“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 complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 3:16 – 4:2, ESV).
The above passage is arguably one of the most quoted text among Christians. We usually quote it to emphasize the inspiration of Scripture. However, inspiration was not the primary purpose of Paul’s instruction. Timothy hardly needed to be told that the Scriptures had been delivered by the mouth of God. From what we see in Paul’s words at the beginning of the letter, Timothy needed to rid himself of timidity and give higher regard to the study and teaching of God’s word. Our text is urging Timothy in that direction. The fact that the Scriptures are inspired is primarily motivational. If all Scripture comes from the breath of the Almighty, Timothy and all Christians, should give the highest regard and devotion to knowing and proclaiming it.
Consider further the words, “All Scripture,” and “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. The words “all,” “complete,” and “every,” are connected. For the man of God to be complete and equipped for every good work, he will need all Scripture. Part of the scripture will not do. Half, or even most of the Scripture, will not meet the goal. For the man of God to be complete, equipped for every good work, nothing short of all Scripture is needed. In other words, that includes Zechariah, Zephaniah, Isaiah, Chronicles, Psalms, Revelation, and even Leviticus. Without these, and the rest of Scripture, the man of God cannot be complete.
It saddens me that for years I did not appreciate the word of God as God desired me to read and appreciate it. Part of the reason for my slowness was because I was taking the wrong approach in my reading. I started with, “What is God saying to me? What are his commands for me? Where are others wrong in how they are following and worshiping God?” Often, I searched the Scriptures to justify something I wanted to believe. At times, I had the attitude that parts of the Bible were beyond my ability to understand, or maybe even worse, there were parts of the Bible I simply didn’t like to study or that I decided were not really important to know. I now understand that these attitudes disrespected God and displeased God. He gave all scripture to make the man of God complete, and God does not waste inspiration paper.
“Searching the Scripture?” or Seeing God?
Paul’s challenge in our text not only addresses the neglect of certain sections of Scripture, it is also addresses one’s approach to reading the Scripture. In 2 Timothy 3:14-15, Paul urged Timothy, “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.” Did you notice that Timothy was commanded to continue in the sacred writings (the OT) because they will “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” I cannot count the number of times I have heard Christians say, “Why study the Old Testament? We are not under it!” And yet, Paul said it was those very writings that would make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ. If we want to understand salvation through faith in Christ, it is first going to come from the Old Testament.
This reminds us of Jesus’ words to the Jews: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Who could “proof-text” better than the scribes and Pharisees? Who had spent more of their lives dissecting every part of the sacred writings? Jesus illustrates the need to know more than simply what is in the Scripture or the commands of Scripture. It is necessary to see the God of the Scripture. God, through Hosea said, “I desire the knowledge of God more than burnt offering” (Hos. 6:6). What does God desire? While his commands and worship rules are not to be neglected, his primary desire is that we know and understand him. In so doing, we are drawn to love him and are motivated by that love to be careful to obey him and please him. Further, understanding what God desires will cause us to adjust our starting point in teaching our children and others. Instead of emphasizing baptism and God’s commands, we will begin with, “Look what God has done! Look at the wonder of who God is!” Baptism and obedience to other adult commands will then be generated from being drawn to God out of a deep love for him (Cf. John 6:44-45).
Think of “all Scripture” as a giant jigsaw puzzle with 66 large sections, all of which are a self-contained puzzles within the larger puzzle. What is the big picture of the puzzle? In other words, when the puzzle is complete, what do we see? The puzzle is a picture of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. But what happens if we leave out or gloss over major sections of the puzzle? Obviously, we do not see the real picture; we do not see the picture God intends for us to see. Even worse, we conclude that the picture we are seeing is complete and is the real picture, even though it is not. Our neglect causes us to see a “God” that does not exist and a “Jesus” who is different from the Jesus actually revealed. How can we justify that?
There is one other important message in this text. In 2 Timothy 4:1-4, Paul charges Timothy to “preach the word…” What word? The very sacred writings that will make one wise unto salvation through faith in Christ. How many are truly preaching all the Scripture? How many Christians would tolerate textual sermons on the messages of the prophets and other neglected sections of Scripture? To do otherwise is a violation of Paul’s charge “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead.” To be obedient to God, we need to study all scripture and we need to preach all scripture. Only then will we be complete, equipped for every good work.