Introduction. Read 2Tim2v14to26.

Paul continues in much the same vein as in the first thirteen verses of the chapter. He emphasises the qualities demanded of a Christian by likening him or her to a workman, vessel and slave.

(1) The workman.

(A) The characteristics of the Christian workman.

(b) The positive quality of being a good teacher. Some have a much bigger role in the church as teachers than others. However parents and grandparents should teach their children and grandchildren. Sometimes teaching is best done informally such as when Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos to one side and gave him some instruction on baptism.

Paul advises Timothy: 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. v15.

What it takes to correctly handle the word of truth:

  • Make every effort to get the meaning of a passage of Scripture clear. This may involve consulting a variety of commentaries and versions of Scripture. It is a mistake just to use commentaries written by men of your own theological outlook. I know a preacher who only uses commentaries in the 'Reformed' tradition. When I was preparing my series of expositions on 1 Corinthians I found the little commentary by Jerome Murphy-O'Connor by far the most helpful. I would never have understood 1Cor11v2to16 without Murphy-O'Connor's help. Yet he is from a very different Christian background to me.

    An interpretation of Scripture should as far as possible be reasonable. I have tried in the Articles section of this website to interpret the Creation account and the description of the Genesis flood in a way that is compatible with my knowledge of Geology, Meteorology and Geomorphology. Stages in Creation. and The Genesis Flood.

    One of the most misunderstood passages in Luke's gospel is entitled, 'The Parable of the Shrewd Manager,' in the NIV. The Manager in the Parable was both incompetent and crooked and as such undermined the dependence on trust upon which the trading in commodities was based. So Jesus was being ironical when he said: "The Master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of light. I tell you use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."Lk16v8and9. He actually meant the very opposite of what most preachers take to be the meaning of the parable. Worldly practices are foolish and there is no way anyone can buy themselves a corporate box in heaven. We have seen recently an example of worldly wisdom in the way Volkswagen tried to cheat on the pollutant emissions of its cars. They forgot the old adage, 'Be sure your sins will find you out.' Many Christian hate to think of Jesus being ironical - but it is sometimes the only way to make sense of what he said. I think I correctly handle the word of truth in my exposition on Luke16v1to15.

    It is important to study Scripture in its context. Almost anything can be proved by wrenching Scripture from its context. I was helped to understand the two rather strange parables in Luke chapter sixteen by the inclusion between them of this statement of Jesus: The Law and the prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached and everyone is forcing his way into it. Lk16v16. This, of course, is not true! People were not forcing their way into the kingdom like shoppers at a January sale. In other words Jesus was being bitterly ironical. The disparate material that is found in Luke16 has one thing in common - it is all ironical.

  • Compare Scripture with Scripture. A lot of confusion exists over what happens to people when they die because a selective use is made of the texts dealing with this subject. See Luke16v19to31. I examine most of the Scriptures referring to this most important matter in my article: On Heaven and Hell. It is an exercise in comparing Scripture with Scripture.

  • An interpretation of Scripture should not conflict with experience. Many a preacher will quote Jesus: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest." Mt11v28. The preacher uses the quotation to emphasise that troubled souls find peace in Jesus. However, many Christians - genuine believers in Jesus - are undoubtedly weary in well doing and disillusioned by the meagre harvest that results from their labours.

    Very seldom is the quotation of Jesus completed: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Mt11v29and30. Humility is an essential requirement for peace of mind and a tranquil spirit. If we are humble as Jesus was humble we will not be competitive, ambitious or resentful at lack of recognition. We shall just be happy to serve Jesus in any way he wishes. This is easier said than done. It is not easy to acquire humility. Jesus' disciples upset their Master by arguing over who was the greatest!

  • Preachers should show how Scripture is relevant to the lives of their congregation today. I have heard lots of sermons where there is very little application.

