The Approved Workman
false teaching, hermeneutics, division, 2 Timothy
Each Sunday night children gather in our sanctuary for a group with the odd name of Awana. It is an acronym that is based on 2 Timothy 2:15. Awana stands for “Approved Workman are Not Ashamed”. The idea is that Awana is the place where children can learn the Bible taught faithfully and accurately. Children memorize verses so they will be well-armed to live lives that are approved by God.
This morning we will see that this is what Paul tells all of us to do in 2 Timothy 2:15-19. We will start with verse 15.
15 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.
Strive to be An Approved Workman
Paul tells us to live our lives with a constant awareness of the fact that we are going to stand before the Lord to give an account of our lives. The Lord told a parable about three servants who were given resources and their job was to be faithful in the use of these resources for the Lord. Two received the accolade, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The third, who did nothing, was condemned. (Matthew 25)
Paul told the Corinthians that our work would be tested by fire and only that which was done for the Lord will remain. (1 Corinthians 3) Paul also told us that we should do everything as if we were doing it for the Lord . . . because we are! (Colossians 3:23)
Paul tells Timothy to live his life in such a way that he will prove himself faithful. The word “approved” is the same word used to describe gold or silver that had been purified or money that was genuine (no counterfeit). It is the word used for a stone that fits in place in a building. Timothy is to live his life as one who is an authentic believer. The approved worker does not need to be ashamed. They will be tested and found to be the genuine article.
Paul says such an approved workmen correctly handles the word of truth (the Bible and the Gospel message). In other words the approved workman stays on the path of truth without getting distracted by personal truths they want to convey under the cloak of Biblical truth. They make it easy for other people to follow their path.
What does this mean practically? It means we
- They listen to the word for what it can teach us about the heart of God and the holy life which pleases Him, rather than using it for ammunition to win and argument or support your latest theory.
- They draw contrasts between what the Bible says and what the world says. This is a wonderful way to clarify the truth of Scripture.
- They act on the simple message of Scripture rather than let it die the death of endless qualifications. In other words we preach the incredible mercy and grace of God through Christ instead of adding all kinds of other qualifications for acceptance.
- They read and understand the Bible in the sense in which it was intended
- Descriptive – there are many passage in the Bible that describe what happened accurately without commending that behavior to us (like all the people who had numerous wives).
- Prescriptive – these are commands from God about how His followers should live. With these prescriptive statements we need to always ask, ‘Is this a command for a particular individual (Like when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh) or whether it is for all who follow Him (Forgive one another as you have been forgiven).
- Figures of Speech – When the Bible talks about the “ends of the earth” or the “sun rise” it is not teaching the world is flat or that the earth is stationary and the sun rotates around us. It is a figure of speech that we use still today. When Jesus says He is the door or the Light or even (I believe) when He referred to the bread and cup as His body and blood. These are word pictures that point to a deeper truth.
- They view the Bible as the final truth by which everything else is to be measured (rather than tailoring the Bible to fit contemporary mores).
The question we must each ask ourselves is this: Are we handling the Word of God Correctly? Are we carefully and attentively reading it?
My brother-in-law works at a factory that makes flavors for well-known products. They have accounts with some big companies. A person who works in the plant must follow the recipe precisely. There is no room for someone adding “just a little something” of their own. To do so would mean the order would be discarded and it is likely the account would be lost. You would certainly lose your job.
The workman who does not need to be ashamed is the one who pays attention to what God says in His Word without feeling the need to add any of his own ingredients.
Avoid Irreverent Talk
Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.
Paul gives us an example of what an unapproved workmen looks like. He says these teachers engage in “Godless Chatter” instead of teaching the Word of God.
False teaching was a problem in the early church just as it is today. At the end of 1 Timothy (6:20-21), Paul wrote,
20 Timothy, guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. 21 Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness.
Paul illustrates this with two people Timothy likely knew, Hymenaeus and Philetus. Paul says these men taught that the resurrection (of believers) had already taken place. At this time some people taught that we were resurrected when we were baptized. Immersion baptism symbolizes a dying with Christ and a rising to new life. It is possible this was what they were teaching as the resurrection. Other teachers in the time (not unlike today) say we rise from the dead not literally but through our children and grandchildren. I don’t know if either of those things was what these two teachers taught but whatever they were teaching, they denied the clear teaching of the Bible that a time of Judgment with a resurrection of the body will occur. We will be given new bodies that are purified from the stain of sin and decay and we will live forever with the Lord. When someone denies the Resurrection, they have abandoned true faith.
False teaching is not a little thing. Paul points out that it destroys people, churches, and societies. The Life Application Bible Commentary describes the lies of false teaches in three helpful descriptions.
- They distort the truth. They change it just a little so that it perhaps is not quite so offensive. But once the truth is no longer fully the truth it becomes destructive. Such is the notion that God will not send anyone to Hell. It may be appealing to the general populace but it is not what the Bible teaches and it is dangerous because people feel since we all are going to go to Heaven anyway, it doesn’t matter what we do here on earth.
- They dilute the truth. Jesus is no longer the only way to Heaven, he is one of many ways to Heaven. Sin is no longer an offense to a holy God that separates us from Him, it is a “mistake”, a “weakness”, “a character flaw”.
- They delete God’s truth. They will tell us that what the Bible says on a subject is no longer relevant. This is what we hear in discussions of same sex marriage. We are told that clear Biblical teaching was for another day and time. We hear the same about creation. You may hear someone say, “No one believes the Bible’s story of creation anymore.”
