October 16th, 2022 homily on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 by Pastor Galen
I have a little pop quiz for us this morning. See if you can identify the following slogans:
- Just Do It.1
- I’m Lovin’ It.2
- The Happiest Place on Earth.3
- There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s__________.4
- You’re in good hands.5
- Snap! Crackle! Pop!6
- Finger-lickin’ good.7
- Can you hear me now?8
- Think outside the bun.9
Now let’s see who can identify the book of the Bible this Scripture passage is from:
- I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future filled with hope.10
- For everything there is a season . . .11
- In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth . . .12
- Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.13
- For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.14
- Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.15
- I can do all everything through him who strengthens me.16
So, it would appear that we are pretty well steeped in our knowledge of commercials and slogans, but we’re a little less confident in our knowledge of the Scriptures. And it’s no wonder. The average American is exposed to anywhere between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements per day, according to Forbes magazine.17 On the other hand, only 10 percent of Americans read the Bible on a daily basis, and only 39% report reading the Bible multiple times per year.18 And more than half of American have read little or none of the Bible.19
Important vs. Urgent
And it’s not just because some people hold negative views of the Bible – although I’m sure we all have people in our lives who think of the Bible as harmful, outdated, or bigoted. But overall, many Americans have a positive view of the Bible, with many finding it helpful and even life-changing. And the majority of Americans find the Bible to be “a good source for morals.”20
But the reality is that many of us treat the Bible like a reference book – googling what the Bible has to say about certain topics, rather than seeking to know the Bible through and through. Many of us turn to it when we’re going through tough times, and when we feel the need for hope or comfort. And many of us, I’m sure, have full intentions of reading it some day, when we don’t have anything else to do. But to many, reading the Bible just doesn’t feel that urgent.
But just because something doesn’t feel urgent doesn’t mean it’s not important. In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Eisenhower believed that we must spend our time on things that are important and not just the ones that seem urgent.
Bible reading falls into this category. Unless you’re studying the Bible for school or writing a sermon, usually no one is requiring you to read or study the Bible – and so it doesn’t feel urgent. Meanwhile, your spouse might get upset if you don’t do the dishes, your kids might get upset if you don’t make dinner, your boss might get upset if you don’t turn in your report on time, or your teacher might get upset if you don’t turn in your assignment on time. And so we end up neglecting reading our Bible – as important as it may be, because there are other things that are more urgent.
The Apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, said “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
So we see here the importance of the Scriptures. It is through the Bible that we are instructed in salvation and learn what it looks like to live a life of faithfulness to God. The Scriptures are useful – or profitable – for teaching, reproof, correction, and training. And this is because the Bible is inspired by God – or “God-breathed” as it says in the Message paraphrase.
The Message says it this way: “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 MSG). I love this paraphrase, because the truth of the matter is that the Bible is not simply a reference book. It does not tell us exactly what to do in every situation we might possibly face.
Rather, as I’ve been reminding our youth Confirmation class, the Bible is really a library consisting of 66 different books of various different styles of literature, inspired by God but written down by many different types of people, in many different places, and over the course of many years. The various books of the Bible didn’t just have single authors. Many were co-authored, some were dictated by one person and written down by another. Some of the books of the Bible are edited collections – for example the historical books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles include sort of a log of the various activities of the kings of Israel and Judah recorded during the various reigns of the kings, but then someone had to edit and compile all those records together.
The Bible also contains poetry and songs as in the Psalms, Wisdom literature, as in Proverbs. There’s prophetic literature, which is often allegory, depicting contemporary or future events through a spiritual lens, looking at not just what was happening in the world, but why it was happening. Luke, one of the Gospel authors, conducted interviews with people who had walked with Jesus when he was here on this earth so that his account includes eyewitness testimonies. And many of the New Testament books, such as this book of 2 Timothy, were originally penned as letters, sent to an individual or a group of people. And through it all, God was inspiring – the authors, the editors, and the compilers. And preserving and protecting God’s Word as it was translated and passed down from generation to generation.
Not a How-To Manual
And yet something we must understand about the Bible (if we are going to seek to model our lives after its principles) is that not every story in the Bible is a positive example of what we should do and how we should live. Sometimes the Bible tells the stories of people who did wicked things, or tried to do good and failed. These are recorded as cautionary tales, so that we can avoid making the same mistakes.
