Read 2 Timothy 2
The national debt.
Common Core Curriculum.
When will our current wars end?
Where will we go to war next?
I have opinions on all of these, but don’t spend too much energy and effort thinking about them. I write very little about them. When I do write something, it is along the lines of a couple stanzas from the Casting Crowns song Courageous.
Where are you, men of courage?
You were made for so much more.
We have elected plenty of men and women to sort out our nation’s problems.
I have a degree in political science, have been to a few dozen countries, served a year in the United Nations—even spending a couple hours with the Secretary General, and occasionally I write something about the mindset I think we should have as a nation of free people.
Most of the time—make that the vast majority of the time, I steer clear of political issues because they take away from the course I have been set upon.
I will banter some hot topic around over a cup of coffee, but will not give my prime time hours in pursuit of it.
It is not that I can’t or don’t know the intricacies of government and politics. It is that I know the cost, and the cost is too high for me. I can’t afford it.
He has challenged Timothy to stay where he is and serve with power, love, and self-discipline. To be strong in the grace of Christ Jesus is the course that Timothy must follow to be an effective leader.
But to be strong in grace is one of those terms where we might think, “Just what in the world does that mean?”
So Paul gives him three examples.
The soldier does not get wrapped up in civilian affairs. He lives to fulfill his duty. The measure of his effectiveness is the approval of his commanding officer.
The athlete must run the race designated. He can’t be claiming victory in the 10K if he is registered to run the marathon. There is a course set, rules that apply, and only one gets the victor’s crown. The competitive athlete also knows that there are rules for training that must be followed to maximize performance. Even if you are running the race that you signed up to run; it doesn’t make much difference if your training regimen has been one of eat, drink, and be merry.
The third example is a little different. Paul says that the hardworking farmer should be the first to enjoy a share of the crops. The examples of the soldier and the athlete are to stay true to the course they have set upon. This third example says that the farmer who stays his course is the first to enjoy his crop.
Paul is telling Timothy that he will be rewarded for staying the course of remaining strong in grace. Don’t try to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Master living in grace. Master the handling of God’s word.
He is saying, this mission that is ahead of you is going to be a bear, a tough nut to crack, the mother of all controversial postings; but stay the course and you will receive your proper reward.
Then Paul gives Timothy some interesting direction. He says reflect on these examples that I have given you. Think about these analogies and see what insights that you can draw that apply to your own ministry.
For no parallel is ever exact and Paul did not leave Timothy a daily checklist.
Timothy was not a soldier or an athlete or even a farmer as far as we know, but he could glean some insight from these examples.
Jesus used sheep in his parables and metaphors; yet, most of the people that he talked with were not shepherds. They knew something of the shepherd’s life and lifestyle, but most were not shepherds. By reflecting on these teachings that used literary devices to compare one thing with another, most people could glean something of value.
Paul is telling Timothy, get the gist of what I am saying and figure out how it applies to you and your ministry. You need to learn to think on your feet—to think for yourself. Then he reminds him of the gospel that he must hold to—that Jesus Christ came from the line of David as promised and rose from the dead. He is the fulfillment of prophecy and the true way to life. Stick to the one true gospel.
Paul tells Timothy that the world has launched its counter attack against him. He is imprisoned. He is restrained, but God’s word will not be bound. God’s word—this gospel that must be proclaimed to the ends of the earth—will not be imprisoned.
Paul tells Timothy to stick with the gospel that he knows to be true and reminds him of a saying that was probably popular among those learning how to live in this new way
Perhaps it was something of a mnemonic device. If someone asked you to recite the alphabet, you might just begin A, B, C, D and so forth without any variation in tone or inflection, but mostly likely you will begin to sing the song that you learned as a child.
If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
The resurrection is a certainty that we know in Christ Jesus. He is the resurrection and the life. Believe this with all that you are. Don’t get wrapped up in senseless discussions about things that are certain and don’t waste time arguing about things that are disputable.
Don’t be the soldier who gets wrapped up in civilian affairs and forgets how to fight.
Don’t be the athlete who forgoes his training discipline and indulges in endless feasts and parties.
Remember who you are and why you are there.
It will not be your position or title or clothing that you wear that will cause people to listen to you and believe the truth.
It will be the fact that you righty divide, properly handle, surely explain the word of God.
You will be sought out as one of God’s authorities here in this world because you properly handle the gospel that has been entrusted to you.
