Sufficiency of Scripture for Pastoral Ministry, 3, lessons

In the previous two posts we considered what 2 Timothy 3:14-17 teaches us about the sufficiency of Scripture for pastoral ministry. We considered the saving wisdom Scripture gives, v.15, the divine origin of Scripture, v.16, the wide-ranging purposes Scripture serves, v.16, and the complete equipping Scripture provides, v.17. in this third and final post on this subject I want lay out some of the practical and pastoral implications of this doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.

First of all, this ought to move those of us who are gospel ministers to a more fervent love for our Bibles. What a great privilege to have the Bible, to hold in our hands the Holy Scriptures, every word breathed out by God Himself, fully sufficient, containing everything we need for salvation and the Christian life and the Christian ministry What a gift from God? Brothers, do we appreciate this gift like we ought?

There’s an interesting story from church history. Thomas Goodwin tells about a time he went to hear the great Puritan evangelist John Rogers preach. In his sermon Rogers was warning the congregation against neglecting the scriptures. He began to speak as though it were God speaking to them. “I have trusted you so long with my Bible….it lies in [some] houses all covered with dust and cobwebs, you care not to listen to it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer.” At that Rogers picked up his Bible and started walking away from the pulpit. But then he suddenly stopped, fell on his knees and took up the voice of the people pleading with God, “Lord, whatever Thou dost to us, take not Thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us Thy Bible, take not away Thy Bible.” “Say you so?” he then replied, impersonating God. “Well, I will try you a while longer, and here is my Bible for you. I will see how you use it, whether you will search it more, love it more, observe it more, and live more according to it.” Thomas Goodwin says he was so moved by Roger’s message that when he left the church he wept upon his horse’s neck for fifteen minutes before he felt strong enough to mount it.

My dear brothers, we each need to ask ourselves, do I really love my Bible like I should? Do I read it like I ought? How much time do you actually spend simply reading the Bible and seeking to master the contents of the Bible? It might seem odd to ask a bunch of pastors that question but it needs to be asked. I’m not talking merely about exegeting the text for next week but reading yourself full of the Bible for the nourishment of your own soul Do you read the Bible, do you read it a lot, how well do you know your Bible? Do you meditate on God’s Word and feed you own soul on God’s word, day by day. Yes, read the Puritans, read good books and theological works and all the rest. But, dear brothers, don’t let any of those things take priority over reading God’s own word. Knowing our Bibles better will make us better pastors, and better preachers and, most importantly, it will make us better men.

Secondly, embracing the sufficiency of Scripture will keep our people from a dangerous and deceptive dependence upon personal experiences and inward impressions. Kevin De Young, in his excellent popular level book on the Bible, Take God at His Word, after commenting on several other attributes of scripture, its necessity, authority, clarity, says this concerning Scriptures sufficiency:

Sufficiency is the attribute most quickly doubted by rank-and-file church going Christians. We can say all the right things about the Bible and even read it regularly, but when life gets difficult, or just a bit boring, we look for new words, new revelations, and new experiences to bring us closer to God. We feel rather ho-hum about the New Testament’s description of heaven, but we are mesmerized by the accounts of school-age children who claim to have gone there and back. From magazine articles (in Christianity Today) about ‘My Conversation with God’, to best-selling books where God is depicted as giving special, private communications, we can easily operate as if the Bible were not enough. If we could only have something more than the Scriptures, then we would be really close to Jesus and know his love for us.

But, dear brothers, when we embrace this truth of the sufficiency of Scripture, and help our people to embrace it, they’ll not be taken in by this kind of thing. In fact, the more they experience the convicting and instructing and comforting power and sweetness of the Scriptures in their own souls through your ministry and the faithful Spirit-filled expositional and applicatory preaching and teaching of God’s Word. the less attractive, or even tempting, any of these other things will be.

Thirdly, this truth of the sufficiency of Scripture will also keep us from hyper traditionalism. It will keep tradition in its proper place. Here I’m thinking mostly about theological and church tradition, tradition in the sense of that which has been handed down to us. Rome as you know exalts church tradition to the same level as Scripture. The same occurred among the Jews in our Lord’s Day and it happens today.

