Many commentators refer to Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus as the Pastoral Letters. This is because these letters are viewed as instructions for preachers. This designation has been assigned to these letters for so long that it is virtually impossible to speak of them in other terms. Nevertheless, even a cursory reading of them reveals that most of Paul’s instructions apply equally to all members of the body of christ, not just to preachers. Among his admonitions that apply to all Christians is the command to study God’s word, so we will be approved by Him and will handle His word accurately. In 2 Tim. 2:15 Paul said, “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 clear implication of this command is that Christians are expected to become proficient in the use of the scriptures. Such proficiency cannot be achieved without diligent effort. The KJV rendition of this verse uses the word “study” in the place of “be diligent”, and this certainly captures the idea of the form that our diligent effort must take. We cannot be proficient with the scriptures if we do not spend time in them, both reading them and meditating upon their message.
One aspect of this command that might easily be overlooked is the connection between our diligence with God’s word and our approval by Him. Paul said we are to be workers who are approved by God. This approval is given only if we accurately handle His word. We cannot accurately handle God’s word, however, unless we devote the time and energy necessary to equip us to do so.
The imagery of an approved worker is significant. We recognize it in all aspects of life. One cannot be confident in a repairman who seems unacquainted with the tools of his trade. A workman who lacks rudimentary knowledge of his craft will not be approved of by his employer, and he will not long remain employed. We, as consumers, do not tolerate a workman who doesn’t know how to use the tools necessary to do his job.
This being true, we should be just as dissatisfied with ourselves about our skill in using God’s word. Too many of us are so unfamiliar with the scriptures that we have no idea how to accurately handle the word of truth. Too often we depend primarily on the preacher to guide us through the difficult waters of life. When a spiritual question arises, we ask the man whose business, we believe, it is to know God’s word. Unfortunately, this is not what Paul had in mind.
To be approved workers before God, each of us must be diligent with God’s word. The writer of Hebrews told his readers that they would become mature only through practice with God’s word, by which they would train themselves to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14). Thus, in order to be approved workers, we must study God’s word consistently and systematically. We must study God’s word contextually; that is, seeing what it meant in its original setting and then applying that lesson to today. We must also study God’s word reverently. We cannot cherry-pick our way through the scriptures. All scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The contents of scripture are exactly what God has revealed so we may be approved of by Him.
Therefore, let us, like Job, treasure the words of His mouth more than our necessary food (Job 23:12). Let us learn and become proficient with “the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). If we do so, then we will be workers who do not need to be ashamed, and we will be approved by God.