An Approved Worker: Part 1

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The Voice of Hope
An Approved Worker: Part 1
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An Approved Worker

II Timothy 2:15-19

During the 1970s, Keith Hernandez was one of baseball’s top players with a lifetime batting average of .300. He won numerous Gold Glove awards for his excellent fielding. He won a batting championship for the highest average, the MVP award in his league, and two World Series titles. Yet with all his accomplishments, he missed out on something important to him ‑‑ his father’s acceptance and recognition that what he accomplished was valuable.

Here’s what Keith had to say in a candid interview about his relationship with his father: “One day I said, ‘Dad, I have a lifetime .300 batting average; what more do you want?’ His father replied, ‘Someday you’re going to look back and say, “I could have done more.'”

What a sad story! Within the human psyche, there is a deeply rooted desire for acceptance and approval. Yet with all the fame and fortune that went with his baseball career, Keith couldn’t buy what he wanted most, the acceptance and approval of his dad.

It’s sad, this insight into Keith’s life is closer to being the rule than the exception. With the breakdown of family, divorce, and the pursuit of pleasure and possessions, many young people are not receiving the acceptance and approval they so desperately seek, especially from their fathers. So, they turn to all kinds of bizarre activities and behavior to fill that aching void in their lives; to try to find acceptance and approval among their peers. This should fill us with sadness because the loss of something so valuable has ongoing consequences in many areas of life.

This lack of parental approval and acceptance is sad, even tragic. But even more tragic in the lives of many people is the lack of approval and acceptance with God. While God loves and cares for every human being, the Bible makes it clear that the only way to acceptance with God is through Jesus Christ. The only way to bridge the gap that separates sinful humanity from an absolutely holy God is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Paul’s letters to Timothy highlight this truth. 

Acceptance with God comes through our salvation, our new birth. In writing to the Ephesians Paul reminds his readers that they have been “accepted in the beloved,” accepted in God’s family, “[by] redemption through [Jesus’] blood,” Ephesians 1:6 and 7. This is the ONLY way you and I can be accepted by God. The Scriptures make it very clear that no amount of good works on our part can make us acceptable with God; only the blood of Christ can do that.

Understand, however, that acceptance and approval are two different concepts. Our approval from God is based on our works that are motivated by His indwelling presence. Remember what God said at Jesus’ baptism? “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was approved because He was submitting Himself to the Father’s will. Likewise, our obedience secures for us the approval of our Heavenly Father.

Think about it this way. My children always have my acceptance; at least at a certain level because they are part of me, they are family. Though I may disown them (God forbid) I cannot change the fact that they are part of me. However, they do not always have my approval. I’m not always pleased with what they do. So, while I accept them for who they are, I withhold approval for their wrong behavior or foolish choices. And I extend approval when they do what is praiseworthy, right, and good.

Let’s turn now to our text, Second Timothy 2:15 to 19 to learn how you and I can become “An Approved Worker” of Jesus Christ. This is the Word of God to us. II Timothy 2:15-19

Paul’s instructions to Timothy outline several essential QUALITIES that will aid us in our quest to be an approved worker.

The First QUALITY is,

He is Diligent

The KJV opens our text with the word study, so diligence is probably not the firstidea that comes to your mind. The Greek word is spoudazo (spoo-dad-zo).  It means to make haste, to exert oneself, to endeavor, to exercise diligence. In secular Greek usage, it contained the ideas of being anxious, hurrying, doing your best, and carefulness. 

And what is the reason for this command to be diligent? It is to present or demonstrate the quality of being approved by God. This is where I got the title of our study. Paul is urging Timothy to exercise diligence in presenting himself as approved by God.

As I mentioned earlier, the concept of approval is different than that of acceptance.  Timothy is not trying to earn God’s acceptance. He has that through Jesus Christ. But God’s approval, according to our text, is connected to Timothy’s choices, and his behavior. Wuest says, “A workman approved is a workman who has been put to the test, and meeting the specifications, has won the approval of the one who has subjected him to the test.”

Years ago, when I was serving the Lord as a cabinetmaker, my boss wanted me to move into the specials department of the company. This department was responsible for making specialty items that couldn’t go through regular production. When I joined that department, I wasn’t immediately given the most difficult units to build. Instead, I was given the simpler items to help develop my skill set. As I passed each test, I was given more challenging and difficult projects to work on. I became an approved workman for my employer. 

In our text, Paul earnestly wishes Timothy to pass the test! In doing so he will have no reason to be ashamed. His work will stand the scrutiny of the one who is testing him. Now you know as well as I do that if you are careless in your work, you’d prefer not to have it tested or scrutinized. You know that if your work is of inferior quality, you will be ashamed; especially if you know you could have done better! So, diligence is a vital part of being an approved workman.

