2 Timothy 014 – Where to Place the Focus (audio only)2 Timothy 2:14-15 • Dr. Andy Woods • December 13, 2015 • 2 Timothy - The Call to Persevere
Where to Place the Focus
12-13-15 2 Timothy 2:14-15 Lesson 14
Good morning everybody. That was tremendous singing, I really enjoyed that, a great way to glorify the Lord through song. If we could take our Bibles and open them to the book of 2 Timothy, chapter 2, verse 14, obviously I don’t have the glitzy PowerPoint presentation to give you today so we’ll just have to do it the way the church has done it for 2,000 years before PowerPoint, do it the old fashioned way. And it’s kind of Sunday’s like today that I’m reminded of my favorite proverb: Blessed are the flexible for they shall never be broken. And that’s not in the book of Proverbs, it’s just a proverb.
But if you’ve been tracking with us you recall where we are in the book of 2 Timothy. Paul is giving Timothy a series of metaphors, or word pictures, to teach this young man how to endure and we are actually at the eighth word picture and this is the word picture of a workman. Sort of the way I’ve divided up this morning’s lesson is verse 14 is what not to do, in other words, what not to focus on. And verse 15, if time permits (and all of the power doesn’t go out first) is what to do, or what to focus on. So the title of this message is Where to Place Our Focus. And I love how the Bible tells us what not to do and then it tells us what to do.
So take a look, if you will, at verse 14 and let’s see how far we can get into this this morning. Paul writes this: “Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” But,” verse 15, “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
Notice verse 14, what not to do, and you’ll notice right out of the gate verse 14, you’ll see the word, “Remind them,” so Paul is, at this stage, reminding Timothy and telling Timothy to remind his audience of all of the things he has taught thus far in this letter. “Remind them” of the basics, in fact, he says there, “Remind them of these things,” “these things” would be the whole concept of rewards which we talked about in our last time together.
And Paul, apparently is very serious about this because in verse 14 he says I “solemnly charge” you “in the presence of God.” Now over in 2 Timothy 4:2, where Paul is going to lay out his exhortations about “preach the word” he says the same thing over there, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God.” So my point is when Paul says “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God” he’s getting real serious now; he’s going to lay down something that he considers very important.
So what important principle is Paul about to lay down here as he says, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God,” [4:1]. You pick it up about halfway through verse 14 [2:14] where he explains to them what they are not to do. He explains to Timothy what he is not to do and he explains to us what we are not to do. We are “not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearer.”
This concept of wrangling about words is something that Paul mentions many, many times in his writings, particularly the letters that we are studying here, the pastoral letters. 1 Timothy 1:4 says, “nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation….” 1 Timothy 4:7, he says, “have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.” In
1 Timothy 6:4-5 he says, about certain people, they are “conceited” and they have “a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, and evil suspicions.”
And what Paul is really getting at here in these verses, verse 14 being one of those verses, is to not get into these sort of hair-splitting controversies, controversies in which the Bible has never spoken authoritatively on a subject. So these would be how many angels can dance on the head of a pin kind of arguments. And I have no idea how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, no matter how passionate I feel about it because the Bible has not spoken.
And we’re living in an interesting time where people want to major on the minors. In other words they want to major on subjects where there’s hardly any biblical data on it at all. If you spend any time on You-Tube you’ll see these controversies. What does the Bible say about UFO’s? I have no idea, simply because the Bible doesn’t address that subject directly. Other people have been wrapped up in what are called the Bible codes and what they mean by that is if you skip certain letters in the Bible or skip certain words equally throughout the biblical canon it spells out some kind of code. I don’t really have an interest in trying to figure out codes in the Bible, I have a hard enough time trying to figure out what the Bible actually says; once I get that down then I’ll get into the codes.
Someone has speculated that if you start from Genesis 11 and go backwards to Genesis 1 it will give the same message that you find in the book of Revelation. Well, I have a hard enough time reading the Bible frontwards rather than backwards. Other people want to know, are there going to be dogs and cats in heaven. I know this much, that when you get to heaven you won’t be disappointed, whether that entails your personal pet or not I don’t know, the Bible doesn’t tell me.
And of course, we’ve had endless date setting throughout the ages of the church. And Paul here says don’t get involved in these kinds of matters because the only thing it’s going to do is it’s going to lead to mindless, empty speculation; the human intellect will have to take over because the Bible hasn’t addressed the subject directly. And it’s not going to do anything other than raise strife within the church.
