April 2008 Issue
by Randal A. Williams
EDITOR'S NOTE: SBC LIFE
is committed to emphasizing and reinforcing the doctrinal stance
the Southern Baptist Convention has taken, particularly as reflected
in the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M). For
that reason, we have launched an ongoing series of articles that
address foundational doctrines, a series that will follow the
outline of the BF&M and will complement the main points
of each article. Corresponding to "Article 1, The Scriptures"
in the BF&M, in the February/March issue we included
an article by David Dockery on the authority of Scripture. In
this issue we consider some of the practical implications of the
sufficiency of Scripture. It is not the intent of this series
to explain or elaborate on the actual articles of the BF&M,
but rather to consider a broader field of issues directly related
to each article. Our hope is that the rich doctrinal heritage
we share will be reinforced and preserved in the hearts of our
people and the soul of our churches.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly
believed, knowing those from whom you learned, and that from childhood
you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to instruct
you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture
is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking,
for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man
of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy
Southern Baptists have long been strong advocates of the authority
and sufficiency of Scripture. And while there may be little debate
in our churches over the Bible's authority, on a practical
level we may be subtly tempted to overlook the sufficiency of
Scripture as it is effectively taught and applied
when it comes to equipping our members for service and life. There
are so many competing resources, trends, and strategies available
today that we can be tempted to rely upon man's devices, rather
than God's Word, for the training of God's people. However, a
review of Paul's instruction to Timothy reminds us that His Word
truly is sufficient in this regard.
Paul points out in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 that all Scripture is
God's Word, and that it is useful in at least three ways. It is
useful for salvation, for "theological education," and
for living according to God's plan.
God's Word and Salvation
In verse 15, Paul simply states that Scripture is able to instruct
you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. His point
is not that memorizing Bible verses or being able to describe
what the Bible says is enough to save a person, but that God has
given us His Word so that we can know the truth of the Gospel.
If you do not know the Gospel, you cannot know salvation. This
Gospel is revealed in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. When
Paul says that knowing Scripture gives wisdom that leads to salvation,
he implies that one must know the essentials of God's provision
and plan as revealed in Scripture to receive salvation
by His grace. Although 2 Timothy was written to believers in order
to remind us of how we came to salvation, Paul's words should
remind us that we need to teach unbelievers these truths from
God's Word if they, too, will have a valid opportunity to be saved.
The simple truth is that the way of salvation is found only
in the Scriptures, and we must know the Scriptures in order to
appreciate and properly communicate the Gospel.
God's Word and "Theological
Too often, the phrase "theological education" is
restricted to formal education at a seminary or other institution
of higher learning. That is not how it is used here. Indeed, our
Southern Baptists ranks suffer because too many of us have confined
theological and doctrinal instruction to our seminaries. Every
follower of Jesus Christ needs to know the Bible because the Word
of God reveals the Person and work of God.
Verse 16 states that: All Scripture is inspired by God and
is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for
training in righteousness. In this verse, Paul alludes to
four educational areas in which Scripture profits the believer.
Simply defined, the word "profitable" means "adding
worth or improvement to something." We have already seen
that God's Word "adds worth or improvement" to an unbeliever
by declaring to them the Gospel and leading them to salvation.
But for those who are already believers, there is more.
In this text, Paul tells his readers that God's Word does more
than declare the Gospel. It declares God's ways, highlights where
a believer's ways do not match up with God's ways, shows them
the corrections that need to be made, and provides further instruction
so that the man or woman who is seeking to follow God strays less
and less from the ways of God.
To accomplish his purpose, Paul uses four words to describe
the usefulness of Scripture in educating believers. The first
calls our attention to the area of doctrine. The word translated
"teaching" in the NASB is from the word didaskalian,
and is translated "doctrine" in the KJV. Both call our
attention to a basic body of truth describing what we believe.
We might restate Paul's point as follows: Scripture is useful
for educating believers in the basic doctrines of faith. In fact,
Scripture is the very revelation of God upon which we are to develop
As Southern Baptists, we recognized a long time ago our need
to state clearly what we believe in this area and have stated
repeatedly that the things we believe are the things taught in
the Bible. That is why the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message
is based solely on the Bible. This document is a simple statement
of what we believe the Bible says.
Just learning basic doctrine is not, however, an end in itself.
Paul indicates that learning basic doctrine is just the beginning,
and he quickly moves his readers toward the next step in their
The second word that Paul uses to describe the usefulness of
Scripture in educating believers is the word "reproof"
or "rebuke." We often think of this word as having a
negative connotation, as in rebuking false teachers or teaching.
Throughout his letters to Timothy, Paul urges Timothy to perform
this very task. In this case, however, he seems to be instructing
Timothy on a more personal level. Note that the context as a whole
is one of equipping and encouraging Timothy (and by application
all believers) to stay faithful in spite of opposition. In this
context, we might better understand this word as "reproof."
Doing so helps to remind us that the proper application of Scripture
to the Christian life builds us up rather than tears us down.
This is true even when the process is painful. In other words,
Scripture is useful in pointing out our faults, failures, or misunderstandings,
in order to bring about a better understanding of God, a closer
relationship with Him, and conformity to the image of His Son.
The third word Paul uses to describe the usefulness of Scripture
in educating believers is the word "correct." A wise
teacher once told a class I was in that the more knowledge he
gained the more he realized he did not know. He also told us that
responsible learners reexamine the things they already know in
light of the new things they learn. These are wise words. We will
never exhaust the great riches of the Scripture, and we should
always be willing to correct our beliefs based on them. The more
we learn about God through His Word, the more we recognize His
greatness. If we are going to grow in our relationship with Him,
we must be willing to correct our misunderstandings about Him.
The fourth word Paul used in his admonitions on theological
education states that Scripture is useful for "training."
