“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15
This is a touchstone of a verse for those who are entrusted with preaching and sharing the word of God. Are you called to have a teaching gift and to bring it out for the benefit of your brothers and sisters? I myself was challenged on this yesterday. How seriously do you take your calling? I read a blogpost from someone I respect recently for what he has achieved, and I understand his concerns about how preaching can be misused, for example:
If the totality of my faith is to listen to anointed preachers tell me about how we are going to save the world from the platform, I think I may become a Jesus-centred Buddhist. The day of the platform preacher is over, the day of the self styled guru (so called anointed) man of God is over, the day of the charismatic prophet who quivers when delivering a piece of inspired intuition must stop. Christian spirituality, if reduced to this level of soap-opera popular culture, no longer enshrines the values or the heartbeat of God.
God’s justice is not a demand or a social ethic; it is not an extra or a central part of the life of the body of Christ. It is the Body of Christ. How I live and behave as a Christian must be defined by the priorities of the Gospel. God’s justice is a reflection of his personality.
I can see the faults emerging in this type of preaching; however, I also see in the current ‘trembling gurus’ a heart to go and love on the drug addicts, the prostitutes, the poor and the sick.
In my Thompson chain Bible, it suggests that the biblical qualities of a preacher ought to be that they are diligent, faithful, persistent, bold, encouraging, filled with the Holy Spirit and compassionate – and that faithful preachers must be honoured by the church, and unfaithful preachers exposed. We see from this verse in 2 Timothy that we must ‘rightly divide’ the word of truth. For example, in 2 Tim 4:13 Paul tells Timothy to ‘Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas’. We do not need to concern ourselves overly with this instruction.
Also, the phrase ‘rightly dividing’ is related to cutting accurately, like a good workman. Not selecting what to discard and what to use, but treating Scripture accurately. There is that inbuilt implication that Scripture is ‘truth’ – the lovely word ‘aletheia’ which is sometimes used to describe Jesus, as the full embodiment of truth. And of course this anticipates the key verse 2 Tim 3:16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” All teaching about Christianity must be grounded in Jesus, and in the Bible.
John Stott wrote the book in the ‘I believe’ series called ‘I Believe in Preaching’ (published in America as ‘Between Two Worlds’). He also wrote ‘The Cross of Christ’, in which he explores much more than simply the atonement:
Our sins put him there. So, far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness. We can stand before it only with a bowed head and a broken spirit. And there we remain until the Lord Jesus speaks to our hearts his word of pardon and acceptance, and we, gripped by his love and brimful of thanksgiving, go out into the world to live our lives in his service.
In an earlier book for new Christians or unbelievers, ‘Basic Christianity’, he says that there is “healing through His wounds, life through His death, pardon through His pain, salvation through His suffering.” The centre of Christian teaching must be the cross, Jesus crucified, and how that can change our eternal destiny, and crucially change our hearts on a daily basis. In 1 Tim 4:12-16 Paul has already given Timothy instruction with regards to how he should handle doctrine and nurture that teaching and discipling gift. Stott in the Bible Speaks Today commentary on 1 Timothy, with reference to this passage, comments of preachers that:
“If they watch their example, becoming a model of Christ-likeness; if they identify their authority, submitting to Scripture and drawing all their teaching from it; if they exercise their gift, giving evidence of God’s call and of the rightness of the church’s commissioning; if they show their progress, letting it be seen that their Christian life and ministry are dynamic, not static; if they mind their consistency, by practising what they preach; and if they adjust their relationships, being sensitive to people’s age and sex – then other people will not despise their youth, but gladly and gratefully receive their ministry.”
So from this verse we learn that:
1. That a teacher ought to be eager to be approved by God
2. That to teach you must be approved by God
3. That to teach you have to be visible, be exposed
4. That labour is involved in teaching the Word of God
5. That there is a danger that you might be ashamed
6. That you should not allow a cause for shame as a teacher of the Word
7. That to teach the Word you have to know it
8. That it is possible to wrongly teach and explain the Word
9. That the Word of God is truth
10. That to teach the Word of God needs understanding
11. That to teach the Word of God needs righteousness
We ought to be fearful every time we enter ‘the pulpit’, or offer teaching that seeks to represent the faith. When we are bringing the faith to non-Christians, there is an especially important responsibility. Robert Murray McCheyne said that: “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God’s Spirit, is worth ten thousand words spoken in unbelief and sin.” The one time that I heard John Stott preach, in Eden Baptist Church at Cambridge, he said: “I still wonder what rubbish heap I would be on if I had not been found by Jesus.” The preacher must combine that humble personal testimony with the power of the truths in Scripture.