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A Workman Approved by God

Date: Jul. 26, 2009

Author: Bob Henkins

2 Timothy 2:1-26

Key Verse: 2 Timothy 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.”

What do we say to someone when we know that our life is about to end? Someone’s last words reveal a lot about them. “I'm tired of fighting! I guess this thing is going to get me.” Harry Houdini. “Is this your manhood?” Saddam Hussein. “"I resign my spirit to God, my daughter to my country."” Thomas Jefferson. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” Joan of Arc. “The taste of death is upon my lips…I feel something, that is not of this earth.” Mozart. “Dear me! I think I'm turning into a god…” Roman emperor Vespasian. This is the situation that Paul was in while he was writing this letter to Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to live as a workman approved by God by “Being strong, enduring hardship, and remembering Jesus. Through his words, we see a sobering look at what the Christian life requires. May God grant us His grace through this passage.

When we look at this chapter of 2 Timothy we find that it has deep spiritual meaning and it is rich in wisdom. We could have a whole message on almost every other verse. But as a whole we find that Paul is encouraging Timothy to live his life as a workman approved by God. Let’s read verse 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.” So what does it mean to be a good workman? Paul gives several points.

First, do your best. (3-7)

Everyone loves good workmanship. My father in law gave us a kitchen table and chairs. We were really thankful because it is well made with good workmanship – made by the Amish. Good workmanship means a good workman. One who cares about what they’re doing. One who gives his best to what they are doing. We can see good workmanship all around us. Some among us love Mac computers because of the high quality put into the design and manufacturing of the product. Things that are made with good workmanship are valuable. When we do our best it shows that we care and we take the extra effort to make it right. When we cut corners and take short cuts it shows. Doing our best is not easy. It requires endurance and focus and many times we just want to give up. Paul gives us three examples on how we can do our best.

Take a look at verses 3-6. “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.” If we want to do our best we have to first endure hardship. And here Paul is speaking about the hardships of Christian life and ministry. He doesn’t want Timothy to live in a fairy tale but to realize that if he wants to lead God’s ministry, and do his best, it will require enduring hardships. There is no way to sugarcoat that. To understand this Paul says that he must have the mindset of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. Why? Because they all have qualities that he will need to complete his life of faith. Some of the qualities are similar, like they all have commitment, training, are hard working, have clear set priorities and goals. But they also have some differences. For example, the soldier does not get involved in civilian affairs and wants to please his commander. In order to do this he obeys the commanders orders and when he’s in the heat of battle, he stays and fights enduring the shots that are fired at him. He remains true even though the living conditions are not good, having to walk through muck, sleep on the ground and eat cold food. In the case of the athlete, Paul notes that they have to compete according to the rules. The athlete can win the prize only if he competes according to the rules. If he doesn’t he will be ejected. This week White Sox pitcher, Mark Buerhle pitched a perfect game. This is a remarkable feat, something that has only happened 18 times in the history of baseball. But he had to do according to the rules. If he cheated, like taking steroids, he could have lost everything. But in this case, Paul is not talking about earthly competition. In essence we are running a race, but not as athletes who are striving for an earthly crown but a spiritual crown. This means that he had to compete according to God’s rules. To do this Paul said, “I beat my body and make it my slave…” (1 Cor. 9:27) He disciplined his body and brought it under control so that he would not be disqualified through temptation or sin. The stakes are high in this competition because at the finishing line we will either celebrate the victory in heaven with Jesus, or suffer in agony in hell. And finally Paul talked about the hard working farmer. Farmers work hard getting up at crazy hours and work all day until sun down. And many times they encounter problems, like if the weather doesn’t co-operate, the crops fail. Still they must press on. But when crops are finally harvested, the farmer receives the first fruits of his hard work. The point Paul is making here is that if we work hard, then we, like the farmer, will be the first to partake of the spiritual fruits that result. All three of Paul’s il­lustrations—the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer give us the example of doing our best within our situations. What ever we do we must do as if we are presenting it to God. Be it at our work place, with our friends, family, or classmates, doing our school work, and of course in doing God’s work, we have to do our best at it as if we are presenting ourselves to God. If it can be done by in the way of the world, by non-Christian’s then why not us? We must do our best.

Second, approved by God. (1-2)

Paul wanted Timothy to know that he was approved by God. Let’s read verses 1&2. “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 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.”  Timothy had been chosen by God and appointed leader of the Ephesian church. This was God’s grace to him. Grace is God’s free gift to us. It’s a gift that we neither deserve nor earned. Yet He extends it to us all the same. And it was God’s grace to call Timothy to live a holy life. And Paul encourages Timothy to be strong in that grace. So that he could have confidence that he was approved by God and chosen out of many. What’s amazing here is the complete change that we see in Paul. Paul didn’t know a thing about grace because as a Pharisee he lived and breathed the law and condemned others if they didn’t do the same. Grace just was not in his vocabulary. But here we see Paul’s complete change and how he loved the grace of Jesus. This was because he tasted God’s grace personally and it changed his life.

