This reading presents one of the classic texts concerning the inspiration of Scripture and, so, provides foundational words for the Doctrine of Scripture (Bibliology). But while it will no doubt be helpful to strengthen your auditors’ understanding and appreciation of the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, preachers should not lose sight of the Gospel in this text or their responsibility to proclaim it. Teaching supports preaching and you would do well to not collapse the latter into the former.

Remember, in this part of the text Saint Paul is dealing with a problem. When things become more difficult for Timothy, the Apostle does not become more sophisticated by delving into deeper, more complex theology. Quite the opposite. He takes a “back to the basics” approach by commending the remembrance of holy teachers and holy Scripture as an aid to steadfastness in sound teaching. Timothy is to remain steadfast amidst adversities by standing in the received tradition. The one thing every Christian can count on, no matter their circumstances, are those truths received directly and learned accountably from the earliest Christian witnesses to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Go back to the touchstone, says Paul, for there you will find strength and perspective to endure.

Paul leverages his long-standing and personal relationship with Timothy. This connection validated the Apostle’s teaching about matters of faith and life. From the bond of familial-mentorship Paul admonishes saying, “As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14). Saint Paul expects Timothy to concede to the fact that he, Timothy, had already experienced these truths of the apostolic witness and sufficiently knew they were not abstract concepts. The Gospel is grounded in real human history.

But it was not just Paul. There were others who Timothy knew as wise and trustworthy, indeed, exemplary in their devotion and love, who taught him the way of life, the way of truth. “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Timothy gained his spiritual education at Lystra from his mother and grandmother, as well as Paul, the elders of the Church, and in time was confirmed by “many witnesses.” Real people, real names, and real experiences with the power of the Word of God which Timothy shared.

Thomas Oden summates Paul’s appeal to the Gospel received and the Scriptures which substantiated the proclaimed news of Jesus’ victory and lordship:

To these recollections, Paul appealed: You are not being asked to think up some novel teaching, but to resist the deceptions of those who would lead you away from bad to worse. Learn the ploys of the games they play. Do not forget what happened to us at Antioch, Lyconium, and Lystra. Do not change your course with every changing wind and fold theology or faddism.[1]

The charge to, “continue in the Scriptures,” does not stand alone. There is the, “received tradition.” This tradition stands in the immediate past–the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What Timothy has received are not static Scriptures, but because of the Gospel, the Word of God is alive and active. The Word of God, yes, the authoritative Word of God is the oral word, too. But not just any word, it is the Word about Jesus Christ, given by Jesus Christ, testified to by the Holy Apostles. That Word is a proclaimed word. That Word is alive and active. Hence, the Christ’s sending of the Holy Spirit who, “convinces the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment” (John 16:8). It is the Law and the Gospel.

The oral proclamation the Gospel in all its liturgical forms, but also the administrating of the Sacraments (SA 3, 4), is fully the authoritative Word of God. The Gospel given by Jesus and is Jesus is not in conflict with the Old Testament or the New Testament Scriptures but works in a complementary fashion with all the Scriptures. The earliest Christians, the Church Fathers (and Luther too) did not see any conflict between the conviction that Scripture is the normative Word of God, and how God bestows His grace and forgiveness of sins by means of the spoken Word and Sacraments. All preaching and administration of the Sacraments have their source in the written Word of God and must take place according to it. Therefore, the proclamation of the Word (in sermons and in personal absolution) and the administration of the Sacraments is inseparably connected with the Scriptures. It is the received tradition Timothy came to own. Indeed, it brought him to faith in Jesus. Only scriptural teaching, preaching, and consolation leads men to the knowledge of Christ and salvation to Him.

N. T. Wright explains:

The early Christians believed (and this passage [from 2 Timothy 3] is one of the strong signs of this) the reason the Scriptures were alive was because God had ‘breathed’ them in the first place, and the warmth and life of His creative breath was still present and powerful.[2]

The Word and the Spirit go together. The Spirit, the breath of God, illumines and makes alive through the Word of God; both written and external, that is, preached and sacramented. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers through the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1). The Spirit presently speaks or breaths the Word of God which is Christ Jesus through the Gospel. In light of this present-day announcement, all Scriptures is able to make one wise unto salvation and is, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Illumination and salvation, our being justified by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, also entails regeneration. This, too, is a basic Christian teaching. This, too, was evidenced for Timothy; a truth in which he shared. Hence, Paul spells out the implication: Timothy, you are equipped for every good work.

This is where 2 Timothy 4:1-5 picks up, not with gentle prodding toward certain things or mere suggestions Timothy might consider, but straightforward charging. Paul adjures him as a called and ordained servant of Christ, in season and out of season, no matter how tough it may be.

The passage says:

I 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, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Responsibility for the efficacy of the living Word of God proclaimed and administered belongs to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, Timothy does not have to stress or concern himself with assuring its effect. He is to externalize that Word in all requisite (that is, Christ-like) love and care.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5.