The nineteenth-century pastor and author J. R. Miller wrote, “The only thing that walks back from the tomb with the mourners and refuses to be buried is the character of a man. What a man is survives him. It can never be buried.” That is a true sentiment, but there is something more important than what people think of us after we are dead: the impact we have while we are here.
Character is absolutely critical in leadership. America’s current moral decline is directly linked to the fact that we have elected, appointed, and hired too many leaders who have no character. In recent years, some have tried to argue that character doesn’t really matter in leadership; what a man does in his private life supposedly should not be a factor in whether he is deemed fit for a public leadership role. That perspective is diametrically opposed to what the Bible teaches. Character does matter in leadership. It matters a lot.
In fact, character is what makes leadership possible. People simply cannot respect or trust those who lack character. And if they do not respect a man, they will not follow him. Time and truth go hand in hand. Leaders without character eventually disappoint their followers and lose their confidence. The only reason such people are often popular is that they make other people who have no character feel better about themselves. But they aren’t real leaders.
Lasting leadership is grounded in character. Character produces respect. Respect produces trust. And trust motivates followers.
Even in the purely human realm, most people do recognize that true leadership is properly associated with character qualities like integrity, trustworthiness, respectability, unselfishness, humility, self-discipline, self-control, and courage. Such virtues reflect the image of God in man. Although the divine image is severely tarnished in fallen humanity, it has not been entirely erased. That’s why even pagans recognize those qualities as desirable virtues, important requirements for true leadership.
Christ Himself is the epitome of what a true leader ought to be like. He is perfect in all the attributes that make up the character of a leader. He is the embodiment of all the truest, purest, highest, and noblest qualities of leadership.
Obviously, in spiritual leadership, the great goal and objective is to bring people to Christlikeness. That is why the leader himself must manifest Christlike character. That is why the standard for leadership in the church is set so high. The apostle Paul summarized the spirit of the true leader when he wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Peter might just as well have written the same thing. His character was molded and shaped after the example he had witnessed in Christ. He had the raw material for becoming a leader, and that was important. His life experiences helped hone and sharpen his natural leadership abilities, and that was also vital. But the real key to everything—the essential foundation upon which true leadership always rises or falls—is character. It was the character qualities Peter developed through his intimate association with Christ that ultimately made him the great leader he became.
One of those qualities that really stood out in the life of Peter was his submission. At first glance that may seem an unusual quality to cultivate in a leader. After all, the leader is the person in charge, and he expects other people to submit to him, right? But a true leader doesn’t just demand submission; he is an example of submission by the way he submits to the Lord and to those in authority over him. Everything the true spiritual leader does ought to be marked by submission to every legitimate authority—especially submission to God and to His Word.
Leaders tend to be confident and aggressive. They naturally dominate. Peter had that tendency in him. He was quick to speak and quick to act. As we have seen, he was a man of initiative. That means he was always inclined to try to take control of every situation. In order to balance that side of him, the Lord taught him submission.
And He did it in some rather remarkable ways. One classic example of this is found in Matthew 17. This account comes at a time when Jesus was returning with the twelve to Capernaum, their home base, after a period of itinerant ministry. A tax collector was in town making the rounds to collect the annual two-drachma tax from each person twenty years old or older. This was not a tax paid to Rome, but a tax paid for the upkeep of the temple. It was prescribed in Exodus 30:11–16 (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:9). The tax was equal to two days’ wages, so it was no small amount.
Matthew writes, “Those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?’” (Matthew 17:24). Peter assured him that Jesus did pay His taxes.
But this particular tax apparently posed a bit of a problem in Peter’s mind. Was Jesus morally obliged, as the incarnate Son of God, to pay for the upkeep of the temple like any mere man? The sons of earthly kings don’t pay taxes in their fathers’ kingdoms; why should Jesus? Jesus knew what Peter was thinking, so “when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?’” (Matthew 17:25).
Peter answered, “From strangers.” Kings don’t tax their own children.
Jesus drew the logical conclusion for Peter: “Then the sons are exempt” (Matthew 17:26). In other words, Jesus had absolute heavenly authority, if He desired, to opt out of the temple tax.
But if He did that, it would send the wrong message as far as earthly authority is concerned. Better to submit, pay the tax, and avoid a situation most people would not understand. So although Jesus was not technically obligated to pay the temple tax, he said, “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me” (Matthew 17:27).
The coin in the mouth of the fish was a stater—a single coin worth a shekel, or four drachma. It was exactly enough to pay the temple tax for two. In other words, Jesus arranged for Peter’s tax to be paid in full, too.
It’s intriguing that the miracle Jesus worked demonstrated His absolute sovereignty, and yet at the same time, He was being an example of human submission. Christ supernaturally directed a fish that had swallowed a coin to take the bait on Peter’s hook. If Jesus was Lord over nature to such a degree, He certainly had authority to opt out of the temple tax. And yet he taught Peter by example how to submit willingly.
Submission is an indispensable character quality for leaders to cultivate. If they would teach people to submit, they must be examples of submission themselves. And sometimes a leader must submit even when there might seem to be very good arguments against submitting.
Peter learned the lesson well. Years later, in 1 Peter 2:13–18, he would write,
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.
This was the same lesson Peter learned from Christ: You are free in one sense, but don’t use your freedom as a covering for evil. Rather, regard yourself as the Lord’s bondslave. You are a citizen of heaven and merely a sojourner on earth, but submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake. You are first and foremost a subject of Christ’s kingdom and a mere stranger and pilgrim on this earth. Nonetheless, to avoid offense, honor the earthly king. Honor all people. This is the will of God, and by submitting, you will put to silence the ignorance of ungodly men.
Remember, the man who wrote that epistle was the same man who when he was young and brash slashed off the ear of the high priest’s servant. He is the same man who once struggled over the idea of Jesus’ paying taxes. But he learned to submit—not an easy lesson for a natural leader. Peter especially was inclined to be dominant, forceful, aggressive, and resistant to the idea of submission. But Jesus taught him to submit willingly, even when he thought he had a good argument for refusing to submit.
(Adapted from Twelve Ordinary Men.)
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A new article from CWC contributor and brother in Christ, Edward Benitez:
Christianity Today recently posted a brief article titled “Joel Osteen Denies He’s A Prosperity Preacher, Says His Focus is on Helping Other People.” (1)
As the title suggests, Joel Osteen disavows that he endorses or teaches the prosperity “gospel,” which is described as “a belief among some Christians, who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth.”2
Does Joel Osteen preach all that?
