The Work of the Word Part 2
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/10/2003
"The Work of the Word"
2 Timothy 3:16b-17
In these days we are studying together 2 Timothy chapter 3 and we're looking at verses 15 to 17. We have been going
through 2 Timothy for a number of months and we've stopped to rest a while, if you will, at verses 15 to 17 and dig a bit
more deeply into their truths. And I thought this morning that it would be fitting again for us to continue our study and try as
we can in the brief time we have to dig a little bit deeply into the elements that we are calling the work of the Word.
Let me read our text to you, beginning in verse 15. "And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are
able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and
profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate,
equipped for every good work."
There is no other place in the New Testament where the work of the Word is so concisely spoken of. And we have been
noting that there are five things that the Word of God does. It provides salvation, according to verse 15...in verse 16,
teaching, reproof, correction and training. And we're looking at these things which we have titled the work of the Word.
Now let me just say by way of introduction that this text more than any other New Testament text and paralleled probably
only by Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 in the Old Testament affirms the absolute sufficiency of Scripture...the absolute sufficiency
of Scripture when it comes to making provision for all spiritual needs. I have affirmed in our study some years ago now on
Psalm 19 that the Word of God is absolutely sufficient for everything pertaining to spiritual life. And that is in essence what
this text says. Scripture is able to make the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished, as the Authorized said, unto all good
works. Scripture is sufficient. It does not need any help. That is why Jude tells us to earnestly contend for the once for all
delivered to the saints faith. That Scripture which was once at one point in time delivered to the saints, the once for all
delivered to the saints faith, Jude 3. We must fight for that. We must contend for that because anyone who comes along with
a false belief system will do one of two things, twist, pervert, attack the Scripture or...and sometimes they do both...add to
the Scripture. You can usually tell a false religious system by the fact that it comes up with new and novel interpretations of
Scripture and also adds to Scripture, as if the Scripture in itself was not adequate, was not sufficient.
For example, the Mormons have decided that the Scripture is not able to stand on its own and they want to add the Book of
Mormon and the Doctrines and Covenants and things like that. Christian Science wants to add Science and Health and Key
to the Scriptures. And all the various cults add to Scripture the writings of the leaders of the various cults. Even the
contemporary Charismatic Movement today is basically built on additional revelation. Jesus is speaking to people, you hear
folks say that the Lord told them this, the Lord told them that, God told them this, the Lord spoke to them and said such and
such. False systems of belief and cults usually have writings and revelations in addition to Scripture. And the underlying
assumption is that Scripture in and of itself is not adequate, is not adequate.
There are, however, even within the mainstream of traditional and historical Christianity those people who question the
truthfulness of Scripture. For example, a poll of Protestant clergymen recently was conducted by sociologist Jeffrey Hayden.
He surveyed 10,000 clergymen of whom 7,441 replied. The questions he asked them were questions like this, for example:
Do you accept Jesus' physical resurrection as a fact? Fifty-one percent of Methodists said no. Thirty-five percent of United
Presbyterian said no. Thirty percent of Episcopalians said no. Thirty-three percent of American Baptist said no. Thirteen
percent of American Lutheran said no. And seven percent of Missouri Synod Lutheran said no. When asked if they believed
that the Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant Word of God, 87 percent of Methodists said no. Ninety-five percent of
Episcopalians said no. Eighty-two percent of Presbyterians said no. Sixty-seven percent of American Baptists said no.
Seventy-seven percent of American Lutherans said no. And 24 percent of the Missouri Synod Lutherans said no.
Now if you have within the traditional mainstream of American Protestantism such disbelief in the authority of Scripture, is it
any wonder why people are so susceptible to other cults and other systems of belief who add to the Bible, who twist and
pervert the Bible or, I suppose, who in some cases ignore it all together? The Bible always has been under attack and that's
why Jude says to earnestly contend for it. We have to contend against the cults that want to add their own revelation to it.
We have to contend, in a sense, against even the Charismatics who want to add new revelation. We have to contend against
those liberal people within the framework of Christian tradition who want to deny the authenticity of Scripture. We're ever
and always fighting to hold on to the authority of the Word of God. And Jude says we have to earnestly fight for it. It isn't
going to be an easy thing because the faith once for all delivered to the saints is under attack. The enemy ever and always
attacks the Word of God. And so here we are again time after time after time defending the Word of God, showing why it is
to be believed.
