When All Else Fails, Read The Instructions
II Timothy 2:14-17
Years ago, when our children were young, we decided to get them one of those Jungle Jim backyard swing-and-play sets. It had everything: swings, rings, monkey bars, a slide, a ladder, and a trapeze. They were going to love it. I knew and they knew it! Well, to make a very long story short, this wonderful play set came in a box unassembled. You can’t believe how unassembled it was! There were an unbelievable number of parts: bars, brackets, chains, bolts, lugs, lock-nuts, hooks, and washers. On top of this great smorgasbord of parts was a small booklet of instructions which I, in typically “macho-style”, tossed aside. I spread all the parts out in the backyard and started to work. I worked at it for hours, but I couldn’t get it together. One attempt ended with not enough parts; another with parts left over. The gathering frustration was intensified by the incessant barrage of questions from the children: “Daddy, are you about through?.. .Daddy, why is it taking so long?.. .Daddy, it didn’t take Missy’s father this long to put her swing set together!” About four hours into this project, with my religion vanishing like the light of day at sunset, I noticed a bright yellow card lying on the bottom of the box in which the swing set had come. Printed on that card in large block letters were these words: “By the way, when all else fails, read the instructions!”
I think that is something of a parable for us. Life is like that, isn’t it? It’s hard to put it together when we fail to read the instructions. That’s why the Bible is so important for us. It’s our survival kit, our instruction manual. It has the answers we long for and the solutions we need to make life work the way it is supposed to work.
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not suggesting that finding life’s answers in the Bible is as easy as falling off a log or thumbing through the Yellow Pages. It is not easy, it requires hard work, but it can be done. Do you know the old saying: “I could get this mattress up the stairs if I could just figure out how to get hold of it”? That’s the way it is with the Bible. There are certain handles which enable us to get hold of it—or better yet, cause it to get hold of us!That’s the message Paul was trying to deliver to his young son-in-the-faith, Timothy. These are among the last words Paul wrote before he was executed. I want us to look at them carefully because of what they teach us about the Bible. II Timothy 3:14-17.
First, Paul makes it plain that the Bible gives us instruction about knowing God.
Paul writes in Verse 14: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” In other words, the Bible enables us to know God. The purpose of Scripture is not to know Scripture, but to know God. You can know Scripture without knowing God, but you cannot know God without knowing Scripture.
The very first words in the Bible say it: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God made the world intentionally, purposefully, orderly, systematically. He created the world out of love, in love, and for love and when He finished, He said: “This is very good!” No “cosmic accident” theory here. Calling the creation of the world a cosmic accident is as absurd as saying the Webster’s Dictionary is the result of a print shop explosion!
Do you remember how William Paley put it? He asked us to imagine a man crossing a field and spotting a watch on the ground. He has never seen a watch before. He doesn’t have any idea what it is. So what will he do? He will pick it up and examine it. He will look at its case and its dial. He will open it and find a complicated but orderly arrangement of springs and wheels and levers and jewels, all ticking away systematically. He will then notice that the hands move in a predetermined order. Now what does he make of this? Does he say: “I suppose all these things—the metal, the springs, the wheels, the levers and the hands—all by some chance came together, by chance fit in place, by chance wound themselves up, by chance set themselves going”? Of course, not. If he has any powers of reasoning at all, he says: “I have found a watch. Somewhere there must be a watchmaker.”
In like manner, when we find a universe which has an order more precise and accurate than any watch, it is only natural to say: “I have found a world. Somewhere there must be a world-maker.” The Bible beginning with its first sentence and continuing to its last sentence tells us that there is indeed a world-maker—and He is none other than God Himself. It is as we look at the creative genius of the universe that we see God’s handiwork, but it is as we look at the pages of the Bible that we come to know the God who has created it all.
Then Paul reminds us that the Bible gives us instruction about growing faith.
Paul writes in verse 15: “(Remember) how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” I have underscored those words in my Bible, because they are so important. You see, I was blessed to grow up in a home where my Mom and Dad had well-worn, heavily-studied Bibles, and where they regularly shared with their children the stories of Scripture.
On a sidebar here, let me encourage those of you with small children to take this word from Paul seriously. Don’t let your Bible gather dust in your home. Read it to your children every single day. It doesn’t have to be long and involved. The Bible is the most incredible collection of riveting stories ever compiled. Read those stories to your kids. I would especially encourage fathers to do this. If there is no father in your home, or if the father has no spiritual life, then Mom, by all means you do the reading. But, please, let your children grow up hearing the Bible read to them every day, so that like Timothy they will “know it from childhood.”
I don’t know if it’s true or not, but medical experts tell us that the last thing to go, even with Alzheimer’s Disease, are the songs you learn as a child. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that whatever is planted in the heart of a child will stay there for a long time. Timothy had God’s word planted in his heart when he was a young child.