What does it mean to properly handle the word of truth?
We don’t add to it.
We take nothing away from it.
We don’t configure it so as not to offend.
We don’t manipulate it to please itching ears.
We speak the truth that we know in love being faithful to our Master and to the word he has given us.
How do I know that what I teach is faithful to the truth? How do I know that I got it right?
How do I know that I am really a workman who is approved by God and not ashamed?
After all, there are commentaries upon commentaries upon even more commentaries about the same passages of scripture that seem to be far apart in interpretation.
How do I know that I am handling God’s word correctly?
There is something that I like to call teaching from the center. That is we teach that which we know to be true as the mainstay of our ministry. We don’t look for peripheral issues and try to make them the centerpiece. We teach boldly from the things we know with certainty.
God loves you with an everlasting love.
The blood of Jesus has atoned for our sins.
We are right with our Father in heaven because of what Jesus did for us.
If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and know in our hearts that God raised him from the dead we will be saved.
When we believe, we have passed from death to life.
One day Jesus will call our name and we will rise.
We are commanded to love one another.
When Paul wrote the church in Rome, he noted that there were some disputable matters. As he addressed his protégé he conveyed that there are some things that are not disputable. There were some things that were central and Timothy needed to see the distinction. He needed to be able to divide what was central from those other areas that he just needed to know mostly for information’s sake.
He would live and teach the word of God that brought repentance, salvation, holy living, and eternal life and not become entangled in areas that simple led to controversy.
He needed to properly handle the word of God.
The assurance of the resurrection was one of those matters that must not be in dispute. That didn’t mean that there weren’t a couple of yahoos by the names of Hymenaeus and Philetus going around stirring up controversy that the resurrection had already happened.
Exactly what these two meant is sometimes hard to extrapolate from the text provided. It is likely that they followed some sort of Gnostic tradition that denied Jesus lived in the flesh, died, and was resurrected. The thinking was that if God entered the world, it was only in Spirit form and thus our resurrection is only a spiritual matter. The resurrection of the body was denied.
This was not the same issue that had evolved in Thessalonica where some of the people thought Jesus had already come back and forget to come and collect them or that those who had died before Jesus came back would somehow be left out of the equation.
In the latter case, Paul assuages the people’s concerns that Jesus would claim all of his chidren—dead or alive. In the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus, Paul is saying these two are like a cancer in the midst of believers.
He says that the prescribed course for them is that they be excommunicated from the church body. Let them live without the support of the Body of Christ.
But as for Timothy, he must distinguish himself from other leaders. He must not only handle the world of God properly, but must do it with distinction.
Paul noted that there are common tools and utensils around a house, but there are also special ones. Some articles are made of clay but some are made of silver or gold.
Timothy was charged to be the gold standard of understanding the word of God in his congregation.
He would not get engaged in senseless chatter about religious matters. Instead, he would speak the truth in love, focus on the clear commands of God’s word—especially that all repent of their wickedness, and be ever present as a teacher.
If you are constantly wrapped up in the religious issue of the day then you are not running your race of faith. You might fool yourself into believing that you are running your race, but you are only on a treadmill.
Paul tells Timothy to instruct with gentleness not cleverness or aggressiveness. Neither the eloquence of the instruction nor the volume with which it is delivered is what convinces those opposed to the gospel and the truth. It is the Spirit of God who will call those who rebel against him into a spirit of repentance.
Remember that Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that those who did not believe were blind. Blind people don’t need intricate arguments or forceful personalities. They need guides. They need gentleness. They need the truth.
They need someone who will rightly divide the word of truth.
They need someone who will properly handle the truth that we know in God’s word.
What does it look like when someone mishandles the truth?
You get blind guides.
We know these people as the Pharisees.
You see people who know the law but live form over substance.
They comply with rules but forget mercy and justice and faithfulness.
They heap burdens on the backs of believers.
They are whitewashed on the outside but full of hypocrisy on the inside.
We see this today. Our modern day Pharisees don’t wear phylacteries, but they are still easy to spot.
People who are full of self-righteousness shouting that the 10 Commandments could not be posted on some public building, but at the same time couldn’t tell you what half of the commandments are.
People protesting military funerals with words of hate because the government openly enlists homosexuals now, have somehow forgotten that Jesus said they will know you are my disciples by your love.
