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 3:14-17).
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 Education"
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 our doctrine.
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 theological education.
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 of Scripture.
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 all service.
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.
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 Mohler Jr.
Available at LifeWay Christian Stores
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.