Updated: Sep 8, 2018
2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV) … “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
The word study (2 Tim. 2:15) has nothing to do with books and teachers. It means “to be diligent, be zealous.” It is translated in this way in 2 Timothy 4:9, 21, and also in Titus 3:12. The emphasis in this paragraph is that the workman needs to be diligent in his labors so that he will not be ashamed when his work is inspected. “Rightly dividing” means “cutting straight” and can be applied to many different tasks: plowing a straight furrow, cutting a straight board, sewing a straight seam.
The pastor is a workman in God’s Word. The Word is a treasure that the steward must guard and invest. It is the soldier’s sword and the farmer’s seed. But it is also the workman’s tool for building, measuring, and repairing God’s people. The preacher and teacher who use the Word correctly will build their church the way God wants it to be built. But a sloppy worker will handle God’s Word deceitfully in order to make it say what he wants it to say (2 Cor. 4:2). When God tests our ministries in His local churches, some of it, sad to say, will become ashes (1 Cor. 3:10ff).
An approved worker diligently studies the Word and seeks to apply it to his own life. An ashamed worker wastes his time with other “religious duties” and has little or nothing to give his class or congregation. An approved worker does not waste his time arguing about “words to no profit” (2 Tim. 2:14) because he knows that such arguing only undermines God’s work (see 1 Tim. 6:4; Titus 3:9).
An approved workman will shun “godless chatter” (2 Tim. 2:16, niv; and see 1 Tim. 6:20), because he knows it only leads to more ungodliness. I fear that some “sharing times” do more harm than good as well-meaning people exchange their “spiritual ignorance.”
An approved workman knows that false doctrine is dangerous, and he will oppose it. Paul compared it to gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17). Much as gangrene spreads, infects, and kills other tissue, so false doctrine spreads and infects the body of believers, the church. This infection must be exposed and removed. Only the “sound [healthy] doctrine” of the Word of God can keep a church healthy and growing.
Paul named two men who were false teachers, and he also identified their error. It is likely that the Hymenaeus named here (2 Tim. 2:17) is the same man named in 1 Timothy 1:20. We know nothing about his associate, Philetus. Both of them “wandered from the truth” by teaching that the resurrection had already taken place. Perhaps they taught that salvation is resurrection in a spiritual sense, so a believer must not expect a physical resurrection. But the denial of a physical resurrection is a serious thing (see 1 Cor. 15:12ff), for it involves the resurrection of Christ and the completion of God’s plan of salvation for His people. No wonder these false teachers were able to “overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:18). The Resurrection is a foundational truth of the Gospel.
Each of us as God’s workman will be either approved or ashamed. The word approved means “one who has been tested and found acceptable.” The word was used for testing and approving metals. Each trial that we go through forces us to study the Word to find God’s will. As we rightly use the Word, we succeed in overcoming our trials, and we are approved by God. Martin Luther once said that prayer, study, and suffering make a pastor; and this is true. We cannot be approved unless we are tested.
What does it mean to be “ashamed”? Certainly it means that such a workman’s work is below standard and cannot be accepted. It means loss of reward. In fact, in Paul’s day, a builder was fined if he failed to follow the specifications. When the Lord judges our works, it will be revealed whether we as workmen have handled the Word of God honestly and carefully. Some who are now first will end up last!