    It is not enough to repeat Bible stories however interesting they might be. The story of Joseph is fascinating but the preacher needs to draws lessons from it. For example: Always do your best whatever the circumstances; the proper response to set backs and disappointments; God can be with us in all aspects of life. It helps if the preacher can illustrate these truths from his own experience. A lot of sermons have little impact because the preacher speaks in general terms. He will say, "God answers prayer," without giving any examples of how God has answered his prayers or the prayers of others. I can recall the way my father closed a sermon on the Parable of the Persistent Widow which Jesus told to teach his disciples that they should always pray and not give up. Lk18v1. My father told us that my grandfather Reed prayed for 40 years that his brother would be discharged of sound mind from Ipswich Lunatic Asylum. Just a year or so before his brother's death my grandfather's prayer was answered. I have never forgotten this instance of the efficacy of persevering prayer.

  • I think anyone expounding on the word of truth should do so with fervour and conviction. Every class room teacher knows how important it is to be enthusiastic about their subject. If a preacher drones on it is hardly a good advert for vibrancy of God's word.

(b) The negative qualities of being a good teacher. There are things to avoid:

  • Quarrelling about words. It would be a great help if Paul had provided us with some examples of what this involved. There are obviously some important words that Christians differ over and affect belief. It may be necessary to argue over the meaning of these words. Two examples spring to mind: Faith and Predestination. Calvinists are of one opinion and Arminians of another. They cannot both be right! I deal with these issues in my exposition on Romans9.

    Nonetheless there are instances where a disproportionate fuss is made about words. The first female bishop to be appointed in England pronounced that God was not male and should not be addressed as 'He'. Well we all know that God is a being unlike ourselves in ways beyond imagining. God is not just a very superior man! However Jesus taught his disciples to follow his example and address God as 'Father'. So is the bishop going to use the words of Jesus or is she going to change them for the better!

    I cannot say I was impressed by the new edition of the NIV. References to 'men', meaning all men and women, have been changed to 'people.' When 'he' is used to include men and women it has been changed to 'they'. I think this has been a waste of time. Do we really have to abandon words like 'mankind' for the sake of political correctness.

    I heard of a Brethren Assembly that appointed a paid man to lead the worship. This did not go down very well with one elderly lady. She said, "We don't want no titles here - no pastors - no ministers - no reverends - all our leaders are elders." I have some sympathy with the lady! But I don't think it matters too much whether a man is called an elder or a pastor.

  • Godless chatter. This does not really mean gossip. We probably all agree about the destructive power of mischievous tittle-tattle. Warren Wiersbe draws attention to the dangers of discussion groups where all sorts of wild ideas can be floated. They also allow people to get on their favourite hobby-horse. I can recall many years ago listening to people talk about what they thought happened after death. It is amazing what weird ideas Christians had about this topic.

    Another forum for godless chatter is the media interview. Some liberal bishop is rounded up and asked to pontificate on the resurrection of Christ. The bishop willl then proceed to chat away casting grave doubt on the bodily resurrection of Jesus notwithstanding all Paul wrote about it. In publicising the scarcely Christian bishop's views the media helps error of the tritest kind to spread like gangrene.

    William Barclay records a complaint Dr Johnson made of John Wesley: John Wesley's conversation is good, but he is never at leisure. He is always obliged to go at a certain hour. This is very disagreeable to a man who loves to fold his legs and have his talk out, as I do." Barclay goes on to write: But the fact remains that Wesley, the man of action, wrote his name across England in a way in which Dr Johnson, the man of talk, never did. Perhaps, it would be better to have written that Wesley wrote the name of Jesus across England in a way Dr Johnson never equalled.

  • False doctrines. In this instance Paul does give us an example of what he meant. Hymenaeus and Philetus taught that the resurrection had already occurred and destroyed the faith of some. These two men may have taught that the resurrection occurred at conversion or baptism or as you lived on in your children.

    There is no doubt that to deny the resurrection is a great and damaging error. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 1Cor15v16and17.

    Many grave errors have crept into the church: errors about baptism, the purpose of Christ's death on the cross, the nature of hell, faith and healing, the authority of Scripture. We should not forget as we contemplate these errors that the false teaching of Hymenaeus and Phletus destroyed the faith of some.

    (B) Reassurance for the good workman.

