“Famous Last Words,” Week 4 — The “What God Breathed” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Began with a string of negative analogies (check it out);
  • Explained the vast — and liberating — difference between “God-breathed” and “God-dictated”;
  • In the PREACHED version, included a spontaneous shout out to Asbury Seminary’s Dr. David Thompson, the man most responsible for teaching me that HOW that bible says what it says is a key element of WHAT it says.  He died last week at 80;
  • Led to this bottom line:  “The bible is less interested in making you comfortable than in making you useful.”


Maybe you’ve heard of that couple who decided to do something different together to strengthen their marriage. Make it a Beautiful Marriage, no doubt! Anyway, they decided to go duck hunting. Yes! Always a marriage winner! Anyway, they got their equipment, their gear, their duck hunting clothes, their duck caller thing, and even a hunting dog and off they went! But at the end of their first day hunting, no luck ducks. They went Zero For Ducks. So the husband says, “I wonder if we’ve been doing something wrong & that’s why we haven’t caught any ducks yet.” And his wife says, “Maybe next time if we throw the dog up a little higher, THEN he’ll catch some ducks up for us!”

Things don’t go so well when you use something contrary to the way it is intended to be used, do they? It’s why it would be dumb to use this (racket) to sink a pressure putt. It’s why you don’t get in a car to fly to London, you don’t get on a bike to swim across Lake Wylie, why you don’t use Ben Gay as toothpaste or horse manure as lip balm. None of that would go well at all.

And I have to think that all that is part of the problem that a lot of us have when we open up the bible. Oh, we’re we know it’s not book, is library; we’re glad we’re in a church that literally elevates it each week. But at the end of the day, most of us are glad it someone else up there (up here?) teaching from it. Because even though a lot of us have made major progress through the years – and what a great privilege to be in LifeGroups where I get a front row seat to growth and understanding happen! – the fact remains that a lot of us are still novices at it.

And one thing I’ve noticed this that people of all stripes – veterans and beginners alike – and long to gain some comfort from it. Some peace within it. And you’ve stories of people in a season of great chaos randomly opening the bible and it turns to Psalm 46:10 (recite). Or Philippians 4:6-7 (recite). Ah, so comforting. What you don’t hear, of course, is all those times people open it randomly, searching for some comfort and find instead (bizarre place).

Which makes me wonder — what if we are treating the bible like that couple treated their bird dog? In a way that it is not, at the core, designed to be used. And what if in that mis-use we’re missing out on not only on the bible’s power but our destiny? Because we’re going to look at a section in Famous Last Words from the book of 2 Timothy in which it culminates in one of the few times the bible actually talks about … itself! What kind of collection it is and what kind of collection it isn’t. And even more, what is our encounter with that collection designed to do in us and for us – because if we miss it we’re missing out on life. No big deal, right?

Here’s what’s going on in 2 Timothy. We’re in the letter of 2 Timothy during Famous Last Words, called that because these are very likely the final words that Paul ever dictated (wrote) and as he surveys the long arc of his life he wants to pour out his best to his son in the faith Timothy. Really, 2 Timothy is an old sage giving a young whippersnapper advice on how to pastor – in particular, how to pastor a difficult church, which Timothy was doing in Ephesus. That church was in the middle of persecution from beyond and infection from within, so young Timothy is up against opposition wherever he turns. Look at 3:12-13:

12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Tim, my boy, you’re getting what we’re ALL getting. And those deceivers? They’re so good at their deception that they deceive themselves! Sounds like he’s talking about modern preachers! So little has changed when we’ve got modern preachers who deny the Virgin Birth or the reality of heaven and hell or even the science of gender.

Then it turns in 3:14:

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,

You, in contrast, continue in what you’ve always been taught because your teachers had integrity. Their CONTENT is confirmed by their CONDUCT. Your mom, your grandmom, even me, Paul, your father in faith. How so? Ah, it’s 3:15

and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

And you wonder why we do programming in the nursery? That’s why! It gets in even during infancy!

Then Paul lowers the boom in 3:16:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

Now: what some translations render as “inspired” and it is literally “God-breathed” and in English that idea of “inspired” can make us underestimate it. Like I think Tom Petty was inspired when he sang Free Fallin; Shakespeare was inspired when he wrote “King Lear,” George Lucas was inspired when he made “Star Wars.” But none of them were God-breathed. God-breathed is fundamentally, decisively different.

But hold on there as well. God-breathed is not God-dictated. Not at all. You may not know this but it is a really important distinction. Our Muslim friends believe that the Koran is all Allah with no filter. All Muhammed supposedly did with the Koran was be the scribe who dictated what Allah told him. Muslims believe that there is no bit of Muhammed’s personality in the Koran at all. In their mind, the Koran is not God-breathed; it’s God-dictated.

