The Word Brings Forth Life

My first in depth encounter with this set of verses came when I was memorizing the Navigators TMS (Topical Memory System) and learning how to grow through mediation on the Bible. I recall being a bit confused as to how I could trust the message of these verses. It was Scripture that promoted the argument that the Scriptures came from God. Almost like an American who asserts that America has replaced Israel as God’s chosen nation, the claim seemed a bit self-serving. This was my attitude towards this passage until I realized that Paul (the human author of this text) was not writing this down with the understanding that he was penning what would one day be referred to as Scripture itself. This fact seemed to actually help me in my full acceptance of the passage’s legitimacy.

This made it seem more personal. This was a man writing (albeit under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) from his own experience in life. Paul was confirming that the Scriptures he had access to (the Old Testament) were divinely inspired and were of the utmost importance when it came to walking in righteousness before God. The fact that Paul’s words about those Scriptures have withstood the rigorous and extensive scrutiny of time, cannons and Christian history so that we today hold to them as Scripture themselves only adds authority to their practical wisdom and spiritual truth.

As I have pondered this passage over the last seven years, the Spirit has faithfully provided understanding. I have collected these insights below into sections that address the bibliological truths and practices inferred by them. I would also refer you to my personal faith statement as it pertains to bibliology.

 

God Breathed

The first term of interest in this passage is “inspired by God.” Of course, depending on what translation you read the phrase can be rendered differently. Some versions (such as the NIV and ESV) render the word in the more formal (literal) translation “God breathed.” This term comes from the Greek transliteration of the word “theopneustos.” This Greek word is only used once in the Bible and is derived from two root words “theos” meaning “God” and “pneō” meaning “to breathe or to blow.” So the formal translation of this word is “God breathed,” whereas the dynamic translation (or thought) is “inspired by God.”

However, I find it fascinating that Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) chose the term “theopneustos.” This phrasing specifically encompasses the English word “breathe.” It does not include in any form the Greek word “empnéf̱sei,” which is the literal English translation for the word “inspire.” Perhaps the Holy Spirit wished to create the image that the Scriptures come directly out of the mouth of God, not as being spoken but rather as being breathed out or exhaled. But why is this imagery important?

As I embarked on a quest for other references to the breath of God, I found that “the breath of God” is almost always synonymous with “the breath of life.” At least seven times in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament “the breath of God” is referenced in bringing things to life, creating things (some of which had once existed and had since past) or sustaining living things[1]. We can see the poetic correlation here between God’s breath being life-giving and how the Scriptures give life to the believer. Essentially Paul is saying the Scriptures are our air; oxygen is to physical life as the word of God is to spiritual life.

But this is not the only way the breath of God is used throughout the Scriptures. As a matter of fact in stark contrast to the breath of God bringing life, we also see it bringing death or an end to certain things[2]. So is this a contradiction? Not at all. Actually when we look at the things to which the breath of God brings death, we find those things to be representative of evil or of the temporary things that are fleeting and ultimately worthless. For instance, in Isaiah 40:7 we see the breath of God bringing an end to the grass and flowers of the fields. This speaks to the truth that all mankind will experience physical death. But isn’t the end of physical life nothing more than the beginning of the next stage of eternal life?

We also see the breath of God bringing an end to the “lawless one” in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. The “lawless one” is most likely a reference not only to the Anti-Christ to come but could include all those who stand in opposition to Christ. But once again would we not expect the breath of God, which put life into a non-perishable being in the beginning, to bring an end to the one who stands for the destruction of all things good? Moreover can’t an argument be made that the breath of God would also drive out all signs of death and destruction when it is renewing or restoring life to something that is currently in a state of death?

Thus is the case in Ezekiel 37:1-14. There are two different uses of the word “breath” in this passage. The first “breath” is used in reference to the Spirit of God. And this “breath” calls forth another “breath” that fills the newly recreated flesh of the dry bones. Bones that once belonged to the living but that had passed into death and become dry. The metaphor here is in reference to Israel; the chosen people who once revered and loved the Lord their God but then chose death and destruction. However, He was going to breathe life back into their dry bones and restore their spiritual life by giving them new “breath” through His “breath,” the Spirit. Is it possible that the reference to the “breath” that fills the flesh is a reference to the Word of God? If so, we can interpret this second usage of the word “breath” to be the Word of God (revealed at that moment in prophetic form by Ezekiel), then the metaphor could certainly be expanded to serve as a type and shadow for the revealed Word we now have in the Bible. The metaphor’s message would thus be, “the Word of God brings life into the lifeless.”

Thus we see that God’s breath brings life, perhaps even more specifically eternal and abundant spiritual life. We also see that in doing so it brings death to the temporary desires, passions, and the sinful nature of our flesh. And this is the very reason why Paul chose to use the phrase “God breathed.” He wanted Timothy to understand the vital importance of the Scriptures in the life of the Christ-follower. He was stressing this as a tool for Timothy’s personal growth and also as a mechanism for Timothy to properly and effectively sow the power of God into his flock at the church at Ephesus.

 

Profitable For

In the next section Paul gives us a list of what the breath of God (the Scriptures) is profitable for in the life of the believer. However there is nothing (contextually nor expressly) in the text that suggests the Scriptures are profitable exclusively for believers.

In fact God does use His Word to change the hearts of non-believers. I have seen this firsthand in the life of one of my disciples who came to Christ not through explanation of the Scriptures but simply through reading them. Of course the typical way the non-believer comes to Christ through the Scriptures is with the help of one who has a good grasp of them. We see this in the account of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.[3] In either instance it was the Word of God that guided them to salvation.