Paul mentions the same kind of idea in the book of Titus, another pastoral letter, chapter 3, verses 9-10, Paul says, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” He says in Titus 3:10, “Reject a factious” now factious means divisive, “reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” Now this word translated “factious” in Titus 3:10 is also translated “divisive” and the Greek word for that word translated “divisive” or “factious” and as I pronounce this Greek word, see if you can tell me what English word is derived from that Greek word. The Greek word is airetikon, anybody recognize that word? Heretic, airetikon, a factions man, a divisive man, is actually where we get the word “heretic.”
What is a heretic? A heretic is somebody who brings a division into a body by arguing about some speculative matter that the Scriptures never directly comment upon. So heretic by definition is a person of division because there is something in the Bible that’s clear to them, now it’s not clear to the rest of us but it’s clear to them, and they actually bring a division into a particular church because they’re majoring on some minor point that the Bible does not address. Ward in his commentary on the pastoral letters says this? “In the end disputing about words seeks not the victory of truth but the victory of the speaker.”
And so many times you get into these controversial subjects and what people start to do is they start to pursue victory rather than truth. And that doesn’t do anything but work everybody up into a frenzy and at the end of the day the Lord really is not glorified. And so many times what you’ll discover in theological controversies is it’s pride masquerading as spirituality; pride masquerading as trying to get to the truth. The fact of the matter the truth oftentimes is not at stake at all because the Bible has never spoken directly about something; it’s the pride of the advocate that is at stake.
And so Paul specifically tells us to stay away from these types of things. Now many people misuse this verse and they say well all debates regarding the Bible are wrong. And that’s not what Paul is saying either because verse 15 he tells us what to focus on. So a theological controversy is appropriate if truth is really at stake, if there is some key issue in the Bible that is actually at stake. But merely speculating for the sake of speculation, merely arguing for the sake of arguing, merely quarreling over some matter that the Bible has not spoken on one way or the other is something that Paul specifically says to stay away from.
So Timothy, in your capacity as a workman, which he will begin to develop more in the next verse, Paul tells Timothy (and us by extension) what to stay away from. In fact, Paul specifically says there in verse 14 that such matters are “useless.” You’ll notice in verse 14 the word “useless.” When you get into matters that are unbiblical and you start to drag them into the church the whole discussion is “useless” or pointless and how different 2 Timothy 3:16 reads when you actually get into the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and” what? “profitable,” and he describes in verse 16 of chapter 3 the various profitable things that come from an honest study of the Word of God. [2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;”]
But contrast that profitability with the word he uses in verse 14, “useless,” non-productive, good for nothing, vain repetition and vain imagination. And then one other small point, actually it’s really not a small point, it’s a big point but he mentions it at the very end of verse 14, he says don’t “wrangle about words, which is useless” and look at the last clause of verse 14, “and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” So getting embroiled in controversial questions that the Bible has not spoken on directly can actually ruin people’s growth in Christ. It can stagnate their growth.
In fact, if they are unsaved the mere controversy that’s taking place could keep them away from God because after all, what does Jesus say in John 13, I think it’s around verse 35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, [if you have love for one another.]” what does “this” refer to? Your love for each other, not your ability to win arguments, not your ability to outwit your opponent, not your ability to expose heresies and there’s places to expose heresies in the body of Christ. But at the end of the day what gravitates us towards the things of Jesus Christ is the unsaved person sees love, authentic love manifested amongst God’s people.
And so what is an unsaved person supposed to do when they see a bunch of Christians quarreling about things that the Bible never addresses one way or the other? That doesn’t draw them to Christ, that actually keeps them away from Christ. In fact, that is the very thing that Paul condemns the Corinthians for, they were suing each other in 1 Corinthians 6, actually taking one another to court and Paul, in that chapter you’ll discover says because you’re doing this you’re defeated already. Why is that? Because your case is going before an unbelieving judge and now what’s the unbelieving judge supposed to think as he looks at these Christians that are supposed to represent the love of God fighting with each other in a pagan court system? That’s not going to draw them to Christ; that’s going to keep them away from Christ.