Now, let’s look at the focus of Paul’s command. The reason for this diligence, this testing, and this approval that precludes shame is Timothy’s handling of the Scripture. This attention to his personal life and to God’s desire for him will lead to the careful handling of the Word of God. The idea of rightly dividing is expressed in the words, “cutting it straight.”

The imagery evoked here is interesting. Paul was a tentmaker. A tentmaker had to know how to cut a straight line when making the parts for his tents. Knowing what we do about Paul, I assume his tents were among the best available. I’m sure that he was attentive to each detail in order to produce a quality product. 

A farmer must know how to plow a straight furrow, and a mason must know how to dress stones properly, so they fit together to make a lasting structure. Those in the construction trades know the importance of accuracy. Careless or sloppy work is a cause for shame when it’s exposed.

So how does this relate to the handling of the Scripture? Sophocles, a Greek writer expressed the concept this way, “to expound soundly.” There are certain practices and procedures that lead to a quality product for the tentmaker, the farmer, or the mason. In a similar way, there are processes that must be used by the teacher of the Word if he is to expound the Word of God accurately. Our text makes it clear that Paul placed a high priority on these processes and urged Timothy to follow them diligently. You can’t get the desired result if you don’t take the proper steps.

I find it interesting that some people who are so meticulous in the way they handle the details of their daily work can be so sloppy in the way they handle God’s Word. Most tasks we perform have a better outcome if we follow proven steps of action. In the kitchen, recipes tell you ladies to add certain ingredients and perform certain tasks at specific places, so the finished product is edible.  Earlier, I mentioned my cabinet-making employment. Sometimes, when I was learning how to build a unit I’d never built before, I’d get the steps out of order. That made extra work for me and sometimes affected the quality of the finished product. 

When we talk about principles of interpretation in Bible study, we’re talking about the methodology we use in order to reach a proper understanding of the text. This discipline is called hermeneutics. It is easily proven that you can make the Bible say just about anything you want if you isolate verses from their context or change the common meaning of words! II Peter 3:16 talks about those who distort the Scriptures to their own (spiritual) destruction. This is how many cults (false religions) get started. It’s also how false teaching gets into the church.

Dr. J. Otis Yoder was the founder and first president of Heralds of Hope. He was the Bible teacher on our radio programs for more than 30 years. One of the statements he made about biblical interpretation was this one; “a text without a context is a pretext.” It was part of the reason why he argued for a systematic approach to biblical exposition instead of a topical approach. The topical approach, by its nature, was more likely to result in faulty interpretation. In the years we served together he repeatedly urged me to be faithful to the careful exposition of the Word. Today, I am still grateful for his commitment and his encouragement.

There was a lot of error floating around in the Ephesian church. These errors were the more dangerous because they were being taught and promoted by those inside the fellowship; by leaders who were trusted by the people. Paul reminded Timothy repeatedly of the importance of diligently staying close to the Word of God and the teachings of the apostles. Those reminders are even more necessary today.

If it’s your goal to be an approved worker, you will need to exercise and develop the quality of diligence. You must learn how to rightly divide the Word of truth.

The Second QUALITY is,

He is Discerning

Not only must the approved worker be diligent in the pursuit of truth, but he must also be discerning so he can detect and reject errors. Certain things need to be embraced and held on to at all costs, while other things need to be seen for their falseness and be rejected. It takes discernment to know the difference. Verse sixteen begins with the word, but. This sets up a contrast between the commands of verse fifteen and the instruction Paul is about to give.

He urges Timothy to shun profane and vain babbling. The Greek word translated into the English word shun, is periistemi. It means, “to turn oneself about, as for the purpose of avoiding something.” Expositor’s Greek Testament translates it this way; “Give them a wide berth.” In the pursuit of excellence, of being an approved workman who correctly interprets and applies the truth of God’s Word, the error must be shunned by giving it a wide berth. The New Testament warns us to avoid false doctrine and avoid fellowship with those who promote it.

The goal of these false teachers was not to draw people to Christ. Rather, it was to gain a following they could control for their own personal gain. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he warned him about those who equated personal and financial gain with godliness. There are many like them today. There is a continual need for the exercise of a discerning spirit. Otherwise, you and I will be led away by the errors of the false teachers. This exhortation is just as needful today as it was when Paul wrote it to Timothy. In fact, with our modern digital communication, error can be disseminated more widely, more convincingly, and more quickly than ever before! 

