“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” II Timothy 3:14-17
“But as for you…”, Paul says twice to Timothy in the space of four verses (v. 10 -14). In both cases he is drawing the strong contrast between the way the world is moving and how a Christian should stand. In a very real sense this is the message to every Christian in every age : the world, the culture, is going one way, “but as for you…”. Unless we get this we are always in danger of being swept up in the currents of contemporary culture and carried to a place far from Christ.
Even within the church itself are there strong forces to adapt our message and our lives to that flow. To succumb, however, is to our peril and the culture’s itself, for we are called to redeem the culture, to transform it in Christ, not to be transformed by it: “Every Christian is called to be different from the world. ‘Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold” (Romans 12:2 JBP):
“Certainly the pressures upon us to conform are colossal, not only from the direct challenge to traditional beliefs and morals, but also – and more – from the insidious and pervasive atmosphere of secularism which even seeps into the church. Many give in, often without realizing what they are doing. But again and again the word of God addresses us, calling us not to be moved. We are not to be like a ‘reed shaken by the wind’, feebly bowing down before it from whatever direction it may blow. Rather, like a rock in a mountain torrent, we are to stand firm.” John Stott, II Timothy, p. 92)
As the foundation of Timothy’s ability to stand “like a rock in a torrent”, Paul calls him to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed”. That is, to remember clearly and hold fast to the faith as delivered by the apostles, to let that faith be the standard of his belief and teaching. It is the same for us, the faith we hold to must be the one “once for all delivered to the saints”, and by that faith we judge everything.
Moreover, this faith and stance are to be shaped by Scripture. Scripture was to be the standard of all Timothy believed and all he taught. It is also to be so for us. From the beginning, the Holy Scripture, those books which the Church has realized and recognized as inspired by God, has been the standard of our belief. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, from Vatican II speaks clearly of the historic belief of the entire Church, whether Catholic or Protestant:
“The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Scripture. For Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testament entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf John 20:31; II Timothy 3:16, II Peter 1:19-21,3:15-16)… Since, therefore , all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers, affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to Sacred Scripture.”
But even beyond that, the inspired Word was to be seen as a living thing that not only set the standard of our faith but which helped to produce that very faith itself. As Paul says, therefore, “it is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Or, as Dei Verbum says, “And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as strength for their faith, food for their soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life.”
The Christian is called to hold fast to the Scripture as both the standard of her belief, a true source of her inspiration, and and a sure fount of her transformation. That is, God has inspired scripture and still inspires those who read Scripture in faith. As such there cannot be much more important task for all of us than to embrace and learn God’s Written Word. To that end, the prayer Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury wrote for the Anglican liturgy should become the prayer of each of us:
“Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” St Jerome