Lent: Bible Reading

Lent: Bible Reading
A Message on 2 Timothy 3:10-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 22, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

2 Timothy 3:10-17 (NRSV)

Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

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I planned this sermon series for Lent back before Lent began on Feb. 26. I thought it would be good to focus on some of the spiritual practices that Christians should practice during this time of preparation before Easter.

At that time I had not heard of the corona virus, or COVID-19 as it is known. But God works in mysterious ways, as you know, and the topic today is certainly applicable to our current situation. This is an excellent time to read the Word of God.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, certainly read the Bible and believed it was an integral part of being a Christian. Here’s what he said about the Bible: “I want to know one thing, – the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri (‘a man of one book’).”

As United Methodists we have specific beliefs about the Bible. Here’s what the UMC web page has to say about the Bible: “We say that God speaks to us through the Bible and that it contains all things necessary for salvation. This authority derives from three sources:

  1. We hold that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God, that they were filled with God’s Spirit as they wrote the truth to the best of their knowledge.
  2. We hold that God was at work in the process of canonization, during which only the most faithful and useful books were adopted as Scripture.
  3. We hold that the Holy Spirit works today in our thoughtful study of the Scriptures, especially as we study them together, seeking to relate the old words to life’s present realities.”

I think I’m safe in saying that the Bible is integral to Christians regardless of denomination. The scriptures are the bedrock of our faith. I dare say you can’t be a Christian without the Bible. It is more than a collection of stories and biography of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. No. The Bible is more than a book. It is a living entity, God-inspired words that are just as applicable to us in the 21st Century as they were when they were written.

I like the way the late musician Rich Mullins described the Bible: “The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart — it is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that benefits mankind. It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice — it does not so much nibble at our shoe leather as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from the bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.”

He also said this: “We were given the Scriptures to humble us into realizing that God is right, and the rest of us are just guessing.”

Christians should read the Bible. That should go without saying, but you would be surprised how many don’t. And that’s a shame.

It has been said that the Bible is the best selling book of all time. Raise your hand if you have a Bible in the room you are watching this service in? (Pretend to notice hands being raised.) Yeah, I see that. Uh huh. Yes, I see you there in the back.

Okay, next question. Raise your hand if you have read from that Bible, or any Bible (including electronic Bibles), within the last week. Hmmmm. I only see a few hands raised, but not as many as there were before. Tell the truth, now, and shame the devil. (Actually I’m just guessing. I really can’t see… but God can!)

In the scripture we read today from the letter that Paul wrote to his young protege Timothy (what we know as 2 Timothy), Paul is encouraging Timothy as he walks as a follower of Jesus Christ, telling him that he is going to go through tough times (“persecutions,” actually) and to keep the faith during those tough times.

Then Paul gives Timothy, and us, some great advice about the Holy Scriptures. Here is The Message paraphrase of verses 14-17: “There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.”

Let’s unpack what Paul is saying in those few sentences. First let’s explore what he means when he says, “… how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Now we have to remember that at the time Paul wrote this they didn’t have the Bible as we know it. Most written material of the day was on scrolls that were made of velum, which is dried animal skins. Velum was very valuable as it was a very long, labor intensive process to produce it. There were no printing presses in that time. Everything had to be copied by hand, which was also a long, labor intensive process.

But even though the written word was scarce among the general public we shouldn’t assume that people didn’t know the scriptures, especially the scriptures we know as the Old Testament. Jewish children were taught both in schools and home about the heroes of the Bible, about Abraham, Moses, David, and Ruth.

And at the time Paul wrote this there probably were a few scrolls of copies of some of the gospels being passed around by believers, so they would have those as scriptures as well.

So as a child Timothy would have been taught the scriptures, the Old Testament promises of a coming messiah, and the circulated copies of the gospels testifying that Jesus is the messiah. Paul reminds Timothy that the scriptures are there to “instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

The Bible does indeed contain everything we need to know for salvation. Praise God!