    The church as an institution is the foundation of God. In other words God has established the church. Its integrity and indestructibility depends upon two things:

    • The knowledge of God. He knows who are his. God identifies the genuine workmen. They may not have the reputation, glamour or notoriety of those with progressive views or those with an earthly following - but God recognises his own. The integrity, effectiveness and survival of the church depends upon God working through his elect people.

    • The true Christian workmen recognise wickedness for what it is and turn from it. They resist the same temptations as Jesus experienced in the wilderness; the temptation to:

      Use their position for personal advantage. For instance a Christian tradesman will not have an exorbitant call out charge and fleece old ladies who they have at their mercy.

      Employ bad means to achieve a good end. For example it would be wrong to bribe poor people in the Third World with cash handouts to attend church.

      Put God to the test. It is not right to bargain with God - to say to him, "Look, if you cure my daughter of cancer I will attend church regularly."

    (2) The vessel. See verses20to21.

    Paul seems in this short passage to liken the church to a large house and individual Christians to the articles of gold, silver, wood and clay within it. He writes that some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. The implication is that the gold and silver utensils are for noble use and the wood and clay vessels for ignoble. But this does not fit well with what he wrote next: If a man cleanses himself from ignoble purposes he will be an instrument for noble purposes. Now we know that it is quite impossible for a clay article to change into a gold one. I think we must look for a different meaning whether intended by Paul or not!

    (a) The church contains those that shine like gold and silver. People like this have natural talents and spiritual gifts that make them stand out. Now a gold vessel can serve a noble purpose. If it contains roses it will fill a room with perfume. But it can be put to base use - filled with strong drink to circulate at a drunken orgy - or it could not be used at all but hidden away to collect dust.

    Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a preacher, lecturer, author and philanthropist of outstanding talent. He was the golden boy of 19th century Nonconformity - a noble vessel with a noble function. Today there are gifted orators - televangelists of great influence - who use their stellar gifts to make money and get rich. They are silver vessels put to a sordid use.

    (b) The church also contains those who have no great natural talent and only mundane spiritual gifts. Very ordinary, dull and unexciting Christians are like clay pots and wooden buckets. They are not capable of great things. Such people will never be like another Wesley, Whitfield, Spurgeon or Booth. However the clay pot may serve a noble purpose. It may contain water for washing feet or quenching thirst. But it could also be filled with sour wine that is scarcely fit to drink.

    Ordinary, unremarkable Christians may serve Jesus nobly in a humble capacity by being kind, thoughtful and helpful. However, unexceptional Christians can be like leaky buckets - difficult to get along with - lazy, selfish and discontented.

    (c) Now although a wooden utensil cannot change into a gold one, the usefulness of a vessel, whatever it is made of, can change. The gold dish instead of being kept purely for display can be brought out and used on the banquet table. A clay pot full of rubbish can be emptied, cleaned and used as a water container.

    Paul taught that whether we shine like a silver goblet or are as dull as an earthenware pot we can be made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

    (3) The Servant. See vs22to26.

    Paul goes to some length to identify qualities which will make us good servants of Jesus Christ. We need to:

    (a) Flee youthful lusts.

    There are some weaknesses of youth that we need to avoid in order to be effective servants of Jesus. They are:

    • An obsession with sex.

    • Impatience. Some young people want it all NOW.

    • Self assertion. William Barclay points out that youth can be intolerant in its opinions and arrogant in the expression of them.

    • Being very argumentative. I certainly used to argue a lot when I was a young man. Unfortunately as an argument progressed the amount of heat generated increased.

    • Love of novelty. A feature of churches that cater for youth is the preponderance of modern hymns and choruses that are sung. The old favourites loved by aged Christians are all but abandoned.

    • Ambition.

    • Wilfulness. There is a tendency for teenagers to ignore advice and pursue their own agenda. Young Christians should listen to what older, wiser believers counsel them.

    (b) Pursue virtue.

    Paul encouraged Timothy to acquire four great Christian virtues. They are:

    • Righteousness. A righteous man will love God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind and his neighbour as himself.

    • Faith. This involves faithfulness to God and loyalty to fellow Christians. Some believers are so addicted to novelty that they regularly swop one church for another. They are little better than worldly consumers trying out one supermarket after another.