Have you ever had a conversation with someone whose goal seemed to be to waste your time? I have. They’re not interested in the truth; they’re only interested in a good argument! Timothy had more important things to do than spend time chasing down silly stories and worthless myths that were pointless in the quest to be an approved worker. Paul warned Timothy that paying attention to these empty words would only lead to more ungodliness.

Paul’s reference to empty words is kenophonia. It is a compound word made up of phone (voice) and kenos (empty or hollow). Wuest says, “Empty words are not merely empty, but because they are empty, [become] evil words. As nature will not endure a vacuum, so empty words become filled with evil and thus become words of evil content and purpose.” With this understanding, it is easy to see how these kinds of words only lead to more ungodliness, a state of irreverence for God and His Word. 

Paul further states that the words of the false teachers will spread like gangrene. Medical writers of Paul’s day used this term, gangraina [gang-grah-ee-nah], to describe a sore that eats into the flesh. It is accompanied by obvious discoloring of the affected area and a horrid smell.  Gangrene is a decay of tissue in a part of the body when the blood supply is obstructed by injury, disease, or some other cause. 

Hymenaeus and Philetus are put forth as two prominent examples of those who lack discernment. They exemplify the effects of flawed character and erroneous teaching. Yet they may have maintained a very agreeable public persona. Philetus’ name means “beloved or amiable.” He may have been the consummate nice guy. Most false teachers don’t appear as ogres. We do well to remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:15; “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep=s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”  

Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching that the resurrection of the righteous dead had already passed. By their proclamation of this false teaching, the faith of some weaker individuals was being overthrown. Philip Towner comments on this; “That such a mistake could be made [believing the resurrection was already past] may seem strange to us. But the fervency of the first-generation church’s hope of Christ’s return and certain carry-overs from the pagan religions out of which believers came . . . could have led some to the conclusion that all of salvation’s blessings were to be experienced now. A modern parallel is what we might describe as Christian triumphalism (or the “health and wealth” gospel), which presents the Christian message as a quick solution to all of life’s problems. The same basic mistake seems to be involved.”       

Perhaps you know some whose faith has been destroyed by the health and wealth gospel; those who want the blessings of the kingdom age without the sufferings of the present time. It is important for us to be aware that those who have untreated spiritual and emotional needs or wounds may be more susceptible to being taken in by these false teachers.

There are many hurting people in our churches and in our communities who need someone to walk beside them in the path of discipleship. They need the support of a loving, caring, faith community as they experience the trials and struggles of life. They need to understand that the adversities of life are the tools God uses to help us realize and admit our own helplessness and to perfect the character of Christ in us. Some of them will reject our help because they are looking for a quick fix. Those with that mentality are the most susceptible to false teachers.

Error abounds today, and according to God’s Word, it will only get worse as we near the return of Christ. In fact, it will get so bad, Jesus said, that if it were possible, even the elect would be deceived! To be an approved workman, there will be an increasing need to exercise the quality of discernment.

The Final QUALITY is,

He is Disciplined

I chose to identify this last quality as disciplined for this reason; it speaks primarily of those who are disciples of Christ. A disciple, any disciple, follows the disciplines, the set of beliefs, or teachings set forth by the one whom he is following. He builds his thought processes and his actions around those core disciplines put forth by his teacher. To be an approved worker by God calls for a disciplined life. We will see this quality expanded in this final verse of the text.

The final verse of our text begins with the word, nevertheless. Just as Paul uses the word, but [in verse 16] to set the contrast between the diligent, approved worker and the false teachers, this word, nevertheless, sets the contrast between the false teachers and the unshakeable foundation of God. What an encouraging word! In spite of the false teachers and the destruction they sow within the body of Christ, the firm foundation of God is immovable.

The text states the firm foundation stands sure. The word, stands, is a verb in the present tense meaning, it has stood, with the present result that it stands permanently. Add to this the testimony of the Lord Jesus Himself; “…upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matthew 16:18.  

The Church of Jesus Christ has an ideal integrity, a cohesiveness, that is unaffected by some [false teachers] who belong to it. The apostle John references these false ones in his epistle by saying, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” Their departure exposes them for who they are, but it doesn’t diminish the stature of the Church one bit.

As I was meditating on this unshakeable foundation I thought of these words from Hebrews. “See that you do not refuse him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape, if we turn away from Him who speaks from Heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now he has promised, saying, yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. Now this,’ yet once more’, indicates the removal of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire,” Hebrews 12:25 to 29. When the shaking takes place, will you be one of those who remain?