Next Paul tells Timothy (and us, of course) ways in which we should use the Bible. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

So the Bible is not just for salvation, but also for, using The Message paraphrase, “showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.”

The Bible does show us the truth. Now I know in this day and age many people believe that truth is relative, meaning what is true for me may not be true for you. I don’t buy into that. I still believe there are absolute truths, and many of those are in the Bible. For example, God loves you. Period. Now he may be disappointed in some of the choices you make, or do a facepalm when he hears some of the things you say, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.

1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” God is love. This I know for the Bible tells me so. The Bible does show us the truth.” — 1 John 4:8

Next Paul writes that the scriptures should be used for “for reproof.” The NIV says “for rebuking,” and the CEB says “for showing mistakes.”

The trouble with “reproofing” and “rebuking” is that our humanness makes us think of others and how we can use the scriptures to correct them. We want to be the “reproof-er,” not the “reproof-ee.” We hand pick scriptures and load them like bullets into our gun of judgement ready to fire them at others we see doing wrong. But here’s the rub: maybe we are the ones who need “reproofing” and “rebuking.” Hmmmmm.

Eugene Peterson certainly implies that in his paraphrase of that passage that we find in The Message. He calls it, “exposing our rebellion.” Ouch. But I think he may be right. And the reason I think that is because of the next thing Paul tells us the scriptures are useful for: correction.

Now there is a difference between “reproof” and “correction.” Reproof means to reprimand, while correct means to make or set right. While I think of reproof in terms of God reproofing me, I think of “correction” as things I can do to help set others right.

Now here’s the danger of correcting others. It’s easy to slip from correcting to judgement. It’s easy and somewhat thrilling to correct others, isn’t it? It gives us a sense of power, a sense of being right, doesn’t it?

Here’s a confession: I have a strong desire to correct grammatical errors that I find in posts on Facebook. It’s not just misspellings, it’s noun-verb usage, structure, and punctuation. (I think run-on, stream-of-consciousness sentences with no punctuation bother me the most.)

Take the importance of commas, for example. The sentence that is written, “Let’s eat, Grandpa,” with the comma, means something different than “Let’s eat Grandpa,” right? Punctuation can save lives, folks.

But if I stop and think about it I have to admit that true grammarians could tear apart every one of my sermons or Facebook messages that I write. Seriously. (See, I just wrote a one word sentence. Oohhhh, I bet they hate that one.)

The scriptures themselves tell us the proper way to correct others. “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.” — Galatians 6:1

Correction should be done with love. After all, you know, God is love.

The fourth thing Paul tells us the scriptures are useful for is “for training in righteousness.”

There is so much that the Bible can teach us!

I recently watched a video on YouTube on how to grow potatoes in a 5-gallon bucket. Need to know how to change the brake pads on your vehicle? Look it up on YouTube. In search of how to make the perfect pie crust? Look it up on YouTube. Want to know how to butcher and process a hog? Look it up on YouTube. Want to learn how to crochet? Look it up on YouTube. Want to improve your golf game? Look it up on YouTube.

YouTube has become a home to so many instructional videos. It really is amazing what you can learn to do just by watching videos on YouTube.

But as good as YouTube is, the Bible is even better when it comes to training for righteousness. Want to have a better prayer life? Read the Bible. Want a deeper understanding of Jesus and how he is fully God and fully human? Read the Bible. Want to know how to better walk in the footsteps of Jesus, living your life the way he lived his? Read the Bible.

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

So my challenge to you this week is to read your Bible.

Now one of the questions I often get asked is, “Which translation of the Bible is the best.” My response is usually, “The one you read.”

So read it! Use this period of self isolation to read the Bible. If you don’t have a printed copy where you are sequestered then use your computer or phone or tablet or Kindle to read it. (I suggest biblegateway.com.) Use this time during the season of Lent to read the scriptures as we travel toward Easter. Draw closer to God’s word and see the difference it will make in your life.

And if you want to know how to grow potatoes in a 5-gallon bucket, just let me know. I know where there’s a video that teaches you how.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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