So these things actually leads to ruin. Now this word “ruin,” I looked it up, it’s the Greek word katastraphē, where we get the word catastrophe. This is a catastrophe! And that word is used only one other time in the whole Greek New Testament, it’s used here in 2 Timothy 2:14, one other time in the whole Greek New Testament, you might want to jot down 2 Peter 2:6 and there it’s used of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. [2 Peter 2:6, “and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;”]
So the destruction that we can bring into people’s lives by wrangling over words actually is catastrophic, perhaps as catastrophic as Sodom and Gomorrah because it keeps people away from Christ. And if people are in Christ, as long as they are embroiled in this controversy, it stagnates their growth. So it is a catastrophic destruction spiritually on equal par with the physical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. So that is what not to do, verse 14.
Let’s move on, if we could, into verse 15 where Paul begins to explain what we’re supposed to do. And notice the word picture he starts to develop in verse 15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Rather than focusing on what the Bible doesn’t say, verse 14, instead, young Timothy, you are to focus on what the Bible does say. In contrast to non-revelatory arguments that aren’t based on the Scripture, you on the other hand, as a good worker in Christ, are to focus on what the Scripture actually says.
So verse 15, right out of the gate you’ll see the words “be diligent.” Now what does it mean to “be diligent”? It means to do something intense effort and motivation. It means to work hard to do one’s best. And the mood here of the Greek verb is the imperative mood indicating this is a command to diligence; “be diligent” is not a suggestion, “be diligent” is a command. In other words, when it comes to the Word of God you, young Timothy and us by extension, we are to be diligent, we are to exert ourselves. We’re to be consistent.
And I started flipping through the Bible and I notice that many times when the Word of God is mentioned there’s always some sort of injunction for us to be diligent. For example, in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 Moses says, “The words which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your” children, “to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” In other words, we are to be teaching the Scripture to our children diligently, not just when there’s a break in the action, not just when it’s convenient, not just when I’ve had enough sleep the night before, but I am to be doing it “diligently.” And in fact, you’ll notice in those verses, Deuteronomy 6:6-7 it’s to occur during all the hours of the normal course of a day.
Joshua 1:8 talks about the Word of God, it says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it” how frequently? “day and night,” that’s a long time, isn’t it, “so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it, [for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.]” Psalm 1:2 says of the righteous man, “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates” how frequently, “day and night.”
In fact, it’s very interesting, in the Bible when you start to really get into this and study it what you’ll discover is the Bible, and taking in the Word of God is analogized to food. Job 23:12, Job says, “I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” You’ll find the same analogy in Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone” but by what? “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”
1 Peter 2:2 says our attitude towards God should be that of a newborn babe desiring pure milk.
[1 Peter 2:2, “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”]
Now we don’t just eat when we feel like it, sometimes we do eat when we feel like it and that’s what gets us into trouble, but you’ll notice that taking in a meal, which is necessary for one’s physical well-being is something that’s consistent. And we’re to have that same type of attitude with respect to the Word of God. As Paul is writing to Timothy here we are to be diligent in our pursuit of God’s Word. And that causes us to become qualified, not in the eyes of man but in the eyes of God, notice verse 15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to” who? “to God,” not to the church, not to the Board, not to your fellow scholars, not to your fellow pastors, but you are to be diligent with God’s Word and in the process you are to present yourself to God for approval.
And what He is basically getting at here in verse 15 is Timothy, God is your judge; you’re not in this, pursuing truth and disseminating truth for an audience of ten thousand, you’re actually doing it for an audience of one, God. And God is the one that one of these days is going to hold you, young Timothy, to account. We all know, perhaps, James 3:1 which says, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” God is going to hold the Bible teachers, and us as Bible students, accountable; we are to present ourselves unto God.
A lot of people like to come into a church like this and offer their criticisms of things. Why are you studying this book and not that book? How come we never get a chance to beat the Baptists to the cafeteria? I mean, why do you keep us to 12:30 and sometimes beyond? Why do you use PowerPoint, why didn’t you use this slide, why didn’t you use that slide? Why did you say things in a certain way that had the potential of offending one group or the other?
