The Necessary Word
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The Necessary Word

What do Christians mean when we say that the Bible is “profitable” for life? Alistair Begg challenges us to consider that when the Bible speaks, God speaks, and His Word is both powerful and beneficial. Scripture brings the light of the Gospel to dark minds, empowers God’s people to battle sin, and strengthens the afflicted in times of need.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Work of the Word

Four Essential Attributes of Scripture 2 Timothy 3:16–17 Series ID: 27301

A Study in 2 Timothy, Volume 3

God’s Word for Godless Times 2 Timothy 3:1–4:5 Series ID: 15504

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, as we turn to your Word, before we come around the Table as Jesus has bidden us, we pray that you will constrain and curtail our thoughts and guide them into your truth. Because, as we were thinking this morning, as we were learning this morning, that you have “breathed out” your Word, and your Word is “profitable for teaching.” Teach us, we pray. For your Son’s sake. Amen.

Well, I want essentially to give you three more observations that would have been part of this morning if I hadn’t done such a poor job of trying to keep time. And I want to do so largely from the Psalms, and particularly from Psalm 119.

It’s quite wonderful to sit up here and listen to that story being told to the children and to realize, just in a very simple way, that it reinforces what we have been saying to one another in the mornings about the importance and priority and sufficiency of the Bible. And we trust and pray that these youngsters are beginning to form a real deep-seated conviction about that without even knowing that they are, so that in years to come, it will be almost second nature to them to turn to their Bibles. And part of that will be attributed to the way in which you, many of you, have taught them here, in various places around the building, and we’ve been able to reinforce it in some measure on occasions like this.

For those of you who weren’t present this morning, we’re still going through 2 Timothy. We’ve reached the section where Paul, at the end of chapter 3, reminds Timothy that the “Scripture,” the Bible, “is breathed out by God,” and because of the authority that is in it as the very Word of God and the breath of God, it therefore is “profitable” in a number of areas; four he mentions in particular. And when these aspects of teaching ministry are in place, then Timothy and others like him can anticipate that the people of God—expressly, he says, “the man of God”—will then, through the teaching of God’s Word, be “equipped for every good work.”[1]

And as I was preparing for this Sunday, and as I had in mind our closing hymn from this morning—which, of course, was “The Word of God is,” it begins, “light in my darkness” and “hope for the hopeless,”[2] or “help for the helpless”; I can never remind. And so my mind was running along those lines. And so, what I wanted to do was to remind us that although there are many ways in which the Bible is profitable for teaching, it is first of all profitable because it is absolutely necessary, and it is absolutely necessary because we need light in our darkness. We need the darkness of our lives to be exposed and for the light of the truth of God’s Word to shine into that darkness.

The Clarity of God’s Word

So, Psalm 119. Those of you who have been doing Murray M’Cheyne have been reading through Psalm 119; we’re beyond it now. But Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” It’s a well-known word, and it is a straightforward statement of the truth that runs through the entire Bible. Sometimes when we pray, we use a little chorus that some of us are familiar with since our youth where we ask God to “make the Book live to” us—not that it isn’t already alive, but we mean in terms of its application to our individual lives. And the chorus goes,

Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
[And] show me myself and show me my Savior.[3]

And the work of God is to shine into the life of an individual and do exactly that.

Although there are many ways in which the Bible is profitable for teaching, it is first of all profitable because it is absolutely necessary, and it is absolutely necessary because we need light in our darkness.

It is, of course, appropriate for us to have sung that hymn by Martin Luther. And it’s also equally appropriate for us to remind ourselves that God did exactly that in the life of a Roman Catholic monk, Martin Luther, when in 1511, in the sixteenth century, he himself, in great anguish of spirit, had gone to Rome to spend a significant period of time in order to try and unburden his soul. What happened to him was just the reverse: his burden was increased. And despite the religious exercises which he pursued dutifully for a period of one month, he writes that it only served to deepen his sense of disillusionment. He was operating on the basis that a good God is bound to accept a good monk if he is doing all that he can.

But he was wrestling with this essential problem: How could he ever be good enough? How could it ever be possible to tip the balance in favor of himself? He would need to be absolutely perfect, and he couldn’t be perfect. And he was completely overwhelmed by the notion of the righteousness of God—that God demanded a righteousness, demanded that men and women were placed in a right standing before him. And then he says, “Suddenly, the light went on, and I realized” that Romans 1:17 was not talking about a righteousness that he, Martin Luther, needed to produce, but rather a righteousness which God in Christ had provided. “In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.”[4] “A righteousness that is by faith from first to last.”