Indeed he does, as a close look at any of his sermons reveals and as many critics have pointed out. In this particular critique by Christianity Today, however, it appears not so much as a denial but rather as an excuse/justification to preach it.
“Our message is that we’re blessed to be a…
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All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (3:16–17)
Before we examine the sanctifying power of Scripture, this crucial statement by Paul must be considered. Some scholars suggest that All Scripture is inspired should be translated, “All Scripture inspired by God is . . ,” which would leave open the possibility that some Scripture is not inspired by Him. But that rendering would make the Bible worthless as a reliable guide to divine truth, because we would then have no way to determine which part of it is inspired by God and which is not. Men would be left to their own finite and sinful devices and understanding to discover what part of the Bible may be true and which may not, what part is God’s Word and what part is human conjecture. Paul’s thought is that the Scripture that gives salvation must therefore be inspired by God. The words of men could never transform the inner person (Ps. 19:7).
In addition to the many other specific biblical references to the inspiration and authority of Scripture—some of which are mentioned below—it is important to note that similar Greek constructions in other parts of the New Testament (See, e.g., Rom. 7:12; 2 Cor. 10:10; 1 Tim. 1:15; 2:3; 4:4; Heb. 4:17) argue strongly from a grammatical perspective that all Scripture is inspired is the proper translation. Scripture is the revelation conveyed, inspiration is the means of that conveyance. In the words originally revealed and recorded, all Scripture is God’s inerrant Word.
The first predicate adjective that describes Scripture, namely, its being inspired by God, focuses on the authority of His written Word. Theopneustos (inspired by God) literally means, “breathed out by God,” or simply, “God-breathed.” God sometimes breathed His words into the human writers to be recorded much as dictation. He said to Jeremiah: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:9). But, as clearly seen in Scripture itself, God’s divine truth more often flowed through the minds, souls, hearts, and emotions of His chosen human instruments. Yet, by whatever means, God divinely superintended the accurate recording of His divinely breathed truth by His divinely chosen men. In a supernatural way, He has provided His divine Word in human words that any person, even a child, can be led by His Holy Spirit to understand sufficiently to be saved.
It is of utmost importance to understand that it is Scripture that is inspired by God, not the men divinely chosen to record it. When speaking or writing apart from God’s revelation, their thoughts, wisdom, and understanding were human and fallible. They were not inspired in the sense that we commonly use that term of people with extraordinary artistic, literary, or musical genius. Nor were they inspired in the sense of being personal repositories of divine truth which they could dispense at will. Many human authors of Scripture penned other documents, but none of those writings exist today, and, even if discovered, they would not carry the weight of Scripture. We know, for instance, that Paul wrote at least two other letters to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 5:9; 2 Cor. 2:4), but no copies of those letters have ever been found. The letters doubtless were godly, spiritually insightful, and blessed of the Lord, but they were not Scripture.
Many men who wrote Scripture, such as Moses and Paul, were highly trained in human knowledge and wisdom, but that learning was not the source of the divine truth they recorded. David was a highly gifted poet, and that gift doubtless is reflected in the beauty of his psalms, but it was not the source of the divine truths revealed in those psalms.
Scripture first of all and above all is from God and about God, His self-revelation to fallen mankind. From Genesis through Revelation, God reveals His truth, His character, His attributes, and His divine plan for the redemption of man, whom He made in His own image. He even foretells the eventual redemption of the rest of His creation, which “also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” and which “groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:21–22).
The Bible is not a collection of the wisdom and insights of men, even of godly men. It is God’s truth, His own Word in His own words. The psalmist declared, “Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). God’s Word is divinely revealed to men on earth and divinely authenticated in heaven. Peter declares unequivocally, “Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20–21).Those God-given, humanly recorded words became God’s written Word, inerrant and authoritative as originally given. Prophēteia (“prophecy”) is not used here in the sense of prediction but in its basic and broader meaning of speaking forth, of proclaiming a message. It carries the same inclusive idea as “the oracles of God,” with which ancient Israel had the marvelous privilege of being entrusted (Rom. 3:2). “Interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20b) translates epilusis, which refers to something that is released, sent out, or sent forth. In this verse the Greek noun is a genitive of source, indicating origin. In other words, no message of Scripture was originated and sent forth by men’s own wisdom and will. Rather, the godly men through whom Scripture was revealed and recorded were divinely instructed and carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Within the Bible itself, “God” and “Scripture” are sometimes used almost interchangeably. Referring to words spoken directly by God to Abraham (Gen. 12:3), Paul wrote that “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations shall be blessed in you’ ” (Gal. 3:8). Later in that same chapter the apostle again personifies Scripture as God, declaring that “Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (v. 22). In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul wrote, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth’ ” (Rom. 9:17).
When he first preached in Galatia, many years before he wrote his epistle to the churches there, the apostle had declared,
And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, “Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee.” And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.” Therefore He also says in another Psalm, “Thou wilt not allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.” (Acts 13:32–35)
The Inspired and Inerrant Scripture
Scripture is inspired and inerrant in both testaments. All Scripture refers to the New as well as to the Old Testament. As noted above, the hieros grammata (“sacred writings”) were the Hebrew Scriptures (The Old Testament), which Timothy had been taught from childhood (v. 15). Graphē (Scripture), on the other hand, was commonly used in the early church not only of the Old Testament but also of God’s newly revealed Word, in what came to be called the New Testament.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus gave powerful and unambiguous testimony to the divine authority of both testaments. The four gospels contain the first divine revelation after that of the Old Testament prophets, which had ceased some four hundred years earlier. Jesus’ declaration that “Scripture [graphē] cannot be broken” (John 10:35) applied specifically to the Hebrew Scriptures but also, as will be seen, to the totality of Scripture, that is, to both testaments, which together compose God’s written Word.
Early in His ministry, Jesus said of the Old Testament, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17–18). Later He said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail” (Luke 16:17).
Jesus repeatedly used divinely revealed truths from the Old Testament to affirm His messiahship. He declared, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:38), and, “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (John 7:42). As Jesus walked with the two disciples on the Emmaus road after His resurrection, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
In addition to His teaching that “Scripture [graphē] cannot be broken” (John 10:35), Jesus said that “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12:48–50). The words of the incarnate Christ are the words of God the Father; therefore, to reject Jesus’ words is to reject God’s Word.