And you know, really at the end of the day, while people’s opinions of things are always listened to and appreciated, at least most of the time, the bottom line to the whole thing is I am praying, and you should be too, for an audience of one. What I am really interested in at the end of the day, while not trying to be offensive or hurtful to anybody is this: is God pleased with the message? Because you can please man and not please God; you can not please God and end up pleasing man. And oftentimes the opinions of man and the opinions of God are going two different directions. And so at the end of the day, while you want to be polite to people, what people think of how you do it, when you do it, why you do it, if you do it, is really not the determining issue because the moment you put yourself into the position as a teacher there is an accountability where you have to answer to God for what you say and what you don’t say.
I’m reminded of Paul when he talks about man’s opinions of his ministry; in 1 Corinthians 4:3 Paul says, “But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself,” Paul says. So he doesn’t say human opinion means nothing, he just says it’s a small thing. What really motivates me is the opinion of God on my ministry. And this helps us really to begin to unpack this expression that Paul is using here to present ourselves as a workman, approved unto God.
You know, so many times we can criticize ministers and I’ve done this, unfortunately too many times in my past, and we forget that that minister is not really accountable to us at the end of the day; they are accountable to God. And yet sometimes our opinion of things can be so strong that we act as if that person is actually accountable to us. You know, I can click through the television stations of so-called Christian ministers and I can find all sorts of things that I disagree with and I can be somewhat vitriolic in condemnation, thinking that in my condemnation that the person is accountable to me, when the fact of the matter is we need to understand that they are accountable to God. Romans 14:4 says, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
So what you discover here is Paul goes on after saying you are to “present yourself” unto God, notice the next phrase there, “as a workman,” now this is the word picture for endurance that Paul is trying to formulate and inculcate in young Timothy. What does he mean here when he says “a workman?’ Dr. Constable, in his online notes, talks about how a workman… “The Greek work ergaten, (workman) stresses the laborious nature of the task, rather than the skill needed to perform it.”
So it’s interesting here in verse 15 Paul is not dealing with the subject of skill and spiritual gifts in Timothy; he dealt with that in other sections of this book. Here he is stressing the labor that you must go through, the laborious nature of the task that you must go through in majoring on the things that God majors on; not majoring on speculative things, verse 14, but majoring on things where God has revealed Himself, or God has disclosed something. And he’s saying to Timothy in the process that as you labor in this way you are actually doing the work of a workman.
Think of the work that it takes to understand the Bible. Think of the barriers that have to be overcome. First of all, think of the chronological barriers. There’s about 2,000 years between us and the writing of the New Testament. There is another total of 3500 years between us and the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. In fact, Job would be actually older than Genesis so you’d have to back up another 600 years or so. And yet the Bible teacher is expected to transcend that chronological barrier. Think of the linguistic differences. We speak English; well, in the New Testament they spoke in Greek. The Old Testament, they spoke in Hebrew.
Think of the cultural differences. We live in the end of the year 2015, a 21st century audience, but that’s not the way they lived in biblical times, in the New Testament; they lived in Greco-Roman times and in the Old Testament they lived in the Ancient Near East and yet the Bible teacher is expected to traverse or transcend chronological linguistic and cultural barriers that are enormous. And he is expected to go back in time through diligent study to derive God’s message and then to present it to a modern audience in a way they can understand it. If it were not for the Holy Spirit’s illumination and enablement what hope could we have in doing such a feat. It is a Herculean task!
And that’s why Paul calls Timothy to this metaphor of being a workman as he is focusing on the things that God Himself is focusing on. Timothy, you’re not to have a devotional knowledge of the Bible, you are to have a doctrinal knowledge of the Bible. And one of the great shames of our day is the way people treat the Bible. People look at the Bible as they want some kind of nice little quip, some kind of motivational thought for the day to sort of help them through whatever struggle they’re going through. People look at the Bible very piecemeal, grab a verse here, grab a verse there. They don’t study it contextually, they don’t study it culturally, they don’t study it grammatically. And what people largely have today is a devotional knowledge of Scripture, whereas God is calling Timothy to a doctrinal knowledge of Scripture.
And we treat the Bible differently than we would any other subject. Let me ask you a question, when you learned geometry in high school or algebra, or perhaps in college trigonometry, or calculus, did you learn those subjects devotionally or did you learn those subjects doctrinally. See, to learn anything in life that’s worth learning it requires a tremendous amount of energy, focus and effort; why should we treat the Bible less than any of those other subjects, particularly since the Bible is the very Word of God.
