Editor’s Note:

The purpose of this series is to help Christians think through the doctrine of Scripture and provide practical guidance on not only how to read the Bible but to deal with objections and attacks on the Bible.

  • C. Walter shared practical tips for why Christians should read their Bible’s daily.
  • J.C. Ryle answered the question, “Is the Bible the Word of God?”
  • Mike Leake challenges us to use search engines for fact checking instead of fact giving when studying the Bible.
  • Jeff Medders helped us learn to grow in love for the Bible.
  • Dave started a five part series on how to hear, read and study God’s Word. Here’s part one.
  • Dave continues a five part series on how to hear, read and study God’s Word with part two.
  • Dave continues his series on how to hear, read and study God’s Word with part three.
  • Jeff Medders wrote on ways to begin wielding the Word of God.
  • Dave continues his series on how to hear, read and study God’s Word with part four.
  • Jeff wrote on the smell of Bible breath.
  • Dave concluded his series on how to hear, read and study God’s Word with part five.
  • Matthew Fretwell wrote on 8 tips for better Bible teaching.
  • Today Mike Boling writes to help us understand how to be a workman who rightly interprets the Word of God.


“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” -2 Timothy 2:15

Much ink has already been spilled on Paul’s instructions to Timothy, however, I felt the urge to take a look at the specific words and phrases used by Paul, if anything to get a sense of just how strong this exhortation is and more importantly, to reiterate why consistent, purposeful, sound Bible study is the function and responsibility of every believer. Apologetics which is providing a defense of why and what you believe as well as theology, the study of God to include all of the facets of theology that are to inform and impact all aspects of life, are not solely the purview of academics or those occupying the pulpit. While Timothy was certainly functioning in the role of a church leader, the command to study God’s Word has been given as a command to all believers. With that in mind, in this article we will focus on what Paul is saying to us to include at least a cursory look at Scripture’s overarching command for all of God’s people to actively read, study, and apply the truths of Scripture to their lives and the world around them.

The Apostle Paul begins 2 Timothy 2:15 with the command “be diligent”. It must be noted that some translations use the word study. The Greek word that is translated as “be diligent” or “study” is spoudazō which means “to hasten, make haste or to exert one’s self, endeavor, give diligence.” Spoudazō is a verb and its use by Paul connotes the concept of a need for action, the necessity on the part of the individual to actively engage in an effort that requires a large degree of focus and effort that will involve the entirety of the person who is actively pursuing that which is the subject of this diligent level of study.

The second aspect of this passage is the phrase “to present” or “to show”. This phrase consists of the Greek word paristēmi which means “to present (show) by argument, to prove, with the added element of the quality which the person or thing exhibits.” As with the idea of being diligent or studying, paristēmi is a verb that connotes a sense of action on the part of the individual. It is not a passive concept whereby someone might have to venture a guess as to what you are doing. Conversely, this verb demonstrates the idea of actively presenting something to someone else again with the added element of a necessary quality to the nature of what you are presenting.

This of course begs the question as to what we are to be presenting given the verb paristēmi demands by definition the individual actively is doing something. While most would submit that what is to be provided is an argument for what we believe and why and while that statement certainly is factual, Paul actually states we are to first diligently present ourselves approved to God, with the natural progression of being a workman who does not need to be ashamed which also naturally flows into the process of rightly dividing the word of truth. So what does this idea of presenting ourselves as “approved to God” mean? The Greek word Paul uses that is translated as approved is dokimos, a word that means accepted, pleasing, or acceptable. In its use in the New Testament in such a context as 2 Timothy 2:15, dokimo describes an individual who is mature in the faith, a person of integrity. This idea of maturity springing forth from a devotion to Scripture hearkens back to passages such as Psalm 19:7-8 which declares “The Torah of Adonai is perfect, restoring the inner person. The instruction of Adonai is sure, making wise the thoughtless. The precepts of Adonai are right, rejoicing the heart. The mitzvah of Adonai is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (CJB) What Psalm 19:7-8 demonstrates is essential for understanding what it means to be approved to God as noted in 2 Timothy 2:15. One who is approved by God is one who loves the law of God, His Torah, the entirety of God’s word. It is this attitude of devotion, the daily washing of yourself in the Word of God, the writing of God’s Word on the tablet of your heart that allows for the restoration of the inner person. What this means is what makes a person mature in the faith is devotion to the commands of God outlined in His word. Maturity is demonstrated and being approved to God as a workman is found in the life of the person who loves God’s Word. It is this love and devotion to God’s Word that moves the believer from a place of being pĕthiy (simple) to being wise.