It is the Bible that we need to show us that, to shine into our darkness to show us that we are actually by nature walking in the dark. That’s what Jesus said: “The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.”[5] And by nature, we’re lost. That’s why Jesus again says that “I came seeking to save those that were lost.”[6] Jesus has nothing to say to the person who says, “I’m religiously fine. I’m perfectly okay. No, I’m not lost. I’m not in need of anything at all.” Now, what does that person need? Well, they need that the Bible will be taught to them in such a way and applied by the Spirit in such a way that they will see themselves as God sees them, and then that they will see Christ in all of his fullness.

That’s why we remind ourselves consistently that the Bible is not a science book. It’s a salvation book. It’s a Bible. It’s a book that is all about salvation, so that even as we’re reading this story here with the youngsters tonight and we have this thought of Joseph in the appointed place of God in order to be essentially a savior for the people of God,[7] it points us forward to the one who is the Savior for the people of God—namely, Jesus himself.

And so, the light of the Word of God teaches us that we are glorious, made in the image of God; that we are guilty sinners, spoiled by our rebellion against God; that we are the beneficiaries of the seeking and saving grace of God; that we are able to come to this Table because of the sin-bearing, substitutionary death of the Son of God; and, as we learned in the children’s lesson, even when the bad days come and the difficult days come and it would appear that everything was against us, the Bible tells us that we are under the jurisdiction of he who is a sovereign God and a triumphant King.

When I went home this afternoon and had a little time, I’m always very happy when the Banner of Truth magazine comes. I don’t know how many of you take the Banner of Truth magazine. I fear that many of you have never even seen it. This is the best value for money in any magazine that you have ever found. It’s very small. We bring it to the bookstore, but apparently, nobody buys it at all. And I don’t say that in any spirit of judgment. I’m just telling you that it’s there, and then I think they give them away in the end. But it’s the best thing, because there’s no advertisements in it, except maybe “You could buy a book” or something. But it’s just a great wee magazine. And it occurs to me that somebody could become our kind of Banner of Truth representative, thereby saving the bookstore a whole nother dimension and making sure that all the orders were channeled through one individual, and then you could get your Banner of Truth magazine when it arrives. Sounds like a big partly political broadcast for the Banner of Truth magazine, but in actual fact, it’s only $3.50, and it comes out on a monthly basis.

But it’s remarkable how, you know, when your mind is going in a certain direction and you’re picking things up casually, it reinforces where you are. I’m sure you find that too. And so, you know, I went home, and I was thinking Martin Luther, and then there’s a wonderful article here on John Knox. And it identifies a number of things about Knox, who was a Scottish Reformer, as you know. And the one that struck me most forcibly was that John Knox was convinced that when the Bible speaks, God speaks. I said, “Oh, that’s good. So at least we’re standing on the shoulders of Knox.” And then you have this wonderful quote from his Works, volume 4. Listen to this. This is John Knox:

For as the Woorde of God is the beginning of lyfe spirituall, without which all flesh is dead in God’s presence, and the lantern to our fete, without the brightnes whereof all the posteritie of Adam … walk in darkenes; and as it is the foundacion of faith, withoute which no man understand[s] the good wil of God, so it is also the onelye organe and instrument which God use[s] to strengthen the weake, to comfort the afflicted, to reduce to mercy by repentance such as have slydden, and, finally, to preserve and kepe the very lyfe of the soule in all assaultes and temptations. And ther[efore], if that [you] desyre your knowledge to be increased, your faith to be confirmed, your conscience[s] to be quyeted and comforted, [and], finally, your soule to be preserved in lyfe, let youre exercise bee frequent in the [Word] of your … God.[8]

Teaching us, bringing light into our darkness. So, clarity.

The Purity of God’s Word

Secondly and more briefly, purity. Still in Psalm 119. You remember how the second section begins: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”[9] So, as the Bible is taught to us, not only is it a means whereby we come to salvation and where the deceptions of our hearts are exposed and where we are brought back into the mainstream of God’s purposes, but also, as we’re taught, we are made aware of the fact that temptation is a reality, that impurity is a mark of the godless, that the danger of being sucked into that vortex is real, particularly for young men and young women; and therefore, if they would inquire of us, “How in the world am I supposed to make it through my life?” we would tell them, “Read your Bible. Read your Bible. Because this book is breathed out by God, and it is beneficial for you. It is useful for you. It is profitable for you. It will bring clarity to the darkness of your heart, and it will lead you in the pathway of purity.”

The Bible tells us that we are under the jurisdiction of he who is a sovereign God and a triumphant King.

