2 Timothy 3:14-17
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Among Christians, this is a very well-known text. We like to emphasize the “God-breathed” part, the “teaching, reproof, correction, and training” part, and the “every good work part.” However, there are certain parts that we either overlook, or at the very least, do not give the importance that it deserves.
For example, we have often understated the significance of “all scripture.” All scripture includes parts of the Bible that have been typically relegated to an occasional read-through. Have we personally put the kind of Bible study into Leviticus, Chronicles, Psalms or the Prophets as we have Matthew, Acts, or 1 Corinthians? That alone exposes a deep flaw. We readily proclaim that “all scripture” will make the man of God complete, but do not follow up by actually pursuing all scripture. The unspoken conclusion is, there are a number of books that really aren’t necessary to become equipped for every good work.
Let’s be honest, is it not true that the reason we have minimized deeper study of certain books is that we do not think some books are as important as others? After all, why do we need to know Zephaniah, Nahum, or Obadiah? Verse 14 gives the answer. Paul commanded Timothy to “continue in the sacred writings,” which is none other than the entire Old Testament. What part of the Bible will make us wise for salvation by faith in Christ? The Old Testament. Sound impossible? Is that confusing? Indeed. This is the very opposite of what we may have been taught. But the reason for continuing in the sacred writings is even more shocking – it is what will “make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
But why would a saved person like Timothy need to be made wise for salvation by faith in Christ? The answer must be that salvation by faith is not a one time event; it is a life-long process. Living by faith is not complete at baptism, and the Old Testament is critical to growth.
1 Timothy 1:5-11
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”
Notice that those who have “swerved” desire to be teachers of the law but do so without understanding. Why? Because the law is not written for the righteous, but for the lawless and disobedient. Paul said the law is good if it is used lawfully. That means it can also be used unlawfully. The law certainly is used properly when it convicts us of sin. But when it is used as the primary goal of our lives, it will become useless. Why? Because “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” To better understand Paul’s point, what if every week preachers exclusively taught against practicing the various sins listed in this text and others? You might say, “I would get tired of that. Is someone in this church doing these sins? Is there nothing more to the Bible than commands against sin?” This kind of preaching has often been urged because it seems to be the proper approach to correcting bad behavior. But it is neither biblical nor effective.
Lasting change does not happen simply by emphasizing the need to obey the scriptures or defeat false doctrine. These goals sound good, but left by themselves, are distractions from the true goal. The aim is to know and love God. This is the reason God foretold the work of the Spirit in Christ as circumcising our hearts, causing us to love him and carefully obey him (Deut. 30:6-8; Ezek. 36:25-27).
In 2 Corinthians 3:3, Paul contrasted the “ministry of death carved in letters of stone” and the “ministry of the Spirit.” He said, “We are a letter from Christ…written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of human hearts.” Explaining more fully our transformation process, he said, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). By this we learn the correct approach to Bible study so we can be successful in our goal of loving God from a pure heart. We are to study to see a full picture of God’s glory. As that is accomplished, transformation will happen!
Let’s summarize the difference between studying to simply follow commands and studying to see the glory of God and be transformed. Just the commands without a full picture of the glory of God becomes mechanical and checklist. More importantly, it is not successful or enjoyable. I enjoy serving my wife because I know her and love her. What if after our vows, she had said, “Okay, I’ve made my promise to submit my life to you, so what are your commandments so I know what I have to do to stay in your good graces?” I would have been devastated. I’m not interested in that! I want you to love me like I love you.
What about Your Jigsaw Puzzle?
Israel knew God’s laws, but Jeremiah said that in the new covenant God would write the laws “on their heart.” How can this happen? Consider the Bible as 66 jigsaw puzzles that fit within one giant jigsaw puzzle that gives us a perfect picture of God and Jesus. In order for us to fulfill God’s desire that we know him and love him, we will need a complete and accurate picture. That is why Paul said, “All scripture is profitable…” If we study simply for commands, how much of the puzzle have we assembled? For example, have you ever studied Isaiah, chapters 13-24? It is a large section in which God gives prophecies of the destruction of ten nations in Isaiah’s time. Now why would I want to study that! Because it is part of the picture of God that gives us a unique side of God we cannot see elsewhere. Without it, we have a hole in our puzzle–picture of God.
What happens when we have holes in our puzzle? We are seeing a different God than the one who truly exists. Without a true picture, we cannot love the true God. Without a complete picture, we cannot be made into the image of the true God. And if we are not in his image, he will not recognize us as his bride for our eternal marriage to him. The Pharisees made erroneous applications because they had gaping holes in their picture (John 5:39). They knew the commandments, but they did not know or recognize the God who gave them. And they misused the commandments because they could not fit them into the true picture of God.
Where are the holes in your puzzle? Leviticus? Chronicles? Psalms? The Prophets? Revelation? Those are some big holes.