The men whom God assigned to write the gospels would not have been able in their mere humanness to remember accurately everything Jesus said or did. For that reason Jesus promised that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26; cf. 15:26–27).
The Lord would reveal additional truth after He returned to heaven. “I have many more things to say to you,” He said, “but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you” (John 16:12–14).
In 1 Timothy, Paul wrote, “The Scripture [graphē] says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’ ” (1 Tim. 5:18). It is important to note that the first quotation is from the Old Testament (Deut. 25:4) and that the second is from Jesus’ own lips (Luke 10:7), that is, from the New Testament.
The Pentateuch (The first five books of the Old Testament) contains at least 680 claims to divine inspiration. Such claims are found 418 times in the historical books, 195 times in the poetic books, and 1,307 times in the prophetic books. The New Testament contains more than 300 direct quotations and at least 1,000 indirect references from the Old Testament, almost all of them declaring or implying that they were God’s own Word. The book of Hebrews opens with the declaration “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). The writer was speaking of both testaments, God’s speaking through “the prophets” representing the Old and His speaking through “His Son” representing the New.
Many New Testament writers directly testified that they knew they were writing God’s Word. Paul reminded believers in Corinth of a truth he doubtless had taught them many times in person when he ministered there: “[These] things we also speak,” he said, “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:13; cf. 16). In his next letter to them he defended his earnestness as well as his authority, saying, “We are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 2:17).
Paul assured the churches in Galatia: “I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.… He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb,… called me through His grace, [and] was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:11–12, 15–16). He told the church in Colossae, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:25–27). And to the church at Thessalonica he wrote, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).
Peter recognized that Paul, a fellow apostle, had been used by the Lord to write His Word. Referring to Paul’s letters, Peter wrote of “some things [in them that were] hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16, emphasis added). Jude attests that “the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” carried the weight of Scripture, divinely warning that “in the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts” (Jude 17–18).
No New Testament writer had a greater awareness that he was recording God’s own Word than did the apostle John. That awareness is affirmed with particular certainty in the book of Revelation, which begins, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Rev. 1:1–2). A few verses later the apostle says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches’ ” (vv. 10–11). At or near the end of each message to those churches is the admonition “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The apostle also makes clear in many other parts of that book that he is writing God’s explicitly revealed truth (See, e.g., 19:9; 21:5; 22:6).
It is both remarkable and significant that, although most, if not all, of the human writers were aware they were recording Scripture and sometimes were overwhelmed by the truths God revealed to them, they exhibit a total lack of self-consciousness or apology, in the common sense of that word. Together, the biblical writers make some 4,000 claims to be writing God’s Word, yet they offer no defense for being employed by God in such an elevated function. Despite their realization of their own sinfulness and fallibility, they wrote with the utter confidence that they spoke infallibly for God and that His revelation itself is its own best and irrefutable defense. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,” Isaiah proclaimed for God, “and do not return there without watering the earth, and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without ac-complishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10–11).
Scripture is inspired and inerrant in its words. To deny that all of the Bible is inspired obviously is to deny that all of the words of Scripture are inspired. Just as obviously, such denial places man as judge over God’s Word, acknowledging as authentic and binding only those portions which correspond to one’s personal predispositions. Whether the human judgment about inspiration is made by a church council, church tradition, or individual preference, it is based on subjective, sin-tainted, and imperfect knowledge and understanding. When men decide for themselves what to recognize as true and worthwhile, as meaningful and relevant, they vitiate all authority of Scripture. Even when they concur with Scripture, the agreement is based on their own human wisdom.
Unless the very words of Scripture are inspired and authoritative, man is left to his own resources to ferret out what seem to be underlying divine concepts and principles. But instead of discovering what has been called “the Word behind the words”—that is, the divine truth behind the human words—that approach leads to the very opposite. It presumptuously and self-deceptively “discovers” man’s word, as it were, behind God’s words, judging God’s divine truth by the standards of man’s sinful inclinations and distorted perceptions. As Paul said to Titus, the commandments of men turn people away from God’s truth (Titus 1:14).
Even from a purely logical perspective, to discount the words of Scripture is to discount all meaning of Scripture. Not only is it impossible to write without using words but also is impossible, except in the most nebulous way, even to think without words. It is as meaningless to speak of thoughts and ideas without words as to speak of music without notes or mathematics without numbers. To repudiate the words of Scripture is to repudiate the truths of Scripture.
It is true, of course, that both testaments contain revelations whose bare words God intentionally made cryptic. In some cases, as with Jesus’ parables, the purpose was to hide the meaning from willful unbelievers. When the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the multitudes in parables, “He answered and said to them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted’ ” (Matt. 13:10–11). In other cases, as with predictive prophecies, even the most godly believers, including the men to whom God revealed the prophecies, could not discern the full meaning. Peter explains, for example, that, “as to this salvation [through Jesus Christ], the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10–12).
In other words, although Scripture never reveals truths apart from words, in some places it reveals words apart from their full truth. The point is this: The words of Scripture are always inerrant, whether or not they convey their full meaning to those who read them or can be fully understood by our limited comprehension.
When Moses protested to God that he was not qualified to lead Israel because he had “never been eloquent” and was “slow of speech and slow of tongue,… the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say’ ” (Ex. 4:10–12). When Moses continued to object, “the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, and He said, ‘Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently… And you are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and it shall come about that he shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be as God to him’ ” (Ex. 4:14–16, emphasis added).
In Psalm 147, the inseparable relationship between God’s Word and His words is clear. The Lord “sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold? He sends forth His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow. He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel” (Ps. 147:15–19, emphasis added). It is only through words that God has revealed His Word.
Jeremiah testified: “The Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.’ … Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, ‘Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them.’ … Thy words were found and I ate them,” the prophet responded,“and Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jer. 1:9; 15:14, 16, emphasis added). Ezekiel made a similar affirmation, saying, “Then [the Lord] said to me, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me.… But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.’… Moreover, He said to me, ‘Son of man, take into your heart allMy words which I shall speak to you, and listen closely’ ” (Ezek. 2:3, 7; 3:10, emphasis added).
In reply to Satan’s temptation to make bread from stones in order to satisfy His physical hunger, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’ ” (Matt. 4:4, emphasis added). Man is fed spiritually by God’s “every word,” and every revealed word of God is found in His written Word, the Bible. In His last major public discourse, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35, emphasis added).
