Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 July 3, 2022
“Fundamentally Sound: Scripture”1
2 Timothy 3:14-17
Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921), French composer, wrote a witty piece for two pianos and assorted instruments in chamber ensemble entitled Carnival of the Animals. He intended it as a joke—and forbade its publication until after his death. The joke, apparently, is on M. Saint-Saens—Carnival of the Animals is perhaps his best-known work to the general public.
One of the animals featured in Carnival of the Animals is one that Saint-Saens called “Pianists.” Apparently, Saint-Saens thought pianists to be some animal species worthy of exhibition in his musical menagerie. In the brief section entitled “Pianists,” scales and double-thirds from the pianists dominate—fundamental skills indeed for the pianist.
This puts me in mind of our time—and our need to be fundamentally sound as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. We live, alas, in an ever-changing, rapidly declining culture. Furthermore, we find ourselves as members of an all-too-often driven, rather than driving, American church. These are not times for the faint of heart. We, as Christians, need to be fundamentally sound. If we be sound, we’ll withstand the current milieu, by God’s grace. If we be not sound, our chances of survival and advance against the tide drop considerably.
We’ll look, God willing, at several fundamentals of Christian faith and practice during the rest of the summer, and perhaps a bit into the fall—utilizing the list provided by Dr. Don Whitney in his Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.2 Now, this morning, we’ll look at Scripture as we consider a portion of Paul’s instruction to Timothy. In weeks to come, God willing, we shall examine other fundamentals—that we be fundamentally sound in Christ for survival and advance in Him in these days. With the course now set for the summer, let’s look at Scripture itself as we hear this morning’s Scripture read and proclaimed.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
There are several concentric contexts for this morning passage; let’s work from the outside inward. 2 Timothy, chronologically, is Paul’s last canonical letter. Paul, in his second canonical letter to Timothy (ca. A. D. 66), awaits martyrdom from a Roman dungeon at the hands of Emperor Nero. His words, in view of his soon promotion unto Glory, carry added weight and force than perhaps at another, less-laden moment. Our text occurs with 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8—a well-defined until within this letter which deals with godlessness in the last days. We, of course, are to hold forth the Word of life in the face of this. The innermost larger context is 2 Timothy 3:9-17, in which Paul upholds himself, among others, as an example to follow as we hold forth the Word of life in the face of rampant godlessness. Within this immediate larger context, Timothy receives both a spur forward and a high reflection on the nature and use of Scripture. We receive these as well.
Paul, at verse fourteen’s outset, urges, “Continue what you have learned and have firmly believed.” This is quite the spur to fundamental soundness. Timothy, and we, comply as we remember certain things. First, we remember what we learned and believed—the Scriptures, to be sure, but also truth gained therefrom: either by explicit statement or by reasonable inference. Second, we remember from whom we learned what we learned. Timothy learned from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5), plus he learned at length from Paul. From whom have we learned such things? Let us recall them, let us be thankful for them, and—if possible—let us thank them. Third, we remember from when we knew. In Timothy’s case, he cannot remember a time when he was not acquainted with Holy Scripture, for from his infancy (Greek brephos [brefoV]) he enjoyed acquaintance with them. Some of us can recall our introduction to the Lord, His Word, His things, and the like, whereas others of us must rely on the testimony of those before us—for our exposure preceded our ability to recall it.
Paul, led by the Spirit, turns to discourse on the nature and use of the very Scripture which surrounded Timothy from his infancy. All Scripture, says the Holy Spirit through Paul, is God-breathed (Greek theopneustos [qeopneustoV]), or inspired by God.3 Scripture, therefore, was not invented by man (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21), but is breathed out by God. Scripture is the Word of God written, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.4
Because of this high, unique nature of Scripture, Scripture benefits us in many ways. First, Scripture teaches us. It shows us, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, both what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man (Q/A 3)—plus many other items to know as well. Second, Scripture rebukes us. It shows us our fault, when we are out of conformity to the will of God for us, and it declares in black and white the evidence for its charge. Third, closely tied to the second, Scripture corrects our faults. We are not left in error and sin, but, by God’s grace, the Spirit quickens Scripture to our souls to conform our lives to its teaching. Fourth, Scripture instructs (or trains, or disciplines, Greek paideia [paideia]) us. Scripture, through paces at times painful and tiring, forms proper habits of Christian behavior in us—habits, and acts, that conform to Holy Scripture. The result of these uses of Scripture is twofold. First, we gain competence, or skill, for every good work. Second, we gain equipment, or supply, for every good work. Timothy will need these to carry on his Gospel labors to the end of his earthly ministry. So too shall we.
Because Scripture has this nature, and these benefits, we must get it into us. Here are some means by which we get Scripture into us. First, we read Scripture, or we listen to it as another reads it. If very young, then we hear our parents, or grandparents, or other loved ones, read it to us. We hear it read in classes and in worship services, to our profit. We can hear it read on commercial recordings, such as those made by Alexander Scourby in an earlier age and by Max McLean in our own time. Second, as alluded earlier, we get Scripture into us by attendance upon sound preaching and teaching—of this we’ll say more tomorrow, God willing. Third, we can sing the words of Scripture set to music. I appreciate the commitment of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church to do this—especially via the singing of metrical Psalms and the Bible Songs hymnbook. Other parts of Christ’s great Church have attempted to the same in their own ways. Fourth, let’s get Scripture into us by using memorization cards, hangings with our homes, Post-It notes wherever we look routinely, and so forth. It is amazing what we can learn in this way. I first paid attention to my favorite Scripture text, John 11:25-27, from a poster hanging inside the large meeting room in the Christian Campus Fellowship house at The University of Georgia, my undergraduate alma mater.5 Fifth, let us meditate upon select, relatively small portions of the Word of God. Let us think deeply about the words of God, what they mean, how they apply in our lives and in our world, and so forth. In so doing, may the Spirit’s quickening of the Word of God to our souls shape them as surely as running water shapes the hardest rock over time.
Here are some results of getting Scripture into us. First, we hear from the Lord, Who speaks through His Word. Second, we know the Lord, His mind, and His will, better for heeding what He said to us already in His Word. Third, we become, in view of every good work He designs for us (cf. Ephesians 2:10), competent and skilled for them—and, therefore, equipped and supplied for them. May the Lord bless us to become increasingly fundamentally sound with regard to Scripture—and may He have the glory for it.
1This manuscript varies slightly from the one written for the sermon delivered at Bonclarken Conference Center, Flat Rock, North Carolina, on Saturday morning, June 4, 2022, at the church-wide retreat of the Highlands Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Grayson, Georgia.
2Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Revised and Updated (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014).
3This Greek word occurs only here in the entire Greek New Testament. It, and other words that occur only once in the Greek New Testament, are called hapax legomenon (apax legomenon), which means being said once.
4This affirmation forms part of the ordination vow of a teaching elder, or pastor, in my denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church—and doubtless occurs in similar form in many other evangelical and orthodox denominations as well.
5John 11:25-27 reads that Jesus said unto a grieving Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Martha said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, Who is coming into the world.”