Now that we have established what diligence means, how to present ourselves to God and what it means to be approved to God, it is time to investigate what being a workman means. Paul uses the Greek word ergatēs, a noun that means a laborer. Here we have the continued theme of an activity that involves work, a daily task on the part of the believer. This is the same noun Jesus uses in Matthew 9:37 when He declared “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” In order to understand what Paul is getting at in this discussion of being a laborer, we have to back up a verse to 2 Timothy 2:14 which states “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.” What Paul is doing is providing the reader with a comparison between a disapproved worker and an approved worker. The disapproved worker is one who strives after or speaks with words that have no profit which in effect is damaging to the hearer. Philip Towner, in his commentary on 2 Timothy, provides some salient commentary on what this is all about noting:

“The translation quarreling about words (or striving about words) expresses one side of a single Greek word that can also mean fighting with words. The one term sums up their activity as a whole, content and method. Their fight with words and disputable doctrines caused strife and division. The outcome of their efforts was negative in two respects. First, because of the spurious nature of the words and their improper motives, their arguments produced nothing of value. Second, the greater danger was that poorly grounded believers might be influenced by personality or cleverness of words to accept some novel view that could ruin their faith. Their quarrels about doctrine and word fighting did nothing to build up the church or the individual. In contrast stands God’s approved workman. What makes this worker different from the false teacher? First, this one’s life and work must be oriented toward God. The opponents looked to people for approval, but God’s servants must seek it from God. This orienting of oneself toward God involves an active (do your best, or make the effort) and conscious (present yourself) decision. Avoiding the ways of the false teachers and remaining true to the gospel in teaching and life from the test that faced Timothy. God’s approval would rest upon the one who passed this test.”[1]

As we can see, the disapproved workman only desires a demonstration of their own intellectual persuasiveness, focusing most often more on methodology or the cleverness of their articulation of words, often forgetting that true wisdom comes solely from God and His Word. The approved workman is diligent to commit themselves as a laborer to be constantly diligent to focus on God and what He says in His Word, using any talents of writing, discussing, or other gifts to the glory of God rather than for personal recognition.

This approved workman is described by Paul as one who does not need to be ashamed. The word translated ashamed is used only once in the New Testament and that is in 2 Timothy 2:15. It simply means having no cause to be ashamed. Those who have their complete focus on knowing God and making Him know will have no reason to be ashamed. There will be no lack of desire to share the message of the gospel. This mature, approved, diligent workman will not hide their light under a bushel. They will have great confidence to do that which Christ commanded in Matthew 28:19-20, namely “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV) They will have great confidence that due to their diligent study of God’s word, they will be able to wield this sword of truth against the enemy and additionally, they will be able to share the hope that is within them to those who so desperately need deliverance from the darkness and bondage of sin. Ultimately, it will be their complete passion and joy to study God’s Word and to share with a great degree of God given wisdom elements of the faith. Since apologetics is really the application of God’s truth to all of life, this passion for Truth will inculcate every fiber of their being and every aspect of their life.

Paul concludes this passage with the phrase “rightly dividing the word of truth.” This idea of rightly dividing comes from the Greek word orthotomeō which means to teach the truth directly and correctly. How is one able to teach the truth of God’s word directly and correctly? It is only by being a diligent, prepared, unashamed workman devoted to a life focused on God and His Word. Any other approach will result in flailing around with the Word of God which always results in an incorrect approach to matters of theology. This is not like a broken clock where somebody can get it right at least twice a day. Sharing the truth of God’s Word is serious business and requires the utmost care and discipline. This is especially true for those called by God to be in a position of authority or called to shepherd the people of God. The Apostle James in his epistle notes “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1) So as you can see, this is serious business. New Testament scholar Ralph Earle rightly notes “The context suggests that Paul is warning against taking the devious paths of deceiving interpretations in teaching the Scriptures.”[3]

Paul further notes that it is we who are to rightly divide, namely the word (logos) of truth (alētheia). The logos as we have noted is the Word of God. Alētheia refers to “the truth as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man, opposing alike to the superstitions of the Gentiles and the inventions of the Jews, and the corrupt opinions and precepts of false teachers even among Christians.” What this definition refers to is the difference between the truth of God’s Word and the machinations of humanity. Towner again provides excellent commentary, noting in regards to the right handling of truth, “Our correct handling of the biblical text includes first understanding the original message in its original context, which requires knowledge of the biblical languages and the historical-cultural-social setting that the author addressed (or depending on those who do have such knowledge). But the task is not finished until the original message has been brought across the centuries and applied freshly in our own situations.”[3] For those who immediately might react to such a statement with “Well I do not have a knowledge of Hebrew or Greek so that must mean I am off the hook”, let me advise you that many tools are available to the laymen for studying the original languages and the historical, social, and cultural background. For the purposes of this study, I utilized www.blueletterbible.org, a site which provides the user with the meanings and usage of the original languages. Additionally, there are many quality study Bibles on the market that provide excellent background information to every book of the Bible. In our day and age, it is only an attitude of laziness that suggests one cannot access tools to be a diligent workman, rightly dividing the word of truth.

What does this all mean? Hopefully this study of 2 Timothy 2:15 has provided you with a better idea of what Paul was trying to get across not just to Timothy, but to every believer since. It is our duty as believers to be diligent, to present ourselves approved to God, to be a workman, a laborer for truth, to be a people who are able to wield the sword of truth in an accurate manner. This is the calling of every believer and not just a select few academics, professors, or pastors. May the Word of God become your passion and may you have that desire to grow in maturity in the things of God.

[1] Philip Towner, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: 1-2 Timothy & Titus (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994), 181-182.
[2] Ralph Earle. “Commentary on 1 & 2 Timothy” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon. Edited by Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 402.
[3] Towner, 182.

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