Spiritual formation is the hot topic in Evangelical circles today. Tremendous energy is being devoted to understanding various traditions of spiritual formation that have arisen within Christianity – Puritan spirituality, Catholic spirituality, Pentecostal spirituality, etc. Those Christian traditions that some perceive as having little or no explicit discussion about spirituality in their history are scrambling to develop appropriate habits or disciplines that will foster spiritual formation. In the process they scour the accumulated wisdom of the Christian tradition for appropriate methods.
Baptists also ask what their tradition of spiritual formation might be. We could point to the writings of John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress as one example of the way we have conceived spiritual formation. However, I believe Baptists have tended to look primarily to Scripture as their fundamental manual to guide them in their spiritual development. We put great stock in the devotional study of God’s Word with the tutelage of the Holy Spirit as our primary resource to help us become more like Christ and deepen our relationship with him.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16,17 ISV)
A text like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 encourages us to rely upon the Scriptures for the teaching, reproving, correcting and training in righteousness that constitute the disciplines of spiritual formation. Paul urges Timothy to affirm the sufficiency and ability of the Scriptures to prepare people to become like Christ and demonstrate his love. The appropriate source for the paideia (disciplined training in righteousness) of God’s people is the “God-breathed word”. Paul uses two words to express the desired result. One word is the adjective artios that describes someone who is ‘well-fitted for some function, complete, capable or proficient’. It can refer to persons or things that are healthy, fully grown, balanced and complete, well adjusted. There is a sense of maturity, describing someone who has reached the full extent of their personal prowess, physical strength and abilities. So the first part of verse 17 can be rendered “so that God’s person might be fully developed – able to meet all demands”.
The last part of the verse is a participial clause also defining the subject of the main clause (‘the person of God’), but doing it an adverbial sense – explaining why or how or when the action expressed in the participle might occur. This verb means ‘to bring something to an end, finish or complete’ or ‘to make something ready for service, equip, or furnish’. The compound form of the verb adds a sense of finality or completion to this process. We might render this participle in several ways:
“because this person stands completely equipped”
“after this person has been completely equipped”
“having been completely equipped”
The sense of the participle is completed by the phrase “for every good task”, identifying the intended outcome of the equipping. This same phrase occurs in Titus 1:16; 3:1 and (with eis) at 2 Timothy 2:21
A translation for 3:17 might then be:
“so that God’s person might be equipped, because s/he stands completely equipped for every excellent task.”
The goal of the spiritual formation process according to Paul is to help Christians achieve their full spiritual potential and thereby always be ready to get involved in “every excellent task”.
What does Paul include as helps in reaching this level of spiritual proficiency? There is a strong mentoring focus as he reminds Timothy of the many occasions in which he observed Paul’s response to suffering, ministry challenges and troubles (3:10-13). Timothy has seen Paul’s faith in action and God’s faithful response to His servant. Not only does Timothy have the mentoring of Paul in his personal history, but he has the wonderful discipleship of his mother and grandmother who taught him God’s Word from infancy (3:14-15). These are the multiple layers of Scripture-based teaching and wise guidance that have brought Timothy to the point where he is capable, completely equipped to get on with God’s calling in his life. Paul encourages Timothy to provide this same kind of spiritual direction and mentoring for people under his ministry.
- 1. Paul notes that Timothy has followed his "faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions and sufferings" (2 Tim. 3:10-11)
- 2. The Greek word refers to a human being without reference to gender — anthropos.
- 3. The participle is a perfect passive formation from the verb exartizw, a word that is cognate with the adjective artios.
- 4. John Peterson in The Message renders this verse as “Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.”