    • Love. If we love our fellow Christians we won't be intolerant of their opinions. We certainly won't be ultra critical, self-assertive and spoiling for a fight.

    • Peace. We should do everything to foster unity. Argumentative, wilful, discontented Christians work against harmony and oneness in Christ.

    (c) Enjoy fellowship.

    We are not to cultivate virtue in isolation but along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. v22.

    I like the observation of William Barclay: The Christian must never seek to live alone, detached, and aloof from his fellow men. He must find his strength, his joy, his support in Christian fellowship. As John Wesley said: "A man must have friends or make friends; for no one ever went to heaven alone."

    Some of the happiest times I have had in Christian service occurred when I worked in a team. A group of us would meet in May to trim the yew trees that grow in front of our chapel. It was hard work but we always enjoyed it. There is even fun to be had clearing and washing up after a chapel tea. When I served at a large Christian camp for young people there was a wonderful esprit de corps. It was a time of truly uplifting, heart warming and faith building fellowship. Workers came back year after year because they gained so much serving together.

    (d) Avoid stupid arguments.

    Churches do get involved in stupid arguments that end in quarrelling and in some cases people leaving the fellowship. I can remember arguments in my own church over where to site a new toilet block, who should serve at communion, where to hold the evening service and how to stop a lady from singing so loudly. Members of other fellowships known to me quarrel about which version of the Bible to use, which musical instrument should be used to lead the singing, whether chairs should replace pews and what hymn book to sing from. These are not subjects that Christians should fall out over.

    (e) Be impartial.

    Paul told Timothy to be kind to everyone. We shouldn't just be kind to our friends, our allies or those who are nice to us. Old Jack who attended our church was not always very pleasant to my fellow elder, Edward. He accused him of being a bit of a wimp. Yet whenever he got into a muddle - which was quite frequently - Jack went to Edward for help. Edward always helped him - not that Jack gave him much credit for it.

    The pastor of a church in particular must be very careful not to show favouritism. If people feel neglected or ignored they might well become resentful and unco-operative.

    (f) Able to teach.

    A church benefits when it contains leaders with the ability to teach what the Scriptures mean. It is a blessing when a teacher can bring Bible passages to life and is able to relate them to a person's experience.

    Jesus communicated mostly by the spoken word. This requires much skill because we forget what we hear very quickly. Jesus often put across a single, relatively simple, truth by telling a story or using colourful, pithy language. The Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Sower are all quite easy to remember and yet convey truth with great power.

    I used stories and anecdotes when I gave school assemblies. You will find some examples in the 'Stories' section of my website. Take for instance: My account of a nearly perfect day. I got a lot more thanks for my assemblies than my Geography lessons. They met a need that subject lessons failed to satisfy.

    Paul dealt with more complex truths than Jesus. These are probably best taught by the written word. Paul's letters could be read over and over again by the recipients whether individuals like Timothy or churches like that at Ephesus. They can also be studied in depth by us today with the help of writers like William Barclay, Warren Wiersbe and Donald Guthrie. I learn a lot more from the written than the spoken word.

    (g) Thick skinned.

    We readily get upset with and resentful of those who oppose us. There were some shocking examples of this in the reaction of members of the hard left to labour MPs who supported bombing ISIS in Syria. There is no excuse for foul abuse. Christians should not get angry and belligerent with those who disagree with them. This usually does more harm than good.

    Paul advises us to gently instruct those who oppose us - insofar as they will let us - in the hope that they will change their mind and embrace the truth. Paul was dealing with serious departures from the truth. Some Christians at Ephesus had taken leave of their senses to such an extent that they had been taken captive by the devil to do his will.

    It would require sound and authoritative teaching backed by Holy Spirit power to bring the erring Ephesians to their senses.

    We can see the extent to which Satan led the early church astray by studying Paul's letters to the Corinthians and Galatians. I think Paul found it easier to put the erring churches right by letter than in person. In this way he avoided confrontation - something he shrank from.

    I am certain many Christians are in error over several aspects of life after death. I am sure that it is more productive to deal with the errors as I have done on this website rather than by arguing about them face to face. See article on the afterlife.