The Only Rule

Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017

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“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17

We saw previously that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. God made men to have fellowship with Him and also to glorify Him. But how do we glorify Him, and how do we enjoy Him when we are finite, sinful creatures of dust, whereas He is infinite, eternal and transcendently holy? 

Many years ago, I attended the anniversary celebration of a friend’s church. During the service, the choir came up to sing. They had composed a song to ask God to bless the building we were in. I can’t remember the exact words, but they sang, “Bless the rafters, bless the frame, bless the windows, bless the doors, etc., etc.” At the end of the service, I spoke to the pastor. In the course of our conversation, we talked about the performance of the choir. I suggested it was lovely singing, but I was not sure whether the song should be sung in worship. He said, “What’s the problem? It glorifies God. That’s enough!” Without much thought, I asked him, “How does it glorify God?” He said, “Well, it was enjoyable and edifying!” 

But is it true that because it was enjoyable and edifying, it was therefore glorifying to God? I think not, for God says in Psalm 50:21, “thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee.” 

God is not like man; therefore, what is enjoyable to man may not glorify God. My children may think it would be fun if they could dress me up as a clown and paint my hair green. But would I enjoy it? Would I be pleased? Would it glorify me? Absolutely not! If they do it to a child, the child may actually enjoy it, but I would not. How much less could finite man glorify God according to their own imagination of what should glorify Him? 

How, then, may we glorify God? And how may we enjoy Him? What rule has God given to direct us on how we may glorify and enjoy Him?  

Where in inspired scripture can we find the answer? Well, an excellent place to start looking is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. From here, we may draw three verities: 

  • First, Scripture is the Word of God; 
  • Secondly, the Word of God is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament; and 
  • Thirdly, the Scripture is the only rule of God to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him. 

1. The Scripture Is the Word of God 

Paul says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” What does this mean? 

In the first place, take note that Paul is not saying that the scripture is very inspiring. It is true that much of Scripture is indeed very inspiring and can provoke us to become better persons if we read it seriously. But that certainly is not what Paul means. 

Secondly, take note that Paul is not saying that the Scripture is written by inspired or inspiring persons. A poet may be inspired to write a beautiful song because of the beautiful scenery he is beholding. But this again is not what Paul means when he says that the Scripture is given by inspiration of God. 

Thirdly, note that Paul is not saying that the Scripture is written by men taking down God’s dictation. Certain portions of the Scripture, such as the parts of the Pentateuch and parts of Jeremiah, for example, were written this way. But Paul is certainly not saying that all Scripture is dictated by God when he says that the Scripture is given by inspiration of God. 

What, then, does he mean? Well, the words “inspiration of God” translates a single Greek word, θεόπνευστος (theopneustos), which literally means “God-breathed.” This means that though the words are written by men, they are so ordered by the Spirit of God that they are God’s Word. 

An illustration may be found in 1 Peter 1:21: 

“For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 

The holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. They were like sailboats being driven by the wind to their destination. Two sailboats starting from the same place with the same wind may end up at a different destination—because they are made differently and are manned by different persons. The only difference is that the wind of God is not a random inanimate wind. It is the Holy Spirit acting personally and purposefully. 

Under His inspiration, the writers did not stop being themselves, and at the same time, they did not write according to their own fancies.  

They wrote according to their background, character, temperament, gifts, talents, education, culture, vocabulary, style etc. But they were writing God’s Word. In inspiring them, God illumines their minds, prompt them to write, repress their sinful tendencies, and guide them in their choice of words and the expression of their thought so that the final product is exactly as God intended for His people. 

This way, we can have the first assurance that the Scripture is the Word of God. The Scripture contains precisely what God wants to communicate with us.  

The Scripture is written by forty different authors and has a wide variety of genres and styles, and yet is word by word, entirely inspired. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is therefore without errors and without mistakes originally. Any error that may exist in the Bible we have is due to human translation or copying mistakes. But originally, there were no mistakes whatsoever. Every jot and tittle is inspired of God. It is letter by letter, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, book by book, totally inspired by God.  