What God’s grace does for a person is heal their soul and restore their humanity. 2 Cor 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s grace covers all our weaknesses and sins and brings us salvation. Grace gives us freedom from condemnation and guilt. John Newton wrote, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me...I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now, I see.” Strength comes from this kind of grace and it gave young Timothy the confidence to carry on God’s work because he was approved by God. Because of this grace he could establish a deep personal relationship with Jesus. The more he knew the grace of Jesus, the stronger he would become. This is the secret to a powerful Christian life. As a result he didn’t have to be fearful in serving God’s work. Since his calling was God’s grace, he could be changed from a timid person in a bold and courageous leader. And according to verse two, this grace helped him to be strong in the teaching that Paul gave him. So that Timothy could raise disciples by entrusting the gospel to reliable, qualified men. Just as God’s grace changed Paul from a persecuting Pharisee into a humble servant of God, it changed Timothy from a fearful timid man into a leader and disciple maker.

The saying, "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus," is really deep. It means that we completely depend upon God to carry out His work and yet at the same time do our best in our serving. A good example of this were the Puritans whose motto was , "Pray and Work." Through their example, we see that prayer and work go hand in hand, because depending on God and serving God go hand in hand. They relied on the grace of God and at the same time they worked hard do what they had to do. We can learn a lot from them.

Third, don’t be ashamed and correctly handle the word of truth. (14-26)

Above all Paul wanted to instruct Timothy that as a workman approved by God, he had to hold God’s word with the highest respect. He had to correctly handle the word of truth and he had to do it without any shame. Just as the Amish, who made our kitchen table, didn’t have any shame in their workmanship. Rather they took pride in what they did. Likewise Paul encouraged Timothy to NOT be ashamed but stand tall and honor God with his life by being a bold preacher of God’s word. To do this he had to be persistent. Paul encourages Timothy to keep reminding them even if they might get mad and say, “we heard it all before.” Timothy had to know that people are forgetful and need to be reminded.

As one who correctly handled the word of truth, ultimately Timothy had to be a shepherd of God’s flock. He couldn’t get involved in arguments or quarrels because they only ruin those involved. He couldn’t partake in godless chatter because those who indulge in it only become more and more ungodly and eventually it will lead them away from the truth. (v18) He must flee evil desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, and other Christians who love Jesus. Paul encouraged Timothy to pursue fellowship with other sincere Christians so that they can encourage one another and build each other up in Christ. A good workman has the heart of God and believes that there is hope for each person to be cleansed from their past sins and to be made holy and pleasing to God so that they can be used for God’s good purpose. Look at verses 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. 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.” And finally a good workman is a servant. According to verses 24-26. They are kind to everyone, gentle teachers, not resentful and truly love others hoping that God with help them to repent and come to know the truth so that they will not end up trapped by the devil. They have a sincere shepherd’s heart and do all they can so that others may put their faith in Jesus.

So far this when we hear all of this it sounds really good and idealistic. But the one question that comes to my mind is why. Why do we go through all of this? Why do we subject ourselves to all this hardship and suffering? Was Paul crazy?

Let’s read verses 8-10. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” Firstly, Paul remembered Jesus. Although the Christian life was tough there was one thing that lifted Paul to go on and that was when he remembered Jesus. Paul says, “This is my gospel.” This was Paul’s personal confession of faith. When it got right down to it, he remembered Jesus and what Jesus did for him. This is what kept Paul going. That’s why Paul is urging Timothy, to remember the resurrection, because that is what will keep him focused and persistent in his faith. And even though Paul was chained in prison and suffering, he believed in God and His promises. And according to verse 19, Paul encouraged Timothy to know that despite all the ups and downs in the Christian life, God promised that his life stands on God’s firm foundation where nothing can shake it.

And secondly, Paul remembered God’s people. Verse 10 says, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” This reminds me of a verse in a Newsboys song which says, “I lie awake and wonder how to make a city believe.” In the end this is the attitude that the Christian life requires. This is our mission, this is our hope, this is how we should live.

As we begin to prepare for the fall semester, I pray that we may look deep within our hearts. Why are we here? What is our purpose in attend church? Are we just going to be chair potatoes? As opposed to couch potatoes. We don’t have couches here. Are we going to just sit around listen to message and barely participate? Or are we going to get up and do something for the glory of God? Are we going to sit around doing half hearted activities or are we going to do our best for the one who gave His life for the peoples He wanted to save? So far what I have seen has been half hearted serving at best. We are in a spiritual army, and we are fighting a spiritual battle. Our enemy is the devil. And if we plan to win, we must endure. Too many people give up. We have had so many people leave the life of faith. How many people have we seen come and go. Each year 1400 ministers leave the ministry & 3000 churches close their doors. And that is just in America. They are like the seed that was scattered on the stony soil. (Lk 8) After it was planted, the seed sprouted and took root, but it had no depth. Thus, when the Sun appeared, the weak plant withered and died. As a solider in the Lord’s army, we must not give up, or get caught up in the affairs of this world. We have to experience the grace of Jesus all over again. I believed that we have been called by God and approved by Him to serve this campus. May God give us this conviction in our hearts and the courage to stand unashamed and carry out our mission. Lord please help me to have a heave for your people which you buried like diamonds on the IIT campus. Who are we that we have received such grace from you to send Jesus to die for our sins. May we remember all that you have done. May God help us to come to our senses and be strong in the grace of Jesus.

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Daily Bread

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
  seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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