Remind people of these things and solemnly charge them before the Lord not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen. Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately. But avoid profane chatter, because those occupied with it will stray further and further into ungodliness, and their message will spread its infection like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are in this group. They have strayed from the truth by saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and they are undermining some people’s faith. However, God’s solid foundation remains standing, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil.”
2 Timothy 2:14-19 (NET)
How can we become approved workers of God?
In 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul calls believers co-workers with God. It is a tremendous privilege to participate in the work of building God’s kingdom on the earth by evangelizing the lost and discipling believers. However, soon after Paul calls us co-workers with God, he describes how one day there will be an inspection of our work. Some will be rewarded and some will experience loss of reward based on how they built (v. 12-15). First Corinthians 3:12-15 says,
If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
This inspection is called the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10). In 2 Timothy 2:15, when it says, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately,” the Greek word for “proven,” or it can be translated “approved,” was used of a metalsmith testing a metal to determine its quality or worth.1 In the same way, our faithfulness with God’s Word will be tested, and some will be approved and some will not be. Some will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and others will hear, “Wicked and lazy servant” (Matt 25:23, 26 NIV). They were unfaithful “co-workers.” They put other things before God and his work and, therefore, experienced loss of reward at the judgment.
The primary tool that we work with is God’s Word. Because it is God’s sword, it can cause great good or great damage (cf. Eph 6:17, Heb 4:12). It can protect believers, defeat the enemy, and heal—like a scalpel being used for surgery. But it also can be twisted in such a way that it harms and pushes people away from God.
In 2 Timothy 2:14-19, Paul challenges Timothy to be an approved worker and not an unapproved one like Hymenaeus and Philetus—two false teachers in Ephesus. In this study, we will consider six qualities of an approved worker.
Big Question: What qualities of an approved worker can be discerned from 2 Timothy 2:14-19?
Approved Workers Continually Teach Fundamental Doctrines
Remind people of these things
2 Timothy 2:14a
Paul calls for Timothy to “Remind people of these things.” “These things” seem to refer to the essentials of the gospel mentioned in verse 8—Christ being raised from the dead and a descendant of David. Also in verses 11-13, Paul quoted an ancient hymn reminding Timothy of the importance of suffering for Christ. If we endure with him, we will reign with him, but if we deny him, we will receive God’s judgment (v. 11-13).
In ministry, there is often a temptation to be novel and fresh; however, there are some things God’s people need to hear again and again. We need to hear the essential doctrines of the gospel, Christ’s full humanity and deity, the Trinity, the atonement, and the importance of righteous living and spiritual disciplines. These are spiritual foundations that God’s co-workers must lay down again and again.
Consider the following verses: “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Phil 3:1). Paul said this in the context of reminding believers about the importance of rejoicing in the Lord and being aware of false teachers. Similarly, in 2 Peter 1:12-15, Peter reminds believers about the importance of assurance of salvation. He says,
Therefore, I intend to remind you constantly of these things even though you know them and are well established in the truth that you now have. Indeed, as long as I am in this tabernacle, I consider it right to stir you up by way of a reminder, since I know that my tabernacle will soon be removed, because our Lord Jesus Christ revealed this to me. Indeed, I will also make every effort that, after my departure, you have a testimony of these things.
God’s co-workers must constantly remind believers of foundational truths. Why? Because it is so easy for the church and individual Christians to forget and lose them, and then build our foundation on something else. David Guzik said,
The church is constantly tempted to get its focus off of the message that really matters, and is tempted to become an entertainment center, a social service agency, a mutual admiration society, or any number of other things. But this temptation must be resisted, and the church should constantly remember these things.
Are you reminding others of essential doctrines? Are you being reminded?
Application Question: What essential doctrines do believers constantly need to be reminded of and what are more peripheral doctrines or issues? What are the dangers of building on nonessentials?
Approved Workers Have a Strong Awareness of God’s Presence
Remind people of these things and solemnly charge them before the Lord not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen.
2 Timothy 2:14
Paul adds, “solemnly charge them before the Lord.” “Charge” is a command in Greek, and it is reinforced by Paul’s emphasis on the presence of God.2 God would be present when Timothy warned the Ephesians, and God would be present to watch their response to the command. In 2 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul similarly warns Timothy:
I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.