The Scripture is the inspired Word of God. 

2. The Word of God Is Contained in the Scripture 

Paul says, “all scripture is given by inspiration of God.” All commentators generally agree that by the term “all scripture,” Paul would have in mind the Old Testament canon since the New Testament canon was not completed yet when he wrote 2 Timothy. 

God’s covenant people had already accepted the 39 books of the Old Testament as canonical by the time the Lord Jesus walked in Israel. Many believe that Ezra led a council in about 300 BC to decide on the canonicity of the OT books. And the Lord Jesus endorses it. He says to His disciples in Luke 24:44: 

“These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which are written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” 

What does the Lord Jesus mean by “the Law of Moses, prophets and the psalms”? Well, note that the Hebrew OT is organised in a manner that is quite different from the OT we know.  

It has three divisions: (1) Torah (Law, i.e., the Pentateuch); (2) Nevi’im (Prophets, i.e., Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings and all the prophetic books except Lamentation and Daniel); and (3) Kethubhim (writings, i.e., the rest of the books, including the poetic books and Chronicles, which is the last book in the Hebrew canon). 

Now, if we look at Luke 24:44 again, we see that the Lord is, in fact, referring to the Hebrew Canon. “The Law of Moses,” of course, refers to the Torah; “the prophets” refers to the Nevi’im, and “the psalms” refers to the Kethubhim (because the Psalms is the largest book in that division). It is, thus, evident that Christ accepted the canonicity of the OT. 

What about the New Testament? I believe that while Paul might not have in mind the New Testament, the Holy Spirit would have us understand that the New Testament is also part of the Holy Scripture.  

How is that so? Very briefly, five factors led the church to recognise that the 27 books of the New Testament are indeed inspired Scripture. These are apart from the fact that they are Ancient and written in the first century.  

The five factors are Affirmation, Authorship, Agreement, Acceptance and Applicability. 

In terms of Affirmation, we see, for example, how the apostle Peter writing under inspiration affirms that Paul’s writings were Scriptures. He says in 2 Peter 3:16 concerning the Pauline letters: 

“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” 

In like manner, Paul confirms that the Gospel of Luke is Scripture on par with the Torah. He does this by quoting Deuteronomy and Luke in the same breath in 1 Timothy 5:18: 

“For the Scripture saith, ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn’ [Dt 25:4]. And, ‘The labourer is worthy of his reward’ [Lk 10:7].” 

In terms of Authorship, the books of the New Testament were all written by the apostles or apostolic men recognised by the early church.  

In terms of Agreement, the books of the New Testament show themselves to be logically and theologically consistent within themselves and with the Old Testament.  

In terms of Acceptance, they were widely accepted by the early church, and no doubt had the endorsement of those who had the supernatural gifts of prophecy and discernment. These were still ministering before the New Testament canon was completed, and one of their roles was to check if anything said or written was indeed from the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 14:29). 

In terms of Applicability, we see how each book can be used in exactly the same way and with exactly the same effect as stated in our text for the Old Testament. 

With all these considerations, it is no wonder that there has been very little disagreement amongst evangelical Christians that the 27 books of the New Testament are part of the Holy Scripture.  

The same cannot be said of the Apocrypha, or the gnostic texts, which some people consider to be scriptures. 

Contrary to the claim of some bogus historians, the church had never accepted any of the gnostic writings as authentic.  

None of the so-called gnostic texts was written in the first century, as were the canonical Gospels. All of them were the product of the wild imagination of some second and third-century heretics known as Gnostics, who claimed to have some special knowledge that other Christians did not have. And these writings contain doctrines that were not only self-contradictory but contrary to the apostles’ teachings. 

What about the Apocrypha? The Apocrypha is more widely accepted in that the church of Rome accepts it. But we do not believe that they are part of Holy Scripture. 

