Passing the Torch, 2 Timothy Series (5)
“A Workman Approved” 2 Timothy 2:14-21
A man was driving home with his new car. He was very happy – with the steering, the acceleration, the comfortable seats, & so on. Suddenly he thought to himself, “What have I forgotten?” He stopped the car, checked his pockets & his briefcase. He checked his mobile phone & his wallet. “No, I must be dreaming. Surely there’s nothing I’ve forgotten!” He drove on. When he got home his daughter ran out to meet him. Instead of commenting on the nice new car she said, “Daddy, where’s Mommy?” He had forgotten something. Actually it was someone – his wife!
1. Reminders & Warnings (vrs 14, 16-18)
We all forget things, sometimes. And we need reminders. Paul says to Timothy in 2:14, “Keep reminding God’s people of these things.” Timothy must keep reminding the believers about the gospel truths that Paul has already mentioned in his letter.
We too need reminding. Sometimes we get so busy or distracted by what is going on around us that we do forget important things. We even forget about the Lord. We forget to pray. When we take communion it is an opportunity to remind ourselves of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. Jesus Himself told His followers “Do this in remembrance of me.” The truths of the Bible are so important we need to be reminded of them again & again. And we need to read the Bible & study it so we learn & remember.
My wife has a diary in which she writes down the many things she needs to remember to do each day. She checks her diary regularly to make sure she has not forgotten anything. I also have a diary & I too write things down in it. My only problem is that I often forget to check my diary & sometimes I can’t even find it. Sadly some of us are like this when it comes to doing the things God wants us to do. We forget what He tells us because we forget to read His Word. David prays in Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” If we want to remember the truths of our faith we need to hide God’s Word in our hearts.
Not only must Timothy remind the believers of God’s truth, Paul also tells Timothy to warn the believers – “Warn them before God against quarrelling about words; it is of no value, & only ruins those who listen.” (v.14) Timothy is to “warn them before God” – in other words, it is not just Timothy or Paul warning them. They are being warned before God. This makes the warning far more serious – just as it is far more serious if the School Principal warns a pupil about something, rather than the warning being given by a school prefect or even a teacher.
Timothy must warn them “…against quarrelling about words.” Sadly some Christians spend a lot of time & energy quarrelling about words. Some people have a lot to say. They have an opinion about everything & want everyone to know their opinion. But even if we know a lot about certain topics we must remember that words & head knowledge are no substitute for godly living. In fact head knowledge, unless it is balanced with humility, can puff us up. It can turn us into a proud & boastful person. In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul says, “...knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” How true this is!
Knowing what we believe is important & it is also important to learn how to communicate our faith – but far more important than words is living out our faith, demonstrating what we believe in action. As evangelist DL Moody once said, “The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives.” Too much talk & too little practical Christian living will not convince or impress the non-believer. It will rather put them off. So then, quarrelling about words “…is of no value, & only ruins those who listen.” It is useless. In fact it is counter-productive & dangerous, & brings ruin.
The word translated “ruin” is the Greek word from which we get the English word “catastrophe”. It literally means “to turn upside down”. When we argue or try to sound clever, instead of building others up in their faith we actually turn their faith upside down. We hinder or even destroy their faith. Instead of helping them grow we cause them to stumble.
Paul goes further in vrs 16 & 17. He tells Timothy not only to resist quarrelling over words but to “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more & more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene.” We must avoid things like arguing, gossiping, criticising others, boasting, showing off, etc. All this is “godless chatter” & it leads to ungodly behaviour. Godless chatter wastes your time & it wastes the time of those who have to listen to you. Godless chatter often leads to hurt & misunderstanding. If people think someone is criticising them or gossiping about them behind their back they might not feel like coming to church. Godless chatter sours relationships. It hurts the fellowship we enjoy as believers in the body of Christ, the church.
It seems as if some of the leaders or teachers in the church in Ephesus had been engaging in godless chatter. Paul says, “Their teaching will spread like gangrene.” Gangrene spreads & can be life-threatening. It is like cancer for it invades & infects healthy cells in the body. Godless chatter can lead to false teaching & false teaching spreads & can infect the whole body of believers.
Paul names two people, former leaders in the church, who were teaching false doctrines. They had fallen into heresy, causing confusion & leading some astray. They were “...Hymenaeus & Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, & they destroy the faith of some.” (vrs 17b & 18) These two men were denying a basic Gospel truth – the resurrection of all believers at the end of time. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:13 & 14, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless & so is your faith.” Hymenaeus & Philetus had wandered away from the truth. They had started teaching things about the resurrection that were not true. Like some pastors & theologians today, they claimed to be experts but were teaching doctrines that did not agree with what the Scriptures taught.
Some churches & Christian denominations have been destroyed by so-called “liberal theology”. Such churches do not preach the Gospel. They compromise with the world. When a church or a Christian leader ignores, rejects or changes what the Bible clearly teaches, that church, that leader, departs from the truth & destroys faith. Heresy leads people to hell, not to heaven.
In contrast to Hymenaeus & Philetus who had departed from the truth, Timothy is encouraged to correctly handle & teach the truth. So we come to our second point:
2. A Workman Approved (vrs. 15 & 19)
Paul writes, Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed & who correctly handles the word of truth.” (v.15) Timothy must not waste time arguing over words or trying to sound clever. He must remain faithful to the truth. He must seek to please God rather than trying to please people. He needed to win God’s approval, not man’s approval.
