Bible: Handle with Care (II Timothy 2:15)
Bible: Handle with Care
II Timothy 2:15
(One Truth: Your Word is Truth)
May 21st, 2017
I. A Royal Commission
If you were a craftsman in the Middle Ages, maybe a carpenter, maybe a stone mason, maybe a tailor...and you were appointed to create something for the king himself, would you look at that project differently?
I mean, in comparison to your everyday work, would you give that project, that royal commission, more thought? Would you give it more of your time and attention? Would you handle that assignment with a higher degree of care and scrutiny?
Say what you will about aspirations of everyday excellence, I think most people would absolutely give such a project more of their time and attention. Why? Because the work is for the King himself, and a good craftsman would want to create something fit for a king; especially if he was a good king, and the craftsman was blessed under his reign.
Can you imagine a skilled laborer who didn't take such a commission seriously; who arrived in the king's presence with shoddy or incomplete work? If you were that craftsman, how would you feel during a royal inspection of your chair or tapestry or whatever it was?
Keep that illustration in mind as we look together at II Timothy 2:15.
II. The Passage: “Rightly Handling the Word” (2:8-26)
We heard these words at the outset of our time this morning. But listen to them again, and as you do, think about God as the high King of heaven; of Jesus as the Kings of kings. Verse 15:
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.
Like our opening illustration, the Apostle wants his younger associate in ministry, Timothy, to give attention to the quality of his work by remembering the One for whom he works. He wants Timothy to live and labor for an audience of one. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed...
I would guess that most of us have no problem accepting those words as Paul's words to Timothy. But did you know that those words are also God's words to you this morning? He is calling you...and me...to do our best (to be diligent, to make every effort) to present ourselves to Him as those approved, that is, as those who have given their all for His glory; to be laborers for Jesus Christ who are not ashamed of our labors; to be those who have earnestly sought to do everything we can with everything we've been given.
Is that your desire this morning? If it is, if it is your desire to give all for Jesus, because He gave all for you, and to serve Him, just as He served you on the cross, then God wants to encourage you this morning in what it means to be an unashamed worker for Christ.
Now, the whole NT, in fact, the whole Bible speaks to this issue. But this verse is helpful because it helps us to focus on one central idea. What is that idea? It is the relationship between a craftsman and his tools. Just as an approved and unashamed carpenter knows how to rightly handle his saw and his hammer, so too should the follower of Jesus know how to rightly handle God's word.
We can't understand the work of God unless we understand the word of God. Similarly, to advance in the work of God is directly related to advancing in the word of God. The “word of truth” is essential to the 'work of truth', to being set free by the truth, and seeing others set free.
So here's what I want us to do this morning. I want us to understand how an unashamed worker “rightly handl[es] the word of truth”.
Now for some, this verse, the idea “rightly handling” or “rightly dividing” is simply about good Bible study techniques. What people usually have in mind are issues related to things like hermeneutics and exegesis. No, that's not a Greek sitcom. Hermeneutics has to do with principles of interpretation. What is the right way and wrong way to interpret what a Biblical writer is saying? These interpretive principles inform our interpretive process. That process is called exegesis. It's the principles applied to a particular passage.
But are these the primary issues that Paul had in mind here when he urged Timothy to “rightly handle” the word of truth? Was Timothy guilty of or being tempted toward confusing hermeneutics and sloppy exegesis? Was that why Paul was writing? I think there's some of that here. But this is more than just an appeal for scholarly or technical refinement.
I would argue that good hermeneutics, leading to good exegesis, forces us to explore the context for answers to what's happening here. What do we learn from the other verses here in chapter 2 about what it means to be an unashamed worker?
Well, when you read through this chapter, it's crystal clear that Paul's exhortation to Timothy in verse 15 is delivered in light of a disturbing reality: unapproved, shameful workers, who were wrongly handing the word, were active in the church where Timothy was a leader. So if we want to be unashamed workers for Jesus Christ, those who rightly handle the word, let's use the context here to understand what to do and what not to do.
The first thing we learn from the context is that rightly handling God's word means we are...
1. Careful to Stand, Not Swerve (2:8-18)
Let's go back to verse 8 and read down through verse 18. As we do, keep in mind what Paul is emphasizing here about being an unashamed worker and handling God's word. Verse 8, Paul writes...
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,  for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.  The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;  if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;  if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.  Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.  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.  But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,  and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,  who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.
Now notice the contrast here. Paul is calling Timothy to remember personally, and to remind those in the church, of what they'd already learned about Jesus and the gospel. He is calling Timothy to endure...to stand in the truth.
But the other side, there were men like Hymenaeus and Philetus who were not enduring, not standing. No, they were (v. 18) swerving from the truth. And their influence was hurting the faith of others in the church.
This was a problem in the First Century. But guess what? It's also a problem in the Twenty-First Century. There are so many things that can tempt us to swerve from the truth. There are social pressures tempting us to water down God's word, to compromise the truth. There are temptations to worldly distractions that minimize the importance of the word in our lives. And there are false teachings that seek to twist God's word and draw us away from healthy teaching, otherwise known as “sound doctrine”.
