A good craftsman derives satisfaction and pleasure from doing his best to produce high-quality work. Likewise, the student of God’s Word is expected to be a good “workman” who “does not need to be ashamed” (v.15) of negligent, shoddy, or half-hearted work.
In challenging false teachers whose favourite pastime was “quarrelling about words” (v.14), and in feeding the flock with God’s Word, Timothy is to be a diligent student of Scripture. As a careful craftsman of Scripture, he will be able to warn the false teachers and their fans of the danger of engaging in useless speculation and of carelessly handling Scripture. Such behaviour “only ruins those who listen” (v.14). Three principles can be noted in verse 15 regarding the right handling of Scripture.
Firstly, preachers are accountable to God. They present themselves to God before they present themselves to the congregation. They kneel in prayer before they stand at the pulpit. They need to gain God’s approval before they can preach. The leaders whose task it is to choose and authorise preachers must discern those whom God has approved. Remembering that they are accountable to God will make preachers conduct their ministry with all seriousness and with fear and trembling (Psalm 119:120).
Secondly, preachers and teachers must handle God’s Word accurately. The Greek word orthotomeo means “to cut straight”, the way a farmer cuts a straight line with the plough. The opposite of orthotomeo is astocheo, meaning “wandered away” (2 Timothy 2:18). Careless and irresponsible workmen of God’s Word stray from the text and lead themselves and their flocks astray. Scottish theologian William Barclay asserts that a good workman of Scripture “rightly divides the word of truth, drives a straight road through the truth and refuses to be lured down pleasant but irrelevant bypaths”.
Thirdly, good workmen of Scripture will do their best. The Greek word spoudazo means “making every effort with haste, eagerness and zeal”. There is to be no cutting of corners or laziness. Good workmen will spare no effort to accurately and clearly present what the scriptural text says and apply it relevantly to everyday life. They will emphasise what Scripture emphasises and focus on its focus.
These principles are not only for preachers and teachers, but also for all Christians, in whom the Word of God must richly dwell (Colossians 3:16).
Identify some examples of “quarrelling about words” (v.14). Why is such a practice useless and harmful to listeners and participants? How is this different from guarding the truth?
Reflect on the three principles stated. Which of these needs to be strengthened in the way you handle Scripture?