October 22, 2017

“The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Scripture Alone”

2 Timothy 3:14-17


But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.


To celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, we have been looking at the three great pillars of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.  God rescues us from our sins, not on account of our merit, but freely, by his grace, on account of the obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This is grace alone.  We receive this forgiveness and salvation, not by doing good deeds but solely through faith in the gospel of Christ.  This is faith alone.  The only standard and judge of what we believe, teach, and confess about God, who he is, what he does, and what he says, is the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the writings of the prophets and apostles.


“Scripture alone” is the third great pillar of the Reformation.  Luther didn’t rediscover the gospel by reflecting on his spiritual struggles, by consulting traditions of the church, or by applying his great intellect to resolve the mysteries of God.  He rediscovered the gospel by reading and studying the Holy Scriptures.


We call it the Bible.  The word Bible means book.  The word Scriptures means writings.  The Bible is actually a library of books.  Our Bible has sixty six books in it.  The Old Testament was written by the prophets over a period of about a thousand years.  The New Testament was written by Christ’s apostles over a period of about fifty years.  The Bible was not written in heaven and sent down to earth.  It was written on earth.  But just as the eternal Word, the second person of the Holy Trinity, became flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary and did not cease to be true God, just so the Holy Scriptures, while written by men, are the very word of God.


St. Paul says that the Holy Scriptures are given by inspiration of God.  They are literally, God-breathed.  Men wrote the words down on papyrus, which was the paper used in ancient times.  But the men who wrote the Bible were directed by the Holy Spirit to write what God wanted written.  St. Paul writes, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4)  Jesus prayed in his high priestly prayer to his Father, “Sanctify them in your truth; your word is truth.”  Since God is true and his word is true and the Bible is his word, the Bible is true.  For this reason we accept the teaching of the Bible as authoritative for us Christians.  We do not permit any human tradition, popular enthusiasm, theological system, scientific theory, or political creed stand as judge over the Bible.  The Bible alone is the source and standard of what we believe, teach and confess.


Since God is the Author of the Bible, his attributes are also attributes of the Bible.  God loves the little children and calls them to himself.  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus welcomes the children.  The Bible is about Jesus.  The Bible is for children.  Paul writes in our text,


But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 


Timothy’s father was not a believer.  He was likely a Roman who did not embrace the true religion taught in the Holy Scriptures.  But his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, taught Timothy the Holy Scriptures from the time he was a baby.  The teaching of the Bible is like no other teaching.  St. Paul writes that the Bible that is taught us from our infancy is able to make us wise for salvation that is through faith in Jesus Christ.  How can a book have the ability to do something?  Isn’t a book just a collection of words and sentences on pages?  Isn’t a book an inanimate object?  But the Bible isn’t just a book.  It is the word of the living God.


The Bible is true.  The Bible is powerful.  These two things go together, but they must be distinguished from one another.  We don’t conclude that the Bible is true because it has power.  Lies have power, too.  We conclude that the Bible is true because God is its Author.  God treats it as the truth.  God says it is the truth.  God himself is faithful and true.


Just as God is almighty, so the Bible has the power of the almighty God.  After telling Timothy that the Bible is God’s word, Paul says it is useful for four things: first, to teach; second to reprove; third to correct; and fourth to instruct in righteousness.  Let’s take a look at each of these four things for which the Bible is useful.


First, it is useful to teach.  The word doctrine means teaching.  God wants to teach his children.  It is by teaching his truth to them that he brings them to faith, keeps them in the faith, nourishes them spiritually, and gives them confidence, hope, and salvation. 


There are many foolish notions floating around that dismiss the value of Christian doctrine.  Popular preachers ignore pure doctrine and talk about how having a relationship with Jesus is much more important.  But God establishes that relationship by teaching us the truth.  Those who aren’t interested in doctrine aren’t interested in Jesus.  Jesus is our teacher.


Second, the Bible is useful for reproof.  It is useful to show people that what they are saying and doing is wrong.  This is one reason why people don’t want to read the Bible.  It reproves them.  It shows them that their ideas and actions are wrong.  They don’t want to be shown their sins; they want to continue in them.  But the Bible was written to show people what is wrong with what they think and do.  There is only one true religion.  There are thousands of false religions.  The Bible is profitable, useful, to expose sin and false religions.


Third, the Bible is useful for correction.  It is not enough to show what is false.  We must also know what is true.  The Bible is useful in correcting errors and mistakes because it is true.  When Jesus was correcting the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the body, he pointed out that they erred because they didn’t know the Bible.  Regular reading and studying of the Bible keeps people from making foolish mistakes due to ignorance. 


Fourth, the Bible is profitable or useful for training in righteousness.  When we are shown to be wrong and corrected for it, the Bible then directs us to Christ whose righteousness covers our sins.  By forgiving us, freely by his grace, and clothing us in his own righteousness, we become righteous before God.  Then we are trained to live righteous lives.  The same Bible that reveals to us God’s grace in Christ, that is able to lead us to faith in Christ and find in him salvation from every evil of body and soul, also trains us to live lives that reflect the love that God has showered upon us.


It is one thing to believe the Bible is the source and standard of all that we teach, that it is true, that is has God’s power to save us through faith in Christ, and that it is useful to teach, to reprove, to correct, and to train in righteousness.  It is another thing to read the Bible and take to heart what it says.


Christians will often give lip service to the Holy Scriptures as God’s word, will defend the truth of the Bible, and speak in glowing terms of it while leaving it on the shelf and rarely reading it.  In our text for today, St. Paul says that the Bible makes the man of God complete and enables him to do every good work.  Now the term “man of God” is a reference to the pastor.  His duty to preach, teach, administer the sacraments, to correct, to encourage, and to comfort requires him to know the Bible and be thoroughly grounded in what it teaches.  What goes for the pastor goes for every Christian.


Martin Luther translated the Bible from the original Hebrew of the Old Testament and Greek of the New Testament into the German language of his day.  If you spoke German and could read, you could read the Bible.  One reason the Lutheran Reformation succeeded as well as it did was that the people of God learned what the written word of God actually said.  The same holds true for us.  If you read the Bible faithfully, God will equip you to live a Christian life. 


The Reformation was not primarily about corruption in high places in the Church of Rome.  There is always corruption in the church.  Only in heaven will corruption be removed.  What the Reformation was about was returning to the pure gospel taught in the clear Scriptures.  This gospel reveals Christ to us.  It shows us God’s love that is greater than our sin.  With human tradition and human wisdom covering up the saving truth and keeping God’s children from their source of life, God sent his servant Martin Luther to find in the written word, the Holy Scriptures, the truth that sets us free from our sins, and to teach that truth clearly and faithfully.


The Bible is precious to us, not only because it is true, but because it teaches us the truth that really matters.  We were lost, on our way to hell, enemies of God, trapped in Satan’s lies, and God opened up to us the Holy Scriptures and showed us therein his love.  The Bible is Christ’s manger.  We read the Bible to find Jesus and we do.  We find God’s teaching on how to live.  That teaching reproves us and corrects us, but it never leaves us without hope, for the same Bible shows us how Jesus has fulfilled the law for us as our dear brother.  Every sin we did he paid for.  Every good deed he did he gave us credit for.  My sins are his and his righteousness is mine.  He has authority on earth to forgive me my sins.  As surely as he came from heaven to earth to rescue me, so surely he will keep his word to take me to heaven where he is.  This is what it means that Jesus loves me.  Jesus loves me.  This I know for the Bible tells me so. 


Rolf D. Preus


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