(2 Timothy 3:14—4:5)
Words, such as “emoji” and “manny” are born. An emoji is a little picture in a text message, expressing an emotion, while a “manny” is a male nanny – or, spelled another way is the manicure part of a mani/pedi.
Before the 1990s, those words did not exist.
Words also die. Old English had a pronoun “wit” that meant “we two.” If you were part of a large group, you could say, “We had a meal together.” But if you were dining with just one other person, you could use the more intimate pronoun, “Wit had a meal together.”
Kind of a cute little word. Too bad it has died.
English professor Anne Curzan knows that words in English don’t last forever. Writing in The Washington Post, she says that “word death” is a natural part of a living language such as English. “Ellen” used to mean courage, and now it is simply a woman’s name. “Wer” used to mean man, but now it doesn’t mean anything in English. It’s not even in the Scrabble dictionary, so don’t try to use it to get six points. Such is the life cycle of a language.
But some words will never die – specifically, the words that are connected to Jesus, inspired by God, and useful to us as Christians.
The apostle Paul begins his second letter to Timothy by giving thanks for the young man’s faith, which came to Timothy from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Paul reminds his younger colleague that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Then, Paul stresses the importance of the “the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (3:15). He says, “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” (vv. 16-17).
Sacred writings have eternal importance, according to Paul, because they are connected to Jesus Christ. In addition, they are inspired by God – “God-breathed” (v. 16), which comes from the Greek word theopneustos. These writings are useful to us since they train us in righteousness and equip us for every good work.
Yes, some individual words will die along the way. It’s natural. In the King James Version of the Bible, some verses are hard to understand, such as the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians: “I die daily” (15:31). What does that even mean?
Better to read this verse from the International Standard Version, in which Paul says, “I face death every day.” That’s a message we can hold on to because it reminds us that God does not give us a spirit of cowardice. Individual words will die, but the message of Scripture continues to give us life.
So, how exactly does this work? First, sacred Scripture is connected to Jesus. No individual words of the Bible are as important as Jesus, the One who is the Word of God in human form. The gospel of John tells us that in “the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (1:1, 3-4, 14).
When the Word became flesh, we were suddenly able to see God face to face. God’s message became clear to us because Jesus perfectly illustrated the sacred writings of Scripture. Jesus became, for us, “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), showing us the grace and truth of God.
By putting our faith in Jesus, we are given a path to salvation. He is, for us, the Word of God that never dies.
But that’s not all that Scripture does for us. The Bible is also inspired by God, meaning that the Holy Spirit fills Scripture with life (2 Timothy 3:16). That Greek word theopneustos, “God-breathed,” is one that we should never allow to die. God breathes life into the words of the Bible, into us as individuals, and into the Christian community.
In the novel City of Peace, a Methodist pastor is struggling to finish a sermon on forgiveness and healing. At a coffee shop, he runs into a Baptist friend named Tawnya Jones.
“Do you have your Bible with you, Pastor?” Tawnya asked. Harley shook his head. “Well, then, give me your phone.” She quickly pulled up an internet Bible and typed in Romans 8.
Harley said, “You know your Bible, Ms. Jones.”
“Comes from being in church every Sunday,” she said. “Here it is: ‘But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.’”
“So Jesus rescues us from sin,” said Harley, thinking aloud. “And then the Spirit lives in us. The Spirit heals the wounds.”
“That’s how I understand it,” Tawnya agreed, handing Harley’s phone back to him.
“I have felt the Spirit,” said Harley. “It has calmed me and guided me.”
“Amen to that,” Tawnya said.
“I also believe that the Spirit pulls us together,” said Harley, “all of us, and makes us the Body of Christ in the world.”
God breathes life into Scripture through the Spirit and breathes life into us as well. The Spirit heals us, calms us, guides us, and pulls us together as the body of Christ. These God-breathed words will never die.
Finally, Scripture trains us in righteousness and equips us for good work. The words of the Old and New Testaments teach us what it means to be in right relationship with God and with each other – that is the core meaning of righteousness. You shall “love your neighbor as yourself,” says Leviticus (19:18). “You shall love the LORD your God” commands Deuteronomy (6:5). These two verses were combined by Jesus into the great commandment, which is central to our training in righteousness.
Scripture also equips us for good work. Jesus instructs us in Matthew 25 to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, and visit those in prison (vv. 35-36). And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul gives the guidance, “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (4:5). The words of the Bible are never just philosophical insights or spiritual reflections. No, they are also instructions for righteous living and good work in the world.
The challenge is to take these words to heart, whether we are listening to the great commandment of Jesus or the timeless command of Amos to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (5:24). We need to show some real “ellen,” meaning courage, in our intention to organize our lives around these verses. In his words to Timothy, Paul urges the young man to “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
Persistence. Encouragement. Patience. All three will be required if we are going to keep these God-breathed words at the heart of our lives as followers of Christ. Paul knew that members of the Christian community would probably “turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths” (v. 4). He predicted that they would “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires” (v. 3). He feared that they would turn away from Scripture and find a message that was easier for them to hear and accept.
In the face of this danger, Paul urged Timothy to proclaim the message persistently, to encourage his fellow Christians, and to show the utmost patience in teaching. Timothy did this, and so can we. We do this every time we turn to Jesus, the one who has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). We do this when we share a God-breathed message of forgiveness, peace, healing or hope. And we do this when we organize our lives around the words of the Bible, showing the courage it takes “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8).
That’s the way to prevent word death. And to spread a word from God that will never die.