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Work in 2 Timothy (1)

P McCauley, Belfast

"He's too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use." You have likely heard that saying before, and it conveys the idea that being heavenly minded is equivalent to having your head in the clouds, but Paul gives the lie to the expression. There has never been a Christian more heavenly minded than Paul, and there has never been a Christian of more earthly use than him either. His usefulness has been so wide-ranging and far-reaching that it affects us here and now. He was a man who rolled up his sleeves and got involved in serious, spiritual, strenuous work, encouraging others to do the same. This is especially true in his last letter. He knows his work is almost finished, but he also knows there is still work to be done. The work must go on in his absence, so he gives the final rallying cry and wake up call to Timothy, and all of us, to get to work. Seven times he makes reference to work in this letter, and we pray that a brief consideration of these references will stir us up, and spur us on, to heed the call and to be diligent workers.

The first reference is in 1.9. Here is the context:

"Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles" (2 Tim 1.8-11).

This is the foundation of all work we undertake for the Lord, a constant appreciation of how we are saved and why we are saved. In regard to how we are saved, Paul reminds Timothy that our works play no part and have no role in it. This is one of the many unique things about the gospel. The messages of religion offer salvation as a reward for works done. The gospel insists we can never earn God's favour or merit His acceptance - we are guilty and helpless, and need a Saviour. God has provided that Saviour in the person of His Son, and salvation is not through what we do, but what He has done. Look at what Christ has done in this passage: He has abolished death. The word abolished means to render powerless, idle or inoperative. Death is something that renders man powerless, but our glorious Saviour rendered death powerless. That means then that death cannot really harm us or hold us.

We ought to understand death here in its widest sense as relating to both spiritual and physical death. The reason we take it in that way is due to what Paul states Christ has brought to light in contrast to death. He has abolished death and brought life and incorruptibility to light through the gospel. Life is in contrast to spiritual death – it is something we received at the moment of conversion. Incorruptibility is in contrast to physical death – it is something we will receive at the moment of the rapture. These are blessings we have received by grace, not according to our works. This is the basis of our assurance of salvation. If salvation were by works we could never be in the enjoyment of it, but because it is not a wage but a gift we can be sure we have it. This is also the greatest motivation for selfless service. If salvation were something that we merited through our works then all our service would merely be an expression of self-interest and self-preservation. Because our works do not contribute to our security then we can serve the Lord out of true devotion and sheer gratitude.

In regard to why we are saved, Paul reminds Timothy that God has called us with a holy calling. This could indicate the manner of the call, i.e. God's calling us is consistent with His holiness - His holiness was not compromised when He called us. This is true, but likely not the main point. Paul is probably saying that the call of God is a call that has holiness in view. This is why we have been saved, not merely to escape judgment or enjoy heaven, but that God can get enjoyment from mankind. The fall not only brought us into a position of danger, but it polluted God's creation, so God not only saved us (brought us out of our danger) but He called us to holiness. This is the gracious and glorious purpose God has for us, and our works had no part in it.

The second reference to work is 2.15-16: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness".

Paul exhorts Timothy to have a workman-like attitude to the Word of God. What does this involve? It involves time, effort, energy, discipline and method. If you just got up from your desk in the office or put down your tools on the site, or walked away from your machine in the factory whenever you got tired or bored, and went out to play football or sat down to watch TV, you would very soon be out of a job. We recognise that we need stickability and application when it comes to our employment. In the workplace we are constantly seeking to improve by setting targets and learning new skills. Sadly, when it comes to the Bible we often approach it in a manner that is far from workman-like. Many saints are content with a shallow understanding, a surface knowledge, a weak grip, and a flimsy grasp of the Bible's doctrine. They have never applied themselves to the Word and have no desire to advance in their appreciation of it. The reality is, as life goes on, the pressures of life and demands on time increase, and that is why it is vital for young people who do not have the constraints of family life to use that to the full. Don't fritter away these vital years of your life seeing how many followers or friends you can get on social media, what level you can reach on your computer game, or how many goals you can score in the football match. Leave the childish things to children and get into what really counts. Charles Swindoll said that there are only two things in this world that last forever: the Word of God and people, and that ought to show us where we should be investing our time.

Knowledge of God as He is revealed in His Word is vital for our worship – this is what the Lord was teaching the woman of Samaria in John 4. She brought up the subject of worship and the conflict between the Jews and Samaritans. The Lord said that they that worship the Father must worship Him in spirit and in truth. "In spirit" is in contrast to the Jews' tangible form of worship, while "in truth" is in contrast to the Samaritans' erroneous kind of worship. The Lord is teaching that the Father is seeking, among other things, accuracy in worship. We can only worship God in spirit and in truth if we have an accurate appreciation of His being and attributes.

The knowledge of God as He is revealed in His Word is vital for our witnessing – God has been given a very bad press in our society. He has been misrepresented and misunderstood. It is our job as His ambassadors to present Him as He truly is, but we cannot do that effectively without the knowledge of Scripture. Imagine if Philip had come alongside the Ethiopian in Acts 8 and the Ethiopian had asked him, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this?", and Philip had to reply, "To tell you the truth, I haven't a clue". No doubt the Lord would have sent someone else to the desert who was "ready always to give an answer" (1 Pet 3.15). Perhaps if we were more equipped we would have the privilege of being led to seeking souls and hungry hearts the way Philip was.

To be continued.


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