Tradition, in and of itself, is not bad. We study the scriptures, not just as private individuals, but also with and in the church and with the help of over 2,000 years of church history that has gone before us. The reformers, when they argued for the sufficiency of Scripture, we’re not arguing for the kind of hyper-individualism we see so often in evangelicalism today. And they weren’t arguing against creeds or confessions of faith which seek to summarize the teaching of Scripture on important subjects and are adopted by churches as a confessional standard. In fact, many of them wrote confessions of faith. They believed that creeds and confessions have a very important place in the life and ordering of the church. So they weren’t anti-creedal or anti-tradition. However, they argued that only the Bible possesses infallible and final authority as the source of Christian teaching and all truth claims must be tested by the Bible. And should it be discovered or demonstrated from the Bible that any council, or confession, or tradition is not true to the teaching of Scripture it must either be corrected or rejected.

Brothers, I know we all believe that but we still need to be careful. I get very concerned when I hear men and it seems they quote the confession more than they quote the Bible. They almost give the impression they’re more enamored with the confession than the Scriptures. I love the confession of faith held to by the church I serve and by Reformed Baptist, the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. I believe it is one of the best expressions, in short compass, of what the Bible teaches on the subjects it addresses that I know of. But it’s not infallible and God-breathed. And, God forbid, we should ever get to the point that our answer to every question becomes, “the confession says”, rather than “the Bible says.” “The confession says” should carry a whole lot of weight. But the confession says is not the final word on any question. That privilege rests with the Bible alone.

Fourthly, the sufficiency of Scripture informs our hermeneutics; the way we interpret Scripture. If the scriptures are sufficient, the scriptures themselves are their own best interpreter. This is where we get the principle of interpretation called the analogy of Scripture. Here we have the ultimate guideline for interpreting the Bible. If I may quote from our confession which states it so well, The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.

We often see this principle applied by the Lord Jesus HimselfHe often corrected the misuse or misinterpretation of Scripture by the rabbis by referring to other Scripture which spoke to the issue in questionPaul does the sameIt’s simply an application of the sufficiency of ScriptureIf the scriptures are infallible, inerrant and sufficient, then the scriptures in their entirety are the only infallible rule of interpreting the partsBeware when some scholar, or scientist, comes up with an interpretation of Scripture that no one could ever come up with from studying the Bible itself

This is not the context for developing this in more detail, but let me just give an example. This is one the things that struck me back when I was preparing lectures on the New Perspective in Paul several years agoThe N.T., particularly Paul’s epistles and the doctrine of justification, are reinterpreted by these men on the basis of controversial scholarly reconstructions of 2nd temple Judaism and its literatureIn other words, the N.T. is interpreted through the grid of extrabiblical Jewish literature.[1]

First, the Jewish literature itself must be interpreted and you really need to have read and analyzed all of it. Second, assuming one gets the interpretation right, then it must be shown that the particular part of that literature you’re interpreting was both available to Paul and was actually accepted by Paul as correct in its views. Third, this method makes our understanding of Scripture to be subject to non-inspired literature and the non-inspired interpretations of that non-inspired literature by self-proclaimed and non-inspired scholars. Now, of course, there’s a place for scholarly investigation of historical background and literature as a help to gaining insight into the scriptures. But we must always remember that no extrabiblical literature or interpretation of that literature, and no human construction of Bible background or scientific or sociological theory is itself the authoritative word of God

It’s a good rule of thumb, if an interpretation of Scripture could never be arrived at in a million years by the careful study of the Bible alone, comparing Scripture with Scripture, there’s a problemOur faith must not rest in a priesthood of scholars, any more than a priesthood of popesThe Bible alone is infallible, authoritative and inerrant in all its parts nd the Bible is absolutely sufficient. As such, “The infallible rule of the interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself”[2]

