An Approved Craftsman, A Clean Vessel, The Lord's Servant (2 Timothy Sermon 5 of 9)
November 08, 1998 | Andrew Davis
2 Timothy 2:14-26
I. Brief Review
We're going to continue our series Boldness and Faithfulness in the Gospel. Last week I set before you the image of the acorn. I'm sure you remember that. Maybe some of you have driven over some acorns that popped under your tires this morning and got you to thinking about multiplication discipleship ministry. Who knows? But I think this is what we're all about. This is what God has called us to, to make disciples for Jesus Christ. And I believe that 2 Timothy 2 is probably the greatest chapter in all scripture for giving practical guidelines as to how this is to be done. That verse that I refer to is in verse 2 about multiplication ministry. And then we saw last week that Paul used six metaphors, six illustrations to help the man of God, Timothy, to understand what this ministry was to be and what kind of man could carry it out. Remember we saw the good soldier of Christ Jesus and we saw the disciplined athlete running after a prize? We also saw the hardworking farmer, all of these combined to show total dedication for the purpose of a goal. Now the goal was to make disciples for Jesus Christ, multiplication ministry.
In the second half of the chapter, we're going to see three more illustrations, three more metaphors. We're going to see an approved craftsman who properly handles scripture. We're going to see a clean vessel who properly handles temptation. And we're going to see the Lord's servant who properly handles opposition. As we understand these three aspects of ministry and as we put them into practice, we're going to see disciples multiplied here. We're going to see them grow up in their faith. We're going to see them go out and lead others to Christ. So attend carefully the verses 14-26 as we see what I think is a master craftsman finishing the training of a young apprentice Timothy. Starting at Verse 14:
"Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words. It is of no value and only ruins those who listen. 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. Avoid godless chatter because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm sealed with this inscription: The Lord knows those who are his. And everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness. 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 common use. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he'll be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels and the Lord's servant must not quarrel. Instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him, he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the Devil who has taken them captive to do his will."
II. An Approved Craftsman: Properly Handling Scripture (vs. 14-18)
Now I bet you're wondering how in the world I can get through all that truth in about half an hour. I'm not really sure I can. I can't exhaust scripture. It's impossible. But I do want to draw out these three images that Paul uses beginning with the approved craftsman in verses 14-18. And in Verse 15 we see, I think, a key charge to the whole ministry. It all begins, is carried out, and ends with a proper handling of scripture, all of it. And it really goes to the reason that scripture was given. Why was scripture given to us? Well, I'm going to get to it in a couple of weeks. In 2 Timothy 3, it shows the purpose of scripture. In 2 Timothy 3:15, it says scripture is given to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. It's the scripture that leads you to faith in Christ. But it's not it. The scripture says also that all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Do you see win, build and send right in there? The scripture wins people to Christ. It trains them up from infancy in their spiritual nurture up to full maturity, and the scripture sends them out in a life of a pattern of good works to build the church. All of it begins and ends with scripture.
Therefore, if Timothy is going to have a fruitful multiplication ministry, he has to handle scripture properly. And so Verse 15, "Do your best," says Paul, "to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman, a craftsman who doesn't need to be ashamed but who correctly handles the word of truth." Word of truth is the scripture, the scripture. The image that pops in my mind here is of a medieval trade guild. Back in the Middle Ages, if somebody wanted to learn a trade, they would present themselves to a craftsman, a master in the trade. Maybe they wanted to learn how to make furniture. So they'd go to the master furniture builder and they'd say, "Will you train me? I'll be an apprentice under you." And the person would live with this master and they'd live together, they'd work together, and there'd be an imparting of wisdom and knowledge in the trade. As the time went on, he would become what was known as a journeyman, and he'd go around in the vicinity and sell some of his tools, his furniture. But when he was ready and his training was complete, he would present to the guild, which is like a union, a group of skilled craftsmen what was known as a masterpiece. That was his test. And if he passed the test, if it was good quality workmanship, then he could become a member of the guild. Paul's saying to do the same thing with scripture.
