Telling A Living Story (11am)
Topic: The importance of Scripture Scripture: Psalm 121–121, 2 Timothy 3:14–5:5
The summer after I had graduated from high school I became a camp counselor at Victory Valley Camp. It was the camp connected to the church I attended through high school and a bunch of my friends volunteered and worked there. As many people who have been camp counselors will tell you, that was one of the best summers of my life. Victory Valley was a Christian camp with a huge property and so in the same day I got to teach kids the fundamentals of archery, make homemade ice cream in a coffee can, teach a groups of young boys about what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and prank the rival girl cabin. It was an incredible summer.
At the camp, you either went by Mr. and Mrs. or Aunt and Uncle. Mr. or Mrs. if you weren’t married. Aunt or Uncle if you were. I went by Mr. Chips. There was already another Mr. Matt so I went with a nickname from high school. That’s a story for another day. The director of the camp was named Aunt Donna. Donna was an older woman with a warm smile and firm hand. Counselors both loved and feared her. The mantra was that “Aunt Donna was always watching.” She was such a blessing in my life those summers that I served under her. But I still remember being in awe when I first heard her lead a story time around the campfire.
She shared it with the kids with detail and emphasis and emotion. She didn’t read it from a book or look at any script. She just knew it. It was almost like she had been a character in the story herself. When she was finished and the kids and counselors were heading back to our cabins I quickly asked her if she had a copy of it I could borrow. I assumed she had it in her office or something and must have reviewed it. She said, “Mr. Chips, that’s a story I haven’t read in some 40 or 50 years. But it was one of my favorites as a girl and my mother and I would read it almost every day. It’s a part of me now.”
There’s something remarkable about a good story teller. A lot of people can crack the spine of a book and recite words in different voices and such. And most of us possess enough memory to recall and repeat the basic elements of stories we’ve heard over and over. But a good story teller appreciates the power and depth of the story. They immerse themselves in. They don’t simply stare at it like one would a picturesque lake. They dive in and let the story wash over them and take them. And then, when they share that story, it becomes so much more than words from a page.
You see, it takes two things for this to come about. It takes a good story-teller, yes. But it also takes a great story. Something truly remarkable. And there is no more a remarkable, personal, powerful story than that of Scripture. We’ve spent weeks learning and gaining from the words Paul offered to a young, new pastor named Timothy. This week, our text takes us head first into the reality and power of Holy Scripture and what impact it can have on us as a people seeking to follow Christ. We’re in 2 Timothy chapter 3, verse 14 and we’ll read through to chapter 4, verse 5.
Read 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5.
It’s no secret that Christians love the Bible, right? It’s usually one of the first gifts a church gives a child. Even when Isaac was baptized he received a Bible from our home church back in PA. He was four months old. He barely had control of his neck at the time let alone the ability to read the Bible. But it was a gift given in faith. Some of us have Bibles that have profound sentimental meaning. Given by someone we love or marking some special moment in our lives.
I’ve got a Bible Caitlin gave me for Christmas back when we were dating 10 years ago. It’s in my office. Some of us even have Bibles we read and others that I’ll call “shelf Bibles” that we don’t open but keep in pristine condition. Then you get stories like the one of the man who was held at gunpoint by a mugger. And when the mugger fired off a shot at the man’s chest and ran off the man fell to the ground only to reach into his suit coat and pull out his pocket Bible that had absorbed the bullet.
When we talk about the Bible we talk about it with a caliber and a tone different than other books. Right? We treat it differently. It holds a certain gravity. That doesn’t come from some superstitious hand-me-down. It’s actually born out of Scripture itself and a part of the life and practice of the Christian church all the way back at its formation.
Our text this morning punctuates several elements of Scripture that add to this gravitas. The Scriptures make us wise for salvation and teaches us how to have faith in Christ. Scripture is given to us by God. It has a multitude of uses and touches all functions of the faithful Christ follower. It prepares, equips, and strengthens us for ministry in our world – regardless of climate and environment. That’s why we take the time to learn this story of Scripture. Why we devote so much to it. Because it is more than another story. In truth, it is a story with life. It is the only living story that we have because it continues to empower, touch, engage, influence, and shape the people of God in profound ways. And we, as the recipients of this story, are called to two things. First to enter and learn and internalize this living story. And then to tell it.
At the start of our text, Paul shares how the Scriptures are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ. It’s important here that Paul uses a word that describes the giving and use of wisdom as opposed to the Greek word that denotes “knowing” or “teaching.”
