As he approaches the end, the apostle Paul exhorts Timothy to “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2: 15 AV). These words are intensely individual, as indeed is the whole of this second epistle. In the first Epistle the Church is seen in its rule, but in the second, in its ruin. In the first, Timothy is instructed as to how he is to conduct himself in that scene of corporate order and discipline; in the second, corporate testimony is gone, and Timothy is warned and exhorted how he is to act in this altered condition of things. It is now all “thee”, “thou”, and “thyself”.
Now the “study” which is here spoken of is no mere study of books. It means, not to read, but to exert oneself from love, and includes every form of effort which may secure the desired end. And what is the end sought by all this exertion? That God’s workman may have God’s approval.
The first requisite for this is personal knowledge. No study of books or any instruction from wise teachers can give this. The “word of truth” alone is the great fountain from where this knowledge must be drawn. The Word of God is not a buttress to prop up our own ideas and views, but a fountain out of which God’s thoughts and counsels are to be drawn. It is not a book to take texts from, but something to live upon, to feed on, and to grow thereby.
The things of God are learnt only in the school of God, and the only scholars in that school are the subjects of saving grace. “The grace of God which carries with it salvation for all men (i.e. without distinction) has appeared, teaching us …” (Titus 2: 11, 12, my emphasis). Grace teaches only the saved. It does not teach the guilty, it justifies them. It does not teach polluted sinners, it cleanses them, and then, as justified, and cleansed, it teaches us. We learn pardon at the cross where we lose the burden of our sins. Saved ourselves we can seek the things connected with the salvation of others. Taught of God we can teach others. Plucked as brands from the burning, we may witness of Christ that others may be also plucked.
The use of armour can be learnt only in conflict. Proficiency in sword–fighting is not learnt from studying it in a book, but only in the actual use and exercise of the sword. So it is with the Word of God—the sword of the Spirit. We learn to wield this sword, not by reading theology in the study, but by actual conflict with the enemy.
The second requisite for the Divine approval is to remember that it is the “workman” (my emphasis) who is thus exhorted. The painful fact is that by nature we all want to be masters. We want to rule instead of to serve, and we want to tell God what we will do, instead of learning what works He has “prepared” that we should walk in, for only such are “good works” (Eph. 2: 10).
We have a beautiful example of a true servant in Acts 8. In verse 5 we see Philip preaching Christ in Samaria and filling the whole city with joy (see v8). Then in verse 26 we see the same servant, sent off to Gaza, “the same is desert”, to serve one single soul. The great Shepherd heard the bleating of that one lost sheep out in the desert, and sent His servant to seek it. It does not matter to a true servant whether it is ministry to multitudes in a city, or ministry to one in a desert—it is all the same if it is done for the sole approval of the Master, and for the glory of God, and not merely in view of good will towards man.
Worldly men may choose their work and their sphere, but God’s workman cannot: he is chosen and may not choose. And why is he chosen? In Mark 3: 14 we learn that Christ “appointed twelve that they might be with Him” (my emphasis). This is the one great requisite today. Oh to abide “with Him”! Then—and not till then—could it be written, “and that He might send them to preach”. We cannot be sent from a place till we are first within it. We cannot be sent forth from Christ, till we have been first with Christ.
The third requisite is that our one end, aim and object should be God’s approval. Our service may not be always approved by man, but that is not the essential thing. It will matter little by and by whether we had man’s approval or not, though, sad to say, it seems to make a great difference while we are here. Oh, what works we engage in for the sake of having the praise of man (see Rom. 2: 29),and what duties we neglect through the “fear of man” (Prov. 29: 25)! These are the two great snares of God’s workman, and he is constantly in danger of falling into one of them. Oh, to seek, ever and only, God’s approval!
The fourth requisite is to remember that we are not left to provide our own work, or the materials with which to do it. God’s Word is the all sufficient instrument to accomplish all the divine purposes in this world—we have no need for any other agency. It is “God’s power to salvation” (Rom. 1: 16), and “able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3: 15). It cannot fail to accomplish all the divine purposes and counsels. Oh let us beware that, as God’s workmen, we never adopt any means or take up any new methods which tend in the slightest degree to imply that the Word of God has lost any of its power, or needs any handmaids or helpmeets to help it! God’s Word is given to God’s workman as the one and only implement to accomplish God’s work. This Word he is solemnly charged to preach, and though men “turn away their ear” the exhortation remains the same: “proclaim the word” (2 Tim. 4: 2, 4). If we have His message we must deliver it, and if we do not have it, we had better hold our peace. Apart from the Word, the workman is only a “voice” (John 1: 23), and nothing more.
The fifth great requisite is never to separate the written Word from the living Word. The Scriptures testify of Christ. Christ is the subject of the Scriptures. The same characters, powers, and attributes are applied to each. “Ye shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1: 8, my emphasis) were the last parting words of Christ on earth. Witnesses to what? Not to doctrines, however important, not to theology, not to the Church, but to Christ. To a living Person—a crucified, risen, and coming Christ. There is no salvation apart from the Saviour. There is no redemption apart from the Redeemer, no promises apart from the One who promises, no blessing apart from the One who blesses.
Oh to witness for Christ! Nothing can take His place. No learning, no attainments can be a substitute for Him. A man may know Greek, but may know nothing of grace. He may know Hebrew, and not know the power of the Holy Spirit. He may be a good scholar, but no use as a guide. When travelling in an unknown country we do not seek out a clever talker or an accomplished student but we look for one who knows the way and who knows it from experience! So it is with God’s workmen, and only such have God’s approval.
Solemn are the workman’s responsibilities, but great indeed his blessing, now and in eternity. “I will render to thee on my coming back” (Luke 10: 35)—these are the Master’s words of promise. All testimony is only “until He come” (1 Cor. 11: 26). All suffering is only for the “little while” (John 16: 16). To us it “has been given”—yes, given, “not only the believing on him, but the suffering for him also” (Phil. 1: 29)! Let us “count it all joy”, therefore, if we “fall into various temptations” (James 1: 2). Let us rejoice that we are “counted worthy to be dishonoured for the name” (Acts 5: 41), and in view of the coming day of His glory and His smile, to study to show ourselves approved unto God (see 2 Tim. 2: 15)