2 Timothy 3:16-4:5 (Reformation Sunday)
“The Word They Still Shall Let Remain”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
October 25, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The text chosen for Reformation Sunday is from 2 Timothy 3 and 4:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
1I 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: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 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, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
This text of God’s Word was written by the apostle Paul to a young pastor in the Church at Ephesus. The Early Church had no schools that resemble our seminaries today, so Paul mentored several young men, teaching and encouraging them as pastors of God’s people. One of those students of Paul was Timothy. This second letter to Timothy is a bold, clear call for perseverance in the Gospel in spite of suffering. Paul calls on his young coworker to continue the fight of faith.
In the verses we consider this morning Paul affirms the divine inspiration of the holy Scriptures. “All Scripture is God-breathed.” All Scripture is equally God’s Word, the very thoughts and words of God written down by His chosen writers as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) It is this Word of God that is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” And it is this Word of God that people reject because their ears itch to hear other things that are more suitable to their own tastes.
Go back with me 498 years. The Word of God was not the only word being used to teach and reprove, correct and train people. The word of church councils and of popes trumped God’s Word, or at the very least was deemed equal to it. “Do what the church tells you to do, and you can be saved” was the flavor of the day. “Do enough of what the church says qualifies you, and you can go to heaven. Don’t do enough, and you’ll have to spend time in purgatory, working off the earthly punishment for sins that you didn’t have enough time to merit before you died.” Better yet, you could buy an indulgence. You could pay Johann Tetzel for a piece of paper, signed by the authority of the Pope in Rome, guaranteeing you full forgiveness of sins and the ability to skip purgatory altogether. And why not buy one for your loved ones and friends? “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings the soul from purgatory springs.”
While being good and making God happy is a perfectly human way of thinking about salvation from sin and death, and while paying for forgiveness of sins which was financing St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome seems logical and noble to human logic, guess where you won’t find it mentioned? Guess where there is no talk about earning forgiveness or buying forgiveness or working off the punishment of sin in purgatory? If you guessed the Holy Scriptures, you’re right! It’s not in the Word of God. It took a German monk by the name of Martin Luther to point Christendom back in the right direction—to the God-breathed Word alone as the source of teaching, correction, reproof, and training in righteousness.
One of the essential aspects of the Lutheran Reformation is summed up in the Latin words, “Sola Scriptura,” which means, “Scripture Alone.” There is nothing more authoritative than God’s Word in the Bible. It is to be the only guiding principal and rule of all teaching and no person’s writings—not the pope’s, not church councils, not Luther, not anyone’s—can be put on par with it. Everything must be totally subject to God’s Word. That is what Luther did. He subjected the teachings and doctrines and practices of the church in his day to the God-breathed Scriptures. And the teachings didn’t hold up. Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” And from today’s Epistle, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, to be received by faith. . . . Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Rom. 3:19ff)
Scripture alone tells us that it is by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone that we receive the forgiveness of sins and rescue from death and the devil. We are declared “not guilty” of sin because Jesus died for us, paying for all our sins of thought, word, and deed in full with His holy precious blood. We don’t have to work for it. We don’t have to do anything to earn it nor do we have to buy it. Salvation from death and hell through the forgiveness of sins is God’s free gift to us in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells me so—God’s Word alone.
As we near the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, just two years away, all Scripture is still God’s breathed Word. It is still profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness. As with people in all ages, we too must be aware of itching ears that do not want to receive the Scriptures as God’s Word. We must be careful of listening to the words of others and accepting them as an authority over and above Scripture. Like everyone else, Christians are not exempt from having itching ears. We don’t always listen to what God’s Word says. We listen to the temptations of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. At times we surround ourselves with people who say the things we want to hear, so that we can do the things we want to do. We let our peers set our standards for how we speak and how we act in this or that setting. And no, it’s not the deep things of theology. It’s the simple things, the basic things of living the life of faith in Jesus Christ over against living life in the way the rest of the nonbelieving world lives it.
For example, God’s Spirit-breathed Word says that sexual activity is reserved for the married husband and wife alone. Yet the world lives a life of promiscuity and Christians fall prey to what their itching sexual ears want to hear. God’s Spirit-breathed Word says that we should love our enemies and pray for those who hate us and despitefully use us. (Luke 6:27-28) We often plot and plan revenge. We gossip and speak ill of others who are not up to our standards. You and I wander off into the myths that the devil, the world, and our nature lay out before us as fact, and we fall for the lies. We don’t always look to the Word of God for instruction, for training, or for correction and reproof. After all, who wants to be told what they are doing is wrong or sinful? Who wants to be called to task for things they believe are okay to be doing? But that is a function of God’s Word. Out of His love for us, the Lord seeks to curb outbursts of sin. He wants us to see our sinful rejection of His Word for what it is and realize that our sins condemn us to death and hell. That’s the work of God’s Word of Law. We are shown clearly from God’s Word that we have sinned, that our itching ears have been so filled with the things we wanted to hear and we have followed the wrong path.
When the correction and reprimand of God’s Law has crushed us, God’s breathed Word applies the beautiful healing ointment of the Gospel to our bodies and souls. It is in the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for sinners that we hear the forgiving, eternal life-giving words of grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. It’s the message that out of God’s great love for His fallen humanity He sent His Son, Jesus, to be humanity’s Savior. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place so that we might receive His righteousness and holiness. He suffered our punishment of death and hell and we are given forgiveness, resurrection, and everlasting life. It’s all gifted to us, not by works or merit, but simply by God’s grace through the gift of saving faith, trust in His God-breathed Word of Promise that Jesus is our one and only Savior.
You and I, as well as all people, need what the God-breathed Word gives. We need to hear the Word of Law that condemns us, that shows us our sins and our need for a Savior since we are unable cannot save ourselves. We need the Word of the Gospel that bestows on us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The Word of God in the Bible is our go-to for teaching and training in righteousness, our go-to for correction when we need to be corrected and for growing in knowledge of that which is pleasing to the Lord as we live to serve and to obey our God and Savior. It is also our go-to for sharing forgiveness and life with a broken and hurting world that is seeking after anything and everything that suits their own passions. In our day, also, like ourselves at times, so many people do not endure sound teaching. They accumulate for themselves teachers that teach according to their desires exactly what they want to hear and not what they need to hear from God’s Word—His Law and His Gospel. It is then our joyful task to share the God-breathed Word of Holy Scripture—both Law and Gospel. God’s Word is the truth that will set people free from their sins, from death and hell. It is the Word that gives eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the Word of salvation for everyone.
Sola Scriptura—Scripture Alone! By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, receive the truth of His Word in the text of the Bible. Hear the condemnation of the Law. Know your sins and your need for forgiveness. Hear the promise of the Gospel. Know that Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross for you, winning your complete forgiveness; that He rose again guaranteeing your resurrection and eternal life. And share the God-breathed Word. Be ready in season and out of season to speak His Word of Law and Gospel. Point people to the cross of Christ and His empty tomb. Declare the saving gift of God, not by works, but by grace through faith in Jesus. Amen.