I’m thinking at the moment about some words the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim: 3:16-17, NASB)
I have been taught–and have no real reason to question it–that Paul’s words to Timothy in this and the other epistle are for the context of instructing him as he was functioning in a leadership role. When church leaders today read this passage, they often see it as a mandate for how they should preach the Word of God to others. But if we look a couple of verses earlier, we see the words, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of…” (v. 14) This suggests to me that this isn’t actually talking about preaching to others. Rather, I think Paul was instructing Timothy to apply the Scripture to himself–to allow the Scripture to instruct, reprove, correct and train his own heart.
This reminds me of something else Paul told Timothy earlier in this letter:
“Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:14-15, NASB, emphasis mine.)
I have really been pondering lately how we handle the Scripture, how we’ve been trained to handle it–especially as leaders, but really most Christians in general. (It was the primary motivation behind this recent post about how we use Scripture in debates.) I am coming to see that we do a disrespect for Scripture when we sort of hijack it for our own purposes–that we get too consumed with aiming Scripture at others to affect their behavior and attitudes, rather than letting the Scripture deal with our own issues. And far, far too often, leadership uses Scripture to control people rather than set them free.
For as long as I can remember, I have seen Scripture as sacred, living and powerful–the standard and the plumb line for life. I don’t think it ever really registered with me that maybe Scripture could actually be used to do damage. But it makes sense if you think about it. A chainsaw is a power tool that really helps when we need to remove a tree, but used the wrong way, it can kill people. Likewise, the Scripture is good, but it can be used for evil purposes. (Even Satan has been known to quote Scripture.)
If we Christians truly value the Bible as we say we do, it seems to me we would be more committed to accurately handling it–and that starts with letting it instruct and reprove us first. We can grapple and even debate to understand it, but at the end of the day what matters is whether we allow Scripture to change us, not try to use Scripture to change others–and certainly not to control them. To not have this priority, in my view, is to disrespect Scripture.
Perhaps my recent ponderings of this issue are why I was so deeply impacted today when I went to see the movie The Book of Eli. It frustrates me that there is very little I can say about it without spoiling it. Suffice it to say that I picked up a powerful statement in it about what can happen when the Bible is misused, and by contrast, the amazing things that can happen when it is proplerly valued. This is one of those films that conveys devastating truth, and something I think Christians everywhere should see. It is sure to offend the very religious, but for many it might renew a proper respect for Scripture.
After all, if this really is the inspired Word of God, I think we can trust God to use it to fulfill His purposes in others. May we respect it enough to let it work its transformation in our own hearts and lives.