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with Tony W. Cartledge
2 Timothy 3:14–4:5

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As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” — 2 Timothy 4:5

Read the Instructions

A gospel song that became popular in the 1970s pro-claimed “God said it, and I believe it, and that settles it for me.” It always seemed to me that if God said it, that settled it whether I believed it or not.

But what has God said? I suspect that most people who sang the song or listened to it had the Bible in mind: if it was in the Bible, then God said it, and that settled it. But is it that simple? The Bible was clearly written by human beings. Sometimes they claimed to speak the direct word of God, but more often they wrote to testify of their personal beliefs about the relationship between God and humankind.

Paul’s instructions to Timothy offer an opportunity to explore this important question.

Trust the scriptures(3:14-17)

In the latter part of chapter two and the first part of chapter three, Paul counseled Timothy to trust the gospel he had been taught and to guard against those who would distort it. In 3:10-13, Paul reminded him of his own sufferings for the sake of the gospel and his striving against deceitful “imposters” who preach a false gospel.

With v. 14, Paul turned to offer Timothy encouraging words of advice for his own certain struggles. Paul urged Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.”

Timothy had learned much from Paul, but had first become a disciple through the witness of his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois (1 Tim. 1:5). Though Eunice had married a Greek, the synagogue welcomed “God-fearers” even if they were Gentiles. Whether at home or in the synagogue, Timothy must have received training in the faith from a young age: Paul said “from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:15).

While some written documents probably existed within the church, no widely accepted body of Christian literature had developed during Paul’s life, so he almost certainly had in mind the Jewish scriptures. A number of prophesies pointed to a hoped-for messiah (Christos in Greek) and the promise of future deliverance for God’s people. Paul believed that Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of those promises. Thus, he instructed Timothy to find guidance and strength through “the sacred writings.”

What did Paul have in mind when he spoke of “all scripture” that is “inspired by God” (3:16a)? Many modern readers assume Paul was speaking of the Bible, but would that be the Protestant Bible with which we are familiar, or the Catholic Bible — which includes the Apocrypha, a collection of books and additions to Daniel and Esther that were written about the Hebrews, but in Greek?

Most of the New Testament had not yet been written in Paul’s day, so he could not have meant “the Bible” as we know it. Since Paul had spoken in the previous verse of the “holy writings” Timothy had studied, we presume he meant such Hebrew scriptures as were accepted as authoritative in his day — though the contents of the Hebrew Bible had not yet been settled. We cannot say for certain precisely what documents Paul had in mind (see “The Hardest Question” online for more), but we can explore what Paul had to say about those writings.

Paul spoke of scripture as theopneustos — literally, “God-breathed.” Many modern translations render the combination word as “inspired by God.” Like his Jewish brethren and the early church, Paul believed that God was directly involved in the writing of the scriptures — but in what way?

Biblical literalists assert that God directly controlled the mind and heart of the persons who penned the scriptures, so that every word and thought conforms exactly to the divine intention. Some embrace a belief that God dictated every word, but even conservative scholars generally accept that God allowed human personality to color the authors’ presentation of their testimony, though not to the point that any error or inconsistency could creep in.

Those views not only dis-allow much of the human freedom and creativity that God granted to humankind, but they gloss over the bald fact that the Bible does in fact contain many internal inconsistencies and sometimes flatly contradicts itself. Much ink has been spilled in trying to rationalize these problems away, but the arguments often strain the limits of credibility. If God had truly directed the writing of every word, one would expect a more consistent and unified result.

Bible scholars who apply critical thinking to their study of scripture do not consider biblical authors to be little more than merely copyists of divine quotations, but regard them as inspired storytellers who sought to advance their own beliefs about God — and not all biblical writers understood God in the same way.

The word translated as “breathed” or “inspired” could also be used to describe the wind. Imagine a ship whose sails are filled with a strong breeze. God inspires the writer, filling his or her spiritual sails with the wind of truth. The author’s own personality, background, and human limitations remain evident, because the ship remains a ship. The resulting scripture gives testimony of the author’s experience with God. That testimony can be profitable for helping others to understand their own encounters with God without claiming to be the final word about God.