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus proclaimed the essence of the gospel: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24, emphasis added). “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing,” He said on another occasion. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63, emphasis added). “For I did not speak on My own initiative,” our Lord again makes clear, “but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (12:49–50; cf. 14:24). Believing in the Father is believing in the Son, and the Son’s words are the Father’s words.
Scripture is inspired and inerrant in everything it teaches and reports. Some scholars maintain that, because the Bible is not a textbook on such subjects as history, geography, and science, it is inerrant only when it speaks on spiritual and moral matters. But like those who claim to accept the underlying divine concepts and principles of Scripture but not its words, these interpreters also determine by their own resources what is divine and infallible and what is human and fallible. Again, man becomes the judge of Scripture.
Through the centuries, some scholars have pointed to “mistakes” in the Bible, statements about people, places, and things that did not jibe with the accepted “facts” of history, archaeology, or modern science.
Until Copernicus’s discovery in the sixteenth century, men assumed that the sun rotated around the earth, because that is how it appears from our earthly perspective. Because we now know that the earth rotates around the sun, many scholars charge the Bible with factual error in reporting that Joshua successfully commanded the sun to stand still and the moon to be stopped (Josh. 10:12–13), whereas it must have been the earth that stood still. But highly trained meteorologists still speak of sunrise and sunset, especially when communicating with the general public. Those phrases are firmly established figures of speech throughout the world, and no sensible person accuses someone of being inaccurate or unscientific for using them. Not only that, but if God created the universe, stopping the rotation of the earth, the sun, or the moon—or of all three—would have been equally simple. It is significant that most people who question the reality of such miraculous events also question many of the clear theological and moral teachings of Scripture as well.
For many years some scholars charged the book of 2 Kings with error for reporting that “the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold” (2 Kings 18:14). They based that judgment on an ancient Assyrian record of the transaction that gives the amount of silver as being 800 talents. But later archaeological findings have revealed that, although the Assyrian standard for a talent of gold was the same as that used by Judah and Syria, the standard for silver was considerably different. When adjusted for that difference, the biblical figure was found to be accurate.
Not only is the Bible’s reporting of history unerring but so is its prediction of history. Ezekiel foretold in amazing detail the destruction of Tyre, first by Nebuchadnezzar, later by Alexander the Great (Ezek. 26:1–21; 29:18), and then by Egypt (30:10–26). In similar detail, Nahum predicted the devastation of Nineveh (Nahum 1:15–3:19; cf. Zeph. 2:13, 15), which was conquered and destroyed in 612 b.c.. by the Medes and Chaldeans. Both Isaiah (Isa. 13–14; 21:1–10) and Jeremiah (Jer. 50–51) accurately predicted the ultimate destruction of Babylon, which would “never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation” (Isa. 13:20). That great city was conquered first by Cyrus, founder of the Persian empire and the man whom God prophesied would free His people Israel from Babylonian captivity (Isa. 44:28; 45:1–14). That noble king not only allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, but, with an amazing awareness of his divine mission under the true God, charged them to rebuild the temple there and returned to them all the sacred and valuable temple objects pilfered by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezra 1). Other Assyrian and Persian kings successively conquered and plundered Babylon. Its final conquest was by Alexander the Great, who intended to rebuild the city but was prevented by his untimely death at the age of thirty-two. When the capital of the Syrian empire was moved from Babylon to Seleucia by Seleucus Nicator in 312 b.c.., Babylon gradually died. By the time of Christ, the city was inhabited primarily by a small group of scholars, and bricks from its rubble were carried away to build houses and walls in surrounding towns. Today the almost barren site of ancient Babylon, located in the southern part of modern Iraq, is valued only for its archaeological significance.
As noted in the first point, God’s divine Word, revealed through His divine words, is not itself the means or the power of salvation, but is the agency of it. Near the end of his gospel account, John explained that “these [things] have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
As Peter declared to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem soon after Pentecost, “Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified,… He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10–12).
In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul echoes the words of Jesus: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.… So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:9–10, 17, emphasis added; cf. James 1:18).
Christ also uses His Word to sanctify and cleanse His church from sin. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul said: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:25–26, emphasis added). In his first letter to believers at Thessalonica he said, “And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13, emphasis added; cf. Phil. 2:16).
The second predicate adjective Paul uses to describe Scripture is profitable, which focuses on the sufficiency of God’s written Word. Profitable translates ōphelimos, which includes the ideas of beneficial, productive, and sufficient.
Scripture is sufficient in being comprehensive. Paralleled in the Old Testament only by Psalm 119 and confirmed by Joshua 1:8, these verses supremely affirm the absolute sufficiency of Scripture to meet all the spiritual needs of God’s people.
David understood the sufficiency of God’s Word, and in one of his most uplifting psalms he exulted:
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I shall be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression. (Ps. 19:7–13)
In verses 7–9 David refers to God’s Word by six different titles: God’s law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear (Referring to worship), and judgments. In those same verses, he mentions six characteristics of that divine Word: It is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true. Also included are six blessings that the Word brings in the believer’s life: It restores the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever, and produces complete righteousness. The remaining verses (10–13) extol the benefits of the work of the Word: It makes rich, delights, rewards, convicts, and protects. It is a marvelous mark of God’s loving grace that He has given us every truth, every principle, every standard, and every warning that we will ever need for living out our salvation according to His will.
Scripture also is complete. Jude admonished his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). John closes the book of Revelation, as well as the entire Old and New Testaments, with this sobering warning from the Lord: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18–19).
False religious systems that claim to be Christian invariably expose their falsehood by their view of Scripture. Mormonism considers The Book of Mormon to be as divinely inspired and authoritative as the Bible, in fact more so, because they view that book as being a latter-day, updated revelation from God. Christian Science views Science and Health, With a Key to the Scriptures in the same way. Some charismatics claim to have received special revelations from God, which, if genuine, would carry the same divine authority as the Bible. For most of the twentieth century, a large percentage of members and a higher percentage of clergymen in most major Protestant denominations have not recognized the Bible as being wholly revealed by God and inerrant. Those views and many others like them share the common heresy of considering Scripture to be incomplete or inadequate.
It is because of such distorted and destructive views of Scripture within professing Christendom that biblical believers must, more than ever before, “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). As in the early church, the greatest danger to the church has always been from within. Paul warned the godly, mature church at Ephesus, pastored first by the apostle and then by Timothy, and led by godly elders, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30, emphasis added).