Sort of an Old Testament parallel to what Paul is getting at here with Timothy is the scribe, Ezra. You might remember Ezra the scribe, that great scribe of God in the postexilic world, and this is what it says of Ezra in Ezra 7:10. “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” What was Ezra all about? Number 1, studying the law; number 2, practicing the law; number 3, teaching the law. Now I think the order there is very significant. First he studied it, tried to figure out what it was saying. And then before he put himself in a position of authority where he was telling others what to do he put himself under God’s truth. Am I really practicing what God has called me to practice? And then after he became a practitioner of God’s truth, then he became a teacher of God’s truth.
And see, there are many people today that want to be teachers but they are unwilling to submit to the prior two steps; you can’t teach something unless you study it. And unless what you’re teaching others is a tangible, practical reality in your own life you’ll quickly lose your credibility as a minister and as a teacher of God. First we study, secondly we practice, and third, we proclaim or teach it to others.
1 Timothy 5:17 says, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Notice that “preaching and teaching” is hard work. It is laborious, it is difficult, it has its headaches, it has its setbacks, it has its frustrations, and that is why Paul uses this word picture of a workman to describe what young Timothy is to do.
And if I can just get on my hobby horse, just for a moment if you’ll indulge me, this is the area where the evangelical church, particularly in the west, particularly in the United States of America, is failing dramatically. We are failing in our acquisition of Bible knowledge. You talk to the average Christian today about the latest sale or the latest car, or the latest sporting event, or perhaps even the weather, and they can go on and on and on and on with meticulous facts and details. And then you ask that same person, well, tell me your favorite verse in the Bible? What are you doing in your private life in terms of studying the Bible? How is God speaking to you? What are you teaching your own children at home? And suddenly the amount of information, the amount of detail, the amount of facts, starts to disintegrate and you get sort of these bland answers, when if you’ve got them on a worldly subject they can give you all sorts of information. And how tragic that is when our priorities get out of order in this way.
Timothy, you are to be a workman of the Word, a worker of the Word, someone who is expending energy in a laborious task. Part of the problem today is that many Christians are going to so-called places of worship where they are not being taught the Word of God. Where they are going today is what I would call glorified spiritualized pep rallies. There’s a lot of screaming, there’s a lot of yelling, there’s a lot of hollering and hooting and things of this nature and everybody kind of leaves pumped up. But at the end of the day has the Word of God really been studied. Has the Word of God really been taught. And going to an emotional church service like that is like eating a little bit of chocolate donut (or a lot of a chocolate donut) on a Monday morning, and it gives you this tremendous bounce of energy for about an hour or two and then you quickly fade because you haven’t had the nutrition that you need to sustain you when the pink slip comes in, or the landlord says your rent is due, or the doctor says there’s something negative here on the doctor’s report or the X-ray that I need to talk to you about.
Those types of emotional hype church services, a little bit of a chocolate donut or a lot of a chocolate donut in the morning is not enough to sustain you as God’s child throughout the difficulties of life. And how we are moving away from being workers of the Word of God.
Let me read to you a little excerpt from a Christianity Today article. This was written by Gary Burge who is a professor at Wheaton College. Wheaton College, in case you didn’t know, is where Billy Graham graduated from, if I’m not mistaken it’s one of the most elite evangelical schools that we have as it’s been considered throughout our history. And this is what Gary Burge says Christianity Today, March 25, 2010: “For the last four years the Bible and theology department at Wheaton College in Illinois has studied the biblical and theological literacy of incoming freshmen. These students are intellectually ambitious, spiritually passionate. They represent almost every Protestant denomination and every state in the country. Most come from strong evangelical churches and possess a long history of personal devotion and Christian involvement, whether it be attendance at church, youth camps, missions, etc.”
Burge says this: “They use the Bible regularly but curiously few genuinely know its stories. The Bible has become a springboard for personal piety and meditation, not a book to be read. These students very likely know that David killed Goliath but they don’t know why he did it, or that Goliath was a Philistine or who the Philistines even were. When asked to complete a test in which a series of events must be placed in order our students return surprising results. One-third of the freshman could not put the following events in order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ and the day of Pentecost. Half could not sequence the following events: Moses in Egypt, Isaac’s birth, Saul’s death and Judah’s exile. One-third could not identify Matthew as an apostle from a list of New Testament names. When asked to locate the Biblical books supplying a given story one-third could not identify that Paul’s travels are recorded in the book of Acts, half did not know that the Christmas story was in Matthew or that the Passover story was in the Exodus.”
