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Maintaining Spiritual Traction in a Shifting Culture
Make Right Choices, Part 1
Choose to be a Diligent Workman
2 Timothy 2:14-18
Bruce A. Hess
Now, if you would, please take out your Bibles or turn on your Bible, if that is what the situation may be, and turn in them to 2 Timothy, chapter 2. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be one under a chair near you and you could take that Bible and turn to page 166 and you would be at 2 Timothy, chapter 2.
The first of the month I had an opportunity to speak at the Dallas Theological Seminary chapel to the students and the faculty and when I actually got up to speak it hit me that the last time I had been in a service in Chafer Chapel there, this May would have been thirty-five years. I was thinking about that later, particularly as I was thinking through our Traction series we are doing on 2 Timothy and how in chapters 1 and 2 the emphasis is on spiritual steadfastness.
I was thinking about some of my classmates. We all started on the same spiritual track, but some of my classmates in those thirty-five years, took a spiritual detour. There was a spiritual crash or a spiritual collapse. All of us, thirty-five years ago, all of us are flawed, all of us have lived less than perfect spiritual lives. We have all made unwise choices, we’ve all had plenty to repent from and to confess to God. Some of my classmates made a series of wrong choices. They may have been wrong choices related to their marriage, it may have been wrong choices related to their ministry, it may have been wrong choices, a series of them, related to their family. But, somewhere along the way, over these years, they veered off course.
A few weeks ago, we talked about the one in ten ratio that John Bisagno had observed in his life when he tracked people from the age of 21 to the age of 65 to see if they were still fervently following Christ. He said only one out of ten were. I was thinking about my classmates, I would say the ratio is way higher than one out of ten. But, the key to spiritual steadfastness is making right choices.
That is exactly what Paul is laying before us in the second half of chapter 2. He is going to stress that we need to make right choices. I want you to look at verse 14 of chapter 2. He begins this section by saying, “Remind them of these things.” What are the “these things?” Well, it is what he is covered earlier on in the chapter. He says to remind them to learn from the spiritual life analogies, remind them of the analogy of being a soldier who has his focus on the commander, the spiritual analogy of being an athlete who is dedicated to the code, the analogy of being a farmer who has diligence with the end of the crop coming in mind.
When he says, “Remind them of these things,” he means what we saw in the previous verses, that if we died with Him, we are going to live with Him. We have a future beyond suffering, that if we endure, we will reign with Him. There is a future reward in the kingdom if we endure in this life. “If we deny Him, He will deny us.” He will deny us reward; He will deny us the privilege of ruling with Him in the kingdom.
But, “If we are faithless,” this is so encouraging, in verse 13, “He remains faithful.” He will be forever faithful to us, no matter how much we may mess up, He is never going to let go of us.
When he says there, in verse 14, “Remind them of these things,” he does it in the original language, saying, ‘this needs to be repeated over and over again.’ That is the way truth is, men and women, truth is worthy of reminders and the reason why we need reminders is, we have this tendency to drift. We have this tendency to lose sight of truth.
So, “Remind them of these things,” he says, regarding the previous part of chapter 2. But then he goes on to say this in verse 14, “and solemnly charge them in the presence of God.” We just have this sense when we read that phrase, that there is some serious stuff coming next. There is some stuff we need to have clear thinking about.
Paul often introduces things this way. I want you to go to 1 Timothy and look at chapter 5, verse 21. He says there, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels.” You hear that and you know something important is coming.
Look at 1 Timothy, chapter 6, verse 13. He says, “I charge you in the presence of God.” Again, we get this idea that something important is getting ready to come.
Back in 2 Timothy, if you go to 2 Timothy, chapter 4, verse 1, he says, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus.”
So, when he gives us this statement in chapter 2, something important, pivotal, is coming our way. “Remind them of these things,” keep reminding them of these things, “and solemnly charge them in the presence of God.” Ultimately, it is all about honoring and glorifying God.
What he is going to say to us in the rest of the verses of this chapter is, I am basically, solemnly charging them in the presence of God to make right choices. That is the thrust. We are going to see three right choices he is going to emphasize. There is one in verses 14-19a. There is a second one in verses 19b to verse 22. And, there is a third right choice we are to make in verses 23 to 26.
If we are going to steer clear of spiritual catastrophe, if we are going to be spiritually steadfast, we must make right choices. The first right choice he is going to emphasize is, that we choose to be a diligent workman. Look again at verse 14. “And solemnly charge them,” you need to solemnly charge them, Timothy, “in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His.”