People of Paul's day often used this word to describe the continuing
instruction given to children in order to lead them to maturity.
It carries with it the idea that consistent training tends to
lead to consistent lives. Of course that begs the question: "Consistent
with what?" In this case, Paul says it is consistence with
God's will, which is synonymous with righteousness. This last
word presents the idea that the continued, consistent study of
Scripture brings about maturity. That also means that the training
received from Scripture helps keep us in line with God's will.
These four words outline our responsibilities regarding Scripture,
and as we obey, we understand its value in very practical ways.
We should continue to teach basic doctrine from the Scripture,
identify and remove incorrect understandings in light of Scripture,
strengthen and correct or replace incorrect beliefs according
to Scripture, and live properly before God according to the teaching
God's Word and Service
Finally, the Word of God equips us for ministry. Just as learning
the truth of the Gospel is used by God to lead unbelievers to
salvation, and learning the ways of God causes us to mature in
our relationship with Him, Scripture also equips us to do the
things He calls us to do. In other words, the usefulness of Scripture
does not end with salvation, knowledge, or personal piety. We
have a real purpose in life. We are to serve as God's agents and
ministers or, as Paul calls us in other places, ambassadors. In
verse 17, Paul states that God has given us what we need to accomplish
the things He has called us to do. He does this by simply stating
that Scripture equips godly men and women to do everything to
which He has called them.
Three things stand out in this verse and demand our attention.
First, the usefulness of Scripture, at this point, is limited
to its work in the life of the believer. Paul states that Scripture
leads to salvation and educates so that "the man of God may
be complete." Although anyone, believer or unbeliever, can
profit from the wisdom taught in the Bible, its deepest impact
occurs in the life of the believer. This is true because it is
only by faith in Christ that we can ever hope to accomplish God's
will for our lives.
I think that our Christian witness is crippled at times because
we have presented Scripture to the world as though it is a mystical
tonic, which when sprinkled on the ailments of life offers a possible
cure. If we want to truly experience the power of the Scripture,
we must be God's people, living in God's will.
The second thing that Paul says about the equipping nature
of God's Word is that it is absolutely essential for equipping
us to do whatever God calls us to do. Although we cannot assume
from Paul's statements here that Scripture is the exclusive source
of preparation needed for serving God, His Word is the central,
essential, and foundational element. We must also keep in mind
that this verse is dependent on the preceding verse. Therefore,
it is not simply knowledge that prepares us for service, but the
lifelong process of biblical study and application, which is the
source of our equipping.
Some pastors bemoan the lack of willing servants in their churches.
According to Paul, the solution is found, not so much in aggressive
recruitment strategies and efforts, but rather in the effective
teaching and application of God's Word.
Finally, God does not call us to any task for which He does
not also give us the Scriptural guidance we need. Simply put,
Paul states that Scripture equips us "for every good work."
It is comforting to know that we do not need to enter into any
form of godly service based strictly on our own ideas or in our
own power. It is true that the Bible does not directly address
every conceivable form of service, but you can rest assured that
the principles and promises found in it give clear direction for
Unlike the advice we often receive from the world, the truths
taught in the Bible apply to and affect people whether
they know and apply them to their lives or not. As Southern Baptists,
this reality should remind us of our need to continuously connect
people directly to the Word of God. That requires taking our people
directly and regularly to the texts of God's Word, mining the
abiding truths in them, and relating those eternal truths to the
situations and decisions they face every day.
For unbelievers, those who refuse to accept and apply the truths
taught in it, the Bible becomes a witness against them. In it,
God has revealed His plan for salvation, and He will hold all
people accountable to His plan. This is true whether we have taken
the time to teach them what the Bible has to say or not. Believers
should heed Paul's words to remember the truths from the Scripture
that led them to salvation, and then they should share those truths
by teaching the Scriptures to those who do not believe.
We ought also to remember that the intentional teaching and
preaching of God's Word helps our members live in the center of
God's will, and it equips them for the work to which He has called
them. It takes them directly to the ultimate source of authority
on the things that matter most now and for all of eternity. There
are no substitutes, and when we rely on shortcuts or alternatives,
we lead people into uncertainty about the things of God and a
lack of clarity for making godly choices. Without it, they experience
weakness in commitment and power when they attempt to do the things
they know God expects of them.
In such things, God's Word is not only useful; it is foundational
and essential. As pastors and teachers, the best thing that we
can do for our congregations and students is to teach them the
Word of God.
Randal A. Williams, is Director of Seminary
Extension, which operates under the auspices of the SBC Council
of Seminary Presidents and seeks to educate and equip men and
women who need theological and ministry training but cannot attend
one of our seminaries. For more information go to www.seminaryextension.org.
Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3
Gives Essential Direction
Gives Victory Over Sin
Facilitates an "Abiding"
Relationship with Christ
John 15:7; Colossians 3:16
Is Essential for Sanctification
John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17
Is the Standard by Which
We are Judged
2 Timothy 3:16, 17; Hebrews 4:12, 13
Each of these is true for us as individuals we need
God's Word for sustenance, direction, victory over sin, abiding
in Christ, sanctification, and as the absolute standard by which
we are measured.
But each of these is also true for the local church. Our churches
need a clear and consistent focus on God's Word for sustenance,
direction in ministry, victory over sin, Christ's abiding relationship
in our midst, sanctification of the church body, and to constantly
remind us of God's unchanging standard.
Yet, if we are not careful we can be tempted to look to secondary
resources for our primary help and direction in these areas. In
every area, the first question we ask should not be: "What
does a popular book or pastor say," but rather, "What
does the Bible say?"
2008 Doctrine Study is "The Baptist
Faith & Message"
by Charles S. Kelley Jr., Richard Land, & R. Albert
Available at LifeWay Christian Stores
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