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Work in 2 Timothy (2)

P McCauley, Belfast

The second reference in this epistle to work continues in 2.15-16, and for the sake of context here are the appropriate verses again: "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".

A knowledge of God as He is revealed in His Word is vital for our well-being – in times of affliction or in valleys of sorrow; if we do not know the doctrine of Scripture we can feel let down or suppose that God has been unfaithful to us. I met an elderly man recently who had been saved for most of his life but had a very shallow grasp of the Bible. He was having severe doubts about God's goodness because he had prayed for his wife's restoration to health and she had not recovered. He told me that God had broken His promise in John 14.14: "If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it". You see how he would have been preserved from these doubts if he had had a better understanding of God's Word. This is what the two on the road to Emmaus found out in Luke 24. The Lord did not immediately reveal His identity to them, because He wanted to show them that, had they known the Scriptures, they would not have been in such hopeless despondency.

The workman is not only to be disciplined in his approach but he is to be accurate as well. Paul states that the workman is to rightly divide the word of truth (v.15). This entails that we handle it correctly, interpret it properly, apply it contextually, meaning that we are not to twist it to support our own particular preferences. Sadly there are many times when that happens. We have a particular hobby horse and we will press a passage into service to support it. The thing is we are masters of context when it comes to dealing with cults, but we then employ the same tactics they use when it suits us. We need to remember this is the "word of truth" and we are not at liberty to abuse it to serve our own agendas. How often people have gone to some obscure passage to get a "principle" that they then make binding upon Christians despite the fact the Bible never teaches it and the apostles never practised it.

Also, there is something that is common amongst us and cherished by us that needs to be resisted, and that is being overly subjective with the text and getting a meaning from it that was never intended by the author. We have a decision to make and we want the Bible to make our decision for us, so we read into the text things that were never there and take from the text meanings that are not in it. This is not a sound approach to Scripture. That is not to say that the Bible does not apply to every circumstance of life, nor is it to imply that it does not give guidance and help, but it is precisely because of that that we do not need to go to texts and twist them to suit our circumstances - as another has said, "A text doesn't mean what it never meant". So if you want to know whether to buy a particular item or take a particular job, there is teaching in the Bible that will help inform you, but we ought not take verses and make them mean something they do not objectively mean. Furthermore, we are not to claim promises that were never made to us. I know this may disturb some, for we love to take verses that express something precious and make it our own, but if God promised something to the nation of Israel or if the Lord promised something to an individual, He is under no obligation to do it for you. This is tremendously important because people's faith in the faithfulness of God and the veracity of Scripture has been shaken severely because they have not rightly divided the "word of truth".

Notice that Paul tells Timothy not only to apply himself to the Word, but to "shun profane and vain babblings" (v.16). He is telling him not to involve himself in that which is unholy (profane) and unhelpful (vain). These two descriptions capture exactly what occupies the attention and drains the time of so many in our culture – unholy and unhelpful. What a contrast with the Bible! In 3.15-17 Paul stresses that the Bible is certainly not profane: he speaks about the "holy scriptures". Also, the Bible certainly is not pointless: he emphasises that "All scripture is…profitable". Let us heed Paul's exhortation, turn off the screen, disconnect the technology, shut out the world, and discipline ourselves to spend time working in the Word.

The third reference is 2.20-22: "But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart". In this section Paul is emphasising the need for separation. He uses such words as "shun" (v.16), "depart" (v.19), "purge" (v.21), "Flee" (v.22), and "avoid" (v.23). It is surely emphasising to us that if we are going to be of use to the Lord then there are aspects of our lives that we will have to give up. But it is not all negative, because there are things we have to pursue. A Christianity that merely gives things up is just dead religion. True Christianity gladly lets go of all that hinders in the pursuit of Christ and conformity to Him.

There is an illustration given of vessels in a house and about the need for cleanliness. In the preceding verses he has been speaking about the need for doctrinal cleanliness, and in the succeeding verses he speaks about the need for moral cleanliness. Both are essential for us if we are to be "meet for the master's use". There is a lovely parallelism in v.21 that we ought to observe. Notice the following four components:

If a man therefore purge himself from these,

he shall be a vessel unto honour,


and meet for the master's use.

Parts a) and c) go together – to be sanctified in this context means to be purged and separated from these defiling influences. Parts b) and d) go together - being a vessel unto honour means being suitable for the Master's use. This is a very touching thing, for it is an honour to be used by the Master. Generally speaking, no one likes to feel used, but for the Christian it is a great honour if the Master deigns to use us in His work. Let us keep ourselves clean and make ourselves available for Him to use us.

To be continued.


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