2 Timothy 2:14-15 – Present Yourself as an Approved Workman

Timothy is to present himself as an approved workman (v. 14-15, 22). Paul’s metaphor here is of a worker presenting himself before his supervisor. The verb (σπουδάζω) has the sense of hurried activity, eagerness or zealousness (BDAG). Perhaps someone who is doing a job will conscientiously, working hard to make sure that it is done properly.

WorkmanAn approved workman might be someone who has been trained and “qualified” as a craftsman. The noun ἐργάτης is often an agricultural laborer (Matt 9:37, “fields,” 20:1, vineyard), but in Acts 19:25 it refers to craftsmen in a kind of guild. As an approved workman, Timothy is no longer an apprentice, still a student under a master. He is an approved worker who has been examined by a master and given an approval by that master.

Timothy is to present himself before God as an approved workman. We might have expected Paul to set himself up as the example since he has done this several times. But here the ultimate “approval” of a minister’s work is God himself.

Timothy ought to do his ministry in a way that does not cause him to be ashamed. Anyone who has done a work that involved a skill has probably said, ‘yeah, that is not my best work.” In the case of a craftsman going before a master for review, the worker will want to do their very best work possible so that they will not experience shame when their work is tested.

What would possibly cause Timothy shame? Possibly his youth, since Paul has already told him to not allow anyone to look down on him for his your (2 Tim 2:15). But it is also possible that his association with Paul is shameful. Paul’s opponents may have made the point that Paul is in prison and no longer under the blessing of God. If Timothy is Paul’s successor, then perhaps they are trying to shame Timothy by associating him with Paul’s “failure.” Paul certainly does not consider his imprisonment a shameful state, but a well-trained Greco-Roman orator could have used this to their advantage. Perhaps the opponents were able to pick apart Timothy’s teaching the way a Sophist might destroy an enemy’s rhetoric, causing Timothy public shame. In any case, Timothy is told to do his work in such a way that he will not be ashamed by his own efforts.

In order to be approved, Timothy is to “correctly handling” God’s word. What happened to rightly dividing? The Greek word (ὀρθοτομέω) is very rare and is the combination of the word for straight (ὀρθός) and the verb for cutting (τέμνω), hence the KJV’s “rightly dividing.” When the word is used with a road in mind, it means “cut a road across country (that is forested or otherwise difficult to pass through) in a straight direction” (as in Thuc. 2, 100, 2 although the compound is not used there, BDAG).

In the context of 2 Timothy, the word has to been “correctly interpret” the Word of God. If Timothy is a craftsman, his “material” is the Word of God. Imagine a sculptor who is submitting a piece to Art Prize; the create a beautiful statue to display outside some building downtown. But they use the wrong material, instead of clay or stone or wood, they used sugar. The first time it rains, the sculpture will melt away into nothing (or a bunch of ants will come along and eat it!) Paul’s point here is that if Timothy is going to be an approved workman, he is going to need to know how to work with his materials in such a way as to present a finished product that will please the master.

There are many examples of people who are not well educated and try to interpret the Bible in new and exciting ways (and they tend to find their way to the internet and YouTube). For example, It is easy to pull a few verses out of the Old Testament, combine them with some conspiracy theory and fears about the government, and somehow prove the present administration is the Anti Christ or that immigration reform will lead to the End Times and the Mark of the Beast. Or something like that.

Does this mean that only the seminary-trained professional scholar should attempt to read the Bible? That is not Paul’s point at all; Timothy is the “professional” in his situation and his responsibility is to give a gentle answer when someone suggests a reading of the Bible that is in error.

In summary, this section begins with Paul commanding Timothy to seek his approval from God as if he were a worker looking for approval from his master. In order to gain that approval, Timothy must correctly handle his materials, in this case the word of God.

3 thoughts on “2 Timothy 2:14-15 – Present Yourself as an Approved Workman

  1. It is interesting to me to find the similarities between Paul’s letters. Paul’s language here of an approved workman, which the blog defines as someone who is doing a job well conscientiously, and working hard reminds me of what he writes in Colossians. In Colossians 3:17, Paul writes that whatever we do, we should do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then, a few verses later, in 23 he writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” This is not the same wording, but I think Paul is implying the same idea that he wants the Colossians, Timothy, and us, to work hard and make sure what we do is done right, no matter what we are doing. In this passage in 2 Timothy 2, I think Paul also offers some encouragement to Timothy by saying “a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” The way this section is worded to me sounds like Paul is telling Timothy, that if you are working hard to make sure what you do is done right, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You have been trained well, you know what you are doing, and you can correctly handle the word of God. To me, this would be like if a professor told me that I do very well, that I have learned the material, and I ought to know that if I am doing my best to do the assignments correctly, I have nothing to be ashamed of. That is a great encouragement, and as someone who thrives off of encouragement, would encourage me to do even better in future assignments. Paul may also have been trying to offer encouragement to Timothy since others were trying to cause him shame. They may have been trying to cause him shame over his age, his association with Paul, or his teachings. We see similar things today, no matter who a person is, there is always someone who opposes them and does everything they can to bring up dirt on that person. I think that in this passage Paul both commands Timothy to seek God’s approval, but also commends him for his hard work to handle the word of God correctly.

  2. This idea of presenting yourself before God as an approved workman of the faith brings to mind my own job as a landscaper. Just earlier this week, my boss left the jobsite for a few hours to get to an appointment, leaving me in charge of the crew. I had to allocate responsibilities, ensure that we were keeping a good pace, and deal with some issues that sprung up and threatened to delay our work. When the boss came back, I had to face the man who could easily take away my paycheck indefinitely and give a report of what we had gotten done while he was gone.

    If we do this for landscaping construction, how much more will we do this before God in the last days? How can we bear to stand before God and give a report of our failures; of all the people we should have presented with the gospel but chose not to for any number of foolish earthly reasons?

    Like Timothy, we must work for the kingdom with eagerness and zeal, so that we may have the pleasure of giving a wonderful report to our creator when that time comes. It will be a joy to hear the Lord proclaim that we were His good and faithful servants, and for Him to welcome us into our eternity with Him.

    This idea also brings up not just the completion of the work, but the quality as well. In landscaping, I may have completed a retaining wall, but if I deviated from the blueprints or did a poor job and created a weak wall, then I might as well have done nothing. In the same way, we are not solely worried about getting the gospel message out en masse, but we should also be paying close attention to our doctrine and to making not just many disciples, but many good disciples. Someone like Joel Osteen may reach a massive audience, but when he stands before God it will mean little to nothing since the doctrine being spewed out to his audience is contrary to the scripture.

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