One of the things that’s so interesting to me to look at is despite the fact that we have Bibles in almost every size and shape and every translation, and despite the fact that we are blessed with all of these computer programs which give us a tremendous avenue for gaining insight into the Scripture, despite the fact that we have all of these creature comforts that help us in Bible study, Bible literacy has been in sharp decline. It’s almost as if the more technology we have the lower our Bible I.Q.’s actually become. And part of the problem, we can point the finger at this church or that church but we have to be honest at the end of the day, part of the problem is ourselves.
Al Mohler, in a blog article entitled “Falling on Deaf Ears? — Why So Many Churches Hear so Little of the Bible, in February, 19th, 2010, makes some interesting statements, so please indulge me as I read this: “It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly or we start to mentally check out. That clear sentence reflects one of the most amazing, tragic, and lamentable characteristics of contemporary Christianity, that is, impatience with the Word of God.” Now he quotes a pastor here named Galli, last name’s Galli, and he says this: “Galli was told to cut down on the biblical references in his sermon. ‘You’ll lose people,’ the staff member warned. In a Bible study session on creation, the teacher was requested to come back the next Sunday prepared to take questions at the expense of reading the relevant scriptural texts on the doctrine. Cutting down on the number of Bible verses would, quote “’save time’” close quote, “and, it was strongly implied, would better hold people’s interest.’ … Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.”
“As Mark Galli notes: [quote] “It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes—at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting his or her material, even if it is material from the Word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives. … Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use.”
“The fixation on our own sense of need and interest looms as the most significant factor in this marginalization and silencing of the Word of God. Individually, each human being in the room is an amalgam of wants, needs, limitations, intuitions, interests, and distractions. Corporately, the congregation is a mass of expectations, desperate hopes, consuming fears, and impatient urges. All of this adds up, unless countered by the authentic reading and preaching of the Word of God, to a form of group therapy, entertainment, and wasted time—if not worse. “Galli has this situation clearly in his sights when he asserts that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then quickly move on “to things that really interest us.” Like . . .” what? “like ourselves” of course.
The Biblical formula is clear; the neglect of the Word of God can only lead to disaster, disobedience and death. God rescues His church from error, preserves His church in truth, propels His church in witness, only by His Word, not in congregational self-study. In the end impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God. We both individually and congregationally neglect God’s Word to our own ruin.”
In fact, those words were so good I decided to read it because I don’t think I could have said it better myself. Biblical illiteracy is on the upswing. I’m not talking about the public schools, which threw God out a long time ago. I’m talking about in the average evangelical church, even more so amongst the young. And the problem to a large extent, it’s our own fault because we, to a very large extent are more wrapped up in ourselves than we are the Word of God. And consequently we are impatient with careful, diligent, deliberate Bible study, the very thing that Paul is calling Timothy to do here.
The verse that kept jumping out in my mind as I was preparing my thoughts is the book of Hosea, chapter 4 and verse 6, and I’ll let you fill in the blank. “My people are destroyed for lack of” what? “knowledge.” It’s interesting Hosea didn’t say “My people are destroyed for a lack of” intimacy; he didn’t say “My people are destroyed for a lack of” love. He didn’t say “My people are destroyed for a lack of” relationships, or innovativeness, or zeal, or relevance, or community, or spirituality, or authenticity. He said very clearly, Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.”
And in this climate of narcissism we, as God’s people, are called to emulate this metaphor of being a worker of the Word, studying the Bible when it’s easy, studying the Bible when it’s laborious; studying the Bible when it maybe meets a felt need in our life, studying the Bible when it doesn’t, because at the end of the day the Scripture is, in fact, the very Word of God.
Notice also, back to verse 15, after he mentions “workmen,” a workman at what? “who does not need to be ashamed,” have you ever been asked something that you should know the answer to? Let’s say you’re a mathematics teacher and some student asks you a rudimentary question and you don’t know the answer, or there’s something on the job that you’re expected to do and you’re expected to perform and somebody asks you a basic question about it and you don’t know the answer? Do you know the feeling of embarrassment that comes over you? That’s the very thing that Paul is talking about here in verse 15 when he says of a diligent workman of the Word “who does not need to be ashamed.” One Bible translation puts it this way: “who does not blush with embarrassment” when we don’t know the answer to a particular question we ought to know.