Now here in this text before us we have one of the great defenses of scriptural authority. The statement in verse 16, "All
Scripture is God-breathed" is a tremendously profound statement. It is not the word of man, it is the Word of God. It was
breathed out by God.
But then we're looking at this second statement, "All Scripture is useful...useful, profitable," to produces these five things.
According to verse 15 it can make you wise unto salvation and according to verse 16 it is profitable, or useful for doctrine,
reproof, correction and training and is the only thing needed and the only thing able to make the man of God perfect,
equipped for every good work.
Now, beloved, that's another statement like Psalm 19 on the sufficiency of Scripture. What this says to us is the Scripture is
comprehensively sufficient to produce men of God for every good work. It knows no limitation. It has no weakness.
Nothing is left out. Nothing can be added to it. Such an attempt, by the way, according to Revelation 22 winds up with a
warning, if you add anything to this, so shall be added to you the plagues that are written in it. The Bible is not to be
tampered with, it is not to be distorted, it is not to be corrupted, it is not to be manhandled for your own purposes and it is
not to be added to.
Now let me say it as simply as I can. When it comes to spiritual life, when it comes to a person's relationship to God, the
Bible is all that is necessary for proper instruction to make the man of God complete and capable of every good work. It is
not the Bible plus anything. And that is why we are so committed to the systematic ongoing teaching of God's Word,
because of what it does.
Now we've entitled these five things "the work of the Word." What does the Word do? First of all, remember in verse 15, it
is able to make you wise unto salvation. The Word has the power to save. The Word of Christ is that which is necessary for
salvation, Romans 10 says. It is the Word of God, 1 Peter 1, by which you are begotten again. It is the Word which brings
the gospel. It is the Word which in the power of the Holy Spirit brings new life. It is the Word which saves. And so last time
we said above all things we must be committed to the proclamation of God's Word to the lost, for the Word is able to make
them wise unto salvation.
Secondly, and coming in to verse 16, he says it is useful for doctrine or for teaching. And I pointed out to you that here he
has in mind not the process of teaching but the content. It is profitable to give you the necessary body of divine truth to live a
godly life. That's what he's saying. The Bible provides for you what Paul calls to Timothy the deposit. It gives you the truth,
the deposit of truth to be guarded, 1 Timothy 6:20 and 21, 2 Timothy 1:13. It is God's revelation of truth. And it provides
for you the substance to be believed...doctrine, the body of content upon which...mark this carefully...every thought and
every action is to be built. Did you get that? The Bible provides for us the body of truth upon which every thought and every
action is to be built. So it is profitable for content. It gives us the truth. John 17:17, "Thy Word is truth." If you're looking for
a foundation to build your life on, it is this book. It provides the principles that are to operate in the life of every individual at
every point of need and demand, thought and action. It's comprehensive. Every single thing you will ever deal with in your
spiritual existence is covered one way or another in the Scripture, probably many more than just one time. It is replete with
instruction for life...life in the way that God has designed it.
So, it is profitable and useful to provide for you the body of divine doctrine. And as I said last time, as you study the Word
of God and begin to accumulate its principles, you begin to build that strong foundation which then becomes the foundation
on which every thought and every action is built. Biblical ignorance is the grave tragedy of all tragedies in the church because
what you don't know you can't build your life on. So it ought to be then the pursuit of every believer to know the Word of
God, to as much as is possible master the Word of God.
I remember when I was a student in seminary I came across a little book written by James M. Grey(?) who at that time was
the president of the Moody Bible Institute at the time he wrote the book, long since with the Lord. The title of the little book
was "How to Master the Bible." He titled it "How to Master the English Bible." And I got that little book and I devoured that
little book because I had a desire in my heart to master as much as was humanly possible the Bible, not so that I could walk
around saying I have all the facts, but so that I could have a foundation on which to build my life, so that there would never
come in my life any issue, any circumstance that I wouldn't be ready to handle because if the foundation was down and if all
the principles were there, I could draw on those principles. And in another metaphor it's like...it's like banking all the truth of
God, putting it in the bank and at any given point you can draw out what you need because it's banked, it's deposited, it's in
your account, in your heart and your soul and your mind. And the Scripture then is profitable as that body of doctrine on
which every action and every thought is to be built.