If Timothy and the Ephesians were going to be faithful, they had to remember that God is always watching and that one day they would give an account to him. This is true of every approved worker. An approved worker is somebody who works with an eye towards pleasing his Master and has a healthy fear of his disapproval. Proverbs 9:10 says, “the beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord.” Having a reverence for God enables a person to live a wise life—a life that honors God. It affects their career, family, friendships, thoughts, and hobbies, as they always are keenly aware of God’s presence.
Paul believed it was necessary for the Ephesians to be continually aware of God’s presence if they were going to be approved workers, and this is true for us as well.
Application Question: How can we grow in awareness of God’s presence?
1. We must practice regular spiritual disciplines.
Regular spiritual disciplines like morning and evening devotions, daily prayer, and corporate worship help believers continually think about God, his Word, and his pleasure (cf. 1 Tim 4:7). Those who don’t regularly meet with God, tend to live for their pleasure or the pleasure of others rather than God’s.
Do you faithfully practice spiritual disciplines?
2. We must have regular accountability.
Timothy was called to warn the Ephesians in the presence of God, and later, Paul warns Timothy in the presence of God. We need people to continually challenge us and help us focus on our Master’s will, instead of our will or that of others’. Who regularly holds you accountable through exhortation and prayer?
An awareness of God’s presence is essential to being an approved worker. His approval should guide everything that we do.
Application Question: Why are we so prone to forget or ignore God’s presence? What disciplines help you maintain an awareness of God’s presence?
Approved Workers Avoid Quarrels
Remind people of these things and solemnly charge them before the Lord not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen.
2 Timothy 2:14
Timothy was to warn the Ephesians to not “wrangle over words”—literally this means “word battles.” When the Ephesians participated in these quarrels, it only led to ruin. The Greek word for “ruin” is “katastrophe,” from which we get the transliterated English word “catastrophe”.3 Word battles only lead to spiritual ruin.
Interpretation Question: What types of word battles is Paul referring to?
The context seems to refer to false teachers, as Paul soon warns them about Hymenaeus and Philetus who taught that the resurrection had past (v. 16, 17). Certainly, believers should avoid arguing with false teachers as they twist Scripture (cf. 1 Tim 6:4-5), but also, there is no value in quarreling with people in general—it typically only pushes people away from God. Shortly after this, Paul says to Timothy:
But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.
2 Timothy 2:23-26
Of course, there is a place for correcting people and trying to convince them of the truth. Paul and Barnabas went to the Jerusalem church in Acts 15 to resolve some disputes over doctrine. In addition, Paul often went to the synagogues to try to convince Jews and Greeks that Christ was the messiah (Acts 18:4-5). However, our manner in correcting or persuading others must be a spirit of kindness and gentleness. We must be gentle and not harsh because God changes hearts and not us. He is the one who opens eyes and leads people to the truth. A co-worker of God must wisely recognize his part and God’s. God takes our seeds and makes them grow; however, we must plant them in the right way. When we plant with gentleness and kindness, it draws people to God instead of pushing them away from him. It leads to spiritual growth instead of spiritual ruin. Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Approved workers minister with a gentle spirit instead of a contentious spirit.
Application Question: When dealing with antagonistic people with different views, how can we minister with kindness and gentleness? Why is kindness and gentleness so important for a co-worker of God?
Approved Workers Are Faithful Bible Teachers
Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.
2 Timothy 2:15
In addition, approved workers teach “the message of truth accurately”—they are faithful Bible teachers. Those who don’t correctly teach the Word will be ashamed before God and others.
This does not just apply to pastors, but to every Christian. God has called each of us to teach his Word, as we make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20). However, as mentioned previously, not all will be approved by God. Some will in fact be ashamed. Matthew 5:19 says,
So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Shame awaits those who wrongly interpret and teach God’s Word. That is why James says that not many should strive to be teachers because teachers will receive a stricter judgment (James 3:1). They will be judged strictly both by God and people.
Observation Question: What are characteristics of faithful Bible teachers?
1. Faithful Bible teachers are diligent.
“Make every effort” can also be translated “be diligent.” It “carries the idea of having zealous persistence to accomplish a particular objective.”4 It refers to how a faithful teacher of God’s Word gives maximum effort to studying, interpreting, and teaching God’s Word to others.
