************ Sermon on 2 Timothy 2:15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 1, 2008
2 Timothy 2:14-26
2 Timothy 2:15
"Workmen Approved by God"
Installation of Elders & Deacons
Our society is fixated on approval ratings. Over and over again, we are told that President Bush's approval ratings are around 30%. Hillary Clinton supporters claim she has a higher approval rating than Barack Obama so she should be the Democratic Party nominee. Barack Obama supporters claim he has a higher approval rating than Hillary Clinton and deserves to be the nominee. We all know that of the four major networks, NBC has the lowest approval rating; this makes a huge difference in advertising bucks. There is a website where head coaches in the NFL receive weekly polls on how many fans approve of the job they are doing. There is even a weekly approval rating on the War in Iraq.
The church is supposed to be above such things. We don't do things in the church just because a majority of the members may be in favor. In the Reformed family of churches the congregation's vote is never final nor does the congregation have the final say. What I am saying comes down to this: the approval we seek is not that of the congregation but that of the Lord. It is God's approval rating that counts. It is God's opinion that matters – not the opinion of a very vocal minority or of the silent majority.
As the term of service ends for some of our elders and deacons and starts for others, I want to hold before you the Spirit-inspired words of Paul to Timothy
(2Tim 2:15) 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.Don't forget, it isn't the opinion of the congregation that matters. What matters is the opinion of Almighty God. He is the One you are serving. He is the One you are trying to please. He is the One whose blessing and praise you seek.
In our Scripture reading, Paul is writing to Timothy, a young pastor. He is giving him advice on how to carry out the duties of his office. This is advice not only for Timothy; this is advice for all those in church office – all pastors and all elders and all deacons of all churches and all places and all times. Paul's advice for all office bearers: seek the approval of God.
I Approval of God
A "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved" (2 Tim 2:15). "Do your best." The actual Greek: "do quickly, do one's best, be eager." "To present yourself." The actual Greek: "place, cause to be, show to be." God does not want elders or deacons who give God second best. God does not want elders or deacons who fly by the seat of their pants, never quite sure what they are doing or where they are going. God does not want elders and deacons who serve against their will. As Peter puts it,
(1Pt 5:2) Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be ...Being an elder or a deacon requires the best of your effort, your time, your talents.
B "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved" (2 Time 2:15). Paul uses three images in our Scripture reading to get across the idea of seeking God's approval. The first image: be like "a workman who does not need to be ashamed" (2 Tim 2:15). The Greek word for "workman" is mostly used for one who works in agriculture. The worker is sent out to plough a field with a pair of oxen.
I remember the first time I had to plough a field. My dad's advice to me – don't look back, pick an object at the other end of the field and steer straight for it. Unfortunately, I picked a tree, in an entire forest of trees. And, as I went down the field I must have switched trees a couple of times – they all look alike from a distance. My furrow was awful – crooked, swerving, dizzy looking.God wants a ploughman who cuts a straight furrow, who fixes his eye on an object and aims straight for it.
Paul's advice to elders and deacons – be like a ploughman who has no reason to be ashamed of his work. Fix your eyes on God, His glory, and the growth of His church.
C "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved" (2 Time 2:15). The second image: be a "solid foundation" (2 Tim 2:19). Listen to what Paul says in verse 19:
(2Tim 2:19) 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."Usually, when we think "foundation" we think Jesus Christ; we all know He is the church's one foundation. Or, we might think the Word of God; after all, God has laid a firm foundation for our faith in His excellent Word. But in the context of the false teachers mentioned in verses 17 & 18, the solid foundation Paul has in mind here are people like Timothy – faithful pastors and elders and deacons.
The solid foundation, we are told, is sealed with two inscriptions. This refers to the practice of placing on a building or its cornerstone an inscription or other sign to indicate its owner or purpose. Go to New York City, for instance, and look at the Trump building or the Empire State building. The last church I served has a cornerstone that says "Bethel CRC, To the Glory of God, 1960."
