Yesterday, we looked at how to be a faithful teacher, from the example Paul passed down to Timothy. We saw that faithful teachers teach by example; and that faithful teachers teach confidence in the truth.
Teach to impact behaviour
Today, we see that faithful teachers teach to impact behaviour. To change the way people live. Just like our teaching is worthless if we ourselves don’t live it – it’s also worthless if our hearers don’t live it. We teach behaviour, not mere content. Let’s start by looking at verses 15-17:
2 Timothy 3:15-17 …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 servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Now these are famous verses. Particularly verse 16, which is often trotted out anytime we feel the need to point out that Scripture is God’s inspired word. And yes, it does make that point – although only to someone who already believes it’s God’s inspired word. To an outsider, it’s a little circular.
But Paul’s point here isn’t to make a claim about the inspired nature of Scripture (which, in context, is the Hebrew Scriptures – our Old Testament). He’s simply assuming it to be true (which it is!) in order to make another point: that this God-inspired Scripture is useful!
In fact, the grammar is ambiguous. The NIV translates it “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful…” But it could just as well be translated “every God-breathed Scripture is also useful…” (e.g. ASV). The focus isn’t on claiming divine inspiration for Scripture; it’s assuming it’s divinely inspired and is therefore useful. The focus is on the usefulness of God’s word – that’s Paul’s point.
And useful for what?
Think about what Paul doesn’t say. He doesn’t say “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for having doctrinal arguments after church, or for winning Bible trivia competitions, or for writing PhDs in theology.” (And remember, this is a Bible college lecturer telling you this!)
No, he says firstly that Scripture does something: it makes you “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (verse 15). The point of knowing Scripture is to know about God’s plan of salvation in Christ.
He then fills that out in verses 16-17. Scripture, says Paul, is useful for teaching and rebuking. Telling us what right belief is. What’s true about God and what’s not. But it’s also useful for correcting and training in righteousness. Telling us not just what right belief is, but also what right behaviour is. So that we, as the servants of God, may be equipped for every good work. Not just to know what’s right. But to do it.
That’s the supreme duty of any faithful teacher. To teach in such a way as to impact behaviour. To change lives, so that we don’t just know about Jesus, but we begin to act like him, too. To imitate him. To become Christ-like.
Scripture is God-breathed
Having said all that – making sure the focus here is rightly placed on the usefulness of this God-breathed Scripture – we can also make the secondary point that Scripture is God-breathed!
What does that mean for us?
It reminds us that the Bible is God’s word. (It doesn’t prove it to a sceptic, of course. It’s just a claim it makes about itself. The proof comes from Jesus’ resurrection, and his acceptance of the Hebrew Scriptures and his commissioning of his apostles to proclaim and explain his message.) The Bible comes with God’s authority. It’s not just something humans made up. Like someone went, “Hey, I’ve just written the Bible, now you have to do what it says.” That’s how cults are born. Or conspiracy theories – “I’ve read on the internet so it must be true!”
Back when our eldest was three, we started using the time-out corner as a discipline strategy. He got sick of it after a few days. So he went to the computer, typed a sign, printed it out, and stuck it up in the time-out corner. This is what the sign said:
“NO TIME OUT CKONNU ENY MORE”
When we next told him to go to the time-out corner, he pointed to the sign and said “you can’t; look at the sign.”He didn’t understand that simply putting a sign up doesn’t mean anything – the sign has to be put there with someone’s authority in order to be effective.
If the Bible were something that humans just made up, we could ignore it. Like we ignored my son’s poorly-spelt sign, much to his frustration. But if we believe that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, that he is who he claimed to be, that he does speak for God – then we must accept that our Scriptures also come from God. They are God-breathed.
And therefore, we must allow them to do their work of being useful – making us wise for salvation, and equipping us for every good work.