The Christian as a Student
Scripture Reading 2 Timothy 2:15
The strenuous nature of the Christian life is by no means lost sight of as the Apostle Paul turns from the farm and the hard-working husbandman to the classroom and the serious-minded student. Continuing his personal letter to young Timothy, his “own son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2; see also 2 Tim. 1:2), Paul advisedly writes: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The crying need today in this troubled, turbulent, topsy-turvey “Jetomic Age” is for more young people to enroll in the “College of Mary” (Luke 10:39), to thereby become fitted to rightly divide “the Word of Truth”.
This great text of 2 Timothy 2:15 was the watchword, or slogan, of the Torrey and Alexander missions in Great Britain many years ago. It might well be adopted as the slogan, or motto, of every true Christian, for as Guy H. King has thoughtfully commented: “It seems to me to be a most delightful summing-up of a satisfactory Christian life, with a revelation of its secret, ‘the word of truth’ “ (To My Son, p. 68).
In the writer’s study there is just one text hanging on the wall. This beautifully finished plaster plaque bears the words of 2 Timothy 2:15 and serves as a constant reminder of his great responsibility as a servant of Jesus Christ.
In our study of this grand Bible text, we want to consider three major aspects clearly set forth in regard to the serious-minded student of the Scriptures, the first being:
Diligence of the Student
Two things about the Christian as a student are revealed in the opening clause of our classic verse.
His presentation. The opening word, “study”, is in the imperative mood and means to “be diligent” or to “give diligence”. Since this verb in the Greek language is in what is known as the aorist tense, it implies that this matter of diligence is to be a once-for-all, or permanent, thing on the part of the Christian student. Does this kind of diligence seem too difficult to maintain and manifest? Yes, for us it is, but let us take to heart the encouraging and promissory words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:24: “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it”. The expression, “to shew”, literally means “to present”. The whole idea is simply this: The true Christian student must be permanently diligent to present himself to God. He must be completely given over to the task and responsibility which is his sacred trust. It is interesting and enlightening to observe that the same root word, here translated “to shew”, is used in regard to yielding ourselves to God (Rom. 6:13); and in regard to presenting our bodies “a living sacrifice” to God (Rom. 12:1).
His purpose. The Christian student should be diligent to present himself “approved unto God”, for in a coming day his work is going to be tested by Him (1 Cor. 3:13; Jas. 1:12). In this life our faithful God desires and has designed that we be found: (1) Useful (2 Tim. 2:21); (2) Faithful (1 Cor, 4:2); and (3) Worthy of Reward (Matt. 25:21; 1 Cor. 3:14).
Therefore, let us be careful to always remember that everything we do in the Christian life should be wrought with a view to God’s approval, not man’s (Col. 3:17, 23, 24). As in all key matters, so in this, the Lord Jesus Christ has left “us an Example, that ye should follow His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). We do well, then, to recall the earlier words of the Apostle Peter recorded in Acts 2 as part of his great Pentecostal sermon, even though a different Greek word is employed for the verb “approved”. “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you …” (v. 22).
In order to be a truly diligent Christian student it takes: (1) Preparation of the Mind; (2) Presentation of the Body; and (3) Perseverance of the Will.
We come now to the second major aspect of our classic text, and that is,
Discipline of the Student
The true Christian student must be “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed”, and this requires strict discipline. First of all, what are some of the things that will cause God’s workman to be ashamed in that day, when all earthly classroom work is finished and he stands in Christ’s presence to be graded? There are many others, of course, but we suggest three things that will bring shame in that day as to the kind of work turned in.
If he works: (1) Slothfully (Prov. 6:6ff.; 18:9; 24:30ff.; Eccles. 10:18; Rom. 12:11; Heb. 6:11-12); (2) Slovenly (Jer. 48:10); and/or (3) Spasmodically (1 Cor. 4:2).
Happily, we turn to those qualities of work that will not only make God’s workman unashamed in that day, but will bring an eternal reward from His hand. It is here that the proper emphasis belongs. Though many other qualities might be added, as a balance to what has preceded, we suggest three that should characterize the work of every Christian student. He should work: (1) Sacrificially (Josh. 1:8; Acts 15:25-27; Phil. 2:2530) ; (2) Systematically (2 Cor. 14:33, 40); and (3) steadfastly (1 Cor. 15:58).
In that coming day will we be ashamed or unashamed? How you are living and working now will determine the ultimate answer (I John 2:28).
This brings us to our third and final major aspect disclosed in 2 Timothy 2:15 — namely,
The Duty of the Student
Regarding the Christian student, two things are readily observed in the closing words of this great text, First of all,
His textbook. The student and books belong together, and the Christian student’s one primary Textbook is “the Word of Truth”. Paul was a keen student, whether in or out of prison, and this is reflected in 2 Timothy 4:13 (see also Acts 26:24). His reference to and request for “the books” probably included both secular and sacred writings, the latter comprising copies of Old Testament books, but Paul’s special request was for “the parchments”. Parchment was more expensive than papyrus and these were undoubtedly copies of Old Testament books, possibly including copies of the sayings of the Lord Jesus (Luke 1:1-4).
The Holy Scriptures are the Christian student’s tool, and by diligent study and practice he must learn to use it skillfully (Eph. 6:17 with Matt. 4:1-11). He must not blunt it through misuse, or let it rust from disuse. He must in every sense be indeed a man of the Book (cf. Josh. 1:8, 9; Ps. 119:9, 11, 105; 1:1-3; Jer. 15:16; 2 Tim. 1:13, 2:15-18; 3:14-17; 4:2).
The second thing revealed at the close of our text in regard to the Christian student is
His task. This is the highly important matter of “rightly dividing” God’s Word. This phrase of two words is actually one word in the Greek text and it literally means “cutting straight”. The learned doctors of Bible scholarship disagree as to its exact meaning, the word occurring only here in the New Testament. The metaphor could refer to: a stonemason, as one cutting stones to fit properly in a building; plowing a furrow; laying down a road (Prov. 3:6; 11:5 LXX); or to Paul, a tent-maker, cutting camel’s hair cloth straightly.
John Calvin likened this expression to making “straight slices” as of a wonderful Bread of Life. Whatever the definite metaphor might be, one thing is clear, “straight” is emphatic. Dispensationalism is only referred to indirectly, for it can hardly be said that Paul here had it in mind. Rather, the contrast is between truth and error (cf. 2:14, 16, 17, 23). However, the avoidance of error and arriving at the truth is only possible by recognizing dispensational distinctions. The words of 2 Peter 1:20 and 3:16 are especially appropriate regarding this all-important matter of “cutting in a straight line” (J.N.D.) the Word of God.
The well known New Testament scholar, A. T. Robertson, has humorously yet truly remarked: “Certainly plenty of exegesis is crooked enough (crazy-quilt patterns) to call for careful cutting to set it straight” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV, pp. 619-20).
May all who are enrolled in the “College of Mary” (Luke 10:39) pass with flying colours the coming test at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12ff), and receive from Him the degree of A.U.G. — “Approved Unto God”.
Regarding the Word of Truth, someone has said:
“Know it in the heart,
Stow it in the head,
Sow it in the world,
Show it in the life.”