I was with some college students this week, and I was reminding them of the old chestnut of a story—but it still is good, isn’t it? And some of you youngsters may not have heard me tell this: of how the chaplain to the sailors in the British navy down in Portsmouth, on the South Coast of England, was doing a Bible study with some of the sailors. And in the course of that, the sailors said to him, “You know, pastor, it’s because you don’t live in the real world that you don’t understand how we just can’t stand against many of these temptations. We’re just led away by them. We’re unable to do anything about it.” Essentially, they were saying, “We’re not really responsible at all.” And the chaplain in a moment of inspiration said, “Hey, turn around, and let’s just look at these boats as they’re moving back and forth across the bay here in Portsmouth, with their sails up and going.” He said, “It’s interesting, isn’t it, that they’re going in different directions but only by one wind?” And then he said,

One boat goes east,
One boat goes west,
By the self-same winds that blow.
And it’s the set of the sails,
And not the gales,
That determines which way they go.[10]

And the Word of God sets our sails.

The Security of God’s Word

Clarity. Purity. Thirdly and finally, security. Still in Psalm 119, verse 73 this time: “Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.” Verse 76: “Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.” And that was not the verse that I wanted to read. Yes, it was. But the second verse wasn’t. What I wanted to note was, number one, “Your hands have made and fashioned me.” And then, in verse 75, “In [your] faithfulness you have afflicted me.” And then, in 76, “Let your steadfast love”—“your hesed, covenant-keeping love”—“comfort me.”

You see how it’s going to be the Bible that teaches us this. Some of us have difficulties in our lives that appear perhaps insurmountable—perhaps physical things that we never really talk about, or elements in our psyche that is a destabilizing force, or whatever it might be. We’re tempted to say to ourselves, “You know, God has really made a bit of a mess of me, hasn’t he? I mean, I don’t think I should be the way I am.” Well, no. You need your Bible here to help you: “Your hands have made and fashioned me.” And then we say, “Well, if I was really a good Christian, if I was a really diligent Christian, then, of course, I would be free from any kind of difficulty and heartache and so on.” Well then, you need your Bible to help you: “It is ‘in [your] faithfulness’ that ‘you have afflicted me.’ And therefore, I need ‘your steadfast love’ to ‘comfort me.’ You have made me, you’ve afflicted me, and you comfort me.”

Which then led me to my conclusion, which is just back one psalm, which is Psalm 118, and to two verses that were first pointed out to me by my boss, Derek Prime, a hundred years ago, when I was with him in Edinburgh as his assistant. And one day, at our team meeting, he said that he had been struck by Psalm 118:13–14, which read as follows:

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
 but the Lord helped me.

The Lord is my strength and my song;
 [and] he has become my salvation.

And some of you may be here tonight, on this first Sunday night of a new month, and that seems to be an accurate description of your circumstances: you’re pushed hard, being pushed back, feeling that forces are against you in an untoward way. Maybe physical. Maybe psychological. Maybe just a spiritual warfare that you feel unable for. “I was pushed hard, so that I was [actually] falling.” You know when somebody gives you a push, and you have that moment where you almost go down? That’s the position that he has: “I’m being pushed back, and I was falling.” And then, all of a sudden, a hand reaches down: “The Lord helped me.” And then he says, “Yeah, the Lord helped me, because he’s my strength. He’s my song. He’s my salvation.” Pushed back. Falling. Helped. Strengthened. Singing. Saved.

Where do we learn all this? In our Bibles:

Oh, the B-i-b-l-e.
… That’s the book for me;
I stand alone on the Word of God,
The B-i-b-l-e.

There is no other place on which to stand. Our world is broken and phenomenally confused. And God has opened your eyes to this truth. May he then open our lips that we may declare his praise[11] and so guard and guide our lives that we might be useful to him, able to speak to the issue of clarity, strengthened by the reminder of security, and, yes, warned and enabled to walk in the pathway of purity.

Well, Father, we thank you again that we’re able to rehearse with the children and on the fact that “your word is … fixed in the heavens,”[12] that you accomplish your purposes by the truth of your Word. And we thank you tonight that you have given it to us, have preserved it for us, and that we have freedom of access to it. We pray that you will come and refine us. Save us from ourselves and from foolish temptations and tendencies. Help us not to be deceived by the allure of the pleasures of sin, which only last for a wee while, or by riches, or by our own sinful hearts. Accomplish your purposes, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] 2 Timothy 3:17 (ESV).

[2] Andi Rozier, “Word of God” (2012).

[3] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.

[4] Romans 1:17 (NIV 1984).

[5] John 12:35 (ESV).

[6] Luke 19:10 (paraphrased).

[7] See Genesis 50:20.

[8] “A Most Wholesome Counsel […],” in The Works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1855), 4:133–34.

[9] Psalm 119:9 (ESV).

[10] Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “The Winds of Fate,” in World Voices (New York: Hearst’s International Library Company, 1916), 51. Paraphrased.

[11] See Psalm 51:15.

[12] Psalm 119:89 (ESV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.