I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: The Only Approval that Counts
I read this story on a sermon illustration website recently that goes like this:
"A new ticket-collector had been appointed at a suburban railway station and commenced his duties during a severe spell of wintry weather. Being very conscientious, he insisted on all season tickets being produced as passengers passed through the gate of the station. His predecessor had gotten to know most of the regular passengers and allowed them to pass without asking them to show their season-tickets.
After a few days, as the new ticket-collector continued to insist on all season tickets being shown, one of the travelers said to him one evening, 'You're not at all popular with the travelling public, sir.'
Pointing to the Station-Master's Office, the ticket-collector replied, 'I don't mind that. It's the man in there with whom I want to be popular; it's his approval that I desire."
Someone once said that:
"I don't know the definition of success but the definition of failure is to try to please everyone."
Everybody who has ever had a leadership position will attest to that fact. But those who are God's servants have one person that ultimately must approve of their actions. That is the Lord Himself. While it's nice to get the approval of the majority if you can, the one who really counts is our Father in Heaven who will reward us eternally for what we are doing for Him.
In this epistle of II Timothy we have the aging Apostle Paul, coming near the end of his life, about to be executed for his preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and talking to his son-in-the-faith, Timothy who is the pastor of the church in Ephesus.
In II Timothy 2:14-26 the Apostle is continuing with his advice to this younger man and encouraging him to remain faithful to the ministry that the Lord has given him. Paul knows that this man of God is going to face some difficult times in the world in which the Apostle is about to leave, and he is trying to help his disciple and friend to continue in the things he has been taught.
In this section Paul is explaining to Timothy the characteristics of an
'approved workman' for the only person that he should seek to please in his ministry. And that person is the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, we who are Christ's followers and workmen, can learn from these words of wisdom as well. Let us look at the characteristics in the passage.
I. He Correctly Handles the Word of Truth (14-19)
1. Defining Correctly Handling the Truth (14-15)
The first and overriding characteristic of a true workman for God is that he correctly handles the Word of truth, the Bible. A lot of people out there will tell you that everyone interprets the Bible in their own way. They will insist that you can go to the Scriptures and prove just about anything you want.
While it may be true that if you pick and choose verses, taking them out of context, Scripture can and has been given many interpretations and has lead to many cults and groups that spout heresy, that is not how God intended it to be.
The Bible is a Divine book. However, it shares the characteristics of most books in that the author has something to say and wishes to get that across to His readers. In this case God is the author, who inspires men to get his message of salvation to all of mankind.
Theologians use the term 'literal interpretation' to get across this understanding of the Bible. Literal interpretation is the belief that the biblical text is to be interpreted according to its plain meaning, or that which the author intended. That is why a minister of the word will study the history behind the writing to find out the context of a particular book in the Bible and will do grammar and word studies to search for what the author was saying to the people to whom he was writing, and finding out why he was saying it.
Sadly, that hasn't always been the case in church history, which is why the Bible has been used for many purposes, including some of the greatest atrocities that have ever happened in world history. They do this by reading into Scripture what they want it to say. Though no one is perfect in interpretation, there is an accurate way to read the Bible and find out what God wants men and women to hear. And we all should be constantly seeking the illumination of God's Spirit to show us what we are to listen to and obey from His Holy Word.
In verse 14, Paul begins this section of his book by referring back to the men he was talking about earlier in the chapter. He had told Timothy:
"The things you have heard of me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2:2).
The other verses leading up to verse 14 relate to Timothy that the servant of Jesus Christ who is sharing the gospel needs to have the focus of a soldier, the obedience of an athlete in following the rules, the dedication of a farmer, who plants and tends a field, waiting for the harvest, and, finally a desire to endure for the gospel, despite all of the hardships.
Now Paul begins in verse 14 by telling Timothy to remind these faithful men, whether pastors or teachers, of these things which he'd just told him. But, on top of that, Timothy is to:
"charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle with words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers."
Paul is referring to arguing with false teachers here. There were, and still are, deceivers who use human reason to subvert God's Word.
Rather than fighting with them, the Apostle exhorts his friend to:
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the Word of Truth." (2:15).
The word approved here is the Greek word dokimazo which means to test, to prove, to examine. The word was originally used in the ancient world for the testing of coins to see if they were the real thing or counterfeit. And the interesting thing is that when the word is used it isn't in order to expect failure. If you’re using this word to talk about testing or proving something, you aren’t expecting negative results. You’re expecting success. So, the person seeking to be approved by God is to study diligently the Bible in order not to be ashamed by his or her lack of understanding of it. And by this diligent study he gets God's stamp of approval.
When the Apostle Paul talks about accurately handling or rightly dividing the Scriptures he is using the term “orthotomeo.” The word is not used anywhere else in the Bible." It literally mean to "cut straight." It was used a lot in professions that require precise straight cuts such as carpentry or masonry. In these cases, if you didn't make accurate cuts, the project would be ruined.
The same is true of God's Word when not properly and accurately handled. But rather than a project ruined, it can destroy the lives of the hearers. Paul is comparing Timothy to a workman who precisely and accurately interprets the truth of Holy Scriptures.
It is a solemn and awesome responsibility to preach and teach God's Word and one that should never be taken lightly. The Apostle James went so far as to say that the teacher of the Word is under stricter judgment from God, so not many should seek to do it (James 3:1).
