Sola Scriptura: Four Profitable Words
Many years ago, my two friends and I developed an interest in rock climbing. We lived in an area where you could do a lot of top roping. We would walk into the woods and find a rock face. Someone would unpack the gear and tie off the rope and then we would rappel to the bottom. Being inexperienced and a bit apprehensive, it didn't take long for us to develop an important rule: “He who ties the knot goes first!”
On one of our outings, two of us decided to wait at the bottom of the cliff while our friend hiked to the top in order to tie off the rope and then rappel down. We waited below for quite some time but he never threw the rope over the edge. In fact, we didn't see or hear anything coming from above. Finally, curiosity got the best of us and we hiked up to investigate. When we finally reached the top, his back was to us and he was sitting cross-legged. He didn't even hear us approach. When I got close, I peered around to see what he was doing. To my absolute astonishment, I discovered him reading a book on how to tie knots! He looked up rather sheepishly and said, "I was starting to doubt myself."
As I thought about the phrase sola Scriptura, I thought of this story. I thought of it because many believers are like my friend. They are unsure of themselves. They are filled with self-doubt. As a result, the self-help section of the bookstore strains under the weight of numerous titles. Now, let me be clear. I am not suggesting that we dispense with reading anything but the Bible. However, I am suggesting that we have a propensity for looking everywhere but the Bible for help. In other words, we read something in the Bible and we think, "I wonder what book I can read to help me with this or that?" Let me suggest an alternative practice. Let us look to the Bible as a sufficient help for faith and life. In fact, Paul tells us four things in II Timothy 3:16 that will help us in that direction.
First, Paul says that the Bible is profitable for teaching. What exactly is the didactic aim of Scriptural teaching? It's simple. God’s word teaches us to think God’s thoughts after Him. Why is that so important? It is important because, as God says to his people through the prophet Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” And later, “So the people without understanding are ruined.” In other words, Scripture is profitable for teaching the knowledge of God. As Paul says in Romans 6:17, there is a form of teaching, which must be known by all God’s people because a lack thereof will bring ruin upon God’s people.
Second, the word of God is profitable for reproof. Now, this benefit flows from the first. In other words, the word of God is profitable for teaching. But what is taught enters through our ears, into our minds and then from there it passes into our conscience. What happens then? It begins to comfort or convict us. In other words, it begins to shape us. God's word shapes our thinking about God, the world, people, and us. If I can put it the way Jesus did, taking this word into our conscience is like finding a rock upon which to stand no matter what we are thinking about.
Third, the word of God is profitable for correction. Just as the teaching passes into our minds and then into our conscience it must pass into our lives. In other words, the word of God tells us what we need to add and subtract from our living. Have you taken inventory of your practices lately? What practice needs to be uprooted and what needs to be put in its place?
There is a fourth profitable thing. The word is profitable for training in righteousness. The word Paul uses here is a word that flows from what I’ve been saying. It’s the same word the author of Hebrews used in 12:7, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” The word translated “discipline” is our word for training. God is training you by His word.
And Paul has already given Timothy an example of this very thing. In the verses immediately preceding the one we are considering, Paul says, “You, however, continue in the things you learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Let me ask you a simple question. What word are you continuing in these days?
Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R Publishing) and Managing Editor for Place for Truth.