Now, here is today’s plan, we are going to do two things, number one, we are going to look at the issue. Then, we are going to look at the right choice. We are going to spend a little bit of time looking at the issue, because we cannot really understand the right choice that we are being exhorted to make without understanding the issue. So, let’s look at the issue. The issue was, that there are truth distorters out there, in the world, outside of the church and inside of the church.
I want you to keep your finger in 2 Timothy 2 and turn with me, several books to the left in your Bible, to Acts, chapter 20. We are going to look toward the end of that chapter. In Acts, chapter 20, Paul is meeting with the Ephesian elders. You remember that Timothy is at Ephesus. He is meeting with the Ephesian elders and he makes a prediction in Acts, chapter 20. He says in verse 28, to the elders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” That is the job of the elders and the overseers, to shepherd the church.
He goes on to say in verse 29, “I know that after my departure,” when I am leaving the area, “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and,” verse 30, “from among your own selves,” from right inside the church, “men will arise, speaking perverse things.” What is their goal? “To draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be on the alert.” There are truth distorters out there, is what he was predicting.
I want to go back toward 2 Timothy, but I want to look at 1 Timothy, chapter 6. This is the first letter that Paul writes to Timothy, who is now in Ephesus. I want you to see what he has to say, beginning in verse 3 of 1 Timothy 6. He says, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine,” a teaching that is different from the normal, straightforward teaching of the Bible, somebody who offers teaching that does not agree with sound words, that is not in line with sound teaching, it is doctrine that doesn’t conform to Godliness. In other words, it is teaching that doesn’t produce a truly Godly life. He is basically saying, ‘Those are truth distorters that are out there, they are distorting the truth.’
You can learn some things about these truth distorters in verse 4. He says they are conceited; they are arrogant, they have an inflated opinion of themselves, they are pretty cocky. They come across as if they are the ones who have the deeper insights; they are the ones who truly are in the spiritual know. They act like they know, Paul says, but actually the opposite is true. We learn, also, that they are divisive; they have an unhealthy interest, a morbid interest in controversial questions. They crave, they thrive on controversy. They are involved with disputes about words, they are into spiritual word battles, spiritual quibbling, what I like to call pseudo-intellectual wrangling. Pseudo-intellectual wrangling leads to strife and it leads to friction.
See, Paul said there are going to be truth distorters who will come along after I leave. He made that prediction. We look at the first letter to Timothy in Ephesus and they are there. Now, when we come to 2 Timothy, chapter 2, it is still a concern, these truth distorters. He is going to address truth distorters on two levels, I believe, in chapter 2. The first level is that of destructive doctrine. Notice in verse 17 he says, “Among them (thesetruth distorters) are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.”
There are truth distorters and he says among those truth distorters are a guy by the name of Hymenaeus and a guy by the name of Philetus. We learn by going back to 1 Timothy, chapter 1 and verse 20, that he had already dealt with this Hymenaeus guy. In chapter 1 of 1 Timothy, Hymenaeus and Alexander were being truth distorters and Paul removes them from the assembly of the church. But we learn now, by the time 2 Timothy comes around, that Hymenaeus didn’t stop. He is still involved in being a truth distorter.
By the way, isn’t it interesting that Paul names names? He is publicly naming the names of those who are truth distorters. Notice he describes them in verse 18 as men who have gone astray from the truth. He says they have veered off course. What were they saying in particular? They were saying that the resurrection had already taken place.
I want you to know something about me. If I was sitting in an audience and someone was teaching that the resurrection had already taken place, I would not be happy. You see, I am really looking forward to the resurrection, because in the resurrection I want to be 6’ 5”. I want to have this incredible vertical leap, I want to be able to dribble a basketball equally well with either hand, never looking. And, I want to be able to sky with the ball and dunk it any time I want. I am looking forward to the resurrection. Also, in the resurrection, I want to no longer have any weird hair growing out of my ears or out of my nose. See, you would have upset me if you had said the resurrection was already past, because I am really looking forward to it.
But that is what they were saying. They were saying that the resurrection has already taken place. Now, we don’t know exactly what they were teaching but, we believe there is one of two possibilities. One possibility when they said that is, they were saying that the resurrection was really only spiritual. You know, when you trusted in Christ and you experienced spiritual resurrection to new life, that is all you are going to get. If that is what they were teaching, they were basically kowtowing [surrendering to] to Greek philosophy in that day. See, Greek philosophy said that the body is evil, the soul is okay. Because they believed that the body was evil, to the Greek the physical resurrection was absurd. Why would you have a physical resurrection because the body is inherently evil? So, if that is what they were teaching, they were simply bending to the culture.
