28 Oct 2020
We have seen how God speaks to us in Scripture and the words in Scripture are His words communicated through His representatives by the power of the Holy Spirit. ‘Inspiration’ describes the means God chose by which to reveal Himself, namely by speaking to and through biblical authors. It is not a dictation process but a dynamic one which treated the human authors as persons in active possession of their faculties – this is the double authorship of Scripture. God, in His love and provision, arranged for the words He had spoken first to be written, to form the ‘Scripture’, and then to be preserved across the centuries so as to be available to all people in all places at all times, for their salvation and enrichment. Scripture then is ‘God’s word written’, HIs self-disclosure in speech and writing, the product of His revelation, inspiration and providence.
The regular and prominent theme for God’s people is to be steadfast. On the one hand, we must resist the intellectual and moral pressures of the world and refuse to be conformed to the fashions and values of this world. On the other hand, we are called to persevere in the truth we have received, to cling to it as an ‘anchor’ to secure us in the ‘storms of life’ and to stand firm.
In this respect, the Scripture constitutes this ‘body of truths or doctrine” ‘taught’ and ‘passed on’ by the prophets and apostles, and have been ‘heard’ and ‘received’ by God’s people, including the church in these last days. This body of doctrine is now a sacred deposit to be guarded; the church must remain in it and hold to it, neither going back from it, nor going on beyond it is such a way as to contradict it.
Part of Paul’s final charge to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:1-4:8) elaborates this theme of steadfastness; we need to grasp the implications for ourselves and for the church. We would notice that in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, standing in and continuing in the Word (this body of doctrine and truths) features prominently.
Paul began by saying, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (3:1). The ‘last days’ refers to the era which stretches between the first and second comings of Christ; we are living in these days. Paul was aware of a radical incompatibility between the Word (Scripture) and the world. What are the characteristics of the last days? These characteristics would be seen to be incompatible with the values that God’s people should nurture and reflect in their lives (as taught by Scripture).
The first characteristic is misdirected love. In the last days, people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure; – not lovers of good, not lovers of God (vv2-4). We see misdirected love everywhere: self-absorption, covetousness, hedonism – resulting in boastfulness, pride, disobedience, ungratefulness, unforgiveness, abusiveness and so on.
The second characteristic may be called ’empty religion’; people practising this are described as ‘having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power’ (v 5). It may seem extraordinary that people characterised by self-love could also be religious and appear ‘godly’. The worship of God can be perverted into a means of ego-inflation (properly termed hypocrisy) – seen as an outward show without inward reality. It is an enemy of the gospel because it hardens people against real Christianity.
Thirdly, the last days are distinguished by the cult of an open mind. Paul describes such people as ‘always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth’ (v7). They sit on the fence, determined to avoid the pain of reaching definite conclusions, claiming that they are keeping their mind open. In fact, it is an openness of indifference as contrasted with an openness that invites us to the quest for knowledge and certainty. Their so-called openness is not only insulting to truth but personally perilous.
We are to love God and our neighbour, and not misdirect our love to self, money or pleasure. We are to value the reality and power of religion above its outward forms and we are to submit humbly to God’s revelation. Christians are called to be different from the world around them; we are to resist the mood of the world, and to stand firm against it. To do this, for Timothy, he had to stand in the teaching of Paul and to follow his conduct; essentially he had to stand in the Word (for Paul’s teaching and conduct had their foundations in the Word of God and Scripture). For us, it remains the same – stand in the Word of God and resist the mood and values of the world; submit humbly to God’s revelation in Scripture and live a godly life in Christ Jesus. “..evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (v 13).
This leads Paul to his second ‘charge’ ‘But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing 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 for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” 2 Tim.3:14-16).
We who live in these last days should take heed of the same summons. We are not to be like reeds blown by the wind. We are not to bow down before the prevailing trends of society, its covetousness and materialism, its relativism, and rejection of all absolute standards of truth and goodness. Instead, we are to continue faithfully in the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Why so?
1. Scripture is able to instruct us for salvation (v15).
2. Scripture is God-breathed: Scripture is the Word of God, spoken by God, or breathed out of the mouth of God. The model of inspiration is that of human speech (note mouth, breath and word). Speech is communication between ‘minds’.
We have noted the double authorship of Scripture: because Scripture is the Word of God, we should read it humbly, reverently, prayerfully, looking to the Holy Spirit for illumination; because Scripture is also the words of human beings (human authors), we should read it as we read every other book, using our minds, thinking, pondering and reflecting, and paying close attention to its literacy, historical, cultural and linguistic characteristics. This combination of humble reverence and critical reflection is not only not impossible; it is indispensable.
3. Scripture is useful (vv16-17). It is also useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. In other words, it is profitable both for doctrine (teaching truth and correcting error) and for ethics (rebuking sin and training in right living) thus leading us on in Christian belief and behaviour until we become men and women of God, ‘thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (verse 17).
God has not left us to grope in the dark; He has given us a light to show us the path. Scripture is a rock on which we may stand. We are to stand in and continue in the Word (Scripture) so that we may not flounder in heavy seas.
This is especially so in the last days as elaborated by Apostle Paul.