After stating that the Scriptures are profitable, Paul could have stopped. But he did not. Following “profitable” we get the word “for.” Therefore, the word “profitable” takes on the meaning “useful” or “adequate;” Paul is about to tell us for what the Scriptures are adequate.

 

Teaching

In the flow of the text, it seems that the word “teaching” is referring to an initial introduction to an idea or way of thinking. This is important because many pastors and ministries don’t begin with the Scriptures but rather hope to one day “work up to it.” Sadly this ministry philosophy makes some fatal assumptions.

It assumes that the reader (especially if they are new to the things of God or a non-believer) will not be able to understand the Scriptures. This usually stems from a fear that the Bible is too difficult to understand given the “antiquated genres, illustrations, and context of the writings.” But this is assuming the reader is reading it without any help from the Spirit. Paul is stating that the Scriptures are able to teach; the Spirit helps us understand the Lord’s will that is expressed in them.

Another dangerous assumption is that the Scriptures aren’t captivating or entertaining enough for today’s audience. When Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, all of the Scriptures he had access to were more than 400 years old (and some were 1600 years old). Yet Paul still says the Scriptures are profitable for teaching. At its core the Word of God is communicating a message that will always be relevant, relatable, and timeless.

We don’t need to start our or others explorations of Jesus and Christian-living with modern-day theological thinking or extra-biblical materials such as Christian books (or in particular Christian books that are focused more on philosophical musings rather than expository teaching and personal testimony). We need to begin at the source and teach using the Scriptures. God has only authored one book. Instead of learning a lot about the book, wouldn’t it be better to first read the book itself? Otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to being misled and to misleading younger believers or non-believers.

This doesn’t infer it’s unacceptable to explain the Word of God using examples from modern times or even to start with the example and then point to that example’s origin in the Scriptures. This can build an appreciation for the Word of God. For example it can be a powerful tool to practice getting inside the heads of the characters and times of the Bible. Daniel was a young man who was ripped away from his family, taken to a new culture, and exposed to a different lifestyle and thoughts. While the details are very different, the challenges he faced may be similar to that of a college freshman venturing out on his own for the first time. Illustrations such as this can be very useful in drawing one into the Word of God and illustrating its relevance to everyday situations in the twenty-first century.

As far as the Church is concerned, the Bible must be the basis for every ounce of doctrine. Otherwise we are left to fall back on things of a human nature and origin. Philosophy will always fail to grasp and communicate truth the way only the Word of God can. The Word of God is primarily and most clearly presented to us today through the words of the Bible. Therefore we must teach our flocks the Scriptures without feeling the need to compromise, apologize, or dumb down their meaning in order to be appealing. The Scriptures are (and always have been and will be) the most adequate tool in producing Godly wisdom.

 

Reproof and Correction

While it is true that reproof and correction are different in definition, they are undeniably linked. The natural outcome of effective reproof is correction to one’s thinking. Paul tells us that the Scriptures are profitable for such reproof and correction. The study and consumption of them is able to change our incorrect beliefs, attitudes, theology, and dispositions if we allow them. They are able to transform our mind[4] to that of Christ.

We need reproof. We need correction. So do others. Because of our sinful nature and our broken state, both believers and non-believers benefit from the reproof and correction of the Scriptures. For instance if a non-believer expresses an opinion about Jesus that is false {“Jesus never claims to be God,” or “Jesus never claims to be the only way”), the Scriptures can be used to refute that claim. We are then able to gently correct them. This has great profit for the non-believer as now they know they are no longer able to genuinely claim that Jesus does not claim to be the son of God or that he does in fact say there is only one way to the Father.

Of course this is not only true and useful for non-believers but also for the believer. We are still subject to the earthly shell and the human nature, and we need to be corrected at times. The Scriptures are not only a profitable place for us to turn but are the predominate place we should turn.

As a pastor or ministry leader when people come to us for advice or with questions, there should be no other source we look to first other than the Scriptures. They are adequate for reproof and correction of thinking.

Training in Righteousness

We are also told that the Scriptures are able to train us in righteousness. The word train here is best defined as, “instruction which aims at increasing virtue.” The “virtue” or the “aim” of the Scriptures is to provide instruction that increases the reader’s righteousness. Essentially the Scriptures’ goal is to make us more into the image of Christ.

This should be the goal of every pastor and ministry leader. It is our calling to grow more and more into the image of Christ and to direct others on the same path. If this is to be our aim, then why not use a tool which is aimed to accomplish the work? Would a carpenter use his hands to drive a nail when he has a hammer sitting on the bench next to him? Then let us not neglect the primary tool to train ourselves and others in the ways of Christ.

 

The Result

If we are faithful to look to the eternal, life-giving, sin-killing Scriptures, which are good for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, then we can expect to reproduce fully-equipped laborers for the Kingdom of God. We are commanded to reproduce in the Great Commission.[5] And God has given us a tool that is able to provide all we need to do so and is also able to sustain the laborer as they labor. If we feed them the Scriptures as we do ourselves, then they will be ‘thoroughly equipped for every good work.”


Footnotes

[1] Genesis 2:7, Job 27:3, Job 33:4, Psalm 18:15, Psalm 33:6, Ezekiel 37:9, Malachi 2:15 and Revelation 11:11.

[2] Job 4:9, Isaiah 30:33, Isaiah 40:7 and 2 Thessalonians 2:8

[3] Acts 8:26-40

[4] Romans 12:2

[5] Matthew 28:19 – “make disciples”



Ads go here