You see, rightly handling the word means standing in the truth. And standing in the truth means actively fighting, straining, reaching, advancing in a right understanding and appreciation of God's word. As those winds of pressure and deception and compromise blow, it takes work to stake down our hearts and mind in the Scriptures. Notice how Paul would rather suffer than swerve. Did you see that in verses 9-12?
And being anchored in God's word, tightening our grip on Scripture, does require right principles and a right process as we study. If we don't apply such things, we could be swerving like the men mentioned in verse 17, who were saying that being “born again” was the same as “the resurrection” (thus, they taught there was not a future, bodily resurrection). They were wrongly handling the word.
Some people pride themselves on standing firm in what they've always believed. The problem is, what they've always believed is wrong. Rightly handling always involves searching out and solidifying an accurate understanding of God's word. And that is always a process of refinement. But it begins with being convinced that you must be anchored in the word, and that being anchored is a “do your best”, a “make every effort” kind of process; a process that has many enemies, including apathy, social acceptance, and false teaching.
But there's more. Rightly handling God's word also means we are...
2. Careful to Pursue, Not Pollute (2:19-22)
Did you notice in verse 16 what Paul said about those interested more in irreverent babble than God's sacred truth? He said it will lead people into more and more ungodliness. There are many places in the Old and New Testaments that connect corrupt theology with corrupt living. When we don't fight to be standing in the truth, that swerving will always lead into either a false righteousness or worldly compromise. Like a pool without chlorine, the absence of the truth eventually and always leads to spiritual pollution.
This is why Paul encouraged Timothy the way he did in verses 19-22. Look at those...
But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”  Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.  So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
Rightly handling God's word should always lead us to right living. If Timothy is to be an unashamed worker, he must continue to use the sacred writings to encourage sacred living. Being able to confess healthy teaching, right doctrine is not enough. The information you have about the Bible means nothing if it doesn't inform your actions, attitudes, and affections.
So when Paul calls Timothy, and God calls us, to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace”, he is describing the right response to discovering treasure or finding an oasis in the desert. You go after it! That's rightly handling the word.
But there's even more here. Look at the remaining verses of chapter 2. Rightly handling the word means being...
3. Careful to Correct, Not Quarrel (2:23-26)
This is how Paul goes on to instruct Timothy in verses 23-26. He writes...
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,  correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,  and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
To rightly handle the word means to teach the word. And yes, teaching the word sometimes means correcting those who are in error. But it never means quarreling. Notice the words that qualify the terms “teach” and “correcting” in verses 24 and 25, words like “kind” and and “patiently” and “gentleness”. Our heart should be to share the word. And if someone is confused or misled, then we should share the word in a way that gently applies healthy teaching to those unhealthy beliefs.
But Paul is clear about quarreling in verses 14, 23, and 24. He understood how knowledge can puff up, instead of letting love build up. He understood the dangers of intellectual pride. He understood how sinners have an unhealthy interest in so-called controversies; how they can easily be distracted from what is scriptural by the latest scandal. He understood that some love to think of themselves as defenders of the faith, when in fact, they are only ignorant, argumentative under-miners of genuine faith.
Whenever we use the word to exalt ourselves, we are wrongly handling the word. Brothers and sisters, we need to guard our hearts from such attitudes.
But in warning Timothy, in warning us about quarreling, I don't want us to miss the positive, proactive emphasis here: rightly handling the word means using God's word to bring healing and hope, to effect faith and freedom. When we think of how to use God's word, our prayer for those we speak to should be that God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
And for our brothers and sisters, who aren't necessarily ensnared by the devil, our desire should be to remind them of these things, and charge them before God in light of the truth. Just as Paul is doing with Timothy, we should share the word with one another in such a way that our brothers and sisters are comforted, corrected, and/or convinced of the truth.
III. How is Your Relationship?
What have we seen this morning? Well God has shown us a big part of what it means to be an unashamed worker for the “King of kings”: rightly handling His word. And we've seen that rightly handling God's word means being careful to stand, not swerve, to pursue, not pollute, and to correct, not quarrel. Now, I trust that God will work through His Spirit in terms of the specific ways to challenge and encourage your heart in light of these things.
But these specifics should challenge us with a more fundamental question: how is your relationship with your Bible? Yes, you can have a relationship with an inanimate object. Think about it. For some people their relationship with their car, or with their wardrobe, or with their TV, or with food, or with their cell phone is critical, even more critical than their Bible.
Let me give you an example. Last week I left my phone charger upstairs in my bedroom. So at night, I took my phone up to plug it in, next to my bed. But do you know what happened in the morning for several days? My phone was the first thing I looked at. I hadn't even gotten out of bed. And that was to the neglect of the word. For me, checking my phone was more important than feeding my soul.
This morning, God wants to challenge you, and me, to be honest about your relationship with your Bible. Is it like a close friend or merely an acquaintance? Is it a vibrant relationship or have you lost contact? Does it feel like a blessing or a burden? Would you take time, in just a minute to pray about your relationship with your Bible? Ask God to help you come to terms with that relationship.
Our great desire should be for a healthy relationship with the God of truth. And that means a healthy relationship with the “word of truth”. For Jesus, who is both “the Word” and “the truth” (Jn 1:1; 14:6) died that we might live for God. May His unrivaled work inspire us as unashamed workers. [Let's pray]
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