The profitable function of Scripture bears witness to its divine nature. In 1 Timothy 4:8, Paul writes that “Bodily training is a little profitable, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” This godliness that has value in every way is explained as coming directly from Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Godliness or holiness is forged in the fire of Holy Writ.
God-breathed Scripture is the tool that is used by the Holy Spirit to continually shape us and morph us into the image of Jesus Christ, who is the very image of God. Paul has written elsewhere, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). This means that one striking purpose of our salvation is to be like Christ. Paul is going to show Timothy how Scripture is holistically useful and profitable in his life in order for him to be complete as a man of God—to be like Christ.
So, Scripture is not only supreme in our lives, but it is also sufficient for our sanctification. Paul looks into Timothy’s situation that is filled with false teachers and believers with itching ears who want their sinful passions suited and grounds him in the supreme and sufficient Scripture. Through our Spirit-wrought regeneration and initial saving faith in Christ, which primarily comes through the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:15), we are converted, justified, and adopted. However, we are commanded to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Paul tells Timothy that the primary way for him to do this, in order to be complete, and equipped for every good work, is through Scripture. Paul views Scripture as being useful text by text. Paul gives four ways that Scripture is “profitable” for our sanctification in verses 16-17.
The question I want to pose is this:
Is it possible to be sanctified, to grow in Christ, from the ministries of false teachers?
I have heard many well-meaning Christians say they may not agree with everything Joel Osteen says, but he is just so inspirational. There are many well-meaning Christians who say they are greatly helped by Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, and others who so blatantly disregard or deny clear doctrinal truth. In the coming years, more and more popular pastors and Christian leaders will (regrettably so) cave on ethical issues like gay “marriage.” Will Christians be able to grow in Christlikeness from the preaching of pastors who ignore, belittle, disregard, or deny God’s word?
Teaching God’s Word
All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching. The Bible is our supreme source of knowledge and the sole basis through which we glean doctrinal truth. The way for Timothy to recognize and expose false teaching is for him to allow himself to be taught by Scripture. Our hope in Christ is dependent on the fact that the Scripture teaches us in all things true and holy (Rom. 15:4). All of our beliefs about Christ must be based solely on Scripture. In our day, as in the past, the doctrine of the atonement known as penal substitution has been challenged. Did Jesus really bear the wrath of God on the cross in the place of sinners? Or is this a theory developed in the Reformation that teaches so-called, “divine child-abuse?”
The way for us to discern this doctrine is to run to Scripture and immerse ourselves in it. The teachings of Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, and others must stand against the word of God. They can truthfully be labeled false teachers because of their denial of doctrinal truths that Scripture teaches us. It is the standard of doctrinal truth and the litmus test for doctrinal error. All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching. We would do well to teach it without fail in our church and in our homes.
The Bible is distinctively Christo-centric. Jesus is the crux and the focal point of the Bible. Scripture teaches us about Christ and the means through which to be reconciled to God through him. Indeed, Scripture teaches us to make us wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). Because the Bible is sufficient to teach us, we must guard against adding anything to it. The greatest thing that the Bible teaches us is the truth, content, and proper response to the gospel. However, in the 21st century American church, we have belittled the gospel by not speaking of it in the terms that Scripture uses. It is tremendously tempting to create euphemisms to speak of sin and salvation. We speak of mistakes rather than sin. We talk about inviting Jesus into our hearts rather than repentance and faith. False teaching and false believing flourish when well-meaning Christians use cliché when speaking of biblical reality rather than biblical language.
Do we really think we are capable of presenting the gospel in a way that is superior to the God-breathed Scripture?
Glorious Purpose of Scripture
Paul ends this text (2 Tim. 3:16-17) with the purpose of the Scripture’s nature and function in Timothy’s life and in our lives. Scripture is supreme in nature and sufficient in function in order that Timothy would be complete, equipped for every good work. This is the profitable effect of Scripture. Paul says to Timothy, “My beloved child, you belong to God, so continue in the all-supreme and all-sufficient Word of God and you will be complete.” And this is for us in the 21st century. Scripture works godliness in us by the power of the Spirit. Meditation on and memorization of Scripture is the means of grace through which godliness is wrought in us in every area of our lives that we who belong to God may be complete.
This Spirit-wrought profitable effect of God-breathed Scripture is for men and women of God to be equipped for every good work. The Greek word indicates completeness and can be understood as being “super-equipped.” I have found no better description of this phrase than in the words of John Piper. Piper writes,
The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness and the beauty and the power and the wisdom and the mercy of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him, and the ways of sin become distasteful—indeed ugly and repugnant. Yes the Bible gives us many specifics as pointers how to live. But most deeply the way the Bible equips us for every good work is by changing what we find satisfaction in so that our obedience comes from within freely, not by coercion from without. It does this when we read it and meditate on it and memorize it and meditate over it every day.
Through our daily dose of Scripture we are fully equipped through our satisfaction in the God that we see and savor that we can defeat sin and endure suffering to the glory of God. We need teaching that is infused with the power of God’s word.
Stunted Spiritual Growth
Paul is clear that sanctification comes through the teaching of the God-breathed Scriptures. Spiritual growth is stunted from the false teaching of those who deny the essential doctrines within the primary means for sanctification. Christian, you will not grow in Christlikeness from the ministries of false teachers. You will not grow in Christlikeness through preaching that is devoid of the word of God. To be blunt, charismatic preachers like Osteen and the rest may entertain and inspire you, but they will do more for the detriment of your soul than anyone else. The most dangerous kind of predator is the one that attacks in camouflage
Evaluate your preaching pastor. Is he preaching the word of God as it was intended by God? Your soul is on the line. Sit under teaching, of course. But sit under teaching that is consistent with the God-breathed Scriptures. Beware false teachers who belittle God’s word. You will only grow in Christ through the nourishment that comes from Christ-centered, Bible-saturated teaching.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.