This is why Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 2 Timothy chapter 3 says that: “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.” (2 Timothy 3:16 MSG). The Bible frequently exposes the rebellion of humanity. Sometimes it’s easier to see mistakes in others than it is to acknowledge our own. And so as we read the stories of people in the Bible who messed up, it can help us avoid making those same mistakes in our own lives.
But sometimes the stories in the Bible are somewhat ambiguous. You might read a particular story and think it is a positive example of how we should live, while I might read the same story and think it is a cautionary tale. This is why it’s important to read and study the Bible together in community – wrestling with Scripture, looking at it from different angles and perspectives, asking God to reveal God’s perspective to us. Reading and studying the Bible together with others can help us grow not only in our knowledge of the Bible, but it can enlarge and expand our understanding of God as well.
“Continue in What You Have Learned”
There’s so much more that could be said and has been said about the Bible. If you come to the library at the seminary where I work, you’ll see rows and rows of books and commentaries that have been written about each and every book of the Bible. But I want to end this morning with a personal anecdote, about how I have come to know and love the Bible and experience its usefulness in my own life.
Like Timothy, I grew up attending church, and was steeped in the Scriptures from a young age. I attended Sunday School, and Vacation Bible school every summer – not only at our church, but at all of the surrounding churches in the neighborhood as well. And I attended a Christian day school, where we had Bible class as a subject, and had to read and memorize Scripture passages on a regular basis. But when I went off to college, I began to be exposed to a wide variety of people whose faith looked very different than my own, or who had no faith background at all, and through a series of events I began to doubt and question much of what I had been taught when I was growing up.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year, when I was home from college, I remember the preacher preaching from this very passage. And I remember that the phrase that stuck out to me was from these first few verses that we read this morning from 2 Timothy 3, “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). And I was convicted that I couldn’t disregard the teachings that I had grown up with and knew to be true.
And so I began in earnest to go back and search the Scriptures. Rather than pulling verses from here and there, I began to read whole books of the Bible in one sitting – which helped me to gain a fuller picture and understanding of the context. I remember that one book of the Bible that particularly struck me was the book of Deuteronomy – a book I had previously ignored because it seemed to consist merely of harsh rules and punishments. But I remember that as I sat down and read it cover to cover, comparing the laws set forth in the book of Leviticus to Moses’s retelling of the law in Deuteronomy, that I began to gain a fuller understanding of how the law indeed conveys God’s care and concern and affection not only for Isralite people for whom it was originally written, but for us today as well. And although the laws in Deuteronomy do not hold the same legal sway for us today as they did back then, they are still useful for us in understanding more of who God is and what God wants for us.
Now, imagine that rather than reading Deuteronomy cover to cover, that I had instead treated the Bible merely as a reference book, googling the phrase “what does the Bible say about …” as so many do? And imagine that in a moment of pain or loss or despair I had randomly selected a verse from Deuteronomy, searching for some sense of comfort or hope in the midst of a troubling time? Although the Holy Spirit can indeed guide us in those times to Scriptures that are life-giving and transformative, it is also possible that without gaining a fuller picture of how and why the laws existed in the first place, and how it demonstrates God’s care and concern for God’s people, I may have been left confused at best, or hurt or troubled at worst.
And so my encouragement to us today is to continue in what we have learned. To continue learning, continue pressing in and wrestling with Scripture – not just to turn to the Bible in moments of despair or hopelessness (although we can and should), but to build up our foundation in the Scriptures so that we can indeed know where to turn in troubled times, and to guide others as well. May we learn to know the Scriptures even better than we know the jingles and slogans the advertisers constantly pound into our heads. May we remember that what feels urgent is not always what is important, and that what’s important may not always feel urgent. May we grasp the importance of wrestling with and studying the Bible in our own lives, and may we see and experience the usefulness and inspiration of this divine text – not only for ourselves, but for the world around us as well.
1Nike. 2McDonalds. 3Disneyland. 4Mastercard. 5Allstate. 6Rice Krispies. 7KFC. 8Verizon. 9Taco Bell.
10Jeremiah 29:11. 11Ecclesiastes 3:1. 12Genesis 1:1. 131 Timothy 4:12. 14John 3:16. 15Matthew 28:19. 16Philippians 4:13.