Text: Romans 15:4-13
St. Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” St. Paul reminded Timothy there of what he had earlier written to the Romans in our text today.
At some point during your confirmation classes and probably at a number of Reformation Sundays services you’ve attended over the years, you’ve heard of the three solas that we Lutherans confess. They are Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Sola Scriptura. In English: grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone. We believe that we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, and that the Scriptures alone are necessary for salvation. But, what does that mean – that the Scriptures are necessary for salvation? What does the Bible do? What is it for? St. Paul teaches in our text that the Scriptures were written so that, through them, God would grant us teaching, endurance, and hope.
When we read the Bible, we most often read it in English – because we speak English. We read it in English with nice little divisions into chapters and verses. These make it easier to read, but for much of the Church’s history there was no such thing as chapter and verse. For example, though by Luther’s time the Scriptures had been divided into verses, it wasn’t widely adopted until after his death. So, when Luther cited the Scripture in his writing, he most often just cited book and chapter. These divisions make it easier for us to understand the Scriptures, but they sometimes get in the way. Sometimes, as in our text today, the author is continuing a point from earlier in his writing, but the chapter divisions make us think we’ve moved onto a new topic.
Today, St. Paul’s teaching is continuing on from what he wrote in chapter 14. One of the issues among the Roman congregation came about because they were a diverse group. Diversity was not the issue, but what was, was that those who had converted from Judaism were not of the same mind when it came to the Scriptures. Some held that, though they were now Christians, they should hold to the traditions, feasts, and customs they grew up with. Others, believing (correctly) that these were fulfilled in Christ, no longer celebrated them. The problem: those who didn’t keep the traditions belittled those who did. St. Paul encouraged the “strong,” as he called them, to bear with those new to the faith. He said, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”
But, then, St. Paul pivoted to how we should view and use the Scriptures, why they were given us. He wrote, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The Scriptures were written not to be used as a cudgel to strike and divide, but, first, for our instruction. The Scriptures were written so that we might hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Though the Holy Spirit first delivered the message through the prophets by spoken word, our Lord directed it to be in writing so that we could receive it 2,000 years later. Through the Scriptures we hear that Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, bore our sins in His flesh on the cross. When He made payment for our sins, He then rose from the dead to restore to us eternal life. These things – forgiveness and eternal life – He gives to us now by His grace, through faith, when we hear it from Scripture and believe.
The Scriptures were written, first, for our instruction. By the Holy Scriptures we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit creates faith through these simple pages. From the Scriptures we teach and raise our children to know Christ and His love, and then how to love and serve their neighbor. From Scripture – and Scripture alone – we receive all Christian doctrine. God has given us the sacred writings for, “Teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness,” as St. Paul wrote to Timothy. But, that’s not all the Scriptures are for. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
The Scriptures were also written so that through them God might grant us a patient endurance and encouragement. Luther speaks about this very well. He said once, “Scripture does not remove adversity, suffering, and death; indeed, it foretells nothing but the holy cross—St. Paul calls it ‘the word of the cross’…But this is what it does: In the midst of suffering it comforts and strengthens, so that our endurance does not break down but perseveres and conquers. It makes the soul very comforted, bold, and happy to suffer when it hears a comforting word from its God, that He is with it and sides with it.” What this means is that the Scriptures were written not for the sake about whom they speak, but for our benefit.
This means that when we are suffering, we can look to the Old and New Testament saints and find in them fellowship. When we are suffering, we can look to Scriptures and see that, in our suffering, we are united with our Lord. He it is, who suffers with us. The Scripture were written so that we might find in them, and receive from God through them, endurance and encouragement. For, not ever in all of Scripture, did God abandon His faithful children. Not once, did God fail to preserve and deliver His beloved children. Nor will He fail to preserve and deliver us from all sin and eternal death.
Through the Scriptures, the Lord delivers to us the Good News that our sins are forgiven by His grace through faith in Christ. He also gives to us the encouragement that, as He was with the saints of old, so He is with us. He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The end result, then, is that we have hope. That is one of the themes of this Advent season. We have hope that our Lord Jesus will come to us on the clouds. He will raise our bodies and change them to be like His imperishable body, and we will live with Him and all Christians in eternal joy and happiness. If it should be the Lord’s will that we die before His return, we know from the Scriptures that we can die in the peace of sins forgiven and the joyful hope of our new life in heaven.
Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Sola Scriptura. Hopefully, we all got a chance to learn these in our confirmation classes or over the Reformation Sundays we’ve been to in our lives. We believe that we are saved not by our works – not even a smidgen – but entirely by God’s grace through faith in Christ. This faith, He gives to us by the Holy Spirit through the written Scriptures alone. We learn from St. Paul today that the Scriptures are God’s instrument; through them He grants to us teaching, endurance, encouragement, and hope. Amen.