In the remainder of verse 16, Paul declares that Scripture is profitable for believers in four important ways: for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.
The Teaching Scripture
for teaching, (3:16b)
As mentioned in chapter 8 of this commentary in regard to verse 10, didaskalia does not refer to the process or method of teaching but to its content. In this context, as in most others in the New Testament, didaskalia refers specifically and exclusively to divine instruction, or doctrine, given to believers through God’s Word, which included not only the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the teaching of Jesus during His incarnation but also the inspired teaching of the apostles and New Testament authors.
“A natural man,” Paul explains, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them.” It is not that the unsaved person is intellectually inferior, but that such truths “are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:14–16).
While warning believers about the dangerous teachings and work of antichrists, John assures his readers: “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.… As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.… And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him” (1 John 2:20, 24, 27).
When it comes to godly living and godly service, to growing in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), God-breathed Scripture provides for us the comprehensive and complete body of divine truth necessary to live as our heavenly Father desires for us to live. The wisdom and guidance for fulfilling everything He commands us to believe, think, say, and do is found in His inerrant, authoritative, comprehensive, and completed Word.
Even after conversion, trust in one’s own wisdom is a severe hindrance to correct understanding of Scripture and to full usefulness in the Lord’s service. The counsel to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5) is every bit as valid for Christians as it was for Old Testament saints.
Throughout church history, the Lord has uniquely and wonderfully sustained and blessed the spiritual lives and influence of believers who, because of imprisonment, illiteracy, isolation, or other restrictions beyond their control, could not study His Word. But the teaching of Scripture is the divine body of truth without which no believer who has access to it can live, minister, or witness effectively. Tragically, some of the most biblically illiterate believers in our day live in lands where God’s Word is readily available and where scriptural preaching, teaching, and literature are abundant.
It goes without saying that it is impossible to believe, understand, and follow what you do not even know. It is completely futile, as well as foolish, to expect to live a spiritual life without knowing spiritual truth. Biblically untaught believers, especially those in biblically untaught churches, are easy prey for false teachers. They are spiritual “children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). Throughout most of redemptive history, God could have said what He said in Hosea’s day: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). It is for that reason, as well as for the even greater reason of honoring the Lord, that regular, systematic, and thorough study of the doctrine in God’s Word is imperative for God’s people.
We not only are to guard what we know but sincerely seek to learn more of God’s inexhaustible truth. We should pray with Job, “Teach Thou me what I do not see” (Job 34:32). That dauntless man of God had lost his children, his servants, his flocks, his health, and even his reputation. He was wholly unable to see why God permitted those calamities to come upon him, and he therefore wanted the Lord to teach him whatever he needed to learn in order to endure his painful existence and to profit from it spiritually.
Just before Jehovah’s covenant with Israel was ratified near Sinai, Moses “took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ ” (Ex. 24:7). Unfortunately, the people of Israel seldom again demonstrated such reverence for God’s Word. Shortly before they were to enter and take possession of the Promised Land, Moses reminded them again: “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.… And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it” (Deut. 4:5, 14). God’s command to Joshua, Moses’ successor, applies to every believer: “Be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Josh. 1:7–8).
When the young but godly King Josiah heard read to him “the words of the book of the law,” which had been discovered as the temple was being repaired, “he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Micaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant saying, ‘Go, inquire of the Lord for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us’ ” (2 Kings 22:11–13).
Although they did not believe their own words, the unbelieving and hypocritical Pharisees were completely correct when they said of Jesus, “You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any” (Matt. 22:16). It was because of His utter truthfulness and righteousness and His refusal to defer to anyone that those men, and others like them, put Jesus to death. Contrary to their godly forefather Josiah, they would not accept the teaching of God.
On a trip from Greece back to Jerusalem, Paul reminded the Ephesian elders, many of whom had ministered both with him and with Timothy, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia,… how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.… For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:18, 20–21, 27).
Both the first and last pieces of spiritual armor that Paul mentions in his letter to believers at Ephesus pertain to Scripture. “Stand firm therefore,” he says, “having girded your loins with truth.” Then, after putting on the “breastplate of righteousness,” shodding our feet with “the gospel of peace, “taking up the shield of faith,” and donning “the helmet of salvation,” we are to equip ourselves with the only offensive implement mentioned here—“the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:14–17). Machaira (“sword”) refers to a short sword, or dagger, a weapon used in close combat that required skillful use in order to be effective. “Word” translates rhēma, which refers to a specific statement or wording, not to general truth, as does the more commonly used logos.
Our “wielding” of Scripture, as it were, should be as precise, accurate, and appropriate as possible. No matter how good our intentions might be, to interpret or apply a passage thoughtlessly or to quote it out of context creates confusion and uncertainty. It does disservice to the Lord and to those we are attempting to instruct. In order to present ourselves “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed,” we must handle “accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Careless use of Scripture, even by the Lord’s own people, can do great damage to the cause of Christ, as it often has done throughout church history.
During His wilderness ordeal, Jesus responded to each of Satan’s temptations with an accurate and carefully chosen quotation from Scripture (See Matt. 4:3–10). Because He was the incarnate Son of God, anything He might have said would have carried the same divine weight as Scripture. But as an example for His followers, He chose to quote divine truth that already was recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. Following the pattern of our gracious Lord, our weapon against the temptations and deceptions of the devil should always be a careful and precise use of God’s revealed Word. It then goes without saying that, in order to use Scripture in that effective way, we must thoroughly know it and understand it. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we must “let the word of Christ richly dwell within [us], with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).
The truths of God’s Word are spiritual wealth that we should continually be depositing into our minds and hearts. Like deposits of money in our bank account, those deposits of divine truth become spiritual assets that we can draw on readily when confronting temptation, when making moral choices and when seeking God’s specific will and guidance for our lives.
The Reproving Scripture
for reproof, (3:16c)
A second work of the Word in the life of believers is that of reproof. Elegmos (reproof) carries the idea of rebuking in order to convict of misbehavior or false doctrine. As with teaching, Scripture’s work of reproof has to do with content, with equipping believers with accu-rate knowledge and understanding of divine truth, in this context divine truth that exposes falsehood and sin, erroneous belief, and ungodly conduct.
Richard Trench, a noted nineteenth-century British theologian, comments that elegmos refers to rebuking “another with such effectual wielding of the victorious arm of the truth, as to bring him not always to a confession, yet at least to a conviction of his sin.”