We have the same tendency to bend to the culture in our day. We are in danger of that. We are in danger of bending to the culture’s view of homosexual marriage, where we might begin to change the way that we understand Scripture because we are getting this cultural pressure.
One thing I want to say about marriage. God invented it. What God has to say about it, is what it is, no matter what the culture says. But our culture is always putting this pressure on us. For example, our culture would say there are many ways to God, it doesn’t make any difference what you believe, we are all really serving the same God, who cares what you believe? It is not really important. And, we could take that pressure of the culture and begin to gear shift our interpretations.
So, that is one possible way that they were communicating that the resurrection had already taken place, meaning it was just a spiritual one to begin with. Another possible meaning is that they were saying that Christ had already returned and you missed out. You’ve been left behind. We see that kind of teaching, actually, in 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2, verses 1-4, because there were people running around in that day saying, ‘Hey, the day of the Lord has already come, you missed it! Sorry! Left behind!’
It is interesting, when you look into Scripture, about the tactics of truth distorters, we have some of their tactics described for us in 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 2. It says that they adulterate the word of God. The NIV translates it this way, they distort the word of God. That is what they do, they use the word of God, but what they do is, they just distort it. They twist it around.
Then, in 2 Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 17, it says that they peddle the word of God. Literally it means they merchandise it for profit. The New Living Translation there, in 2 Corinthians 2:17 says they preach just to make money. Just to make money.
Notice the impact of all of this in verse 18, “They upset the faith of some.” The New Living Translation says, “They undermined the faith of some individuals.”
I have seen that happen. I have seen that happen. I have seen that happen. I have seen that happen. For over thirty years, there are certain kinds of truth distortion that I have had to address. One of the ones I have had to address more frequently than ever is the Health and Wealth teachers that are out there.
When we were reading in 1 Timothy 6, verse 5, it says that these truth distorters supposed that Godliness is a means of gain. In the New Living Translation, it says, “To them religion is just a way to get rich.” That is what has been so interesting to me about Health and Wealth teaching over the years. You know, when you hear that, at first that is very attractive to hear. It seems rather harmless at first blush [at first glance, when you first think about it] but, it misrepresents true spirituality. In fact, it is ultimately insidious and very devastating to people.
I have addressed this over the years. I remember I did a series on the Gospel of the Good Life. But, here is basically what Health and Wealth teachers teach, they teach this: God wills and has made provision for every believer in Jesus Christ to be free from sickness and disease. And, they would teach that God wills and has made provision for every believer in Jesus Christ to prosper financially. But the problem with all of that is, it doesn’t stand up to Scripture.
But I have seen people–you talk about under-mining the faith of people–I have seen this over the decades. I have seen people who start to embrace that teaching and then they end up deflated and discouraged. I have actually seen this happen, I could name names of the individuals who experienced it, who bought into this idea that God wills and has made provision for every believer in Jesus Christ to prosper financially, to become wealthy. Then, they do everything that they say you should do and yet, it doesn’t come and they end up being disillusioned from that.
I have seen individuals who buy into the idea that God wills and has made provision for every believer in Jesus Christ to be free from sickness and disease. When they have done everything they are supposed to do, whether it is themselves, individually, or some other person that they are praying for, and it doesn’t happen, they don’t get better or there is a death, then there is this devastation. I have had to go back and help pick up the pieces from that situation.
There are truth distorters out there. Paul wants us to know that they actually come on two levels. One is destructive doctrine, but there is a second level that he addresses in these verses. It is what I call ‘adolescent attitudes.’
You know, we have four kids and at one point we had three teenagers in our house. AH, teenagers! What a fun thing to go through! Being a teenager is an interesting thing to be, because you are in this transition from being a child to becoming a mature adult. But you are still transitioning. One thing about teenagers is, they have learned just enough to be disruptive. They feel like they had arrived now, they know it all, and they are just puzzled about how come mom and dad don’t get it?
But, did you know that there are also spiritual adolescents out there in the Christian community? I believe that is what he is addressing in verse 14 when he says that we are not to wrangle about words at all. We are not to get into a word war. The New Living Translation says, ‘Stop fighting over words.’