People continuing to forecast the day and the hour of Christ’s return when he specifically said you won’t know the day or the hour.
We can look all around us and see people who are not properly handling the world of God.
If you follow Jesus and you truly desire to turn away from sin and live in such a way that pleases God, you must not only read your Bible, but study your Bible.
You must meditate upon what the word of God says. We are told that it is living and active, but you must study it and meditate upon it.
You might think that this letter to Timothy applies only to ordained ministers or Sunday school teachers or seminary professors; but it has broader application.
Consider the first words that Paul gives us in this chapter.
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
You may not be ordained as a minister of word and sacrament. You may not be assigned as a Sunday school teacher. You may not hold any official position in the church body or government.
But I would hope that you would want to be considered a reliable person. I would hope that when you said, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” you were trying to say, “You can count on me.”
Today, I challenge all who have responded to the grace of God that we know in Christ Jesus to be a reliable person who will do their best to properly handle the word of God.
Some might be thinking, “Isn’t that what we hired you for?”
If it is, then we have set the church of Jesus Christ back several hundred years. For the event that we know as the reformation had among its many roots the desire to let people read God’s word in their own language and be a part of worship and growth in grace without reliance upon a priest to tell them what God had to say in his holy word.
We are blessed in a way no other generation has ever known. We have the Holy Bible at our disposal, day and night, in multiple languages and translations, in print, recorded, and online and on our phones.
But will we apply ourselves to the proper handling of the word of God that is so readily available to us?
That is our challenge.
We seek the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
We set aside time to read and to study and to discuss with other believers these words that are living and active.
We say that Jesus is Lord.
We say that we have repented of our sin.
We say that we have cast off wickedness in our lives.
We say, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”
Will we invest the time and energy to properly handle the word of God?
What does God ask of us in this regard?
I think our standard is the standard that Paul gave Timothy. Do your best.
Do your best.
Sometimes we think this means, “OK, I will give it a try.”
But we should take this literally. Do your best.
Here is a simple exercise that I use frequently with groups. Let’s try the take home version.
Wherever you are, raise your hands as high as you can.
Now, raise them higher.
Chances are that you raised them a little bit higher than when you raised them as high as you could. That shouldn’t be possible if we truly raised them as high as we could the first time.
It is human nature that our best is seldom really our best. How do we deal with this in our language? We adjust our syntax to include the nonsensical word combination of doing our very best.
Paul is asking Timothy for his best in rightly dividing the word of God.
For Timothy is no common article.
He is a special utensil.
He is the gold standard.
No pedestrian effort will suffice in handling the word of God.
Paul reminded the church in Colossae that in whatever we do, we do it as if we are working for the Lord.
We are called to be an approved workman when we handle the word of God.
We are challenged to do our best in handling the very implement by which we may stay the course in the midst of a controversial world.
So we must ask ourselves a few questions.
Is the word of God that is so readily available to you left on the shelf day after day?
Do you only read it one verse at a time when it shows up in your email devotion?
Are you a workman approved?
Can you rightly divide the word of God?
Can you properly handle the word of God?
If you mail pictures of the kids or grandkids to friends and family, you normally mark the envelope with: Fragile or Pictures enclosed or Special Handling.
Sometimes we mark or label things: Special Handling Required.
I was at the airport in Detroit long ago waiting for a flight overseas and was watching a couple of men unload baggage from a plane. The cart for the luggage had not arrived but they unloaded anyway.
It was cold and wet outside. It was not quite cold enough for snow so the rain penetrated just about everything it touched.
On top of this, the two men unloading the aircraft looked like they were trying to outperform the gorilla in the American Tourister commercials. Bags were bouncing three or four times across the tarmac as they were propelled out of the cargo bay.
Now that was some special handling, but I would hardly call these folks reliable employees.
We might laugh at the absurdity of this but too often that is how we handle the word of God. We toss it around without much regard. It lands where it lands.
But we are called to properly handle the word of God.
We are to rightly divide the word of truth.
Regard it with the reverence it deserves. It is God speaking to us.
We must give it some of the prime time in our day, not just to squeeze it in when we can.
We must focus our full attention upon it when we read or listen, not just to flip through the pages while we watch the game.
We must divide what is central and learn it and live it and teach it without getting wrapped up on things that do not guide or govern.
We must be reliable people.
We must be people others can really count on to do our best to understand and live by the word of God.