Regular and careful study of Scripture builds a foundation of truth that, among other things, exposes sin in a believer’s life with the purpose of bringing correction, confession, renunciation, and obedience.
Using the same Greek word as Paul does in Ephesians 6:17, the writer of Hebrews speaks of the Bible as a divine sword that exposes sin in a believer’s life. “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword [machaira], and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12–13). Scripture precisely and thoroughly penetrates the believer’s mind, soul, and heart.
Every Christian who has been saved for any length of time has experienced times of being sharply and deeply convicted by reading a particular Bible passage or hearing it preached or taught. Every experienced Christian also knows that during times of disobedience he is strongly tempted to forsake Bible study and worship and finds that fellowship with faithful believers becomes less attractive and comfortable. Looked at from the opposite side, decreased desire to study God’s Word, to worship Him, and to be with His people is reliable evidence of unconfessed and unforsaken sin. It is for that reason that a Bible-teaching, Bible-believing, and Bible-obeying church is never a haven for persistent sinners. As Jesus explained the principle to Nicodemus, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20).
Scripture has the negative ministry of tearing down and destroying that which is sinful and false as well as of building up and improving that which is righteous and true. Just as in medicine, infection and contamination must be excised before healing can begin. Paul told the Ephesian elders, “I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men.… Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:26, 31).
Reproving the wrongdoing of his people is as much a pastor’s responsibility as helping build them up in righteousness. At the beginning of the next chapter of this letter, Paul wrote, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1–2). The first two of those three admonitions are negative, the first one being the verb form of elegmos (reproof). God’s minister, like God’s Word, must reprove sin and falsehood.
Scripture is the divine plumb line by which every thought, principle, act, and belief is to be measured. Paul reminded the Corinthian church what he doubtless had taught them many times. “We are not like many,” he said, “peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.… We have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2). Luke commended God-fearing Jews in Berea because they “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). As every preacher and teacher should be, Paul and Silas were not offended but were greatly pleased that everything they said was measured against God’s Word.
“I have more insight than all my teachers,” the psalmist testified before the Lord, “for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Thy precepts” (Ps. 119:99–100). “From Thy precepts I get understanding,” he continues a few verses later; “therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (vv. 104–105). God’s Word steers us away from sin and toward righteousness.
Isaiah warned the people of Israel to “hate every false way.” “And when they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn [light]” (Isa. 8:19–20).
When we are constrained by God’s Word to reprove a sinning brother or sister, we should do so in humility and love. That always was Paul’s practice. “I do not write these things to shame you,” he told immature and disobedient believers in Corinth, “but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Cor. 4:14). If the holy Lord obligates Himself to reprove and discipline His disobedient children in love (Heb. 12:5–11), how much more are His children obligated to reprove each other in love.
It is just as important, although more difficult, to be gracious when we receive reproof, whether directly by God’s Word or from other believers who call us to biblical account. “For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light,” an Old Testament saint professed, “and reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (Prov. 6:23). Like him, every believer should be as grateful for the reproving work of the Word as for its encouragement. It is impossible to genuinely seek righteousness and truth if we do not hate and renounce sin and falsehood.
The Correcting Scripture
for correction, (3:16d)
Epanorthōsis (correction) is used only here in the New Testament and refers to the restoration of something to its original and proper condition. In secular Greek literature it was used of setting upright an object that had fallen down and of helping a person back on his feet after stumbling. After exposing and condemning false belief and sinful conduct in believers, Scripture then builds them up through its divine correction.
Correction is Scripture’s positive provision for those who accept its negative reproof. “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,” Peter admonishes, “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:1–2).
Perhaps the most extensive praise of God’s Word in all of Scripture is found in Psalm 119. Among the many well-known verses in that beautiful tribute to God and His Word, the unknown psalmist wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word. With all my heart I have sought Thee; do not let me wander from Thy commandments. Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:9–11).
“If we confess our sins,” the Lord assures us through John, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace,” Paul told the Ephesian elders, “which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). When submitted to the Lord’s marvelous grace, our areas of greatest weakness can, through correction, become areas of greatest strength.
Shortly before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1–2). In order to make His people obedient, useful, and effective in His service, the Lord has to trim away not only things that are sinful but also things that are useless. He may take away things that are perfectly good in themselves, even things that seem necessary, but which He knows are a hindrance to our spiritual growth and service. They can sap time, attention, and effort from the work He has for us to do. Like His discipline, this process sometimes “for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful,” but also like discipline, “to those who have been trained by it” the Lord’s wise and gracious cropping of superfluous branches “afterwards… yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).
As with reproof, godly believers, especially pastors and teachers, are often the channel through which the Word brings correction. Earlier in this letter, Paul reminded Timothy that “the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25, emphasis added). In his letter to believers at Colossae, the apostle gives similar counsel: “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Despite the dreadful calamities with which God allowed him to be afflicted, Job affirmed to his friend Eliphaz that “he who has clean hands shall grow stronger and stronger” (Job 17:9).
The Scripture that Trains for Righteousness
for training in righteousness; (3:16e)
Training translates paideia, which had the original meaning of bringing up and training a child (paidion), but it came to be used of any sort of training. It also is rendered “correcting” (2 Tim. 2:25) and “discipline” (Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:5, 7, 11). In the context of verses 16–17, it clearly refers to training in the broader and probably more positive sense, since the negatives are covered by reproof. It is directed at the ideas of instruction and building up. Until the Lord takes us to be with Himself, His Word is to continue training us in righteousness.
As with teaching, reproof, and correction, godly believers—especially leaders in the church—are instruments through which Scripture provides training for God’s people. After reminding Timothy that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4–5), Paul assured him that “in pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (v. 6, emphasis added).
Peter gives similar counsel to believers: “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. For, ‘All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23–25).
And just as milk nourishes a baby in ways it does not understand, so God’s Word nourishes us in ways we often do not understand. No matter how deep our understanding of Scripture may be, we still should be able to affirm with the psalmist, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God” (Ps. 42:1). We should rejoice with Paul that “we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
The Enabling Scripture
that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (3:17)
The Bible can be of great value to an unbeliever. Most important, as discussed in the previous chapter, it will lead to salvation those who come to trust in the Savior and Lord it proclaims. But Paul is speaking here of Scripture’s special value for preachers, who are able, with the Spirit’s guidance, to understand and to proclaim the truths of God’s Word.