None of the Apocryphal books claims inspiration, while some actually disclaimed inspiration. Some contained geographic and historical errors. Some teach false doctrine.  

Moreover, the Lord did not endorse them even though they were already extent since most of them were written during the intertestamental period. The Jews were unanimous in rejecting them. Philo, Josephus and the scholars of Jamnia (AD 90) all rejected them. No canon or council before the first four centuries recognised them. Jerome (340-420), the great scholar who translated the Latin Vulgate, rejected the Apocrypha as part of the canon. The Reformers unanimously rejected them. They were only given canonical status in the Council of Trent in AD 1546 in reaction to the Protestant Reformation. We do not doubt that Rome and the council of Trent erred and added to God’s Word, contrary to God’s will. 

It is clear. God intends for us to recognise as Holy Scripture only the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament.  

The Word of God, as our catechism teaches us, is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. 

3. The Scripture Is Our Only Rule 

Why is the Scripture the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God?  

Intuitively, since God is our Maker, we know that we must glorify Him and enjoy Him according to His terms. What are His terms? His terms are, no doubt, found in His Word. And we have seen that God’s Word is contained in the Scripture of the Old and New Testament.  

But what about elsewhere? Can we find other rules elsewhere, perhaps in religious books, or from psychology, or in nature, or in human interactions?  

Consider again what Paul says in our text: 

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 

What is he saying? He is suggesting that the Scripture can thoroughly and perfectly furnish the man of God. In other words, the scripture is perfect and not lacking in anything for the purpose of man’s existence. What is the purpose of man’s existence? What is the chief end of man? We saw that in our first two messages. It is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. So, where can we learn to do so? According to Paul, the perfect, sufficient and only place is the Holy Scripture! 

God made us. And He has given us the Scripture. The Scripture is like our manufacturer’s operating manual. Suppose you buy a piece of complex machinery. It is one of a kind; it is expensive; it is fragile, and it can be dangerous if misused. Where would you learn how to operate it? You would go to the manufacturer’s operating manual, won’t you? You may attend courses and ask for advice from others who bought the same equipment. But ultimately, you will want to check the operating manual because any advice contrary to what is given in the manual can damage the machine or endanger lives. 

Can you see what I am driving at? Man is one of a kind. He is valuable; He is complex; He is spiritually fragile; and he can be dangerous if misused. Where would you go then to learn how man is to be used? You would go to the Word of God, His maker, won’t you? And you will trust it as the only rule, won’t you? There may be books, commentaries, creeds, confessions, sermons, advice of fellow man, etc., but you know that ultimately only such as is consistent with the Scriptures can be trusted. 

And it is clear from the words of the apostle Paul that the Scripture is necessary and sufficient! 

Elsewhere in the Scripture, the same truth is affirmed.  

The apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 1:3: 

“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” 

God has not only given us the power to live unto godliness, but He has also given us all the necessary instructions. In other words, all the rules to teach us how we may glorify and enjoy God have been given to us. Where is this rule? No doubt, in the all-sufficient scripture! 

But perhaps the most explicit statement in Scripture about the sufficiency of Scripture to teach us how we may glorify and enjoy God is to be found in Psalm 19:7-9: 

“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.   8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” 

Ps 19:7-9

David wrote this Psalm before the New Testament, or even a large part of the Old Testament was written. But I believe the Holy Spirit intends for us to apply all that is said to the whole Bible. 

With this in mind, we see David reminding us of the sufficiency of Scripture. He does not use the term “scripture,” but he uses several other synonyms, such as “law,” “testimony,” “statutes,” “fear,” and “judgement.” 

So, what can we learn about scripture from this passage?  

First, it is “perfect” (v. 7a). This word “perfect” (תָּמִים, tâmı̂ym) may also be translated as “whole,” “complete,” “sufficient,” or comprehensive. Everything we need to know about how to live wisely to the glory and enjoyment of God is found in the word of God. It converts the soul. It restores us so that we live purposefully—no need for human wisdom and secular psychology. 