Next, Paul mentions a seal. In the time of Paul and Timothy, a seal could be a wax seal bearing an impressed stamp, or an embossed figure on paper, with the purpose of authenticating a document. The term can also mean any device for making such impressions or embossments, essentially being a mold that has the mirror image of the figure in counter‑relief, such as those mounted on rings that were called signet rings. 

It seems at this point in verse nineteen that Paul moves from viewing the church collectively, as an unshakeable body, to view the individual members who bear the imprint or seal of the Master. The seal is a mark of identity, of authority, of ownership.  And notice the seal bears two inscriptions.

The first inscription on the seal is the Lord knows those who belong to Him. This inscription testifies to the security of the Believer. It may well be that in writing these words the apostle is remembering the confrontation between Moses and Aaron, and Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, recorded in Numbers chapter sixteen. As you may recall, these men accused Moses and Aaron of taking too much authority over them. Their argument was, “Since all the members of the congregation are holy why do you two presume to be the only leaders?”  Here is how God, through Moses, responded to these usurpers. “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who are His, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near to Him: that one whom He chooses will He cause to come near to Him.” You Bible readers know the outcome of that event. Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and all who joined their rebellion, perished.  The ground opened up and swallowed them. God knew those who belonged to Him and He identified them unmistakably! That’s security.

In writing to the Corinthians Paul says, “Now he who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, is God; Who has also sealed us, and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee,” Second Corinthians 1:22. And He also states, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God,” Romans 8:16. The Lord knows those who belong to Him and He identifies them by giving them the presence and power of His Spirit. 

Then there is the second inscription on the seal; “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” This inscription testifies to the purity of the Believer. The words of the prophet Isaiah come to mind. “Depart! Depart! Go out from there, touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; be clean, you who bear the vessels of the Lord.” Today, you and I are not those who bear the vessels of the Lord, we ARE the vessels of the Lord! His presence lives within us. And as such our purity must be maintained.

Those who name the name of the Lord are those who, when they speak His name acknowledge and appropriate what His name involves. Naming the name of the Lord is not simply saying, “I believe.” It is a declaration, a confession, of faith and allegiance. It is an embrace of the truth that leads to obedience and loyalty. Jesus warned us about those who say, “Lord, Lord, and do not obey His commands” in Luke 6:46 and other places too. We don’t want to be in that group.

The command is to, “depart from iniquity.” The Greek word is aphis-temi, and means to cause to withdraw or to instigate revolt. To revolt against something is to resist, seeking to overthrow its power or authority. Sadly, today, many professing Christians revolt against the wrong thing! They’re revolting against the principles of God’s Word rather than revolting against iniquity. They’re revolting against God-ordained authority in the home and in the church. They’re following the inclinations and passions of their flesh rather than following the commandments of the Lord. They are the kind of persons Paul was warning Timothy about.

There is something definitely wrong with our understanding of being a disciple of Christ when survey after survey reveals that in morality, entertainment, recreation, and other lifestyle choices, professing Christians show little or no difference from those who make no profession of faith! Yet in Second Corinthians 6:14-18, Paul writes, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, do not touch what is unclean; and I will receive you. I will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

God desires a pure church, a pure bride, for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of this in Ephesians five; “…Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” What a need there is in the Church today for a holy, disciplined, godly living! 

Finally, think with me about the relationship between these two inscriptions of the seal: security and purity. These concepts go together. The purity of the individual and the church is necessaryfor their security in Christ. And their security in Christ provides both the desire and the power for them to live lives of purity. 

The apostle John reinforces the link between purity and security in chapter three of his first epistle. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.  And every man who has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure.”

I want to be an approved workman of the Lord Jesus. And I believe that you’re listening to this teaching because you have the same desire, the same goal. If you do, then I must ask you; How would you evaluate these qualities in your life? Or, more importantly, how would God evaluate these qualities in your life? Are you an approved worker measured by His criteria?

Are you diligent in your pursuit of the truth? Are you handling the word of God properly and applying it to your life in such a way that you have no cause for shame before Him? 

Are you exercising discernment in a world that is awash in false philosophies where the prevailing idea is that every person’s path to God is a valid one for them? Are you searching the Scriptures to make sure that what you’re hearing is actually the truth of God?

And as a disciple of Jesus Christ are you living a disciplined life that sets you apart for the false teachers and from the unbelieving world? Do you have the security that comes from being sealed by the Holy Spirit of God? And are you endeavoring by the grace of God and the power of His Spirit to live a holy life? 

Remember what I said at the beginning of this message? The text begins in verse fifteen with the command to be diligent. In light of that fact, I close this teaching with these words from the apostle Peter; they are so appropriate.

“…but also, for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither [e]barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things, you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Join me next time for the conclusion of this teaching.  Listen to Part 2 here!

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