The apostle is addressing the man of God, a technical phrase used only of Timothy in the New Testament. In the Old Testament it is frequently used as a title for one who proclaimed the Word of God. In this context, man of God refers most directly to Timothy and, by extension, to all preachers.
Artios (adequate) refers to persons who are complete, capable, and proficient in everything they are called to be or do. In Christ “you have been made complete,” Paul tells Colossian believers (Col. 2:10). The preacher who carefully studies and sincerely believes and obeys the truths of Scripture will stand strong in living and defending the faith.
Equipped for every good work could be paraphrased, “enabled to meet all demands of righteousness.” By his life he will affirm the power of the Word to lead men to salvation and to equip them for righteous living and for faithful service to the Lord. When the man of God is himself equipped by the Word, he can then equip the believers under his care. Just as “we are [the Lord’s] workmanship,” Paul explains, we also should be doing His work. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Christ says to all those who belong to Him what He said to the Twelve: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
Whether our purpose is to lead men and women to saving faith in Jesus Christ, to teach God’s truth to believers, to refute error in the church, to correct and rebuild erring believers, or to train believers to live righteously, our supreme and sufficient resource is God’s Word. It not only gives us the information to teach but also shapes us into living examples of that truth.
One cannot help wondering why so many evangelical pastors of our day, like many Christians throughout history, have lost sight of that foundational truth. Every church, everywhere and in every time, should be totally committed to preaching, teaching, and implementing the Word, thereby pleasing and exalting the gracious and sovereign God who has revealed it.
Through the convincing and convicting power of the Holy Spirit, Scripture is God’s own provision for every spiritual truth and moral principle that men need to be saved, to be equipped to live righteously in this present life and to hear one day in the life to come, “Well done, good and faithful servant,… enter into the joy of your Master” (Matt.25:21).
16 Without any conjunction (such as “for”), Paul elaborates the supreme value of Scripture. He focuses primarily on two aspects (with emphasis on the second element): first, “all Scripture” (more likely than “every Scripture”; see Notes)—in the original context, the OT (but see 1 Ti 5:18; 2 Pe 3:16)—is “God-breathed” (theopneustos, GK 2535; NASB, “inspired by God”). The term, an apparent Pauline coinage, is found in subsequent Greek literature (Pseudo-Phocylides 129; Sib. Or. 5:308; 5:407 [ca. AD 90–130]; cf. Homer, Iliad, 20.110), but the concept of the creative, life-giving breath of God and the image of the word of God as “breathed” by God have deep OT roots (Ge 1–2; Ps 33:6; Isa 42:5; cf. M. R. Austin, “How Biblical Is ‘The Inspiration of Scripture?’ ” ExpTim 93 : 77–79). The notion of inspiration is not foreign to the OT (Nu 24:2; Hos 9:7). The present passage is one of the major texts on the divine inspiration of Scripture (see B. B. Warfield’s classic study, “God-Inspired Scripture,” Presbyterian & Reformed Review 11 : 89–130).
Second, because it has God as its source (cf. Warfield, “God-Inspired Scripture,” 293–94), Scripture is “useful” (ōphelimos, GK 6068; cf. 1 Ti 4:8; Tit 3:8) in a variety of ways (cf. Ro 15:4; 1 Co 10:11). Employing a symmetrical literary device called “chiasm,” with the two positive features enveloping the two negative ones, Paul notes that Scripture is “useful” for (a) “teaching” (didaskalia, GK 1436, a general term; see comments at v. 10 and at 4:3); (b) “rebuking” (elegmon, GK 1791; cf. Sir 21:6; 32:17; 48:7); (b’) “correcting” (epanorthōsin, GK 2061; cf. 1 Esd 8:52; 1 Macc 14:34; Josephus, Ant. 11.157; 16.263; Epictetus, Disc. 3.21.15); and (a’) “training [paideia, GK 4082; cf. Eph 6:4; Heb 12:5–11] in righteousness.” As in child rearing, Christian growth entails both nurture and correction (cf. Eph 6:4).
17 The end result of such thorough biblical training will be that the “man of God”—Christians in general and specifically church leaders—will be “adequate” (artios, GK 787; cf. Philo, Plant. 125), “complete [exērtismenos, GK 1992; cf. Ac 21:5; the NIV conflates the two terms to “thoroughly equipped”] for every good work” (see esp. 2:21; Tit 3:1).While salvation comes through faith in Christ (2 Ti 3:15; cf. 1:9; Tit 3:5), the purpose of a person’s calling is good works, a major theme in the PE (1 Ti 2:10; 3:1; 5:10, 25; 6:18; 2 Ti 2:21; Tit 1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14).
Once again the message is consistent with Paul’s teaching elsewhere (Eph 2:8–10). (1) Proper Christian training must first be grounded in Scripture (not merely the passing on of humanistic principles or values); (2) it must be thorough—there are no shortcuts to true spiritual growth—including both instruction and correction (rather than focusing unilaterally on encouragement); and (3) it is not merely for a person’s own edification or intellectual stimulation but for equipment for ministry to others.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 141–162). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Köstenberger, A. (2006). 2 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 591). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Be on guard for yourselves (20:28a)
The first priority for anyone involved in spiritual leadership is his own relationship with God. Effective ministry is not mere outward activity; it is the overflow of a rich, deep relationship with God. As John Owen wisely observed,
A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more. (Cited in I. D. E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977], 192)
No one is ready to face the pressures and responsibilities of ministry who is not right with God. Those pressures, as well as the demand to set the example, require that leaders constantly be on guard (Mark 13:9; Luke 21:34).
The first step in being on guard is self-examination. After a whole chapter of exhortation to the young preacher (1 Tim. 4:1–15), Paul summed up what he had said by calling Timothy to examine himself (verse 16): “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” He charged Timothy to scrutinize his life and doctrine to make sure both honored God. Such was crucial to his own perseverance and to the salvation and perseverance of others. Paul expressed that same truth in his second letter to Timothy:
Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Tim. 2:20–21)
In a house there were vessels for dishonorable uses, such as garbage and other waste. There were also vessels for honorable uses, such as food and drink. Only clean ones of high quality were fit for honor. Since God uses clean and holy instruments, vessels of honor, self-examination and forsaking sin are essential for leaders. Although God does bless His truth in spite of the preacher, He does not bless the unholy leader, no matter what title, position, or office he might hold.