Handle it properly. Deal with it skillfully. There's an awful lot of bad teaching of scripture out there, isn't there? Some of you have heard it. It's scattershot. It's not true to the text, and it does nothing to build the church. A friend of mine, a pastor in Washington DC, calls it "spiritual junk food." That's not what builds the church. It's the word of God properly handled that builds the church. And so he challenges Timothy. He says, "Be skilled. Do your best." The image is of hard work, there's no shortcut. There's no shortcut to learning the scripture properly and thoroughly. You just have to read it and absorb it and meditate on it, memorize it. "Train yourself in it Timothy so that you can deal with it properly." Paul uses a fascinating word here when it says in the NIV, "Correctly handles the word of truth."
I love the original language in the Greek. It's cutting it straight, cutting it accurately. Perhaps some of you women have made garments. You have sewed dresses or supplies. Suppose you follow a pattern and decide to cut way off to the side and then come back to the line? What's going to happen when you try to join those pieces together? It looks terrible. The seam is off. I know because I made a quilt with my wife in Japan. She instructed me how to do it and we worked it, but some of the hardest thing we did was cutting that fabric straight over a long line. And if we veered or something, we couldn't use that piece of fabric. This is the way it is with the word of God.
Now perhaps some of you know that Paul himself was a tentmaker, and I think he's taking from some of his own experience about cutting perhaps early in his apprenticeship as a tentmaker, he cut it crooked. They said, "No, you've got to cut the word of God straight to make it fit together accurately." "Handle the word of God properly."
Now the picture I get here is it says, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved." The idea is that, "you're going to do all this work, Timothy. Your work with the scripture is going to be done in the presence of God." And so in Verse 14, he says, keep reminding them of these things, "Warn them," what does he say? "Warn them before God against quarreling over words." It's part of your job, Timothy, to do your work in front of God and to bring the people of God right up into the presence of God. That's part of your job. It's up to you, Timothy, to remind the people that some day, very soon, each one of them is going to stand before God and give an account for their whole lives. That's your job, Timothy. Warn them and prepare them. Get them ready and do your work, your handling of scripture before God.
Turn over to chapter four verse one. In 4:1, the beginning of the final chapter, what does he say? "In the presence of God," do you see that? "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge." Do you see that? He's reminding. Paul is doing this very thing. He's reminding Timothy that he's living his life out right in the presence of God, and he's reminding him of the fact that Jesus Christ someday is going to return from heaven as the judge of all the earth. So, Timothy, your work as a proper handler of the word of God is to remind people that they live their lives out every moment in front of God. It's a powerful image, isn't it?
Now at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where I just finished my PhD degree, over the main entrance to the oldest building in there, inscribed in stone, in the granite above that door, there is written in Greek, the end of 2 Timothy 2:15, rightly cutting or rightly handling the word of truth. Well, that's very appropriate, isn't it, in a seminary. That's where people learn how to handle the word of God accurately. Unfortunately, for many years at Southern Seminary, pastors were turned out who did not rightly handle the word of truth. And there are churches all over the country now, Southern Baptist churches, who are suffering as a result because the word of God isn't handled properly. They don't treat it as though it's inspired by God, but rather something to be picked over and selected and preached however one sees fit. Timothy, you can't do that. If you're going to multiply this church through the preaching in my word, preach it accurately, preach it accurately. And so that's what he says.
Part of that though is the dealing with words positively. The words that you speak are to build up the church, not to tear it down. And so he uses three negative words here in reference to how you're not supposed to use words. In Verse 14, he talks about quarreling over words. Don't quarrel over words. And then in Verse 16, he talks about godless chatter. Isn't that interesting? Babbling. Empty godless babbling. And then in Verse 17 and 18, even more seriously, open heresy, false doctrine. Those three things must never be part of an accurate handling of the word of God. In Verse 14, quarreling over words is that kind of picking over minutia, over small little details that aren't even in the text. It's like Jesus talked about the Pharisees. And what did he say? He said, "You strain out a gnat and you swallow a camel." What an image. You're working over these tiny little details and you miss the whole point to the passage.
In the Middle Ages, there were scholastic theologians who would argue as you remember over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. What a waste of time. And they would marshal their arguments and they'd cut it so fine and none of it was even in the text. And then in Verse 16 it talks about godless chatter. This is even more serious. This is talking about a kind of a profane theological speculation or even joking about holy things. That's not supposed to be part of any of your ministry, Timothy. Those same scholastic theologians would argue over the power of God. They would say things like, "Is God powerful enough to make a rock so big that he couldn't lift it?" Isn't that foolish? Or how about this? They argued over the power of God in this way, "Could God have become incarnate as a donkey or a pumpkin and still redeem the world?" Isn't that useless?