Fifthly, the sufficiency of Scripture, if it truly grips us, will give us tremendous comfort and confidence in all of our labors in the pastoral ministry. It will keep us from being swept off our feet by the latest theological or ecclesiastical fad. It will keep us from being insecure, uncertain and unstable men, afraid that there’s some new idea not in the Bible I’m missing and need to get in on, some new blog I may have missed, or some new book with some new secret for ministerial success that nobody ever thought of. How do we reach lost sinners? The Scriptures are sufficient for salvation. How do we help God’s people to live lives that honor Christ at work, in the community, in the home, in the church? The scriptures are sufficient. The scriptures give me everything I need to know to train the church in righteousness and to equip God’s people for every good work. When that couple comes to me with serious marriage problems for counseling how do I help them, where do I look? The Scriptures are sufficient. When that dear mother has lost a son or that widow has lost her husband and she’s devastated with grief and she comes to me looking for help, where do I turn? The Scriptures are sufficient. How do I help that man who is enslaved to alcohol or drugs or pornography? How can I possibly help him to change, to see the evil of what he’s doing and to repent and to be enabled to overcome these things? The Scriptures are sufficient. Take the Bible and with meekness, love and patience open up what it says about the problem, apply the law and apply the gospel of Christ and the principles of God’s Word to the situation. Set up structures of accountability to help this person to begin to implement what you are teaching him. And pray for God’s Spirit to make it effectual to his heart The Bible is sufficient for our counseling. Have confidence in the scriptures.

What about that person with severe clinical depression, so severe she can hardly function? She’s even beginning to rock back and forth when she’s seated and to walk hunched over on the verge of a catatonic state? Well, we do need to understand that there can be physical and hormonal factors that can cause or contribute to this and even problems with the physical organ of the brain. The Bible itself teaches us that. The Bible teaches that there is a delicate interplay between the body and the soul and the ins and outs of that interplay can be difficult to discern at times. She may need to see a doctor to help discover if there’s anything like that going on and there may be something medical that can help her to at least be in a state of mind to be able to listen to you. You may also need to recommend physical rest and exercise and things of that nature. There’s nothing wrong with learning about the human body and the functions of the brain from other sources of knowledge in the realm of natural revelation, so long as all such knowledge is viewed through the spectacles of Scripture and subjected to the scrutiny of Scripture. But always remember when it comes to any behavior or attitude the Bible clearly defines as sin, and when it comes to deliverance from sin and the cultivation of the opposite graces, the scriptures give us what we need. The gospel is enough, Christ is enough. And we never go wrong in counseling when we say what the Scripture say and only what the Scripture will allow us to say. We can be confident that if the counsel we give is scriptural it is good counsel and the best counsel.

Sixthly, the sufficiency of Scripture reminds us that the ministry of the word must be kept central in the life and worship of the Church. Nothing else must ever be allowed to replace, diminish or marginalize the ministry of the word in the church. It’s not healing services, it’s not miracle workers or people speaking in tongues, it’s not interpretative dancing or ornate religious ceremonies and beautiful banners and clever gimmicks, it’s not more concerts and musical entertainment to keep people entertained that people need. What people need is the word of God. So the ministry of the word must be kept central in the worship and life of the church and we must never compromise on that point.

And then, finally, how should the sufficiency of Scripture affect our preaching? Paul says it right after the text we’ve been considering. He says in the first two verses of the next chapter, ch. 4, “I charge you, therefore, before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”  This is a very solemn charge. Paul says, “I charge you, therefore”, I adjure you, I bring you, as it were, under solemn oath with respect to this. And I do it, “In the presence of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His Kingdom.”  I do it reminding you of where you are and where you’re heading. Where you are, you’re in the presence of God and you’re always in His presence. He sees you and he know everything about you. He sees you now. And where are you heading? You’re heading to the judgment Christ is coming to judge the living and the dead at the consummation of his kingdom. He will appear in all of his glory. And on that day every man, woman, boy and girl will stand before him to be judged. Those to whom you minister must stand before Christ. You yourself must stand before Christ to give an account of your ministry.

Brothers, on that day it won’t matter what people think about me or what people say about me. There’s a sense in which I don’t really care what you think about me or about my posts. All that really matters is what Christ thinks and what Christ knows and what Christ says about me and about you. And in light of these sobering realities, here is what we must do. Preach the word! Preach it, in season and out of season. When it’s hard and when it’s glorious. When it’s convenient and when it’s inconvenient. When you’re praised for it and when you’re ridiculed. When the conditions are favorable for preaching and when they’re not so favorable. Keep preaching the Word. Keep at it until you’re no longer physically able to do it or you die or until Christ returns first. And in the end may we all be able to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord himself will give me on that Day, and not to me only but to all who have loved his appearing.”

[1] This and the following paragraph adopted and adapted from the observations of Guy Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 2004), 154ff

[2]1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter One, section 9.