In a powerful passage from his classic work The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter gives a stirring call for pastors to examine themselves:
Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn. Will you make it your work to magnify God, and, when you have done, dishonour him as much as others? Will you proclaim Christ’s governing power, and yet contemn it, and rebel yourselves? Will you preach his laws, and wilfully break them? If sin be evil, why do you live in it? if it be not, why do you dissuade men from it? If it be dangerous, how dare you venture on it? if it be not, why do you tell men so? If God’s threatenings be true, why do you not fear them? if they be false, why do you needlessly trouble men with them, and put them into such frights without a cause? Do you “know the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death”; and yet will you do them? “Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, or be drunk, or covetous, art thou such thyself? “Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?” What! shall the same tongue speak evil that speakest against evil? Shall those lips censure, and slander, and backbite your neighbour, that cry down these and the like things in others? Take heed to yourselves, lest you cry down sin, and yet do not overcome it; lest, while you seek to bring it down in others, you bow to it, and become its slaves yourselves: “For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.” “To whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness.” O brethren! it is easier to chide at sin, than to overcome it. ( The Reformed Pastor [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979], 67–68)
Personal holiness is the requirement of true and powerful spiritual leadership. God calls for holiness that is not just outward, in the eyes of men. Paul had that outward virtue even before his salvation, when he described himself as blameless as to the law (Phil. 3:6). But he called it “rubbish” (v. 8) compared to true righteousness. True holiness is inward, so that one can say with Paul, “For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you” (2 Cor. 1:12).
Shepherd the Flock
and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (20:28b)
After making sure that his own life (and consequently that of his family, 1Tim. 3:4–5) is in order, a leader’s second priority is the spiritual care of his flock. Positively, that care involves the feeding and leading of all the flock. The metaphor of a flock and a shepherd is often used to describe God’s relationship to His people. It is an apt one, since sheep are helpless, timid, dirty, and in need of constant protection and care. The Old Testament frequently describes Israel as God’s flock (Pss. 77:20; 78:52; 80:1; Isa. 40:11; 63:11; Jer. 13:17; 23:2–3; 31:10; Ezek. 34:2ff.; Mic. 2:12; 5:4; 7:14; Zech. 10:3), and the New Testament pictures the church as a flock with the Lord Jesus Christ as its Shepherd (John 10:1ff.; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:2–4).
Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), has taken His flock and divided it into many smaller flocks (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2, “the flock of God among [or apportioned to] you”; 1 Pet. 5:3, “those allotted to your charge”). The Holy Spirit sovereignly raises up overseers, or undershepherds, who are responsible to shepherd their flocks. Shepherd is from poimainō, a comprehensive term encompassing the entire task of a shepherd. The most important part of that task, however, is to feed. In John 21:15–17, Jesus three times instructed Peter to care for His sheep. The second time He used poimainō, but the first and third times boskō, which has the more restricted meaning of “to feed.” Obviously, then, the primary task of an undershepherd of the Lord’s flock is to feed the sheep. Sadly, many undershepherds today fail to do that, seemingly content to lead their sheep from one barren wasteland to another. The tragic result is a spiritually weak flock, ready to eat the poisonous weeds of false doctrine, or to follow false shepherds who deceitfully promise them greener pastures, while leading them to barren desert.
Since sheep are followers, the shepherds’ task also involves leading the flock. They must set the direction for the sheep to follow. The New Testament knows nothing of congregational rule; instead it commands believers to “obey your leaders, and submit to them” (Heb. 13:17). Paul reminded the Thessalonians that their pastors were given “charge over you in the Lord” and were to be appreciated, esteemed, loved, and followed without conflict (1 Thess. 5:12–13). God has committed the leadership of the church to the overseers (elders, pastors). Those who serve faithfully are to be doubly honored (1 Tim. 5:17); those who fall into sin are to be publicly rebuked (1 Tim. 5:20). It is a sobering realization that elders will someday give an account to God for how they lead those committed to their charge (Heb. 13:17).
The motive for such high standards of leadership lies in the fact that the church belongs not to men, but to God (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2). Church leaders have a stewardship over His property and must discharge that stewardship faithfully (cf. 1 Cor. 4:2). Further, the church is the most precious reality on earth, since the ultimate price was paid for it when the Lord Jesus Christ purchased it with His own blood (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18–19). That demands that every leader treat the church as the precious fellowship that it is. God is a spirit and has no body, hence no blood. Yet Paul can say that God as much as purchased the church with His own blood because he “believed so strongly in the deity of Jesus Christ and His essential unity with the Father that [he] hesitated not to speak of His sacrifice on Calvary as a shedding of the blood of God” (G. T. Stokes, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Bible [New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1903], 2:419).
The Lord Jesus Christ set the example of loving concern for the church that all leaders must follow. In Ephesians 5:25–27, Paul describes Christ’s sacrificial love for the church:
Christ …loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.
The undershepherd must have the same concern for the purity of the church as did the Great Shepherd. Paul certainly did. To the Corinthians he wrote, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2). Those undershepherds who truly value the church will shepherd their flocks by feeding them the Word of God and faithfully leading them.
28. “Keep watch over yourselves and the entire flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to shepherd God’s church which he purchased with his own blood.”
In addition, the elders have the task of caring for the spiritual needs of “the entire flock.” Paul uses imagery borrowed from the agricultural society of his day. This is rather unusual for Paul, whose educational training kept him from any intimate knowledge of sheepherding. Yet he knew that Jesus had frequently alluded to the shepherd and the sheep.42 And when Peter wrote his epistle, he called Jesus the Chief Shepherd under whom elders serve as overseers and shepherds of God’s flock (1 Peter 5:1–4).
Oversight means loving care and concern, a responsibility willingly shouldered; it must never be used for personal aggrandisement. Its meaning is to be seen in Christ’s selfless service which was moved by concern for the salvation of men.
Both Paul and Peter describe the responsibilities of an overseer in their respective epistles. Paul lists a number of qualifications for anyone who aspires to the office of elder/overseer (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:6–9), and Peter similarly specifies the duties of an elder (1 Peter 5:1–4). Both apostles use the terms elder and overseer interchangeably.
Another difficulty, however, remains. What is the meaning of the literal translation with the blood of his own? If we translate the phrase “with his own blood,” which most translations have adopted, we confuse the meaning of the sentence. The context mentions the Holy Spirit and God, to whom the word blood fails to apply. Perhaps the suggestion to say that “his own” is a variant of “his beloved” or “his one and only [Son]” is a step toward solving the matter.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (p. 326). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 732–733). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.