In verse 16 he says we should “avoid worldly and empty chatter.” We are not to get into these meaningless disputes that are void of true spiritual content. We are not to be involved in theological wrangling where we just spiritually joust for the sake of jousting. Where we have an inflated opinion of ourselves, that we have deeper insights than everybody else. Where we act like we know, where we thrive on controversy, where we crave word battles, particularly over a theological minutia. Where there is, what I like to call, pseudo-intellectual wrangling, where the whole goal of it is to show off that we know.
These adolescent attitudes happen in the church of Jesus Christ. Listen, I have been in the stands at church softball games, listening to people do this. They are just out to impress everybody with what they know. I have met people in my office who had adolescent attitudes.
A number of years ago, there was a college student who came to the University of Oklahoma, a total pagan. Came to Christ, began to grow, attended Wildwood, began to learn about Jesus Christ and learn about the Bible here. After he had been here about two years, he made an appointment and showed up in my office to point out to me all the things that I wasn’t getting right, theologically. What I didn’t really know and how wrong I was.
See, one thing about adolescent attitudes is, they create a negative environment. What happens when you have these adolescent attitudes afoot is, those who have them begin to criticize, they begin to nitpick.
One of the greatest American pastors ever was D.L. Moody and like any pastor, any speaker, D.L. Moody would get these notes that came to him that were criticizing him for something that he was teaching or pointing out how wrong he was on some small point. Often, when you get those notes, they come to you anonymous. ‘I just want to point out how you are off track. Signed, Nobody.’ I’ve received those also.
One time Moody got one of those notes with a single word on it. Just the word “Fool.” Later on, Moody said this about that note, he said, ‘I have received many critical letters where the writer left off their name. This is the first time I received a note where they left off the message and just signed their name. Fool.’ Adolescent attitudes.
When I have run across that, I have often said they need a good dose of Jeremiah 9:23 and 24, where it says, “Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom…but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD…for I delight in these things.”
Whether we are talking about the level of destructive doctrine or the level of adolescent attitudes, they always bring, to the church community, negative ramifications. Look at verse 14, he says these things are “useless and it leads to the ruin of the hearers.” The word that is translated ‘ruin’ is the word, in the original language ‘katastrophe.’ Listen to the word katastrophe, we get our word catastrophe from it. It leads to spiritual catastrophe.
Verse 16, these lead to “further ungodliness.” The NIV translates it, ‘those who indulge in it become more and more ungodly not more like Jesus Christ.’ Especially when it comes to destructive doctrine at its worst, verse 17, “Their talk will spread like gangrene.” This, in the original, is the actual word from which we get the word ‘gangrene.’ This kind of teaching is like spiritual cancer. Cancer wants to spread and it wants to infect other members and that is what this kind of teaching will do in the church.
Now, all of that is just looking at the issue. We have spent a lot of time looking at the issue, to understand the importance of the right choice that we are called to make here. The right choice is found in verse 15 and that is that we choose to be a diligent workman.
Look at verse 15. He says to Timothy, to you and to me, “Be diligent.”
The same exact phrase is used in this letter in chapter 4 and verse 9 when Paul says to Timothy there, “Make every effort to come to me soon.” The same exact word.
In verse 21 of the same chapter, “Make every effort to come before winter.” The same exact phrase.
“Be diligent, (make every effort, pull out all the stops we might say) to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed.”
See, men and women, the goal, and I shared this with the students at the seminary, the goal is not to impress people. The goal is to get God’s approval. We do that, he says in verse 15, by accurately handling the word of truth. Literally, it says, cutting it straight. Cutting straight the word of truth. This is a verb that comes from the original language word ‘to cut’ and then the word for ‘straight.’ The word straight in Greek is ‘orthos.’ We get our word ‘orthopedic’ from it because they are taking a limb, an orthopedist does, and he straightens the limb. We get our word ‘orthodoxy’ from this. Doxy refers to beliefs, ortho just means straight…beliefs.
This word would be used to describe a mason who had to cut a stone and he would want to cut the stone straight so it would be square. It would be used of a brick layer who would lay bricks and he would want to cut those bricks straight. It would be used of a tent maker, and by the way, Paul was a tent maker and they made tents out of animal skins. Have you ever looked at animal skins and the odd shapes they are in? If you want to make a tent out of that, you have to take the animal skins and you cut it straight so it fits together properly.