And all of this, Timothy, is avoidable; you need not blush with embarrassment if you fulfill this metaphor of being a diligent worker in God of His Word. You know, it’s possible that Jesus can come back and many of us will be ashamed; we’ll be ashamed of our lack of proficiency in the greatest gift He has given us besides His own death and resurrection, the greatest gift we have perhaps besides also the Holy Spirit, is God’s Word. That is a precious commodity, and we can become very lackadaisical in it. And when He returns we can blush with embarrassment because we have not presented ourselves unto Him as a worker that need not be ashamed. 1 John 2:28 says, “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence, and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”
Continuing on here in verse 15, a worker “who does not need to be ashamed,” watch this, “accurately handling the word of truth.” Now the old, not the old but the King James Version and New King’s Version puts it this way: “Be diligent to present yourselves approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth.” And I used to read that and I’d say I knew Paul was a dispensationalist because he is dividing Israel and church, law and grace, justification and sanctification, you know, all those things that we as dispensationalists do in our theology. And I used to look at that and say well there it is, Paul is making right divisions. And that’s a very common understanding of these verses. It’s translated that way in the King James Version, but the meaning of that word is so much deeper than right divisions. It would include correct divisions, but it involves so much more.
The word translated there “rightly dividing the Word of God” is the Greek word orthotomeō; orthotomeō, it’s a compound word which simply means two words are put together to form a singular word, and this is what is called a hapax legomena, you say what? What is that? Hapax legomena, hapax in Greek means once, legomena means spoken word. So a hapax legomena, technically speaking, is a word used once and only once in the whole Bible. And orthotomeō is used here in 1 Timothy 2;15 and it’s not found anywhere else in the Greek New Testament. That’s why we call it a hapax legomena.
Now let’s break this word, orthotomeō down just a little bit if we could; ortho, you recognize the word “ortho” don’t you? Have you gone to the orthodontist lately? An orthodontist corrects problems in our mouth. You might recognize the word orthodoxy, as in correct belief; ortho simply means correct or accurate. And then we have this noun, tomos, the verb form of the word is tomeō, the noun form of the word is tomos, and what that word means is literally to cut. So that particular word, tomeō, is used or tomos is used only one other time also in the Greek New Testament. It’s used once here, and it’s used on other time in the book of Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 12, a very familiar passage of Scripture, which says, “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper,” the translation “sharper” is tomos.
So let’s take these words, ortho, correct, tomos or the verb tomeō, put those together and what does
orthotomeō actually mean? It means to cut straight. The word itself doesn’t mean to divide one dispensation from the other, it simply means to cut straight, to cut a straight path. Dr. Constable, in his online notes offers the following enlightenment on orthotomeō. “The Greek word, orthotomeō, elsewhere, in extra biblical Greek literature, describes a tentmaker who makes a straight rather than wavy cuts in his material. It pictures a builder who lays bricks in straight rows, a road maker who constructs a straight road, and a farmer who plows a straight furrow. As the priests of Israel had to cut up the pieces and offer them exactly as God decreed, so the gospel herald must handle the Scriptures carefully and accurately. The way a minister of the gospel presents the Word of God was of primary importance to Paul, and it should be important to us as well.”
What is Paul telling Timothy to do here when he says you need to “accurately” handle the Word of God? He’s saying cut it straight! Just as you put together a tent or a road or farming, or any other area of secular thought that you can think of, you have to obey the rules, you have to obey the principles, you have to follow the fundamentals. If someone is constructing a house for you and they don’t want to adhere to the fundamentals you should find a new house-maker or builder. If you go to a doctor and the doctor says well, I don’t really follow the fundamentals of medicine it’s time to find a new doctor or a new lawyer, or your doctor is going to be visited by your lawyer perhaps, if things get too sour.
So it’s this idea that cut it straight, do it right, teach it accurately; that’s the whole metaphor of the workman, you’re involved in this laborious task but you ought to be handling the Word of God through your sweat, through your perspiration, through your labor, in a way that is absolutely accurate and that is your calling in God. It’s so interesting to me that there is not a hint here of gifting. We are so focused on what I call the three G’s of ministry. What do you need today to be successful in ministry? You have to have the three G’s. Well what are those? Number 1, you have to have a guitar. Number 2, you have to have good looks. And number 3, you’ve got to have the gift of gab. If you’ve got good looks, the guitar and the gift of gab you’re going to go places.