Wisdom is different than knowledge. It is encompassing and internal and much more than simple fact or logic. Scripture is not meant to be some sort of thick proof-text or an answer sheet. It is not merely a collection of stories and dates and people and events. It’s more than that. And that quality gives it the influence to do more than simply inform a reader. It grabs and wrestles with the heart of the one who truly engages it. That’s more than any other written work can ever accomplish. I love a good work of fiction and a compelling autobiography but no other written work contains the breath of God. And that’s what Paul hits next.
Sometimes there is significant debate over the authorship of Scripture. That subject alone could warrant its own sermon series. But Paul doesn’t see the need to elaborate beyond what he knows to be true in his words to Timothy. He says that all Scripture is God-breathed. The word Paul uses here is the Greek word “theo-pneustos” and it only appears in this text. Nowhere else in the New Testament. Paul coins this word. He literally took the words for “God” and “breath or blow” and forced them together because it is the most accurate way he could describe it.
So when we open the Bible we have to remember that this is more than any other story. And that starts with its origination. God breathed these words into existence. The words Larry and I preach from and the verses we read for our devotions aren’t just the written words of men centuries ago. They were formed and shared by God Himself. And like I said, that’s a mind-blowing concept for us. Something that racks our brains when we try and think about it. And so if we were sitting with Paul over coffee and he said that we might say something like, “Say more about that.” But Paul doesn’t.
Paul’s emphasis here to Timothy isn’t where Scripture comes from but rather the usefulness and work of Scripture. Like every other good story we hear and learn, Scripture does something to us. Many stories will touch our hearts, maybe change the way we think about something, perhaps inspire us to make a change. Scripture does that to enth degree. Paul says that the Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking correcting, and training us for holiness and good works. This living story of Scripture that comes from the very breath of God can teach us new things and old lessons alike. It can stop us in our place and reveal brokenness and selfishness and sin in our hearts and lives. It can get us back on track when we wander or become wayward. And it can teach us how to practice the grace and presence of God in the world we live in.
That’s the living story of Scripture. It’s more powerful than a good work of fiction. More insightful than any “how-to” or Do It Yourself book. Scripture reveals more than a biography or work of historical memory because Scripture goes beyond history and singular identity. Scripture lives and breathes because the God who inspired it lives and breathes. This is why pastors and relatives and authors from decades and generations ago read Scripture and were touched and why we, years and years later, can encounter the same text and find it speak directly to our lives and circumstances. It is a living story and one we are a part of.
I said, in the beginning, that for a story to really live up to its fullest it takes a profound story and a storyteller fully immersed within that story. The two really become one and the same. A part of one another. And that is the call of the follower of Christ. We have the most dynamic, compelling, powerful story that has or ever will be told. It is the story of God and humanity. A tale of true love and sacrifice. A tale of brokenness and yearning. A story of adventure and supernatural happening. A story that includes both “Once upon a time,” and “It shall come to pass,” – a story of then, now, and tomorrow. It is a story about you and me and them. It is a living story that offers both personal and over-arching truth to every soul it touches. We have this story.
But it is not enough to simply have it covered in a decorative binding on our mantle or bedside or bookshelf. As bearers of this story we must immerse ourselves in it so that we can tell it. And that is what Paul talks about in the second half of our text. He even says it, “I give you this charge:” Timothy receives the instruction and call that we receive today. Preach the word and be prepared to do it all the time. That means when we walk into a place like this or when we get to the water cooler at the office or start having that conversation with the one relative who always brings us religion and politics. We are supposed to offer to others what Scripture has offered to us. To help those who find themselves lost and wandering. Those who are searching for what we know can only be found in Christ.
Paul talks about time where people will gather around voices that offer only what they want to hear. We don’t even have to get into politics to be able to see that that kind of thing happens all the time these days. We exist in a world where people will abandon the living story of God’s word for a half-truth or false account because it scratched an itch or accomplishes a goal. We are called to be different. We don’t retell those stories. We are called to a higher calling. A more difficult calling. The calling of Telling a Living Story. We’re called to keep our heads in all situations. To endure hardship and trials as they come. To share the Gospel, this living story, with those we encounter, and live and act and serve as a people who truly believe in the person and power of Jesus Christ.
We have the story. God-breathed Scripture in all its timeless and personal gravity. We are the recipients of that story. The sacrifice made by Christ on the cross opens those pages to us and allows them to become more than words and sentences but instead they become freedom and grace and transformation. So like every exceptional story-teller, our task is twofold. We must know the story. We must read, study, rest in, and immerse ourselves in Scripture. It has to become more than memory. As Aunt Donna told me over 12 years ago, it has to become a part of us and, really, become who we are. And then, we need to tell it. That is the art and the joy and calling and burden of Telling a Living Story.