How to Read the Bible (2 Tim. 3:14-17)

500 years ago, the church was very different than it was today. 500 years ago, the church was organized under the pope in the Roman Catholic system, which acted more like a government than a church. The church believed that salvation was only found in the Roman Catholic church, and God’s teaching could only be given through the channels of the church. Therefore, there was no such thing as modern translations of the Bible into different languages; the church only approved of the Latin translation, thus making the common man (who would most likely not know Latin, nor have access to their own Bible) dependent upon the church to interpret God’s Word to them. This, sadly, led to many perversions of Scripture and a clergy that often felt no need to spend serious time studying God’s Word. Eventually, an English scholar named William Tyndale was amazed at the ignorance of the Catholic clergy, and began to openly air his complaints. “When a fellow priest resented this observation, Tyndale hotly replied: ‘If God spares my life, before many years pass I will make it possible for a boy behind the plow to know more Scripture than you do!’”[1]

Tyndale then proceeded to produce the first ever English translation of the Bible, but paid for it with his life. The Roman church eventually accused Tyndale of trying to subvert the church’s authority, convicted him as a heretic and had him strangled, then burned at the stake. Tyndale’s final words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” Shortly after Tyndale’s death, however, his prayer was answered, and in a few years the king of England approved of an English translation of the Bible.

That’s an interesting little bit of church history, but it forces us to ponder: Why would Tyndale be willing to die? In fact, over the ensuing 500 years, up to this very day (no longer by the Catholic church), people have been killed and risk their lives trying to insure that all people have access to the Bible. Why would someone risk so much just so people could have a book?

Well, Paul writing to his disciple Timothy, explains why this book is so important,

“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. 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.” – 2 Tim. 3:14-17

Paul’s theology of Scripture is robust, to say the least. Paul lays out many arguments for the vital importance of Scripture, but let’s examine three: The power of God’s Word, the key to God’s Word, and the purpose of God’s Word.

The Importance

Paul explains that from God’s Word, we are made wise for salvation (vs. 15), taught, reproved, corrected, and trained in righteousness (vs. 16). He then sums it all up in a blanket statement, saying that Scripture completes and equips us for every good work (vs. 17). Paul sees Scripture as the general store of Christianity, supplying us with everything we need. Paul’s vision doesn’t just come from his conviction that this is a really good book – his conviction comes from an understanding of the nature of God.

God’s “Word” is an extension and expression of Himself. God’s Word is living and active (Heb. 4:12) because God is living and active. Jesus Christ, the ultimate “Word” of God is the Word because He is the perfect revelation of God (John 1:1-17; Col. 1:15). God’s Word isn’t only revelatory, it is powerful. In the beginning, God creates the heavens and the earth by speaking. When God says, “Let there be light”, His Word creates what it commands. God’s Word isn’t only powerful in the creation and sustaining of the world, but also in the heart of God’s people. Paul explains that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17; Gal. 3:2-5). Faith, our trust in Christ, is given to us by hearing the Word of God; God’s Word births and nourishes our faith. Just like Jesus’ call to a dead Lazarus gave the ability to hear by bringing life, so too does God’s Word bring life to our souls.

The power of the Word of God is that it is the primary (not only, but primary) means by which the Lord establishes us in the faith. This is why Paul exhorts the church to let “the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). We need to saturate our minds in the Bible. We need to regularly hear the preaching of God’s Word from gifted teachers in the church (Eph. 4:11-12). This is the importance of a regular discipline of reading God’s Word. If you were sick, and your doctor gave you a medication and said, “You need to take this pill once a day, or you will die,” do you think you would be able to make it a priority to take that pill? Of course you would.

Friends, that is how we need to view God’s Word – vital for our well-being. But, if we are honest, most of us don’t see God’s Word like that. When we read God’s Word, we often don’t feel like we are being nourished by something vitally important. Which brings us to our next point.

The Key

If I led you to a safe, and told you that billions and billions of dollars lay behind the door, none of that matter unless someone had a key to open it up. Perhaps you can intellectually understand that last point, but if you were honest, when you sit down and read the Bible, you struggle to understand it. What is the key to understanding and grasping God’s Word? Well, we find it in the little phrase found in verse 16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” God’s breath is a symbol; the same word for “breath” in the Greek and Hebrew, is the same word for “spirit”. We see Jesus use this play on words to describe the Spirit’s work in new-birth, comparing it to the wind (also the same word) in John 3. Peter also explains, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet. 1:21). Those who wrote Scripture were led to do so by the Holy Spirit. What is this telling us? When Paul says that Scripture is “God-breathed”, he is saying that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. What does that have to do with anything?

