Sunday, 4 December 2016

Scriptural Foundation - 2 Timothy 3

Paul wrote this letter nearly 2,000 years ago, yet the first verses of chapter 3 might just as easily be taken as a description of the 2016 US Presidential Election campaign! As we have seen Paul writes to Timothy with opposition and trouble in mind, and this chapter continues that theme.

Verse 8 sums it up with people who just don't get it, missing the big picture of what God is doing and therefore opposing His messengers. Verse 7 is just as serious: 'always learning but never coming to a knowledge of truth' - despite the study of various things (including the Jewish Scriptures), some people just miss the point. Jesus observed the same - in John 5:39 he notes that the religious leaders studied their Scriptures in depth, believing that in them was eternal life. Yet they didn't realise that those very Scriptures pointed to God sending His anointed one ... who was now standing in front of them! Without accepting Him they could not inherit the eternal life they sought.

The simple desire of God is for us to know Him, and that comes not through dry study of words but encountering the living Jesus. If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus.

The end of the chapter has one of the most important verses in the Bible: v16 'All Scripture is God-breathed'. The breath of God, using the Greek word pneuma which we also translate as His Spirit. It echoes the creation story where God creates man from the dust, but then breathes (Hebrew ruach = Greek pneuma) life into him. Scripture is from the breath of God - it conveys the life of God, it is not static dried ink but the life of God which is at work even today.

Note Paul does not say Scripture is dictated by God. Muslims believe that God dictated through their prophet's ecstatic experiences, but Christians believe differently. We understand that when ordinary people wrote their histories/stories/poems the Spirit was at work through them, inspiring their work.

Also note that when Paul says 'All Scripture' he is most likely referring to only the Old Testament - much of the New had not yet been written or collated together. Yet when we now read this verse we interpret 'All Scripture' to mean the whole Bible, Old & New. This demonstrates how literal meaning of words change from one context to another - what Paul wrote and what we now read are different. This is an inescapable fact of words!

That does not mean that Scripture is of no use - on the contrary in v15 Paul is confident that it can make us wise for salvation, and v16 goes on to say that it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in right living. So let us take all Scripture seriously, and foster our core discipleship habit of reading our Bibles.

The Countess of Huntingdon and her colleagues had it right when they formulated their 'statement of faith' (which we adhere to as a Connexion church): 'The authority of scripture does not rest with us, but rather the HS confirms in our hearts that the material is true'. It is not because the Countess says so, or 'the church' say so ... but the Spirit of God convincing us of its truth. We therefore accept Scripture by faith.

There are 2 things to realise from this. First the original Scripture is true and trustworthy, but let us remember that our interpretation of it could be wrong! Second non-Christians of course do not (yet) believe it, so there is little point hitting them with 'The Bible says X, so therefore you must ...'! I would rather discuss how a portion of Scripture relates to me, thus showing how it still lives today signposting us to Jesus and God's ways.

In verse 10 Paul reminds Timothy 'You know my teaching, my way of life ...'. Paul didn't just download Scripture lessons, he lived his faith. His his whole life was a living example, often lived on the edge because of persecution. In v14 Paul simply says to Timothy 'now live the same' - this is 'Discipleship by Imitation', which we saw last year.

Paul and Timothy lived for the Word of God, but we should understand that The Word was ultimately Jesus, as the classic Christmas reading of John 1 tells us. In Acts there are 12 references to the Word of God, which taken together surely mean the testimony of Jesus and His power to save - it was about Jesus and people encountering Him.

So let us also be people living for the Word of God - a life that, like Paul, is worth imitating. A life that inspires people to encounter Jesus and start to imitate your Christ-following ways.

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