Secondly, the Word of God is “sure” (v. 7b). That is to say, it is immovable, reliable and trustworthy. It is a sure foundation for us to build a God-honouring life. It makes the simple wise. The word translated “simple” (פְתִי, pethı̂y) is fascinating. It pictures an “open door”, so the simple-minded person is open-minded. But this is open-minded in the negative sense of believing everything, including that which is foolish. The Word of God brings nothing but wisdom into the door of the simple mind. It teaches him how to glorify and enjoy God correctly. 

Thirdly, the Word of God is “right” and rejoices the heart (v. 8a). The word “right” here refers to correctness and uprightness. It shows us the correct path to walk on so that we can have joy and confidence in our lives: for it is when we glorify God aright that we enjoy Him most. 

Fourthly, the Word of God is “pure,” enlightening the eyes. That is, the Word of God is clear, lucid and distinct. It is unlike human wisdom, which is shifting and confusing. Human wisdom can make us more muddled than we are already. God’s wisdom enlightens the eyes and makes us see clearly how we should live so that we know where we should go and where we should avoid in our lives. 

Fifthly, the Word of God is “clean” (v. 9a). It is holy and undefiled, unlike man’s wisdom. It will endure forever, unlike the passing ideas of man that constantly need updating and refining. 

Finally, the Word of God is “true and righteous altogether” (v. 9b). The Word of God is the only absolute truth available to man. It is, therefore, the only yardstick by which we may measure and judge our lives.  

It is clear, isn’t it, that the word of God is utterly sufficient. There is no need for additional revelation. There is no need for the so-called wisdom of modern psychology. There is no need for any insight from false religions. 

Christians need only to read, study and obey the Word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to know how to glorify and enjoy God in a way that is edifying to us and pleasing to God. 


The Second question of our Shorter Catechism asks: “What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?” Answer:  

The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.” 

Beloved brethren and children, this is a very important doctrine. The word of God is the alone necessary and all-sufficient rule to teach us how to live in a way that is pleasing to God and pleasing to our souls. Do not neglect it. 

Do not give in to the temptation to seek help elsewhere. If you have a medical issue, seek doctors. But when it comes to the soul or the mind, there is nothing apart from the word of God that is truly helpful.  

Do not succumb to the temptation to do things according to tradition, what everyone is doing, or your own feelings. Unless what you do is indeed consistent with the word of God, you are not glorifying God, and you are not enjoying Him as you ought. 

Remember to read the Bible reverently, meditate on it expectantly, memorise it lovingly, teach it humbly,  live by it obediently, and defend it fervently. We have in our hands the very Word of God. We have in our hand our Saviour’s letter to us so that we may know Him and glorify and enjoy God with Him and through Him. 

Dear friends, brethren and children, if you are still not converted, take heed! What we are saying is very important. If you are ever going to live a meaningful life, you must begin to read God’s Word and listen to the preaching of God’s Word consistently. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. The Word of God is God’s revelation to us. In it, we are introduced to Christ and shown the way to heaven. 

The Lord Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6). No man can be saved except in and through Christ. And the Lord Jesus told the Jews: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (Jn 5:39). The Jews were right that they could find eternal life in the Scriptures. Their problem was that they were looking for the wrong things and were not believing the right things.  

The Scripture testifies of Christ. The church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). The prophet and prophetic men wrote the Old Testament looking forward to Christ. The apostles and apostolic men wrote the New Testament looking back to Christ.  

If you would have eternal life, you must look to Christ. You must find Him in the Bible—both in the Old and the New Testament. Then you will be able to glorify and enjoy God in eternal life. 

Pay attention to this book if you want to have eternal life. Do not neglect this book if you want the answers to all your problems. Pay attention to this book if you want to know the answers to life. Do not neglect this book if you desire to live in a way that truly counts for all eternity. Amen. 

—JJ Lim

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