How do you have faith in uncertain times? The first chapter and the first half of the second chapter have described pictures of what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus. We must not be ashamed. We must join in the suffering. We must use the gifts God has given to us. We must be a good soldier, an athlete, and a hardworking farmer to receive the reward. But now Paul knows that there are hardships as Christians live in a worldly culture. Further, there are hardships as Christians live in fellowship with worldly Christians. In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul sets the picture for this section of his letter.
Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 CSB)
This is something that all of us want. We want to be approved by God. This is the goal. We want to hear that we have been approved as the faithful servant of God. We want to be the worker of God who has no need to be ashamed as we use the word of God properly. So how can we be approved by God? How can we know that we are the approved servant of the Lord? There are three pictures that are presented to us in 2 Timothy 2:14-26 to help us do our best to present ourselves to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed.
No Word Wars (2:14-19)
Paul spends a significant amount of space talking about watching our words. Look at verse 14. Timothy is to charge the Christians that he is working with to not quarrel about words. In verse 16 Paul says to avoid irreverent babble. The CSB reads to “avoid irreverent and empty speech.” Paul says not to fight over words because it does no good and ruins the hearers. Such speech produces even more ungodliness. Paul warned Timothy about this in the first letter to him.
O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you. (1 Timothy 6:20–21 ESV)
What does this look like to have empty words? What does this look like to quarrel about words? The picture is to use the word of God, not to teach the glory of God and the truth of God’s word, but to argue about words. There are arguments that are made that are just for the sake of arguing with someone. Let me put this another way. There are some people who seem to have the personality for arguing. They like to poke and prod people. They like to quarrel. They like to argue. So they come into the body of Christ and they use the word of God for fighting and arguing. They look for people to argue with. They don’t think about the word of God as a means of learning about God and being transformed. They think about the word of God and how they can show how they are right about something. They are arguing to argue. They are fighting over words.
The contrasting idea is in verse 15. We are to rightly handle the word of truth. This means it is possible to misuse God’s word. The purpose of God’s word is not to go around having arguments over words with others. I am sure it still happens today. But it the past it seems to me that there were some who thought it was their job to go around arguing with everyone in the brotherhood about various topics and words. If you did not say things the way they wanted to hear it, they were happy to argue and fight. To put this another way, consider how many churches have been ripped apart because two Christians in that church are just having an argument over words. The mission of the church is destroyed and the faith of people are eroded as these people decide they are going to have weekly arguments with each other, with the preachers, with the elders, or anyone else who would like to argue with them. They like to come up with a new idea or a new teaching and enjoy arguing with people, disregarding the impact it is making on the faith of others.
This is what Paul sees happening in verses 17-18. Paul names two men who have left the truth. Now I bet if you asked these two men they would say that they had not left the truth but that everyone else is wrong. They are right and would be ready to have word wars about it. But Paul says they are destroying the faith of some and teaching something that is false, even though they think they are right. In fact, when you look at verse 19 we see that these men are declaring that they are able to use their words to reveal who truly belong to the Lord. Paul responds that the Lord knows who are his. They create their own circle of true faith as they argue over words. All who do not agree with them are considered false and fake. Paul says that no one should be disturbed by this. God’s firm foundation is sealed with this inscription: The Lord knows those who are his. Jesus dealt with this as the Pharisees and scribes knew the scriptures so well. Yet, in their knowledge of the scriptures, they missed Jesus as the savior. They missed mercy and justice as they argued over the fine points of the law.
When arguments turn into malice, slander, and ill-will, then know you are in a word war. You are no longer having a discussion about God with someone. Even if you think you are arguing over something doctrinally critical, the feelings of hurt, anger, hate, malice, and the actions of slander show you have left God’s heart and are in word wars. You are forgetting the soul of the other person as you try to argue yourself to be right and the other person to be wrong. This kind of thinking and attitude is destructive. Look at verse 17. Paul says that this spreads like gangrene. Gangrene destroys the flesh of the person who contracts it. This argumentative spirit is destructive to yourself and to the faith of others. The word of God is not for the destruction of other people, but for showing with precision what God desires for our lives. We do not want to be ashamed on the day of judgment for how we used God’s word.
Be An Instrument For Honorable Use (2:20-21)
The second picture for being approved by God is found in verses 20-21. Paul describes a large house in which there are all kinds of bowls, dishes, and utensils. Some are for honorable use and some are for dishonorable use. Some are used for special occasions and some are used for every day use. I have tools in my garage that I use to work on dirty cars or for landscaping or painting that are not allowed to come into the house. The reason they cannot be in the house is because they are dirty. They have to stay outside. I have brushes that have been used to clear battery acid off of the battery connectors. I have tools that have changed oil and so they are dirty. So what is Paul’s point? Look at verse 21.
Cleanse yourself from things that are dishonorable so that you can be a special, honorable instrument. You will be set apart, useful to the master, and ready for every good work. The only way those garage tools can come into the house and be used for another purpose is if they are first cleaned up. If we want to be approved by God, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, then we have to get clean. We have to purify our lives from the filth that we have. But Paul does not merely tell us to clean up and get out of the mud. He tells us some important areas in our lives that we need to look to clean.
Purity As God’s Servant (2:22-26)
Run from youthful passions and lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace from a pure heart. To be an instrument for honorable use, set apart, useful to the master, and ready for every good work, then we run from the passions and lusts of the flesh. Approval from God means that we will actively work to remove youthful desires. Often when we think of youthful desires we only think of sexual sins. We are right to think of sexual sins when youthful sins are addressed. If we are involved in sexual sins, being with people we should not be with and looking at things we should not look at, then we must purify ourselves and run from these things.
But that is not the only youthful desire that we need run from. Other youthful desires include pride, jealousy, desire for wealth, desire for status, being argumentative, lacking compassion and care, being brash, being unwilling to listen, and the like. It is not hard to consider what youthful desires look like. We all thought when we were teenagers and in our 20s that we know everything. I’m smart and the older generation is out of touch. So how do we break free from our youthful passions and desires? Paul tells us in verse 22 to chase after righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Our focus needs to be on these characteristics.
As we keep reading you will see that the youthful desires that Paul has in mind are far more than just sexual temptations. In verse 23 Paul says to have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies because they breed quarreling. But the Lord’s servant does not engage in these things. In verse 24 Paul says that the Lord’s servant will not be quarrelsome, kind to everyone, able to teach, patient when wronged, and correcting with gentleness.
Here is what I want us to see. How we interact with each other deeply matters to God. To present ourselves to God approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed means that we will not use the word of God to be a fighter. This is the focus of this paragraph. Do not fight about words because it only ruins people (2:14). Do not be dishonorable in how you talk with people and interact with people (2:20-21). Do not have anything to do with foolish controversies and speculations because they cause fights (2:23).
Rather, to be approved by God we need to be kind to everyone. We need to be able to teach others. We need to be patient even when we have been wronged. We need to instruct opponents with gentleness. Why does it matter so much to God we interact with each other? Look at verses 25-26.
Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (CSB)
The goal is not to win. The goal is repentance. We are supposed to think about what can be said or done to be able to take this person who is in sin and opposing God’s will and interact with them in such a way so that God will grant them repentance. To put this another way, we cannot be an obstacle for repentance. We are desiring for the person to come to their senses and escape the trap. So we act with gentleness. We act with patience. We are not sitting for endless arguments. We are looking for resolution and repentance. This is the effort of those who are instruments of honor, useful to the master, ready for every good work. God’s approval is for those who have run from youthful desires as seen by leading people to God, and not falling into word wars, fights, and arrogance. The Lord knows who are his and let everyone who names the name of the Lord run from sin (2:19).