And so our mindset in the 21st century is we gravitate towards people that have these three G’s, particularly the gift of oral communication. And Paul here doesn’t mention anything about gifting; he doesn’t even mention anything here about verbal persuasiveness. He doesn’t mention anything here about being a word-smith. What his focus here is being a diligent student, a worker, and as someone who is going to cut the Word of God straight away, and not make bizarre wavy strange patterns, but to teach it accurately, to teach it correctly, and to do it all unto God.
And the very last clause that’s mentioned here in verse 15, and with this we’ll conclude, it’s a description of why we should approach the Bible this way. I mean, why put so much energy into this, to not just deriving its message but teaching it accurately? Because it is, look at the very end of verse 15, “the word of truth.” This is God’s book; this is the only book you can go to that exists on planet earth that will tell you the absolute truth, not just about where you came from but where you’re going, and how you’re to live in the interim, and why you’re guilty, and how that guilt can be resolved. You can’t find this in another source; you can only find this in the Word of God.
And because you’re dealing with the Word of God it must be approached with the utmost skill, intensity and care. And if you can’t approach it that way, as one of my seminary professors used to say, he’s say “Gentlemen, if you can’t approach the Bible this way then go sell insurance because the church does not need another gift of gab person that is throwing out confused, disoriented messages.” There are a lot of people today that are teaching and I don’t believe they should be teaching anything, because yeah, they have pizzazz and oratorical flair and they have a large following but they are saying things over and over again that are inaccurate.
We have people come into this church and say can we teach…can we teach, we’re gifted, I’m gifted, and that’s never the dispositive issue at Sugar Land Bible Church. Gifting is wonderful but are you going to cut it straight? Are you going to teach it with accuracy? That becomes the issue; that’s the very thing that Paul is calling Timothy to hear and he climaxes this whole matter by saying after all, Timothy, end of verse 15, this is “the word of truth.” Jesus, in John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.” Why is truth such a big deal? Because of what Jesus said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Perhaps there’s someone today here that needs to be made free. You come into this church service with all sorts of clouded thinking about works and how you gain approval of God through your own performance and what we like to conclude with always is the gospel. The gospel simply means good news; it’s called good news because Jesus did it all. In fact, His final words on the cross were “It is finished.” You don’t live a perfect life; Jesus says I lived it for you. You don’t pay for your own sins; I paid for your sin debt for you. Well, if all that’s true, Lord, and if You authenticated who You were through Your bodily resurrection from the dead, now what are we supposed to do? The answer in the gospel is you do one thing, which is to believe.
To believe is another way of saying to rely upon, to depend upon, to have confidence in. The Holy Spirit comes upon us and convicts us, and convicts us of our need to trust in Christ, and Christ alone, for salvation. And the moment we trust in Christ, not ourselves, not our parents, not our performance, not what our denomination says or doesn’t say, not what the preacher says, but we trust in Christ, period! That’s the moment a person is saved. The gospel is not a twelve-step process, it’s a one-step process. It’s not even a process, it’s something that happens instantaneously. And no doubt I could be talking here and someone could be coming under the conviction of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit has come into the world to convict us of our need to trust in Christ and as the Holy Spirit is placing you under conviction our exhortation to you at Sugar Land Bible Church is to respond to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. Trust in Christ and Christ alone. It’s not something you have to walk an aisle to do, join a church to do, raise a hand to do, give money to do. It’s a moment of privacy between you and the Lord, where you respond to His message and our exhortation to you is to respond to that message and if it’s something you have done or are doing, then on the authority of the Word of God your whole eternal destiny is changed. If it’s something that you need a little bit more clarification on I’m available after the service to talk.
Shall we pray: Father, we’re grateful for today and life’s spontaneities; we’re grateful for the fact that even though we don’t have electricity the way our creature comforts would like it, that the power of the Holy Spirit continues and doesn’t need the enablement of man to further Your purposes. We’re thankful, Lord, for this Word of Truth that You gave to young Timothy 2,000 years ago. Help us, Father, to walk out these things this week. Make us at Sugar Land Bible Church diligent and accurate workers of the Word, not indulging in speculative controversies but focused on things that You have revealed. We will be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said…..