Jesus stated, “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). And in keeping with that declaration, Paul said to young Timothy, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Christ’s statement coupled with Paul’s charge to Timothy will reveal to us (a) the importance of studying the truth, (b) the reason for such study, and (c) the “how” or method of the study.
Paul’s second letter to Timothy seems to have been the last ever written by that beloved apostle. He mentions in it the near approach of his death, and we have no other certain word from him. Paul and Timothy had had a long and close friendship and fellowship in the preaching of the gospel. Finding the lad Timothy at Lystra on his second missionary journey, Paul had baptized him, circumcised him, and had taken him with him on his tours. He calls Timothy his “own son in the faith.” Paul had great confidence in this young preacher, and entrusted many grave and important tasks to him. He once left him in Ephesus that he might charge certain men that they teach not false doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3). In Macedonia, Athens, Corinth, and with frequent journeyings in between, we find Timothy faithfully discharging his work as a gospel preacher and friend and co-worker with Paul.
In Paul’s charge there is a definite, positive charge or command to study. The same charge is translated in another version as “Give diligence” but whatever rendering we give it the urgency and importance of the command is evident. In any secular field in which men spend their time the importance of diligence and “study” is apparent. No man ever succeeded as a doctor who was unwilling to pay the price of study and diligence. The farmer must show the same study and diligence in learning of his farm, the soils, the seeds, the climate, etc. We are all creatures of learning. In fact, man is more a creature of learning than any other creature. The young calf may walk instinctively; the beasts of the field act by nature and instinct. But man must learn. Operating in two realms, physical and spiritual, instead of only physical, man is far different from the lowly beast.
Isaiah said to the wicked of his day, “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment…come now let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:16-18) They could only learn to do well from the truth of God. That is the source of all knowledge of well-doing; that is the fountain from whence comes all understanding of what is, and what is not, well. Timothy was charged to study that he might “rightly divide the word of truth.” The word of truth is the gospel; and the gospel is addressed to man’s intelligence—not to passions, desires, or emotions of the flesh, but to that which is high and noble, and which marks the difference between man and the beasts of the field. The gospel is understandable; it can be learned; it can be known by all those who are willing to apply themselves to its study. But it is surely beyond the reach of those who will not study. Study brings us together; failure to study will separate us, politically, intellectually, religiously, and every other way. If all religious men would “study the word of truth,” there would be harmony and unity among them.
Not only is there a definite command to study, but this command is backed up by a clear and understandable reason for such. We are to study the “word of truth” because it is filled with the wealth and riches of this life and of that which is to come. Therein we have the knowledge of the true God, which is eternal life. (John 17:3) Paul said, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33). But the wealth of the gospel is like the wealth of a gold mine—as long as it is unworked there is no benefit.
We ought to study God’s word because it is our only source of spiritual life and light. David said, “The entrance of thy word giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psa. 119:130). And it was Jesus who said, “I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Thus, when we read and follow the word of God, we are following Him who was, and is, the light of the world. When the pen of inspiration dropped from the trembling hand of the aged and beloved John, the New Testament record was finished. Many men since his day have claimed to have some additional revelation. But their claims are false. All spiritual truth is here revealed. This is “the faith once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 8). There are no others.
Paul charged Timothy to study “to show thyself approved unto God.” Here indeed is reason enough for any man to study. We shall all stand one day in God’s presence to give account; and since we are thus to be judged, we need to be prepared. Our study is not merely to show ourselves approved unto men, nor to be approved in our own eyes, but to show ourselves approved unto God.
How to Study
Notice in what capacity are we to show ourselves approved unto God. The text reads, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” Hence, our effort is to be with diligence and energy—workmen. No loafer, no mere bench warmer will ever meet God’s approval. It is only of workers that God will approve. It is not enough merely to have faith; that faith must “work through love” to win God’s approval. The kingdom of God is likened to a vineyard in which there are workers. Christ himself set the example by “going about doing good.” (Acts 10:88) He taught, “I must work while it is day, the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4).
How strange it is that there are some religious teachers who try to teach that works will have nothing to do with a man’s salvation. This is the very contrary of Paul’s charge to Timothy. He speaks of a workman. Can a man be an approved workman without doing any work? And if he is not approved, can he hope for salvation? How any honest man can ever read the Bible and come to the conclusion that “work” has no place in the plan of God is hard to understand. It is only the worker who stands finally in the smile of God’s approval.