The first inscription on the solid foundation that Paul envisions is this: "The Lord knows those who are his" (2 Tim 2:19). These are words similar to those of Moses at the time that Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rose up against his leadership:
(Num 16:5) In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him.Quoting Moses, Paul is saying the Lord Himself has chosen the leaders who are the foundation of His church. The Lord has placed His seal of ownership on those who rule on His behalf. "The Lord knows those who are his." Remember, that your office is not something you earned, not something you campaigned for and won, but that God has given to you.
The second inscription: "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness" (2 Tim 2:19). This too comes from the Korah story. Moses commanded the people to
(Num 16:24,26) "Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram ... (26) Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins."Those who are appointed and anointed by God as the foundation of the church, do not act like those wicked leaders of Israel who tried to take power to and for themselves.
Paul's advice to elders and deacons – remember you are the foundation of the church. On you the church is built. On you the church finds safety. But don't forget the lesson of Korah and Dathan and Abiram: you need God's appointment AND you cannot take the office to yourself!
D "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved" (2 Time 2:15). The third image: be "an instrument for noble purposes" (2 Tim 2:21). Listen to what Paul says:
(2Tim 2:20-21) In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. (21) If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.Elders and deacons are instruments of noble purposes. Paul points out that in an average house there are articles that are anything but noble. At the time of Paul, there were shovels used for cleaning up manure, knives used for butchering, jars for liquid waste. But elders and deacons are like utensils of gold and silver in the sight of God. Gold and silver instruments, you may realize, were used in the worship of God in the Temple. Only the best can be used in God's worship and service. That is God's viewpoint of those in church office.
II Correctly Handle the Word of Truth
A "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved" (2 Time 2:15). Elders and deacons are to be like the workman, a solid foundation, a noble instrument.
How? What, specifically, are they to do to gain the approval of God? Listen to the words of our text:
(2Tim 2:15) 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.Did you catch that last line: "who correctly handles the word of truth"?
An approved workman, an elder and deacon that God delights in, "correctly handles the word of truth."
What is this word of truth? It is the Gospel. Paul has mentioned the Gospel a couple of times already:
(2Tim 1:9) [God] has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time ...
(2Tim 2:8) Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.
B Why does Paul mention something as elementary as the Gospel to Timothy? After all, he was raised in a Christian home. He heard the Gospel as a boy already from both his grandmother and his mother (2 Tim 1:5).
Let me remind you of our hearts. Our hearts are so deceitful that they tend to stray. They tend to stray from the Gospel. They tend to corrupt the Gospel. We need to hear the Gospel. We need to hear it over and over again. Because once we stop hearing the Gospel we start to stray from the Gospel.
Let me tell you two things that have been said to me. The first thing: "We don't need to hear the Gospel. We can assume the Gospel. We are all Christians. We have all been raised in the church." The second thing: "Our kids don't need Bible Study in Youth Group. They get it at home and at school and in Sunday School."
And, then, there is the temptation to turn the Bible into a 12-step program: 12-steps to overcoming addiction, 5-steps to financial security, 7-steps to improving communication, 3 ways to become a better husband. The Bible becomes nothing but a program and you hear nothing about the Gospel.
An approved workman, an elder and deacon that God delights in, "correctly handles the word of truth." He makes sure the Gospel is preached and taught in this church and from this pulpit. He knows God's people need to hear the Gospel – a thousand times and ten thousand times.
C What else does it mean to "correctly handle the word of truth"? Listen to what Paul writes one chapter earlier:
(2Tim 1:14) Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you--guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us."Guard the good deposit." Protect. Keep safe. Don't let anyone steal it from you. Elders and deacons who correctly handle the word of truth are quick to defend it and guard it against heresy and false teaching.