The reason many misinterpret or misapply God’s Word is simply laziness. They don’t do their best when it comes to studying God’s Word—leading to negative consequences in their life and the lives of others. Their teaching brings more harm than good.
2. Faithful Bible teachers have skills.
“Accurately,” also translated “correctly handles,” literally means “to cut a path or road in a straight direction, so that the traveler may go directly to his destination.”5 When we correctly teach God’s Word, we lead others to the right destination in the shortest time possible. This phrase was used of a craftsman, a farmer, a mason, or a construction worker.6 As with each of these jobs, certain skills are needed.
Application Question: What types of skills must a workman develop to effectively interpret Scripture?
There are many skills needed to properly interpret Scripture:
One needs “observation” skills.
We need to develop the ability to notice things in a text that help lead to proper interpretation. One of the main things we must notice are conjunctions such as: and, but, or, for, since, because, therefore, etc. These small words help us understand how words and phrases connect—leading us to a better understanding of the original author’s thought. No doubt, because of the importance of this skill, David prayed, “Open my eyes so I can truly see the marvelous things in your law!” (Ps 119:18). We must pray the same in order to develop this skill.
A good example of the need for observation skills is seen in Christ’s interaction with the Sadducees. The Sadducees did not believe in the after-life or resurrection, and one time, they concocted a far-fetched scenario to prove that there was no resurrection. Christ simply responded: “You are wrong. Have you not read how Moses said God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?” (Mk 12:26-27, paraphrase). Essentially, Christ said that the fact Moses used the present tense instead of the past tense proved the resurrection—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive. Had the Sadducees read? Yes! Had they observed? No! We must develop observation skills to correctly handle Scripture.
One needs interpretation skills.
We interpret Scripture by comparing Scripture with Scripture, including the surrounding context of a verse, the larger context of that specific Bible book, and finally the context of all of Scripture. If a person separates a verse from its context, one can make it mean almost anything; that’s essentially where most interpretation errors come from.
A good example of removing a verse from its context is Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” This verse is often used by believers and nonbelievers alike to say that we can never judge someone by declaring that something is sin. However, even the surrounding context of the verse denies that, not to mention the rest of Scripture. In Matthew 7:5, Christ says to first take the plank out of our own eye, so we can see clearly to take the speck out of others. What Christ is condemning is unjust judging—not righteous judgment. We need to take the specks out of people’s eyes, but we must see clearly to do so. Faithful Bible teachers have good interpretation skills—they compare Scripture with Scripture.
One must develop application skills.
Application may be the most difficult skill to develop. Application answers the question, “So what?” Often sermons leave hearers saying to themselves, “Now, what should I do with what I just heard?” Similarly, most people read the Bible in the morning and get stuck with the question, “What should I do with this?”
To properly apply Scripture, one must ask further questions of the text such as: “What was the original context of the verse?” and then “In what ways is my situation like theirs?” Was the original context war, persecution, or famine? Then, maybe this applies to trials in our life. Was the original recipient Israel? Maybe, this applies to our relationship to the church. In addition, we should look at the people in the text and discern similarities. When considering the story of David and Goliath, maybe, the Philistines in the story could have applications for spiritual warfare. Maybe, the unbelieving Israelites could have applications to doubting believers or worldly believers. Goliath might have applications for any seemingly insurmountable trial. David might have applications to faithful Christians. Then we might need to ask the questions, “Which one am I most like?” and “How should I respond to be more like David?”
In addition, to properly develop applications, one must discern the audience to whom a text was originally written. Everything in the Bible was written for us, but not everything was written to us. If you take many of the teachings in the Old Testament law and apply them directly to the church—like practicing the Sabbath day, forbidding the eating of certain foods—you will not correctly handle the text. Paul said that we are no longer under the law (cf. Rom 6:14, Gal 3:25). Those laws were written specifically to Israel and must be interpreted in that context.
In general, the closer to the original context we are, the stronger and clearer the application. “Do not lie” very easily applies to our context—we all struggle with lying. However, “Do not eat food offered today idols” would be a little harder to apply in many contexts. In considering Old Covenant promises originally written to Israel, many might not have direct applications to us. Prosperity gospel teachers commonly abuse these promises by misapplying them to the church. Again, the closer the ancient context to our contemporary context, the stronger and clearer the application.
