Handle with Care Part 1

It’s amazing how we treat a box based on what’s written on it.  Unless we see some clear instructions to do otherwise, we might throw it, stack other things on top of it, or carelessly place it on a floor.  
Three words change our behavior:  “Handle with Care.” This imperative causes us to not only consider how we treat the box but also its relationship to other boxes.  Consequently, we don’t place a heavier box on top, don’t carelessly throw it on the floor, and we certainly make other people aware of its importance.  

Doesn’t God’s Word deserve our careful treatment even more than a box?  After all, it’s cover reads “Holy Bible” because its contents are precious and demand our care.   

Practically speaking, how should we handle God’s Word with care?  In the next several blogs, I will discuss the context and application of 2 Timothy 2:14-15 in order to help us avoid errors while studying and discussing scriptures from the Bible.  Upcoming topics include: 1) observation, interpretation, and application of scripture and 2) descriptive and prescriptive interpretations of scripture.

On today, I will clarify several important phrases that amplify our shared responsibilities as Christians.

In 2 Timothy 2:14-15, Paul exhorts his mentee, Timothy, to “Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them 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” ( NASB).

In context, Paul encourages Timothy, a young pastor and mentee, to “remind” or retell people about the sovereignty and sufficiency of scripture.  The “them” refers to Timothy’s congregation, which included false teachers who questioned the authority of Timothy’s pastorate and the authority of God’s Word–the Holy Scriptures.  Don’t we notice this in today’s churches? While some church members may not explicitly say it, their actions reflect a disregard or disdain for the sufficiency of scripture. Statements such as “How do we know the Bible is true?” or “The Bible’s doesn’t address contemporary issues” are tell-tale signs of a church in peril.  How can we lovingly but unashamedly counter this low view of God and His Word? Paul provides several practical responses.

The phrase “charge them in the presence of God” involves a call to God as the Supreme Witness who attests to the Truth of scripture. In other words, Paul admonishes Timothy to rely on the sufficiency of scripture because the Word of God doesn’t need additives.  Shouldn’t Truth stand on its own?

Next, Paul tells Timothy to warn people “not to wrangle” or argue “about words.”  Greek culture included a love for debate about intellectual and overly-spiritualized topics that often fed people’s egos rather than provide practical application about life experiences.  This pattern unfortunately crept into Timothy’s church and hindered effective preaching and teaching of the Gospel because people wanted to excessively talk about, rather than live, holy lives.  Even worse, many in Timothy’s congregation didn’t want to hear about God’s Word because they didn’t want to acknowledge and repent from their sin.

Unfortunately,  a love for talk rather than love for God is prevalent in many churches today as congregations allow cultural relativism and political correctness to water down the truth, authority, and power of scripture.  Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Later on, Paul addresses the early church and our modern church’s challenges by stating “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).  Having a dislike or disdain for hearing sound doctrine often leads to increased “church hopping,” superficial knowledge about scripture, and decreased desire to establish discipleship based on relations with church members and the community.

While 2 Timothy 2:14 reveals the reality and problems with false teaching, verse 15 provides the solutions for Timothy and us: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”  

The thought behind “be diligent” involves more than thoroughness of preparation but rather a sense of urgency.  In other words, we should consistently make ourselves available for and take advantage of opportunities to share the Good News of the Gospel.

In addition, Timothy was “approved to God as a workman” because he accepted Christ as his Personal Savior and dedicated his life to listen, learn, and live the principles of Godly living.  In Timothy’s day, some had excellent knowledge and application about God’s Word but lived as hypocrites because they were false teachers rather than true Christians. How many times have we encountered individuals who are self-approved rather than God-approved?  

Timothy also “does not need to be ashamed” of the Gospel.  Here, “ashamed” can refer to one’s embarrassment or reproach for teaching and preaching God’s Word.  In the larger context of the passage of Paul’s warning about false teachers, however, “ashamed” points to Timothy as someone “who has caused no disgrace” given Paul’s Godly advice, Timothy’s Christian testimony, and God’s Holy Word.1   Paul restates this non-negotiable warning in Romans 1:16-17:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Paul’s solution to combating false doctrine not only addresses the “why” but the “how.”  He concludes 2 Timothy 2:15 by saying “accurately handling the word of truth.” The verb “handling” is sometimes translated as “dividing” in some Bibles because it speaks of a formal and proper guide on a straight path.  A similar expression is found in Amos 7:1-17 when the prophet mentions how God will establish a plum line, or perfect measurement of His Holiness, for Israel to follow. The message for Timothy and us is clear: properly and carefully handle the Word of God through diligent study, prayer, and exposition devoid of editing, supposition, or hyperbole.  

Regardless of whether we are a pastor or a lay person, Paul admonishes us to forever maintain a high view of the Holy Scriptures which are too precious to mishandle.

Next week, I will discuss how the principles of observation, interpretation, and application help ensure we handle God’s Word with care.
 1  Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) 1997: Print.

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