Skilled Workers in God's Word (2 Timothy 2:15)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (9:42)

Alexander Osmerkin (1892-1953), Ukrainian painter, 'The Carpenter' (1921)
Alexander Osmerkin (1892-1953), Ukranian painter, 'The Carpenter' (1921), oil on canvas, 106x97 cm, Rostov Regional Museum of Fine Arts, Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

It is fascinating to watch a skilled craftsperson at work. Whether it is an electrician or a finish carpenter. You watch their practiced, patient steps to completion, and when they are finished, they can take justifiable pride in their work. Not a sloppy job thrown together at the last moment, but a job done right.

Paul uses the analogy of a skilled worker1 in this exhortation to his protégé Timothy.

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15, NIV)

Second Timothy 2:15 was my dad's life-verse. He was an artist, a craftsman. I can remember the fragrance of thin, curved shavings emerging from his plane as he smoothed a board. I watched wood chips fly as he slowly shaped a work of art out of a block of wood with mallet and chisel.

Jesus was a careful, skilled carpenter. He constructed houses in the Nazareth area, as well as fashioning doors, frames, yokes, and other wood and leather implements. Jesus took pride in the quality of his work.

For me, as a teacher of God's Word, Paul's urging in this verse takes on special meaning. Paul is speaking to Timothy about the quality and care of the younger minister's preaching, his teaching.

Sermons and Teachings

I've heard thousands of sermons and Bible lessons in my lifetime. Some were hard-hitting, thoughtful, true to the spirit of Scripture, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and effective. Many others dealt in gross exaggerations, oratorical flourishes to stir the hearers, but that didn't really challenge them learn to follow Jesus as his faithful disciple.

Many preachers put a sermon together at the last moment, so busy they are with all the other aspects of ministry and bi-vocational work required to earn a living. But teaching the Word of God accurately is so very important that we must not offer what is left of our time. It must come first.

By the way, if you're not a preacher or teacher, substitute the ministry and the calling God has given you when I talk about teaching.

Now let's look at 2 Timothy 2:15 phrase-by-phrase.

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15, NIV)

Do Your Best

Paul begins, with a Greek word translated as "do your best" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "be diligent" (NASB), "study" (KJV). It means, "Be especially conscientious in discharging an obligation, be zealous/eager, take pains, make every effort, be conscientious."2 Teaching God's Word is not a casual task, but one to which we must give ourselves fully and execute with all priority and seriousness. It is a high privilege. We may not understand everything, but we must apply ourselves to do the very best we can.

Seek God's Approval, Not Your Hearers'

We preachers are overly-concerned about what people think of us. Paul tells Timothy that it is not their opinion that counts.

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him...." (NRSV)

Whose approval must we seek? God's! "Approved by him." He is the One to whom we present ourselves for approval.3 We present our teaching, our preaching to him as our offering to him.4

Yes, this requires that our sermons be clear, well-illustrated, and designed to be understood. The task God has assigned us is to help people understand and act upon his message. Preaching and teaching take skill and focus to communicate and persuade. We have an awesome calling that starts with seeking God's approval.

Sometimes, preaching God's Word requires courage, because the things God wants us to say go against the sinful inclinations of our audience. People don't like their racism exposed. People don't want their greed challenged. And so on. People resist change. Even you and me. Expect it. Remember, says Paul, it is God's approval you are seeking, not man's.

Avoid Shame before God

Now Paul brings up the concept of shame:

"... a worker who has no need to be ashamed."

The picture is of a worker called in by his foreman or the business owner to explain why he made a mistake, was late for work, or didn't do a good job. Bultmann observes that the main point of the Greek word group is not the 'feeling of shame,' but 'disgrace' itself.5 For Christian preachers and teachers, it isn't a feeling of inadequacy before the people that is at stake. It is disgrace before God for not doing our best.

Carefully Interpreting God's Word

Now we come to the final phrase,

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15, NIV)

The worker is fashioning an object from extremely valuable materials -- "the word of truth." It is not our truth or an alternate truth. It is God's own truth. We can't be casual in interpreting it or we'll offend God himself.

The verb here is orthotomeō, literally, "to cut straight," variously translated, "correctly handles" (NIV), "rightly handling" (ESV), "rightly explaining" (NRSV), "accurately handling" (NASB), "rightly dividing" (KJV). Perhaps the metaphor is to cut a path or a road straight without turning aside.6 Perhaps it has to do with sawing a board straight or planing it smooth. Whatever the exact image, Paul's idea here is clear: to do something correctly.7

My Own Shame

When I was a young man, I attended a church that held a very strong doctrine, which wasn't well supported by Scripture. I loved and respected the pastor and other leaders in this fellowship. I wanted to agree with them. But a verse in Hebrews that appeared to teach the opposite of this doctrine. I struggled with that verse until I found that I could understand it another way than its obvious meaning. I was delighted!

The only problem was that I had twisted Scripture to make it mean something I wanted it to mean. Later, I was ashamed. I am ashamed.

I have repented and I know God forgives me. But since then, I have been careful to be honest with the Word of God, with myself, and with others. I must be diligent to seek understanding. If I still don't understand how a verse fits, it is okay to say so. I have a whole list of unanswered questions I am looking forward to asking God when I get to heaven! I must balance boldness with appropriate humility.

My dear brother. My dear sister. God calls us to do our best to interpret the Word for it is His truth we are handling. No oratorical exaggerations. No fudging. Clarity, honesty is our directive. My friend, do your best, your very best. Where you have failed, repent, receive his forgiveness, and resolve to do better next time. Thank God for grace!

Power in the Message

Remember, the power is not in you. It is in God's Word itself.

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16)

"The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

Lean into your high calling of being an explainer of God's truth to those whom he loves. Make it a priority. Give it your best like a skilled craftsman.

References and Abbreviations

[1] "Workman/worker" is ergatēs, "one who is engaged in work, worker, laborer" (BDAG 390, 1b).

[2] Spoudazō, BDAG 939, 3.

[3] "Approved" is dokimos, "pertaining to being genuine on the basis of testing, approved (by test), tried and true, genuine" (BDAG 256, 1).

[4] "Present yourself" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "shew thyself" (KJV) is paristēmi, "present," which sometimes reflects the language of sacrifice, "offer, bring, present" (BDAG 778, 1d).

[5] Rudolf Bultmann, aischynō, TDNT 1:189.

[6] Orthotomeō, BDAG 722.

[7] Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary; Hendrickson, 1984, 1988) ISBN 0943575109), p. 255.


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