Only those who work hard and are skillful with God’s Word shall be approved. Pastor Steve Cole shared this about Jim Elliott:
When Jim Elliot, who was later martyred in the jungles of Ecuador, was a student at Wheaton College, he wrote in his diary, “My grades came through this week, and were, as expected, lower than last semester. However, I make no apologies, and admit I’ve let them drag a bit to study of the Bible, in which I seek the degree A.U.G., ‘approved unto God’” (Shadow of the Almighty [Zondervan], p. 43).7
We must be diligent in the Word as well, so we can be approved by God.
Application Question: What are some other important skills for understanding and applying Scripture?
Approved Workers Avoid False Teaching
But avoid profane chatter, because those occupied with it will stray further and further into ungodliness, and their message will spread its infection like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are in this group. They have strayed from the truth by saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and they are undermining some people’s faith.
2 Timothy 2:16-18
Paul calls for Timothy to avoid “profane chatter”—referring to false teaching. The fact that Paul warns Timothy is very telling. Timothy, though a gifted teacher, was vulnerable to false teaching. We all are. There is a place for ministering to people stuck in false teaching. However, we must approach it like a doctor caring for someone with a contagious disease. We should only expose ourselves to false teaching enough to help the person, as we are vulnerable as well.
Observation Question: What are characteristics of false teaching as described in 2 Timothy 2:16-18?
1. False teaching is godless or worldly.
When Paul says avoid “profane” chatter (v. 16), it can also be translated “godless” or “worldly” chatter. One of the characteristics of false teaching is that it is void of God’s Word or misrepresents it. It either adds or takes away from it. It is typically full of worldly wisdom. Much of the teaching in the church today is just psychology, self-help, new-age philosophy, or some form of legalism. This is why we must test everything with God’s Word.
2. False teaching leads to ungodliness.
Because false teaching is void of God and his Word, it only leads people “further and further into ungodliness” (v. 16). It has no power to restrain the sinful nature (cf. Col 2:23); therefore, it ultimately leads people into worse and worse sin. It is no surprise that many false teachers succumb to stealing money from the church, cheating on their spouses, or abusing their power. Their teaching has no power to produce godliness—only error.
3. False teaching spreads quickly.
Paul says it will spread like “gangrene” or cancer (v. 17). In the same way that cancer quickly spreads, as it attacks and destroys healthy cells, so does false teaching. This implies that false teaching is often popular. It is popular because it appeals to our sinful natures and therefore is easy to accept. It is for this reason members must constantly be warned of false teaching and of false teachers as Paul does with Hymenaeus and Philetus. It is not unloving to boldly name names. It is often the most loving thing one can do to protect believers from a life-threatening disease.
4. False teaching always has an element of truth to it.
Paul describes how Hymenaeus and Philetus taught that the resurrection had passed (v. 17-18). This seemed to be a pretty common error in the early church. Many were influenced by Greek philosophy which taught that the body was bad and the spirit was good. Therefore, a resurrected body didn’t make sense to many in that day. They probably taught that there was only a spiritual resurrection, as believers died with Christ and rose with him (Rom 6:1-11). This was overthrowing the faith of some because it, by necessity, also attacked the reality of Christ’s resurrection. If our bodies won’t be raised, neither was Christ’s raised. Paul condemned this teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14:
Now if Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty.
One of the things we must notice is that there was an element of truth with this teaching. Our spiritual resurrection has indeed passed. We died with Christ and rose from the dead with him (cf. Eph 2:1-6, Rom 6:1-11); however, there will also be a physical resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:35-58). This is what often makes false teaching so hard to discern—there are always verses that seem to support it. The problem is that it is truth out of balance or only partial truth. Satan told Eve that she would be like God if she ate of the tree. Was that true? Yes, to some extent. Eve became aware of both good and evil, just as God was. However, Satan meant to defame God’s character, as he was trying to deceive Eve. It’s been the same throughout history. For example, many cults teach that Christ is human but not God, or God and not human. There is always an element of truth with false teaching which makes us more susceptible to it. We must be aware of this danger.