Let’s look at a passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor. 1:18) So, Paul is saying that the gospel doesn’t make any sense to those who are lost; its just another story amidst others. But to a Christian, the story of the gospel is ablaze with glory. It is the lifeline that rescues us from the pit. It is THE great story. But a non-Christian is entirely unaffected. That’s like standing in front of a sunset at the Grand Canyon, and the person next to you is just yawning, “This is boring…” What on earth is wrong with you? is what you’d be thinking. Isn’t the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon self-evident? How do you explain to someone that the Grand Canyon is awesome? How do you explain to someone that honey is sweet? That a flower is beautiful? How does someone read the gospel of our God and not see the good news it provides?

Well, Paul explains in the next chapter. “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual,” (1 Cor. 2:12-13). What do we learn from this? We learn two things:

  1. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. The same spirit that inspired the writing of the Bible is given to us.
  2. The Holy Spirit is given to us to teach us. Paul says we are filled with the Holy Spirit “that we might understand the things freely given us by God” and the Spirit interprets “spiritual truths”.

As we open up the Bible in front of us, we pray that God would illuminate the truth to us, by His Spirit. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into truth (John 14:26) – and this isn’t a truth that is disconnected from the Bible. The truth is God’s Word that the Spirit is illuminating for us, the Word of Christ. Reading the Bible is like stacking kindling together, and the Holy Spirit descends in fire, and brings understanding and applies it to your life. Ever notice how sometimes you can read one passage a hundred times, but then one time you read it and something you never saw before just grabs you and you think How on earth have I never seen this before? That is the Spirit opening your eyes more and more to the glories and wonder that are contained within His Word.

The Story

So we have seen the importance of the Word of God (to nourish our faith), and the key to understanding the Word of God (the Holy Spirit), lastly what is the actual story of the Book? What’s the actual point of the Bible?

When I was younger, I was never taught that the Bible was actually one story. I always thought the Bible was just an assorted collection of spiritual stories, most of which I didn’t understand. But that isn’t what the Bible is at all – the Bible is a whole story. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous for me to open up all three of the Hunger Games, and bounce around from page to page, reading a sentence here, a paragraph there. Would I understand the story? Would I catch the symbolism, the drama, the beauty of the story? No – not at all. But that’s what we do with the Bible.

Look, the Bible is a story, and that means that it has what every story has: a hero, a villain, conflict, climax, and resolution. There are four simple categories that help us put together the story of the Bible.

  1. Enter the hero. In the beginning, the triune God decides to spread His love and joy by creating others to enjoy in it. So God creates the Heavens and the Earth, and fills them, and places His crown jewel of creation, Man and Woman, over it all as a king and queen.
  2. Enter the villain. In this paradise, the serpent, Satan, enters and deceives Adam and Eve, and convinces them to betray God. This unleashes the poison of sin into creation, which distorts and perverts everything from its once former glory. Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise, but God makes them a promise.
  3. Shortly after Adam and Eve sin, God curses the serpent that deceived them and promises that one day a descendant will rise from the line of Eve and will ultimately crush the serpent. The rest of the Old Testament flows forward, following a line of descendants who, though still sinners, desire to follow God, and eagerly look forward to this One who will deliver them from the serpent’s curse. This conflict reaches its climax when Jesus enters the picture and begins telling everyone that He is the promised hero that everyone has been waiting for. But, all of God’s people reject him, thinking that He would be much different than He is, and they have Him killed. But we find out that being killed was what He had planned all along; Jesus had come to free people from the serpent’s curse, from their sin, and the only thing that could heal them was His righteous blood being spilled.
  4. When all seems lost, with the promised Savior now dead, the unthinkable happens. Three days later, He rises from the dead, and deals the final death blow to the serpent. Death had no hold on Him, Jesus rose from the grave and then builds His church, invites all to come and to receive salvation in His name, and await the day when He shall return again and remake everything new and completely eradicate all of their serpent’s effects. And we will dwell with our God, in complete restored union, forever.

That’s the story of the Bible. It is a story that is all about God rescuing sinful people from their sin, though it costs Him His Son’s life. The story of the Bible is about Jesus throwing Himself on the grenade of the punishment of your sin, so that you might live. It is the greatest story ever told, about the greatest person who ever lived, doing the greatest thing anyone has ever done. The Bible isn’t about you – it’s about Him. Paul tells us that Scripture makes us “wise unto salvation by faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 3:15). He is saying that the main point of God’s Word is to lead us to Jesus, the hero of the story. When Jesus comes onto the scene, He tells everyone that He is the whole point of the Scriptures (John 5:39-40). (See also Luke 24:25-26; Acts 10:43; Luke 24:44-45; 1 Pet. 1:10-11; Rom. 1:2-3)

What does this mean for us friends? This means that when we read the Bible, we remind ourselves that we are not the point. The Bible is about Jesus, and His plan to rescue us and deliver us from our sin. That’s the ultimate point. So, whenever we are reading the Bible, wherever we are reading, we should be catching shadows and pictures of Christ.

[1] Shelley, Bruce. Church History in Plain Language, Third Edition. “The Age of the Reformation”. Pg. 268

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