful for teaching. The Bible teaches you and me who God is like, what God is like. If we don't have an outside teaching from God himself, then what happens is you and I wander around in the world of idolatry. We start speculating as to what God is like. We're always tempted to make God into something we're comfortable with, and that is nothing less than idolatry. Scripture teaches you and me who and what God is like. It also teaches you and me what a real live human being is to look like and act like: a sinner in need of a savior. It also teaches you and me who Jesus is and what Christ did for your salvation and my salvation. The Bible also teaches you and me good theology. In fact, the only good theology really is Biblical theology, based on the Word of God. I'm going to press a baseball illustration up against all of these things that Paul says Scripture is useful for: If you're going to play baseball, the first thing you've got to do is you've got to learn. You've got to learn the rules. You need to be taught the overall strategy. That's what Scripture does for us.

Secondly, Paul in verse sixteen says, Scripture is useful for rebuking. We don't like that word rebuke. Rebuking of bad theology. That's what Scripture does. Scripture rebukes wrong ideas. Listen to these words from John Hutton, the former editor of the British Weekly:

What makes the Bible inspired, infallible, the Word of God in the supreme standard of faith and practice is that it is all directed against us. When the Bible fails to take the feet from under us it has ceased to be for us the Word of God. When we are no longer aware of a steady eye looking at us, when we are content to make comfortable observations about its make up, approving of this in it, but not approving quite so heartily of that, and protesting that we are frankly shocked at something else, by that time the Bible has become a mere story book. A book of fairy tales.

The Bible is always questioning your assumptions and mine. It is always undermining our prejudices. To press the baseball analogy, it would be like, well, you've learned how the game is played but you say, You know, I think I'll go up to bat with a tennis racquet rather than a bat. No!! You need to be rebuked. That will not work.

Thirdly, Paul says the Bible is useful for correction. The Bible rebukes wrong theology. The Bible corrects wrong behavior. Author Annie Dillard writes these words:

When I was a child, the adult members of Pittsburgh society adverted to the Bible unreasonably often. What arcanea! Why did they spread this scandalous document before our eyes? If they had read it I thought, they would have hidden it. They didn't recognize the likely danger that we would through repeated exposure catch a dose of its virulent opposition to their world. Instead they made us study great chunks of it and think about those chunks and commit them to memory and then ignore them. This Bible, this ubiquitous persistent black chunk of a bestseller is a singularity. A black hole into which our rich and multiple worlds strays and vanishes. We crack open its pages at our peril.

The Bible is always calling into question your lifestyle and mine. It never makes us comfortable. To press the baseball analogy, the Bible comes up to you and me and says Your stance is all wrong. Here, let me show you a better stance.

Fourthly, Paul says to Timothy that the Bible is useful for training in righteousness. Righteousness means simply to be in right relationship with God. Friends, it's simply impossible, impossible to have have a lively, authentic, growing, healthy, personal relationship with God in Christ Jesus without that being based on the Scriptures. The only Jesus you and I can know authentically is the Jesus that we find here. Scripture is our bootcamp for training as disciples of Christ. It's here that we meet Jesus in a very real way. To press the baseball analogy again: At this point Scripture is saying OK, now it's time to get in the batting cage and take some cuts .

But all of this so far is leading up to what Paul says to Timothy is the ultimate purpose of Scripture in verse seventeen. That it is to thoroughly equip you and me for good works. Here at Central Pres. we believe that the revealed Word of God in Scripture is true. But truth is always unto goodness. Take that home with you today. Truth is always unto goodness. That means that everything we learn in Scripture, how it molds and shapes our lives through rebuking and correction and training is all for the purpose of going out in the world and serving Jesus Christ. Impacting people so that they might be moved toward Christ and come to know him in a personal way. The baseball analogy would say the whole purpose of this is because you're starting at shortstop this afternoon. Get in the game. The purpose of good works, truth, is always unto goodness. We're to go out and serve Christ, not to get saved, but because we already are saved. Jesus said let your light so shine, so that people might see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. The apostle James wrote be doers and the Word and not just hearers only . There's a world out there that needs to hear and needs to see demonstrated the truth of what a real live disciple of Jesus Christ looks and acts and talks like.

If you go to three Bible studies a week and aren't involved in ministry, then you're missing the whole boat. Paul knows that Timothy, unless his deeds are connected to Scripture, they're not going to produce any fruit for the Kingdom of God. And it's the same for you and me.

Let's move on and close out with some implications of what it means for the life of this church that we believe the truth of the revealed Word of God. It means basically three things in our life together. And the first is that we place a high priority on Biblical preaching. My calling as your pastor, one of your pastors the calling of any pastor in any church really is to exposit the Word of God to you. Which means really, get out of the way and let Scripture make its own point. And to help all of us wrestle with the Word of God and begin to apply it to our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. My calling is not to come here on Sunday mornings and entertain you, or to put forth my personal political ideologies or to ride my pet hobby horses. No, not at all. Let me tell you a real good test for judging good solid Biblical preaching: anytime you hear a sermon, you need to ask yourself one question. If the Bible had smallpox, would the sermon catch it? If the Bible had smallpox, would the sermon catch it? There are so many preachers out there who use the Scriptures as a springboard to talk about whatever they want to talk about rather than what God wants the people of God to hear from his word. We're not about that here at Central Church.