Paul says what happens is a cycle
- Someone teaches falsely
- This leads to living in a less godly manner
- This kind of teaching spreads rapidly
- It leads people away from the truth
- And it destroys the faith of some
The very best way to guard against error is to be very familiar with the true truth. Reading the Bible for yourself, sitting under good Christian Bible teachers, and attending Bible Studies and Sunday School classes where you can grow and learn is so very important in sharpening our discernment and strengthening our grip on truth.
We can devote a great deal of time to godless chatter. However, such chatter will always lead us away from Biblical truth. I love this truth about how to tell whether or not our conversation is honoring to the Lord from William Barclay
Here then is the test. If at the end of our talk, we are closer to one another and to God, then all is well; but if we have erected barriers between one another and have left God more distant, then all is not well. The aim of all Christian discussion and of all Christian action is to bring a man nearer to his fellows and to God.
A godly conversation brings understanding not division. It explains; it doesn’t berate. We can even disagree on issues and grow together as we work to understand another position. Hopefully we will find that the other person is just as sincere about wanting to be true to the Word of God. Conversation that is designed to pick at others is the kind of conversation that Paul renounces.
Turn Away from Wickedness
19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”
Paul reaffirms again that even though false teachers seek to destroy, the foundation of truth will not erode or change. That which is true will always be true. We may be concerned that we will be lost in the maze of deception but we have assurance that the Lord knows those who are his.
This is a double-edged sword. One the one hand,this means both that even though we get lost in the maze of life, God knows those who are putting their trust in Him. But the other side of the sword is that pretenders also do not fool God. The Lord knows better than we do if we are true believers.
Paul reminds us of another important truth, “everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” This is a common Biblical theme. We are saved due to nothing that we have done but we are also saved FOR something – holy living. Another false teaching is that the only thing an unbeliever needs to do is say a certain prayer and they will be saved. Though it is true that we do not earn salvation, we do need to understand that truly believing in Christ means actually following Him, not merely mouthing platitudes.
We see this balance in Ephesians 2:8-10
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
We are saved by grace but the person who responds to that grace is a new creation and begins to live with a new outlook and behavior. This is why we are told that we will know a true or false believer by the fruit (or the resulting change) in their lives. A person who is genuinely saved will be different than they were before they met Christ.
I know that anytime we run into one of these passages we all have the same fear: If this is true, then I must not really be a believer because I still do lots of bad things.
Before you can turn away from wickedness you have to know what it is. You have to be able to see it in yourself. So, the very fact that you see the wickedness still resident in you is a good sign! I am much more concerned about the person who says and thinks they are a good or godly person than the one who still sees sinful strains in them.
That doesn’t mean we should not be on our knees repenting of sin. We need to keep asking God through the Holy Spirit to help us do what He calls us to do. We need to mourn over the sin that remains in our lives. It is robbing us of the joy of intimate fellowship with the Lord. There are too many church people who are content with a casual relationship with the Lord. We must never be content with superficial faith.
Having said this, we also need to realize that even though our sin is forgiven it is still deeply ingrained in us. If you don’t believe this, pay attention to the way you respond the next time you are angry! See if you respond in the way that Jesus would have us respond or whether that sinful nature we share rears its ugly head.
We must actively fight the wickedness in us asking God for strength and assistance. What does this mean?
- Be honest about your sin. Stop lying to yourself and admit when you disobey God and fall short of His standard.
- Confess your sin immediately. Stop trying to rationalize your behavior and don’t waste your time trying to “spin it” before the Lord. I wonder how many times God has rolled His eyes while I explained to Him why my behavior was not as bad as it seemed.
- Ask God to make you more aware of when you are heading down a dangerous path again and fill yourself with the truth and instruction of God’s Word.
- Make corrective changes. At times this may mean changing what we watch, listen to, or the places we go for recreation. The definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.”
Paul conclude this part of 2 Timothy 2 with these words,
20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. 
The message is clear, if you work at living a holy life; if you live to please the Lord, if you guard against false teaching by avoiding irreverent talk, you will be in a position to be used by God in honorable and wonderful ways. The Bible tells us those who are faithful in little things will be fit to take on more responsibility. In other words, before we will be used by God greatly we have to serve Him in the everyday areas of our lives.
Once again I hope you hear the passion in the words of Paul. He is at the end of his life and his first concern is for the safeguarding of the truth. (Where is it on your list of priorities? Truth that is altered is not longer the truth. This is why so much care is taken when major Bible translations are produced. Accuracy matters because truth matters. We need to know the truth and defend the truth.
Second, we need to put on the life of Christ. When you receive a gift from someone it becomes yours. You can oooo and ahhh about the gift, you can express heartfelt gratitude, but if you bring the gift home and put it in the closet, the value of the gift is lost.
If you had lost a limb and were given a prosthesis you would have the opportunity to do things you could not do otherwise. However, if you never put the prosthesis on you would derive none of the benefit at your disposal.
The Christian life is like this. When we come to the Lord to confess our sin and ask for the forgiveness that comes only through Christ, we are given new life. However, if that new life is never lived, we lose out on the benefit of the wonderful gift. In a sense Paul is telling us to not waste this chance to truly live.
Life is precious. Our opportunities on this side of eternity are short-lived. If we want to leave behind (or for that matter want to take with us) a heritage of faithfulness, it starts by guarding, cherishing, and living out the truth of God. And because the time is short, the best time to begin is immediately.
 William Barclay, ed., The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 174.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), 2 Ti 2:20–21.