2. Examples of Not Correctly Handling the Truth (16-19).
Paul then goes on to describe two examples of false teachers who didn't correctly handle the truth of God's Word. Two men, Hymenaeus and Philetus, were spouting heresy. Here it is called "worldly and empty chatter." This will lead to further ungodliness. He says it will spread like gangrene. This word can mean cancer here and refers to a disease which spreads rapidly in a deadly manner. Sadly, this tells us of the harmful nature of all false teaching which destroys the lives of those who are lead astray by it.
The heresy of these two men had to do with the false teaching that the resurrection had already taken place. They were most likely denying the reality of the bodily resurrection. Some scholars believe that they were probably teaching that the believer's spiritual identification with Jesus Christ's death and resurrection was the only one they would experience and that this had already happened.
This obviously was upsetting the faith of some in the church. Paul was primarily referring here to nominal Christians or those here who didn't have a genuine faith, since true faith can never be completely overthrown. However, it can still cause much pain and confusion to all Christians.
Paul finishes this section in verse 19, saying that no matter what, the firm foundation of the true church of Jesus Christ stands and cannot be overthrown. And the Lord knows those who belong to Him. This is not some superficial knowledge that he is talking about here. It is rather an intimate knowledge of those He loves.
Further, it also follows that they who name His name should "abstain from wickedness."
II. He Cleanses Himself for Service (20-22)
This leads to the second characteristic of one who is an approved workman for our Lord. He is one who cleanses himself of sin so as to be vessel of honor. He then is fit for the Master's use and prepared for every good work.
The word for vessels here is used to describe various tools, utensils and furniture which are found in a home, especially a large one. Paul compares people to two types of vessels or serving dishes. The ones for honor were made of gold or silver. They were used for things like serving food to the family or guests. On the other hand, the dishonorable vessels, made of wood or earthenware, could have been used to dispose of garbage and other filthy waste created by the family.
However, even a common wood bucket or utensil could be used for more noble purposes if thoroughly scoured out and cleansed. Such is the believer who cleanses him or herself of sin, allowing the Lord to use them for greater things.
They flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (22).
By the way, you don't have to be young to have youthful lusts. Think of King David, who had a relationship with Uriah the Hittite's wife or Solomon who loved many foreign wives and fell into idolatry. Compare that with righteous young Joseph who refused to have sex with Potiphar's wife but was then accused of rape and sent to prison. We all are capable of youthful lusts and, like Joseph, must continually flee from them.
III. Doesn't Quarrel but is Kind to All (23-26)
The third and final characteristic of a Christian who is an 'approved workman' is one who doesn't quarrel but is kind to all. Paul wants Timothy to avoid useless and ignorant speculations, especially with false teachers. They just lead to quarrels. And, as many of us know, argument never changes anyone's mind. If anything, it only leads those who are arguing to become even more set in their own mind to the truth of their own position than they were before the argument.
Our goal should not be to win an argument but to lead one who is unsaved to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul puts it this way:
"The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged. With gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." (24-26).
When it comes right down to it, we are not wrestling against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
One of the greatest things that the Lord can do through us is to take our adversaries and, with the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, love them into the Body of Christ. We need to see them as ensnared by the Devil who is holding them hostage. Then they will become part of our mission field and not a foe to be overcome.
We can conclude from all of this that God is looking for people who seek diligently to be approved by Him as unashamed workmen, who correctly handle His Word, who cleanse themselves for service and who will live a life of kindness and gentleness that will cause the people of this world to take notice, not of them but of Him. There is a beautiful poem by an unknown author which speaks to this perfectly. It is simply called 'Searching for a Vessel.' It goes like this:
The Master was searching for a vessel to use;
On the shelf there were many—which one would He choose?
Take me, cried the gold one, I’m shiny and bright,
I’m of great value and I do things just right.
My beauty and luster will outshine the rest
And for someone like You, Master, gold would be the best!
Unheeding, the Master passed on to the brass,
It was wide mouthed and shallow, and polished like glass.
Here! Here! cried the vessel, I know I will do,
Place me on Your table for all men to view.
Look at me, called the goblet of crystal so clear,
My transparency shows my contents so dear,
Though fragile am I, I will serve You with pride,
And I’m sure I’ll be happy Your house to abide.
Then the Master looked down and saw a vessel of clay.
Empty and broken it helplessly lay.
No hope had the vessel that the Master might choose,
To cleanse and make whole, to fill and to use.
Ah! This is the vessel I’ve been hoping to find,
I will mend and use it and make it all Mine.
I need not the vessel with pride of itself;
Nor the one who is narrow to sit on the shelf;
Nor the one who is big-mouthed and shallow and loud;
Nor one who displays his contents so proud;
Not the one who thinks he can do all things just right;
But this plain earthy vessel filled with My power and might.
Then gently He lifted the vessel of clay.
Mended and cleansed it and filled it that day.
Spoke to it kindly. “There’s work you must do,
Just pour out to others as I pour into you.”
May we make it our aim in life to become that vessel, to be that approved workman that is not ashamed. One who loves and honors the Lord's Word. A person who makes God smile. For with these things, we will find true success that will last forever. And at the end of our time on this earth, we can truly say: "Mine was a life well lived!"
© 2020 Jeff Shirley
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on October 18, 2020:
You're welcome!! And God bless you as well.
Helna on October 18, 2020:
Thank you very much for telling the truth. "The same is true of God's Word when not properly and accurately handled. But rather than a project ruined, it can destroy the lives of the hearers. Paul is comparing Timothy to a workman who precisely and accurately interprets the truth of Holy Scriptures." We need people who share the word of God truthfully. Thanks for taking time to write this article. May God Bless You.