Why is that so important? Because by listening to the Bible being read, they will at a very tender age begin to grow in faith, and they will develop a love for the Lord. It’s like the story I heard about a policeman who found a little boy sitting on the curb in the downtown section of a big city. The little boy was crying because he was lost. The policeman said: “Don’t worry. I’ll help you. Now let me pick you up and you look around and see if anything looks familiar to you.” The little boy looked around for a few moments and then suddenly his face brightened because off in the distance he could see a church. It had a towering steeple with a cross on the top of it. The little boy said: “There! Look! If you can get me to the cross we can find the way home!”
Parents, take your children to the cross so that they can find their way home to God. Of course, the best way to take them to the cross is to take them to the pages of this Book.
Paul goes on to say that the Bible gives instruction in sowing truth.
Paul writes in II Timothy 3:16—(By the way, sometime I’m going to preach about all the 3:16’s in the Bible. John 3:16 is the best known. I John 3:16 is a great one. What about Ephesians 3:16 or II Thessalonians 3:16 or Philippians 3:16 or James 3:16? It’s fascinating! But I’ll let that rest for now)—Paul writes in II Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” In other words, if we sow the seeds of the truth in our lives by studying Scripture, then our lives will be radiant and righteous.
Sometime ago, I was in a hotel room in another city. I decided just for the fun of it that I would try to lift all of the influences that surrounded me just in that room. I looked over at the TV. There was a placard encouraging me to spend $6.95 to watch a movie, three of the movies on that list were X-rated. No one would ever know—right there in my room. Influence #1. Next to the TV was a small refrigerator—they called it a bar. Inside was a vast array of alcoholic beverages to suit any taste. So simple. Just drink it and it will be charged to your room. Influence #2. I opened the drawer on the bedside table. There was the phone book. I opened it to the listings under “Escort services.” A half column of them. Just one phone call away, just one credit card number away. Influence #3. After pondering how vulnerable I was to the pervasive pressure of evil in that room, I went to the other bedside table and opened the drawer. There it was. A Gideon Bible, full of God’s truth and God’s presence. Suddenly I felt safe again. And it occurred to me that that hotel room experience was a microcosm of what we have to face everyday in life. Where do you go when you are surrounded by the whispered lure of evil in your experience? You go to the Bible.
John Wesley said: “I want to know one thing—the way to heaven. God Himself condescended to teach that way. He has written it down in a Book. O give me that Book at any price. Give me the Book of God. Let me be a man of one Book.” Isn’t that a great phrase? John Wesley understood that this Book contains the truth—it contains all we need to know about what is right and what is wrong in life. Say it in your own experience: “Let me be a man or a woman of one Book!”
Paul then concludes by stating that the Bible gives us instruction in showing others.
Here are his words: “The Scriptures are given by God so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” In others words, we need never hold what we learn from the Bible—we must share it with others.
Billy Graham tells how early in his ministry he was disturbed by those who were questioning the truthfulness of the Bible. Adding to his frustration was the counsel of an old and cherished friend who had accepted some of the more liberal interpretations of Scripture. It came to a head one day in 1950 when these two were together at the Forest Home Conference Center in the mountains outside Los Angeles, California. This friend said to the young evangelist that if he continued to claim and to preach his old views of the Bible that he would be limited to a very narrow interpretation of Scripture and thus his evangelistic ministry would be curtailed. People would write him off as being irrelevant to the times. Billy Graham was so disturbed by all this that after supper instead of going to the evening service at the conference center, he went out for a walk on the slopes. There, under a star-filled sky, he tried to decide what would be the direction of his life. It was for him a moment of crisis. Here is how he describes it: “I duelled with my doubts and my soul seemed to be caught in the crossfire. Finally, in desperation I surrendered my will to the living God recorded in Scripture. I said: ‘Lord, many things in this Book I do not understand but You have said that the just shall live by faith. So here and now by faith I accept the Bible as Your Word. I take it all. I take it without reservation. Where there are things I cannot understand, I will reserve judgment until I receive more light. If this pleases you, then give me the authority to proclaim Your Word from Scripture.'” Within six weeks after that moment, his first crusade began in Los Angeles—and you know what has happened since.
My beloved, the decision to simply accept the truth of God revealed on the pages of this Book and to show it to other people is a decision which is ours to make.
Sir Walter Scott, the great Scottish lawyer, novelist, poet, and politician, was near the point of death. He asked an assistant to carry him into his library. He then said to the assistant: “Now read to me from the Book.” The assistant looked around at all the shelves loaded with hundreds of books and said: “But, sir, from which book would you like for me to read?” Sir Walter Scott managed to pull himself up to leaning on one elbow on his cot and he snapped out the words: “Which book? Which book? Dear friend, at the hour of death, there is only one Book!” That one Book of course was the Bible.
My friends, what you need for both the hours of your living and the hour of your dying is closer than you think. It’s in your hands. It’s on your nightstand. It’s in your living room. It’s in this church. It’s this Book! When all else fails, read the instructions…