And they'd spend hours debating over these things. Martin Luther's Reformation in turn was turning away from that. That's not the word of God. That's empty babbling. Well, according to Verse 16, what happens if you indulge in this kind of poor handling of scripture, those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Are you saying to me that there is a connection between how someone handles the scripture and what kind of life they live? Absolutely. Bad doctrine leads to bad living. And if you're a Christian and you're living poorly, if we had time, we could trace it back to bad thinking about God and about yourself. Good teaching, doctrinal teaching from the scripture leads to holy living. That's a connection made here. And why is it? It's because the word of God has been given for this very purpose. 1 Peter 2:2 says, "Like newborn babies, you are to crave pure spiritual milk," or we could say the pure milk of the word, "so that by it, you may grow up in your salvation now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." It's the word of God that causes a young Christian to grow to maturity. Saturate your minds in it. Immerse yourselves in it. It's for the mature too. If you're spiritually mature, you can move onto the meat, the deep things of scripture. There's enough here for a lifetime.
Rightly Handling Scripture in the Face of False Doctrine
He says to Timothy, "Handle it properly, but all the more in the face of false doctrine." It's one thing to be quibbling and arguing over little things, but how much worse to be openly denying something that scripture teaches? And Hymenaeus and Philetus were doing exactly that. They were denying that there was going to be a resurrection. Can you imagine? They said the resurrection has already taken place spiritually, kind of inside us. There's not going to be any resurrection at the end of the world. Wouldn't that destroy your faith? What's the point? If there's no resurrection, what's the point?
Why go to church? Why try to lead a godly life if all you're going to do is end up in a grave with no hope beyond the grave? There is no point. And so, Hymenaeus and Philetus, they have wandered off from that straight path that should have been cut, should have been cut in the word of God, but they wandered off. I'm reminded of that commercial of, I don't know who it is that sells that 4 x 4, and this little kid, when he was young, he couldn't stay inside the lines coloring. Remember that commercial? And he enjoyed going any and every which way. The teacher would say, "Now stay inside the lines." He didn't want to drive inside the lines. He wanted a 4 x 4 so he could drive out anywhere he wanted to go. Remember that commercial that you can get from here to there anywhere he wants to go, over the rivers and through the forest and all this kind of thing? The rest of us, we have to drive on the road. But I'm exciting. I can go anywhere I want.
Well, that's what Hymenaeus and Philetus thought. They could wander off. They could drive anywhere they wanted and get anywhere they wanted. Paul says they wandered away from the truth. They're off the path. And even worse, it's not just them, they're leading people off the path, false teachers coming in, leading people away from godly doctrine. Paul likens their teaching to the spread of gangrene. Now I don't know that much about gangrene. I think it comes because there's poor circulation and the cells aren't getting what they need. But I know this, it can spread. There's a poison in the body and it can spread. And it was spreading, said Paul, and it will spread. Their teaching will spread like gangrene.
At this point, though, Paul thinks it's so important that Timothy not lose his focus. Said Timothy, "Even though it will spread, even though people like Hymenaeus and Philetus have come along and wandered away from the truth, nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: 'the Lord knows those who are truly his.'" A true disciple of Jesus Christ is not going to wander away from the path. Didn't Jesus say this in John 10? "My sheep, hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish." They will not follow the voice of another. They're not going to wander off. Jesus said, "I give them eternal life and no one can snatch them out of my hand." Is that beautiful? If you're a Christian today, you're totally secure.
You can't wander away from the path. It's impossible. And so that's what he said. There's a solid foundation here and it's sealed with an inscription that God has written with his own hand. If you are a Christian, I know you. I've been knowing you before time and again. Remember chapter 1? Before the beginning of time, God gave grace in Christ Jesus. Yet there's a flipside to it, isn't there? "The Lord knows those who are his," and what's the other side? "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness." We have an obligation to walk as holy Christian people. It doesn't stop the moment we become a Christian as though that's somehow the end. That's just the beginning. That's what being born again is all about. It's the beginning of a new life. It's the beginning of a life that can be lived for God in holiness and righteousness. It's a new life. "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness," and that leads us very neatly to the second illustration.