Paul did not idolize the scriptures, as some biblical “inerrantists” do, but pointed to their usefulness for believers. The writings that are inspired by God — the ones we rightly call scripture — are “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (3:16b).

This is the great value of scripture: not that it should be put on a pedestal as the embodied “Word of God,” for that status belongs to Christ alone, but that it should be respected and studied as a valued means of teaching and training, directing our walk with God so that “everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (3:17). In the scriptures, we meet God as revealed through the testimony of others. The scriptures serve, not as the path itself, but as an invaluable map for following the way of God.

Proclaim the gospel(4:1-5)

The opening verses of Paul’s closing charge to Timothy are perennially chosen for sermons or charges presented at ordination services for new ministers. Paul framed his words as a solemn exhortation “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom …” (4:1).

The charge began with “preach the word.” This was not a directive to preach the Bible, which did not yet exist, but to proclaim the gospel message. Paul often referred to Old Testament scriptures and would have expected Timothy to do the same in support of the gospel, but the primary “word” he was to preach was the core message of God’s saving work through Jesus Christ.

Such preaching should occur both “in season and out of season.” Whether in favorable or difficult circumstances, Timothy was to remain a faithful witness to the gospel proclamation of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Timothy was also to defend the gospel against opponents who would defame it and misguided teachers who would distort it. When necessary, he was to correct those who erred, reprove those who led others astray, and encourage those who were weak or confused — always “with the utmost patience in teaching” (4:2).

Many of us are quick to correct or rebuke, but not always with the adequate preparation, great patience, and careful instruction Paul called for. One cannot truly uphold gospel truths without also living a gospel-led life.

Paul apparently believed that the end was near, a time when people would “not put up with sound doctrine” (4:3a). The word “doctrine” is perhaps over-interpreted. It renders the word didaskalos, which means “teaching.” By extension, that could mean “doctrine,” but much of what we think of as church dogma had yet to be developed. What Paul had in mind were the core gospel teachings he had emphasized throughout the letters, not a systematic list of beliefs.

Preachers and teachers of every age have seen 2 Tim. 4:3-4 fulfilled in their own time, for there are always those who prefer their own ideas to God’s ideas, along with gullible folk eager to follow the latest religious fads. In doing so, they turn away from the gospel witness and follow “myths,” a word Paul used to describe the speculative ideas of the false teachers in Ephesus. Our generation is no different. Whether it is New Age spirituality, the prosperity gospel, or a fascination with end-times scenarios such as those reflected in the Left Behind series of fictional novels, forsaking the heart of the gospel for what appeals to “itching ears” is a serious error.

Timothy, however, was to avoid “itching ear disease” and continue trusting what he had been taught, keeping his head in difficult situations, proclaiming the gospel despite hardships, and fulfilling his calling to ministry (4:5). We are called to do no less.

Adult Teaching Resources

Download the PDF for October 16, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.

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Video:

 

Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

 


Youth

Parent Prep

We want our children to stand up for what they believe in. We want our children to live out what they believe so that they might make a difference in the world. For this to happen, they first have to know what they believe and why they believe it. They can get this from church, but that can’t be the only place. How difficult would it have been to learn to read if you only read for a couple of hours twice a week? It would have taken a while and you would have become frustrated. Instead, reading had to be reinforced at home. The same is true with your children’s faith. You have to talk about it and model it at home for it to truly become their faith.

Teaching Resources | Download

Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.

Video
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/lukelewis/heavy-metal-lyric-or-bible-verse?utm_term=.wuxgz2EJo#.dyA1WorN9

“Heavy Metal Lyric or Bible Verse” from Buzzed via www.buzzfeed.com

“Ruben’s Final Plea” from The Hurricane via www.youtube.com

Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

 

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