Secondly, we want to move people toward a working knowledge of Scripture. That's why all of our Sunday School classes, from infants on up to adults, have a Biblical base. Some are actually just Bible studies. That's why we encourage you time after time after time, to be involved in a personal daily quiet time where you are getting into the Word. That's why we continually put before you, like this morning with our Small Groups Task Force, the encouragement to get into a small group where you can go deep in the Word and grow with other Christians in your knowledge of the Scriptures. That's why we're always putting before you ministry opportunities. Someone has written: Impression without expression leads to depression. If you're involved with three Bible studies a week but you're not acting it out in ministry, then you know what's going to happen? You're going to become Biblically constipated. We want you to be regular. That's why you need to be involved in ministry. Truth is always unto goodness. The truth of God's Word is to shape you and me so that we might be effective ambassadors for Christ in a very broken, lost and hurting world.

Then lastly, here at Central Pres. we are committed to living our lives together under the authority of Scripture. Which means today, in a culture that has become completely Biblically unhooked, that you and I if we try to live as Biblical Christians are going to be at odds with the culture around us. Particularly in the areas of ethics and morality. Particularly in the area of sexual stuff. Seventeen years ago I'd been in the ministry three years. And I made the third most (Jesus first, marrying Anne second) third most important decision in my life. I had started reading through the Bible every year. And I found myself backed into a corner. A real uncomfortable corner. Those of you that are reading through the Bible know what I am talking about and so I made the decision I've said it here before, I made the decision that I would live the rest of my life going with the Gospel rather than my gut. Going with the Gospel rather than my gut. I'll be honest with you, there's a whole lot of stuff in Scripture I don't understand. There's a whole lot of stuff in Scripture that makes me mad. There's a whole lot of stuff in Scripture that makes me wretch. And I'd like to chunk it out of there. But I made the decision that I would go with the Gospel over my gut. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

I like to portray it this way -- this may not be very attractive to you, but it works for me: I like to think of myself as a pastor who goes through life with an 800-lb. Bible chained to my leg. But I'll tell you what, over the last 17 years, that has kept me from jumping on all of the theological faddish bandwagons that have come rolling down the road. Over the past 17 years that has kept me from getting all excited and taking off and running down countless blind alleys. It has kept me from crashing and burning. And it has kept me anchored to what I hope is theologically correct over and against what our culture says is politically correct. I hope you'll make that decision too. To take the Word over your wisdom, to take the Gospel over your gut, to take the Scripture over your schemes. The Bible is the true, revealed Word of God. But I've got to warn you: this is a dangerous, dangerous book. We think of the Bible as being benign, so we put it out on coffee tables. That's like putting a case of dynamite out in the middle of your living room. I'm not kidding. If you try to read this thing regularly, if you make the decision you're going to order your life under the authority of Scripture; then a whole lot of sacred cows are going to get blown up in your life and you're going to find yourself backed into corners and very uncomfortable. Because following Jesus ain't easy. It'll change your life.

Peter Nearson, in his book The Priority of Knowing God, tells a story of about a man in India named Rahmad. Rahmad belonged to a gang of burglars, one night they were ransacking a house and Rahmad saw a book with a black cover and thin, gold-edged pages sitting there, and he thought, Man, that would be good for rolling cigarettes. So he swiped it. And for many nights he got into a ritual, every night he'd tear a page out of that book, pack some tobacco in it and roll it up and have a smoke. One night he noticed that the small words on the page were in his language, so he decided every night when he ripped out a page, he'd read it and then roll a cigarette. And he did, for many, many nights. Aahhh, then one night God got him. He ripped out the page, read it, never got around to rolling a cigarette, fell to his knees, asked Jesus to forgive him for his sins and accepted Christ as his savior. Truth is always unto goodness. And so what Rahmad did then, much to the astonishment of the police was he walked into the police station,and gave himself up and confessed to all of his crimes and wound up in prison. But truth is always unto goodness. There in that prison serving out his time, Rahmad, the former burglar, now follower of Jesus Christ, led many other men to the Savior.

I don't think there's any coincidence that the initials of the new testament are TNT.

Join me as we pray: Father, we thank you that you are a God who is not aloof, who has not left himself unknown. You have clearly showed us not everything about you, not everything about Jesus, not everything about cosmology and history. You didn't give us a scientific textbook, you didn't give us a book of quaint, old Near Eastern religious folklore. You gave us your clear, infallible God-breathed Word in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, so we might know who you are at more than secondhand. O Lord, give us a hunger and thirst for your Word, whether we're new Christians or old Christians, or seekers. That we, like Rahmad, might come into a life-transforming encounter with the living Word, Jesus Christ. Who speaks to us through this, your written Word. And we ask it in Jesus' name and for his sake.

© 1999, Dr. Ronald W. Scates
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org