To “correctly handle the word of truth” is to remain true to God’s Word. The idea here is of cutting a straight road, not deviating to the left or the right. The person who correctly handles God’s Word does not misquote it or take it out of context. They do not twist the truth to suit what people want to hear. They do not pick & choose what they like – no, they prayerfully study & humbly seek to understand God’s Word. They take great care to understand, explain & live by God’s Word.
I read about 4 pastors who were discussing which translation of the Bible they liked the most. One of them said, “I like my mother’s translation best.” Surprised, the other three pastors said they did not know that his mother had translated the Bible. “Yes,” he replied. “She translated it into life, & it was the most convincing, easy to understand translation I ever saw.”
I am sure those of you who are skilled tradesmen (builders, plumbers, painters, electricians, etc) feel happy when people say things like, “WOW, you sure did a fantastic job. It looks beautiful! It works perfectly!” The person however who cuts corners & uses cheap or inferior material (as they say in Chinese偷工减料) can only hide their head in shame when people discover their shoddy workmanship. As believers & as teachers of God’s holy Word we need to be workers who do not need to be ashamed.
All of us when we study the Bible, on our own or in a Life Group, need to have this same attitude. We must truly desire to understand & then must be willing to obey God’s Word. We should not make the Bible complicated. As a friend of mine, Alistair Begg, a well-known preacher in the US, likes to say, in reading & understanding God’s Word, “The plain things are the main things & the main things are the plain things”. To correctly handle the word of truth we must avoid quarrelling over words & we must avoid godless chatter. Instead we must take the truth & apply it to our own lives.
Paul was saddened by the fact some former leaders in the church had wandered away from the truth. But in v.19 he mentions something very encouraging. He says, “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ &, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’”
We live in a time, especially in countries that have a long Christian history & heritage when many who call themselves Christians are not true Christians. As I mentioned earlier, some churches & some so-called Christian leaders have drifted away from God’s Word. They deny basic Christian doctrines & they condone blatantly sinful behaviour.
In such a confused & lost world the one thing that reassures us is what Paul says – “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are His’.” No matter what attacks we face from within the Church & also from outside of the Church, the Church will not only survive, it will stand firm. It will triumph.
Just as we often find inscriptions on the foundation stones of famous buildings, so too on the solid foundation of the Church, Paul says there are two inscriptions. The first is, “The Lord knows those who are His.” The Church is made up of all those who know Jesus as their Lord & Saviour, those who belong to the Lord, & He knows each one of us by name. He knows us & He loves us. Nothing can separate us from His love & His truth stands firm.
The second inscription on the foundation of the Church is: “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” This inscription tells us something else about the Church. It tells us the Church is made up of people who have not only confessed the Name of the Lord but who have turned away from sin. The first question I like to ask those being baptised is “Do you renounce & turn away from all sin?” Of course none of us is yet perfect. We are all sinners saved by grace & from time to time we still stumble & fall. However the genuine believer is someone who wants to please & obey the Lord. They want to be holy. Even if a person calls themselves a Christian, if there is no evidence of any desire to turn away from their old sinful ways then it is quite likely that they are not truly born again. In Matthew 7:22 Jesus says some very startling words – “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, & in your name drive out demons & perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!’”
Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian. However, if you truly love the Lord, & if deep down you long to obey & follow Him, then even if you have stumbled & fallen, you can come to the Lord assured of His love & forgiveness. He wants to restore you & make you fruitful & useful in His service.
This brings us as we close to our last point for today:
3. Useful to the Master (vrs 20 & 21)
Paul has just spoken about the Church as a building with a foundation. He now goes on to use another metaphor or word picture – of articles or utensils used inside a house. He writes in v 20, “In a large house there are articles not only of gold & silver, but also of wood & clay; some are for special purposes & some for common use.”
In comparing gold & silver articles with wood & clay ones Paul is not saying those that are made of wood or clay are worthless. Different utensils are used for different purposes & all have their value. What Paul is saying is simply that some utensils or articles are set aside for special use.
In our house we have some really nice crockery & cutlery, which we only take out when we have guests. We also have some ordinary cups & plates & knives & forks & chopsticks for everyday use.
Paul is illustrating the fact the church has all kinds of people. Some are in a place where God can use them for His special purposes. Others, sadly, are not in that place. Some truly love the Lord & are ready to serve Him, others stay on the fringes & hold back. Some are unashamed to stand up for Jesus. Others want a foot in both the church & the world, & when they are in the world they blend in just like a chameleon that changes its colour according to its immediate environment.
Paul goes on to encourage Timothy, & all of us, to be those who want God to use us for His special purposes. He says in v.21, “Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master & prepared to do any good work.” Dear brothers & sisters, do you want to be used by God? I am sure if you are a true believer you will say “Yes! I want to be useful to the Master.” Well, if that is your heart’s desire here are some important principles to remember.
First, we must be clean & holy if we want the Lord to use us. Secondly, we must say, “Lord, here I am. I am available. You are my Master.” And thirdly, we must be prepared to do whatever the Master tells us to do, to serve where He wants us to serve, to go where He wants us to go – ready & prepared to do any good work.
The genuine Christian is someone who wants to grow in holiness. The genuine Christian is someone who wants to serve. The genuine Christian is someone who wants to live for the glory of God & the blessing of others.
I began by mentioning the husband who drove off leaving his wife behind. He forgot something, or rather someone, very important. The message today reminds us about the importance of taking God’s Word seriously. It reminds us not to argue & show-off how much we know about God’s Word but rather to obey His Word. It reminds us to correctly handle His Word, to be workmen who don’t need to be ashamed. And it challenges us to make ourselves available & useful to the Master.