III. A Clean Vessel: Properly Handling Temptation (vs. 19-23)
A clean vessel properly handling temptation. Look in verses 20 and following. "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 common use." Now the overriding principle here is very clear. God does his work through holy people. And Timothy, if you want to be an instrument for God, to multiply his church, Timothy, you must be holy. You must be pure and righteous. And why is it? It's because the master of that house is holy and pure, and if you want to be in that house, you need to be like the master. Habakkuk 1:13 says, "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil. You cannot tolerate wrong." That's what God is like. God is pure and holy, and if we want to serve him, we also must be pure and holy. We must be free of all sin, striving for holiness.
Now, I was talking to some doctors who are in our church and I said I'm a little intimidated to use medical analogies and illustrations here in the city of medicine, but I'm going to venture forth and use one anyway. I was reading about in the book published by Time, Life. I don't know if you've seen it, the 100 most significant events and the 100 most significant people of the last thousand years. Have you seen that book? It's really fascinating.
The fifth most significant event in the last 1000 years occurred in the middle of the 1800s and it had to do with surgical procedures. And I don't know if you know this, but if you went in for surgery in the 1850s or '60s, they would use surgical scalpels and cutting devices that had not been cleaned. They'd just been used on other people and they'd just used them on you. And as a result, 45%-50% of people who went under the knife, who went in for surgery, died after their operations from infection. And no one could figure it out. They didn't know why. But then Louis Pasteur began to study with his microscope or microscope about tiny microorganisms called bacteria. Now we all know about the germ theory, don't we? What would happen if you were in the medical profession if you used a scalpel that hadn't been properly cleaned and then the patient died of post-operative sepsis? Then what would happen? Well, you'd be sued. That's what would happen. But now we know about germs. And just as a surgeon will not reach for a scalpel that has bacteria on it, it's going to be totally cleansed, so also God will not reach for an unholy vessel to accomplish his ends. We must be holy and we must be pure. There is a preparation that must go on. In Verse 21, it says, "If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he'll be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the master, prepared to do any good work."
The Twofold Method of Cleansing
Now in your house, you probably have your everyday dishes, perhaps even your Tupperware, but then you have your fine stuff. You bring it out for special occasions. If you want to be the Limoges china, you know that gold plate in God's house, you have to be holy and pure. That's what he's saying. Cleanse yourself. So you say, "Okay, how do I do it?" Well, Timothy says very plainly in Verse 22, it's a two-fold strategy. Flee and pursue. Do you see that? Look at verse 22, Flee and pursue. Flee the evil desires of youth. Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. Not just one, not just the other, both.
And how does it work? What happens is as you walk through life, you see certain sin patterns in your life. You see things in your life that aren't the way that you know them that they should be. You're reading the scripture and you see that something is wrong. And then you begin to educate yourself. Something causes you to sin. And what does Jesus say? "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away." You remember that? You begin to get an education as to what kind of things lead you into sin. And when you see those things, you are to flee. You're to run away. Perfect illustration of this in the Old Testament was Joseph. Remember? Potiphar's wife coming after him day after day? I never knew whether she was very attractive or not. So we don't know how much of a temptation this was. Maybe she was ugly. I really don't know. So it was no temptation whatsoever. But perhaps she was very attractive. Either way, he gives us a pattern of how we are to behave in temptation. We run away.
No matter what happens, Jesus said, "Lead us not into temptation." Temptation's an enemy of a servant of the Lord. You should fear it. You should fear sin. But it's not enough just to run away. You have to be running towards something. You have to know what you're shooting for. Paul said, "I don't run aimlessly. I don't box aimlessly. I have a purpose. My purpose is to be like Jesus." And so, you'll read in scripture and you find out what Jesus is like. You saturate your mind. You fix your thoughts on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. You pursue after him. Pursue after the righteousness that only he can give and become like him. Make it your life business to be as much like Jesus as you can be. Be growing in it. Am I talking about sinless perfection? No. That can't happen here in this life. Absolutely not. But God will use you as you're putting sin to death in your life. As he sees that you make a determination that you will not sin but you're going to stand firm against it, he'll use you. Flee and pursue. It's just that plain.