Now let's come to the third thing and we'll go through those that remain this morning. The third work of the Word in verse
16 is mentioned reproof...reproof. The word literally means to rebuke, to confront someone with a view toward convicting
them of misbehavior. It's to rebuke someone's misconduct or to rebuke false teaching, error, whatever. The Word that has
such a positive ministry, building foundation, also has a negative ministry of tearing things down. The Word is not just a
builder, it is something that rips and tears and shreds what deserves to be torn. The Bible has a rebuking ministry, a rebuking
In chapter 4 of 2 Timothy, just a few verses after the text we're in, it says preach the Word, be ready in season and out of
season, reprove, rebuke, exhort. And that's a negative ministry in a sense. That's calling people back from error. And the
Word of God has that effect, it has that ministry. In fact, Archbishop Trench(?) writing about this particular word here,
elegmos says it is to rebuke another with such effectual wielding of the victorious arm of the truth so as to bring him not
always to a confession, yet at least to a conviction of his sin. And the idea here is that the Word convicts of sin. Yes, the
Word builds a foundation of truth but that also is accompanied by the work of conviction. As you listen to the Word of God,
as you read the Word of God, as you study deeply the things of God it begins to cut away the sin in your life. The first
rebuking work of the Word then is toward the sin in the life of a person, of a believer. It will work on you that way.
Let me show you a text to support that thought. Hebrews 4, a familiar verse but perhaps not fully understood. Hebrews 4:12
and here the writer refers to the Word of God in terms that we're used to, the Word of God is alive and powerful and
sharper than any two-edged sword. Most Sunday school kids memorize Hebrews 4:12 and rightly so. But let's look a little
more deeply into it. The Word of God is alive, it is living and it is powerful, or active, sharper than any two-edged sword.
Now we're going to see the Word as a weapon. It's definitely pictured as a weapon. It then says piercing deep down into a
person's soul, spirit, joints, marrow. Now the picture here is very vivid. The Word is like a huge sword which is just driven
to the core of a person's being, slices right through and judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart. The Word of God
then is like a sword that cuts. It cuts deeply. And most every one of us as Christians have been cut by the Word, haven't
we? We've been ripped open by the Word. We came to church on a given Sunday feeling pretty good about ourselves and
went away feeling terrible about ourselves. We were laid bare. We were cut open by the Word. We came thinking
everything was in order and we heard a message that showed everything wasn't in order. And when we were confronted
with the Word of God that morning we realized we came short of that and our sin was exposed and we were cut up. That's
why, you see, a Bible preaching, Bible teaching church will never be a haven for sinners. They're not going to pile in because
they don't want to get split open every week. They don't want to get cut up. Why? John 3, those who want to hold on to
their sins stay away because they don't come to the light, He says in verse 20, lest their deeds should be reproved, rebuked.
They don't want to be exposed to the cutting power of the Word of God.
And by the way, that's a good indicator in your life. Even if you're a believer you find yourself wanting to stay away from the
Lord's people, wanting to stay away from the services of the church, wanting to stay away from the teaching of the Word. It
may be because you don't want to get cut open. You're harboring some sin in your heart.
Now let's follow along in verse 12, the Word is alive, it's active, it's sharp, it cuts deeply and reveals the thoughts and
intentions of the heart. Verse 13, "And there is no creature hidden from His sight but all things are open and laid bare to the
eyes of Him with whom we have to do." God takes His Word, cuts deep into your heart, lays you open, you're flayed, as it
were, right before God's eyes. And nothing is hidden, He sees every single thing about you. We are open to the eyes of
He uses a most interesting term in the Greek which was also used among the soldiers. Let me give you a little idea of how it
was used. It was used to describe a criminal who had to lift his face and face the crowd as he was marched to his
punishment. And the way they did that was quite interesting. A soldier held a dagger right at the chin with it just barely
piercing the skin. The point of that dagger was held to force the criminal to hold his head high and his face so that every one
could see him as he was paraded to his punishment.