We need to choose to be a diligent workman. We need to get it straight and we need to give it straight. If we are going to get it straight and we are going to give it straight, that means we need to have diligent study. We need to make every effort. We need to read what the Scripture says. We need to look at the historical background of it. We need to do careful, accurate interpretation. We need to understand the context. We need to understand the clear intent of the author. We need to see how it meshes together with the rest of Scripture. We need to find principles of practical application.
I want you to know, as a teaching pastor, that is part of my goal. That is part of the way I seek to design messages and part of the reason why I am so committed to that is, there are a lot of aberrations of verse 15 out there in churches.
I want to share a couple of them with you. These are messages that are out there that aren’t in line with what he is saying here about choosing to be a diligent workman. One aberration is what I call the ‘salvation only’ sermon. I don’t mean by that, that you can’t have a sermon that is only about the topic of salvation. What I mean by ‘salvation only’ sermon, and I grew up in an environment that was like this, is that every sermon was just about salvation. It was just repeating the same thing over and over again. Always using the same verses, it always sounded the same to me. You know what the impact is, of that? Disinterest and boredom. That is the way it got to be for me.
Another aberration is what I like to call an ‘airplane’ sermon. That is where you open the Bible and there is a text of Scripture that you have, you start with that text and then the speaker starts to just sort of fly around from there and you get a little pop culture concepts you throw in, there are a few quotes, a heart warming story, and then you come back and you land where you started. When you have a sermon like that, you leave famished spiritually.
Then, there is what I like to call, another aberration, is a ‘mishandled truth’ sermon. This is where a speaker has a personal agenda. What they are going to do as they follow their personal agenda is, they are going to proof text, they are going to find a verse here, find a verse there, find a verse there. They are going to yank it out of context, they are going to misapply it and frankly, that is exactly what those who promote Health and Wealth teaching do. What you end up with, with that kind of a sermon is, spiritual indigestion.
I want you to know, that accurate, practical preaching is…listen to me, please…it is the hardest work I have ever done. Just recently I have labored greatly trying to get my arms around this second part here, of chapter 2, you can just ask my wife, it has been hard. I have made every effort to understand it.
We need to be diligent workmen, which means we shoot straight on Biblical issues, even if it is unpopular. It means that we do not surrender truth, even if we are pressured to compromise it. It means we don’t rationalize our own attitudes and our own behavior in light of what Scripture says.
But I want you to know something, verse 15 applies to more than pastors and preachers, verse 15 is directed to every follower of Jesus Christ. Men and women, we are to get it straight, we are to give it straight. When you get into the Word, the Word gets into you.
You might have been thinking of this question, why does God even allow truth distorters to exist? Why does God allow there to be destructive doctrines out there? Why does God allow people to have adolescent attitudes? I think there is an answer for that question. That answer is, it drives us all to be diligent workmen.
Did you know that is against the backdrop of destructive doctrines that all the classic creeds of church history were developed? It drives us back into the Word. If we are going to be spiritually steadfast, we need to make right choices and the first one is choose to be a diligent workman.
You know we have to end with some life response. This life response is going to be pretty simple. This is what we need to do. Are you ready? Be a Berean. Be a Berean. Acts 17:11 says, “Now, the Bereans were more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they (the Bereans) received the word with great eagerness,” and, here we go, “examining the Scriptures daily”…to see if what Paul said was true.
Can you imagine that? The apostle Paul and they were looking at the Scriptures every day because they wanted to be diligent workmen.
Let’s pray together. Father, we just thank You for Your word, it is a word we all need to be reminded of. We all, if we want to be spiritually steadfast, we all need to choose to be a diligent workman. Father, I would pray we would all be Bereans, because ultimately we want to honor You and we pray these things in Your name. Amen.
Questions for Reflection: (week six)
–Rate your bible knowledge on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being a highly advanced student of Scripture, and 1 being a beginning student of the Word. (Be honest!)
–List some practical ways you (or anyone) could improve and become a better student of the Bible
–Just like the people of Israel, we all need to be reminded of biblical truth and principles regularly. What truth do you feel the need to be reminded about the most? (Truth about God? Truth about yourself? Truth about life?)
–Have you known individuals who have been arrogant and cocky, who thrive on controversy and like to get into “word wars,” wrangling and quibbling about truth? Elaborate.
–Have you or someone you’ve known been ambushed spiritually by some expression of destructive doctrine? What was the teaching and how did it affect you or the individuals? Where did the teaching come from?
–What are some solid guidelines to help us mine truth so we “Get it Straight” and “Give it Straight?”
–What is one goal for this next week that you can implement to “Be a Berean?”