IV. The Lord’s Servant: Properly Handling Opposition (vs. 23-26)
And if we do that, we'll be an instrument for holy use, ready to serve him in every way. But if you do this, if you saturate your mind in scripture as an approved craftsman properly handling scripture, and as you step out in faith and you're putting sin to death, and you're whole and you're ready, what's going to happen to you? You've made yourself a marked man, or a marked woman. Satan is going to come after you and he's going to bring opposition into your life. Expect it. Beause along comes opposition and we get the third image, the Lord's servant. In Verse 23, it says, "Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel."
Now what does this mean, foolish and stupid arguments? It's a very sharp language, isn't it? We've told our kids don't use the word "stupid," alright? It's a bad word. But here it is right here in the Bible. The point is it's ignorant. It's untrained. These are arguments and quarrels that people who don't know the scripture, who are not thoroughly trained to bring against the man of God as he steps out of faith to lead his people. Timothy, expect opposition. But don't get into arguments with these people. Don't get into strife and conflict. The Lord's servant must never quarrel or argue in this way. Now, the image the Lord servant, or we could say the servant of the Lord, comes from Isaiah. And it's a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ, isn't it? In Isaiah 42, the servant of Lord is gentle. He's so gentle that he doesn't break off a bruised reed. He's so gentle that he doesn't snuff out a smoldering wick. In Isaiah 50, the servant of the Lord is so humble and so meek that he won't turn his face away from those that are spitting at him or want to pull his beard. He won't hide his back from those who want to beat him.
That's the humility of the servant of the Lord. And in Isaiah 53, that great chapter, the servant of the Lord is so meek that he's willing to be led like a lamb to the slaughter and never once open his mouth. That's the way the servant of the Lord should be when people oppose him and stand firm against him. Instead of arguing, instead of quarreling, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach and not resentful. Kind to everyone means consistently Christ-like no matter what the people are like. Why should I trade in my walk with God because somebody else is ignorant or unstable or having a bad day. There's no reason for me to check in my kindness at that moment. I can still be filled with the Lord.
And I must be able to teach. Verse 15 says I'm to be a skilled craftsmen with the word. That's the moment to bring it forward and to begin to teach people, bringing them up out of ignorance so they can see what God's doing. But more than anything, he must not be resentful. The teacher of the Lord, the teacher, the servant of the Lord, must not have this long record of wrongs. Do you know in this passage there are covered the two major reasons that people leave the ministry? They are immorality and conflicts with people in the church.
And in this passage, there is strong words to Timothy and to people who want to serve the Lord how they can resist these two temptations. The whole key is understanding what Satan is doing to oppose the work of God. The fascinating thing is that God uses people to accomplish his ends. Satan uses people too, people who don't understand the scriptures and who stepped forward to oppose the man of God. The Lord's servant must see that those people, their mind has been changed in some regard. They've been taken captive by Satan to do his will and that they need to come to their senses. At this moment, Timothy, you should be gently instructing them through the word of God and praying that God would grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
V. Summary of 2 Timothy 2
Now in 2 Timothy 2, we've seen strong and clear principles, how the man of God and the woman of God who wants to serve him can be involved in multiplication ministry. Multiplication ministry, winning people to Christ, building them up in their faith and sending them out to make disciples, takes total dedication, the total dedication of a soldier, of an athlete or a hardworking farmer. But it's a dedication that begins with a preparation. The Lord's servant has to be an approved craftsman who handles the word of God properly. It has to be a holy vessel clean and pure from all sin and has to handle opposition in a godly, gentle, loving way with patience and steadfastness. As First Baptist becomes more and more characterized by these principles, we're going to see more and more people come to faith in Christ.
It's God's way. And if we see these kind of people, 2 Timothy 2 people multiplied in these pews, we're going to see more and more people walking these aisles wanting to be baptized, wanting to grow and be part of what God's doing here. Now it's my prayer that perhaps even this morning, there may be somebody here who doesn't yet know Jesus. I'm praying and I have prayed this week that God would grant you repentance, leading you to a knowledge of the truth, that you would see in Jesus Christ the only atoning sacrifice for your sins and that by putting your faith in him, you may have eternal life. There is no other way. There is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved than Jesus Christ.