Well, we believe they are tragically mistaken on that but more, we believe the bible is SO DIFFERENT. God didn’t use robots or scribes as authors; no, so much better than that! We believe that he breathed on them and in them and in so doing used their talents and skills and personalities to communicate what we need to know about God and what we need to know about us. I love it! It’s SO FASCINATING! I’m so glad God used the brilliance of Mark to depict the beauty of Jesus.

I’m glad he used the genius of Paul to convey the glory of Christ. I’m glad he used the wonder of David to evoke the worship of the Father. And I’m glad he used the personality of Luke to make us gaze on the person of Jesus! Glory! That’s God-breathed and it’s better, warmer, more alive than God-dictated ever could be.

One more thing … it says “all Scripture.” What does that mean? Cover to cover of your bible? It can’t! Revelation among others hadn’t even been written yet! Then is it OT only since the NT wasn’t complete? No again … Peter himself (2 P 3:16) tells us that they’re already counting Paul’s words as legit & it’s pretty clear Paul was aware of the Gospels & probably even carried one or two with him. So when Paul wrote THIS, did he know that what he was writing would one day be part of inspired Scripture? Ah, that’s the million dollar question! But whether Paul did or didn’t … God DID. And he breathed life into his words. That’s the glorious, beautiful, quirky nature of Scripture … it’s God breathed.

But wait wait wait. The NATURE of Scripture as God breathed on and in has everything to do with its PURPOSE. The WHAT shapes the WHY. Look at 3:16 again:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

teaching rebuking correcting training. Oh gosh. All that God-breathed-ness, all that beauty, all that Jesus soaked power and you see its purpose and it’s almost … AGGRESSIVE. Less about affirmation and more about transformation. Less about soothing you and more about shaping you. Like its role is to take a magnifying glass to your character defects AND your untapped potential. It’s dangerous reading indeed … almost like it reads you more than you read it!

And WHY? The reason, the purpose?

17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Oh my gosh. That’s why we’ve been using this collection in the wrong way. Turns out it is not to be a PILLOW to give you rest; it’s a LAUNCH PAD to propel you into redemption. Here it is: The bible is less interested in making you comfortable than in making you useful. Yep. Now: don’t hear what I’m not saying. There ARE moments of unparalleled comfort and tenderness (Ps 23). Yet those healing moments are to generate momentum to send you and send me into significance. That’s the overarching purpose.  The bible is less interested in making you comfortable than in making you useful.

Useful for what? Well, what’s going on in 2 Timothy? The church is being infected with false teaching. So that’s so YOU would be strong against it … not relying on me or pastors but so that YOU’D be adept at spotting it and being resistant to it. From the almost harmless like an obituary that says “heaven gained another angel” (no … it sounds sweet but it’s not true) to the more serious like good people go to heaven. No, they don’t. Forgiven people do. To even the most common these days – it’s my body and I can do what I want with it with who and how I want. No, it’s not. Your body is not your own; it was bought with a price.   The bible is less interested in making you comfortable than in making you useful.

But beyond that, more than just knowing and not being vulnerable to false teaching, there’s relational health. See, I’ve never seen a marriage suffer because the two people in it were TOO shaped by Jesus’ words on love and forgiveness. Never, not once. Much more common that marriages crumble because of selfishness and self-centeredness which you don’t get by soaking up the words of Jesus. Or financial health – again, I’ve never seen people struggle financially because they followed, for example, Proverbs too closely. You know, earned all they could, saved all they could, gave all they could. Always a recipe for health. Not for comfort, not for affirmation – if you’ve done Dave Ramsey, you know – but for usefulness and wholeness.   The bible is less interested in making you comfortable than in making you useful.

Now: some of you are like GULP! I’m USELESS because I’ve never read it. You know the best time to have entered the world of the bible? Twenty years ago. The second best time? Tomorrow. And here’s the good thing … we don’t just give a random “read the bible” plea; instead we give daily reading prompts so that you read it in a community and with some guidance. (Sign up today.) Because I want to fill your subconscious with the word of God, so that it’s hovering beneath the surface, keeping you strong and making you useful for ministry.

A lot of you know that I became a Xn at 17. 0 to 60 in one night. What you may not know is that for the next 18 months in high school, I read this little NT every night. I thought that’s what Xns were supposed to do! Anyway, what happened is that when I got to college and then during college itself, I grew MORE COMMITTED than when I arrived. Now you could say: WHAT A LOSER! NO PARTY ANIMALING IN COLLEGE AT ALL! Either that – or better – God protected me from my many worst impulses to that I emerged not scarred but saved. And more useful for what was next.

Because I got back to these words of 3:16 – repeat – and how invasive and even aggressive they are. It’s clear they read me more than I read them. They read me to ready me and that’s unnerving until it’s absolutely liberating. Because the same spirit who breathed them into Paul as he wrote breathes understanding into me and to you as we read. That’s what the Spirit of Jesus does. Won’t you say yes to him and to his word today?