This is one of the most breath-taking Three Sixteens, one which you may have already committed to memory. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is that great statement of assurance about the Bible, the God-breathed book we build our faith upon.
“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 competent, equipped for every good work.” (ESV)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)
I recently read through 2 Timothy with a friend, over several weeks and many great coffees! The whole letter is a call to persevere in the faith, despite persecutions and difficult people. These are (possibly) Paul’s parting and most important words. He wants Timothy to stick to the truth of the Scriptures, which he’d been taught from his earliest days. (For Timothy this would mean the Old Testament scriptures as well as the teachings of the apostles.) There are so many treasures in this 3:16 (and 17), but I’ll focus on just three points:
1. The Word is God-breathed: Just as we speak with our actual breath, which forms and carries the sounds of our words, so it is with God’s breath. He has exhaled these words, he has breathed them into the minds and hearts of people who have faithfully written them down, carried along by the Holy Spirit who always does the Father’s will. How else could this extraordinary book, penned by so many authors across millenia, have such consistency and unity of message? This is His Word to us and he has ensured that his breath, his voice, will continue to be heard as we await the return of Christ, the Word of God.
I love what Peter Blowes says about the way the words of the omnipresent and eternal God apply across all time and space:
“. . . God had every reader of Holy Scripture in mind at the time of its ‘exhalation’. This means not only that God’s word is inspired and universally applicable, but also that, in it, God is speaking presently to every particular reader (or hearer) of his Word.”
(2011, “Reading the Bible”, Matthias Minizine).
This leads to my second point.
2. Reading the Word is the most profitable thing we can do.
More than the early morning coffee, jog, paper, news update, more than crossing things off our to do list, more than any amount of television viewing, study or social media, more than relaxing with the family, more than making money . . . investing in the Word of God is THE most profitable thing we can do. The world shouts at us, calling for our attention, telling us that those ancient words are dead, irrelevant and useless. But as we immerse ourselves more and more in his Word we understand why reading it is the most profitable thing we can do. By reading we come to know our immortal, invisible, all wise, good and gracious God. The Spirit works in us and we grow in confidence of his power, his might and the reality of his work in our world and hearts. We grow in the certainty of our salvation won in Christ.
3. The Word is wonderfully sufficient, equipping us for every good work.
The Bible equips us not by containing enough lists of do’s and don’ts to train us how to do good in every situation. This is the world’s view of the “good book”, but it shouldn’t be ours. Christ has fulfilled the law. Instead the Word of God equips us by making us more like Christ – who is entirely and always about the Father’s good work. The Word changes us from the inside out and drives our behaviour. This behaviour becomes good work, good fruit (like those good works prepared in advance for us, which Paul described in Ephesians 2:8-10). John Piper explains well:
“Bearing fruit in “every good work” (see Colossians 1:10 ) means that it comes out on the branches of your life naturally from something that has changed inside. And what has changed is that you are dead to the law as a set of lists to constrain from the outside, and are now united to Jesus Christ in a relationship of joyful trust so that when he speaks—even speaks some of that same law—it comes from within as the desire of your heart. . . .The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness and the beauty and the power and the wisdom and the mercy of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him, and the ways of sin become distasteful—indeed ugly and repugnant. Yes the Bible gives us many specifics as pointers how to live. But most deeply the way the Bible equips us for every good work is by changing what we find satisfaction in so that our obedience comes from within freely, not by coercion from without. It does this when we read it and meditate on it and memorize it and meditate over it every day.” (John Piper from Desiring God)