Paul devotes a big section of our Bible reading to "godless chatter." An approved workman avoids "godless chatter." It becomes clear that "godless chatter" is the same as false teaching. Paul mentions the specific example of Hymenaeus and Philetus. They "have wandered away from the truth" (2 Tim 2:18). "They say that the resurrection has already taken place" (2 Tim 2:18). Think of what this means. They believed that they were already fully living the new life – in this life and on this earth and in this flesh. They believed sin no longer touched them, that they were perfect and pure and holy. They believed there was nothing to look forward to. This "gangrene" will end up killing the body if it is not cut out and destroyed.
Not only does an approved workman avoid godless chatter, but he "gently instructs" those who engage in this. That is, he corrects and admonishes. The goal is to lead them to repentance, make them come to their senses, and escape from the trap of the devil (2 Tim 2:25-26).
Elders and deacons in Trinity are aware of what is going on in many churches: A little bit of compromise here and there until the Creation story is no longer believed, a homosexual lifestyle is tolerated, women in church office is accepted, abortion is okay, and couples shack up before they get married.
"Guard the good deposit." "Correctly handle the word of truth." "Avoid godless chatter." "Gently instruct." That is what an approved workman does.
D "Correctly handle the word of truth." What else does this mean for an approved workman? Listen to what Paul says at the beginning of chapter 2:
(2Tim 2:2) And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.Do you hear what Paul is saying? Teach the Word to others. Make sure it is passed on to the next generation – to our children and youth. Make sure it is taught to this generation. Give God's people an opportunity to study the Word and to learn the Word.
I am always amazed at what the modern church does in order to gain approval. It borrows trends and techniques from the marketing world in order to gain members. It changes its worship style. It tailors programs and ministries to one specific age group. The church is seeking approval in the wrong places – the approval she needs is the approval of God. And, to gain that approval she needs to focus on the Word of God.
E "Correctly handle the word of truth." Paul is telling leaders in the church to spend time with the Word, to read it and study it.
Topic: BibleToo many of us are "hunt and poke" Bible readers. We open it only when we are in trouble. But, approved workmen in the church of Jesus Christ spend time with the Word.
Title: Serious Study
John Huffman tells the classic story of the man who was in a difficult situation, and in desperation turns to the Bible. He didn't know where to look, so he let the book flop open and he laid his finger on a verse, which said that Judas "went and hanged himself." After a moment's thought, he decided to turn to a different verse for help; he repeated the process and read, "What thou doest, do quickly."
III Flee Evil Desires
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved" (2 Time 2:15). Elders and deacons are to be like the workman, a solid foundation, a noble instrument.
How? What, specifically, are they to do to gain the approval of God? Listen to what Paul writes in verse 22:
(2Tim 2:22) Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
What are the evil desires of youth? Are young people more wicked than those who are older? Are they full of more sin? Are they tempted more? That is not what Paul is saying. But what happens is that young people often do not think through the consequences of their actions before they do something. They act before they think. Also, temptations are stronger when you are young – because it is all so new and exciting. And, children and young people tend to be impatient. Which parent hasn't heard, "Are we there yet?" When you are young, next month might as well be a year or a decade away and last week is ancient history.
A workman approved by God flees the evil desires of youth. The best example of someone fleeing is Joseph. Joseph was young, well-built, and handsome. Potiphar's wife grabbed him and wanted to go to bed with him. Do you think Joseph was tempted? Of course he was! What did Joseph do? He fled from the scene. He knew that to stay there was to play with fire. He knew that to stay there was more than he could handle.
The Christian leader flees the evil desires of youth and, instead, pursues righteousness, faith, love and peace (2 Tim 2:22).
Who or what is the ideal elder and deacon? From a worldly point-of-view, the ideal church leader is handsome, well-spoken, rich, soft on sin, and hard on hypocrisy. From the Lord's point-of-view, the ideal elder and deacon correctly handles the Word of truth and flees the evil desires of youth.
I want to thank the retiring elders and deacons for being workmen approved by God. I want to challenge those who are new to office or continuing in office to correctly handle the word of truth and to flee the evil desires of youth so that you too are workmen approved by God.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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