5. False teaching ultimately destroys people’s faith.
Paul said that the teaching was “undermining some people’s faith” or had “destroyed the faith of some” as in the NIV (v. 18). This is Satan’s ultimate desire through all false teaching. He ultimately wants to turn people away from the faith all together. Even small deviances in doctrine are meant to lead to greater doctrinal error—eventually leading the person away from Christ. To again use the error of the prosperity gospel, it commonly leads professing believers away from God. For example, a person believes that they are never supposed to be sick or poor; however, they pray and pray and yet God doesn’t heal their family member or meet some other request. Therefore, they get mad at God, feel like he can’t be trusted, and ultimately fall away from him. Satan’s desire is to completely destroy the faith of believers through doctrinal error.
Application Question: In what ways do we see “truth out of balance” with many contemporary false teachings today?
Approved Workers Bear the Marks of True Salvation
However, God’s solid foundation remains standing, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil.”
2 Timothy 2:19
Finally, after sharing how some fell away from the faith because of false teaching (v. 18), Paul says, “God’s solid foundation remains standing”—meaning that the true church (cf. 1 Tim 3:15) will ultimately stand against false teaching and not fall away.
A seal in those days was both a sign of ownership and protection. People wouldn’t dare break a Roman seal because it could be punished with death. Each true believer has two seals as described in 2 Timothy 2:19.
Observation Question: What are the two seals and what do they refer to?
(1) “The Lord knows those who are his” seems to refer to election (cf. Eph 1:4, Rom 8:29). With Jeremiah, God said that before he was born, God “knew” him and set him apart as a prophet (Jer 1:5). Similarly, before time, God chose those who would follow him. They are his, and he knows them in an intimate manner. He puts them in his hand, and they shall never be snatched out (John 10:28-30). (2) However, the second seal, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from evil” refers to sanctification. The same God who elects to salvation, perfects his believers. In Philippians 1:6, Paul said, “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
These inscriptions probably allude to the story of Moses and the sons of Korah in Numbers 16. The sons of Korah and 250 Israelites thought they had the right to lead as much as Moses did and therefore incited a rebellion. Moses replied, “the man whom the Lord chooses will be holy” (v. 6). He then set a test declaring that the following day, the Lord would draw near those who would lead. The next day God selected Moses and called for the rest of the camp to separate from the sons of Korah and the 250 Israelites. Then, the ground opened up and swallowed the rebels.
In the same way, God selected those who are saved, and he protects them from truly falling away from him. The proof that they are his is that they turn away both from sin and from those who rebel against God. Therefore, anyone who claims to follow Christ and still lives a lifestyle of sin should question the reality of their faith. In addition, those who follow cults and others false teachers should also question their faith. Christ said that my sheep know my voice and they will not follow the voice of another (John 10). In the last days, Christ will say to many professing believers, “I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!” (Matt 7:23). They lacked the dual seal of God.
Election and sanctification are the inscriptions on approved workers. Are you an approved worker? Are you daily fighting against sin to be holy? Are you turning away from those who would lead you away from God? On the day of Christ’s coming, he will say, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:23).
Application Question: How can a person have assurance of salvation? What are other indicators of true salvation (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11, Matt 5:3-10, 1 John ff.)?
Steve Cole gives a fitting illustration of an approved worker of God:
A young man once studied violin under a world-renowned master. When his first big recital came, the crowd cheered after each number, but the young performer seemed dissatisfied. Even after the final number, despite the applause, the musician seemed unhappy. As he took his bows, he was watching an elderly man in the balcony. Finally, the elderly one smiled and nodded in approval. Immediately, the young man beamed with joy. He was not looking for the approval of the crowd. He was waiting for the approval of his master.
Christians should be living for God’s approval. We will be approved unto Him as we use the Bible to grow in godliness. Are you growing as a craftsman who uses God’s Word of truth accurately and skillfully to grow in godliness? The misuse of the Bible will lead you to ruin. The proper use will lead you to godliness.8
What are qualities of approved workers of God?
1.Approved Workers Continually Teach Fundamental Doctrines
2.Approved Workers Have a Strong Awareness of God’s Presence
3.Approved Workers Avoid Quarrels
4.ApprovedWorkers Are Faithful Bible Teachers
5.Approved Workers Avoid False Teaching
6.Approved Workers Bear the Marks of True Salvation
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