Now you see when you turn on the television set some criminal going like this...and holding his hands over his head and
ducking under his coat because he doesn't want to be seen by the television cameras. There's a certain amount of shame and
guilt. They knew that but they wanted the criminal to have to face the whole wide world and the whole community to see his
face so they rammed a little dagger up under his chin and made him walk with his chin up and were he to lower his chin, he
would have pierced himself right through. And in a very real sense he is saying that's exactly what the Word of God does, it
jams its pierced point right up under your chin and it makes you face the reality and it makes God able to see exactly what
you look like. It reveals you to Him. You are open before Him. You can't hide a thing. That's what the Word will do. The
Word is a reprover. The Word is a rebuker. The Word is a convicter of sin. It sifts, it analyzes, it reveals emotions, attitudes
And you've experienced that. As you sit down and read through God's Word and you read about something...you may be
reading about love and saying to yourself, "I don't love enough, I have such a lack of love." You may be reading about
bitterness and say, "That's me, I have such bitterness in my heart." You may be reading about hatred and you realize your
heart is filled with that. You may be reading about pride and you say to yourself that's me, that's me, that's cutting me wide
open and that's right obvious before God and now even before my own eyes. That's the Word, that's the work of the Word.
Let me tell you something, beloved, you ought to thank God just as much for the reproving work of the Word as for the
doctrinal part of it, right? You ought to be just as eager to be reproved by the Word as you are to be instructed by the
Word. You ought to be just as eager to have your sin exposed as you are to have some great truth and principle taught to
you that you can apply. Why? Because if you're truly God's child, you hunger after what is right and you hunger after
righteousness. An exposure of sin should be a welcome process, it's a bitter sweet experience. We can rejoice then that in
the perfecting of the man of God the Word will save, the Word will teach the principles of truth and then the Word will
convict and reprove and confute the sinner.
Let me take it a second step, that point. Not only does the Word reprove sin but it reproves error...it reproves error. And it
would be unfair to deal with this without expressing that thought. The Word not only reproves sin in the life of an individual
but it also reproves false teaching and error. If I know the Scripture, then I can recognize error. Is that not so? Because the
Scripture is the test, it's the standard, it's the measure by which all teaching must be measured. And whatever it is that comes
down the path and claims to be the truth needs only to be compared with the Word of God. That's why, and I say this again,
beloved, that is why inevitably cults twist the Scripture and add to the Scripture because they have to mess with the standard
to justify what they do. The Word of God is the standard...it is the standard. It is the plumb line against which the
straightness or crookedness of anything is measured. And so those who come along with lies, with deceit and false teaching
inevitably must twist the Scripture and/or add to the Scripture to justify what they purport to be the truth. They are, says
Paul, guilty of peddling the Word of God, 2 Corinthians 2:17 and 2 Corinthians 4:2 of adulterating the Word of God. They
peddle it, they adulterate it. They do not properly explain it and affirm it.
So, the Bible exposes error. Let me show you this just briefly from the Old Testament. Go back to that Psalm a part of
which we read earlier, Psalm 119. And Psalm 119 has so much to say about the Scripture, 176 verses and every single one
of them is about the Scripture. But let me just draw to your attention a couple of them. Psalm 119 verse 99, this is a
wonderful verse. I just love what this says. Psalm 119:99 says, listen to this, "I have more insight than all my teachers." What
a statement. I have more insight than all my teachers. Why? "For Thy testimonies are my meditation." Verse 100, "I
understand more than the aged because I have observed Thy precepts." I know more than anybody because I know Your
Word. I'm way ahead of my teachers, I'm way ahead of the aged because I know Your Word.
Notice verse 104, "From Thy precepts I get understanding, therefore I hate every false way." Hey, I can recognize a false
way. I know Your Word. I have understanding from Your Word. So as you build up the knowledge of the Word of God it
will reprove your sin and it will expose error, that is its reproving work. It reproves sin, it reproves error.
Now those works of the Word have to do with content. They basically have to do with content. The Word builds
foundation principles by which you can live and it also cuts you open to show you your sin and to expose false teaching.
Vital, vital works of the Word. Let me give you another Old Testament passage, I don't want to skip this. Isaiah chapter 8,
it's just a rich statement by the prophet...
END OF SIDE ONE
In verses 19 and 20, listen to what Isaiah writes. And, of course, he's writing to a people who have really been unfaithful to
God and gotten themselves into all kinds of sin. Verse 19, "And when they say to you, Consult the mediums and the spiritists
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