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. – 2 Timothy 2:14-15
“Apparent contradictions are theological goldmines.” So goes one of those super helpful phrases from a beloved mentor that is often ringing in my ears when I read the Bible.
So in 2 Timothy 2:14-15, which is it: are we supposed to be zealously concerned with words, or not? The “apparent contradiction” may be quite subtle here, but I still can’t help but notice the juxtaposition between these two verses: there is a type of serious, passionate discussion of “words” that is so misguided as to be worthless and even ruinous (verse 14); yet there is also a type of serious, passionate devotion to “the word of truth” that is absolutely paramount. It is a devotion so important that Timothy is here directed to continually “present [him]self” (or “report back”) to God in terms of his progress and proficiency in it (verse 15).
Worthless, even deleterious discussion can come so easily. It’s easy to nitpick, to cut down, or to talk of shallow things of little consequence. It can even feel good and, like candy, be hard to guard against (see 1 Timothy 1:4; 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:23). Conversely, faithful devotion to the “words” that matter most deserves continual vigilance—in the presence of God, no less! Paul doesn’t sugarcoat our calling. It’s going to take significant effort, and the stakes are high: “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” (2 Timothy 2:15). To paraphrase, “Labor hard—before God who will both test you and help you pass the test—to be accomplished, qualified, certified, in the Scriptures.” I wonder if these words of Paul’s Master are ringing in his ears when he writes this: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
And we must clarify: this devotion to “the word of truth” is so much more than knowing and speaking rightly—though it does include that! Paul’s call entails obedience. Hypocrisy will not do. Hypocrites have every reason to be ashamed before God, but Paul here calls Timothy to wholehearted devotion to God’s ways. Only from that position he will be able to sincerely, powerfully call others to God’s truth, God’s love, and God’s standards. We must devote ourselves to God’s words, such that they reach their intended effect in our lives: Christlikeness in us, and others, to the glory of His holy Name!
Vain discussions lead nowhere fast. But the Scriptures hold out the promise of eternal life to all who would draw near to God through the revelation therein. And it is our calling to know the words of this life through and through. They are to be written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10)! Not an iota, not a dot, of what our God has spoken will pass away. May we read and study His word, in His presence, with His help, night and day, until we are workers who have no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. And may we thus be equipped to walk in his ways, and with His power to call scores of others to the same.
Father, You are the Author of life, and Your Word gives life. Forgive us for not honoring Your word as You deserve. Renew a right spirit in us, that we might tremble at Your word. Help us to labor, study, meditate, live out, and faithfully proclaim Your truth! Let our lives be living epistles of Your revelation to the world through Christ. Write Your word on our hearts, Lord! And give us the diligence, strength, and commitment it will take to present ourselves to You as those approved workers who have no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Interim Ministry Director, Christian Union Caritas
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