In our former article we noticed how Paul enjoins Timothy to constantly keep the Church in mind of the central truth of the gospel, that Jesus Christ is indeed in a perpetual state of being risen from the dead, and that He will come again upon clouds to judge the living and the dead. That gives reason for hope and godliness to the pious and causes them, in all tribulation, to lift up their weary heads knowing that their redemption is nigh! Thus, Paul is willing to suffer for the gospel’s sake, even as evildoer. But he is of good cheer. Faithful is the saying that was upon the lips and in the hearts of all those who suffered and died for the faith: if we die with Him we shall also live with him; if we endure we shall also reign with Him! And Paul is warned by the equally faithful saying: if we deny Him, by not preaching or falsifying His gospel and the word of His patience, he will deny us, and if we are unfaithful he will not follow an unfaithful preacher with His Holy Spirit and grace; for He cannot deny Himself.
He that hath ears to hear, among preachers, let him listen to what the Spirit through Paul saith unto preachers!
For this is a “Pastoral” letter!
And this letter is full of those exhortations which are not simply “good advice” but they are the solemn charge from the king of the Church to His messengers and servants. And let not a servant think that he can act the part of a “lord” with impunity! The Lord is not mocked!
There is nothing that puts our feet on the solid ground, the holy ground of, God, as the remembrance that it is God with whom we have to deal! The sobering reality is that we are those who care for the souls of the saints as they who must render an account. () And let no one deceive himself among ministers of the gospel: there is no creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do!
Before the face of this God Paul gives Timothy a most solemn charge. It is a charge wherein God and man are called to witness. The term employed by Paul is “dia-marturomai,” that is, “earnestly and religiously to charge.” Thayer. Compare . Such is the charge to which every Minister in the Protestant Reformed churches, past and present. has solemnly with uplifted hand said: “Yes, I with my whole heart!”
The evil of “striving about words” must indeed be a grievous one! Were it not so, the inspired Scriptures which are profitable unto instruction, correction reproof and the pedagogy in righteousness, that the man of God be thoroughly equipped unto good works, would not issue such a solemn warning to preachers against the same! And let no one amongst preachers, the undersigned included, flatter himself, that he does not need this warning, lest he fall into this snare of the devil! For such striving about words, as we pointed out in our former essay, serves no positive purpose of edification in the church. It is not the preaching of the inspired Scriptures, the holy words of God. All it does is to bring the catastrophe in the church by subverting the hearers from the sound words unto godliness!
Hence, the further charge is indeed to the point: “Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth” (or: rightly dividing the word of truth) verse 15.
This is a word of Scripture which gives us a sure remedy in a godly preacher against battling about words; the ungodly do not heed this word and rush on to more ungodliness. They go from bad to worse. But the godly minister fears God. He only fears God and stands in holy awe and obedience before Him. Says Calvin on this verse in his commentary.” Since all disputes about doctrine arise from this source, that men are desirous to make a boast of ingenuity before the world, Paul here applies the best and most excellent remedy, when he commands Timothy to keep his eyes fixed on God; as if he had said ‘some aim at the applause of a crowded assembly, but do thou study to approve thyself and thy ministry before God.’ And indeed there is nothing that tends more to check a foolish eagerness for display, than to reflect that we have to deal with God.”
The proof of such being a “workman that needeth not to be ashamed” one will find in one’s “rightly dividing the word of the truth.”
What is this “word of the truth?”
It is nothing more and nothing less than the infallible word of God contained in Holy Scriptures, as all God’s truth is in Jesus Christ and His crucified. It is the full council of God concerning our redemption. The central truth by which it can be tested is whether one believes in the “resurrection of Jesus” with all its implications in regeneration, calling, justification, sanctification and glorification. This Hymeneus and Philetus did not do. They did not hold to the line of all that is implies in “that Christ is raised from the dead out of the seed of David according to my gospel.
A godly preacher is not interested in anything else but the bringing of this message. He heeds the guide posts set up by the church of all ages in the great Creeds of Christendom. He will wish to cling to the confessional lines as they are the expression of the Church, the pillar and ground of the truth. He does not work slavishly, but does not see with how much he can get away within the boundaries of the Confessions, but he has one thing in mind: he wishes to see how well he can be an approved workman of God. He has profound respect for the godly workmen who have labored before him. He calls to memory that these Confessions were so precious to godly workmen that they would rather die than not build on the only foundation, besides which there is none other! To thus build he gives all diligence!
Such is a godly preacher!
He will not carp about words if it be pointed out to him in “sound words of doctrine” that he is not hewing to the line. Why? Because he does not serve man but knows that God judgeth a man to find him faithful. And trembling before God, lest his work be burned and he saved as by fire (), he freely admits that his work was not according to the Confessions when this is pointed out to him. For he knows that if he rushes on from this point he is no longer “giving all diligence to present himself before the Lord, a workman that does not have to be ashamed.” Fact is, from here on he will in shame need to be silent over his poor workmanship, and/or he will have to whimper about his good intentions! But His workmanship was such that it showed that he did not labor sufficiently to present himself a good workman before God! He had not rightly divided the word of the truth as it is in Jesus.
A good instance of poor workmanship is that of a minister of the gospel who will prove his orthodoxy to the congregation with the Psalter versification of a Psalm, rather than giving a good exegesis from the original Hebrew and a solid study of the entire Psalm itself. If that is good workmanship, then our schools must cease giving instruction in the science of interpretation called Hermeneutics. On the other hand there is more truth than fiction in the word of Calvin, when reflecting on the phrase “to the subversion of the hearers,” he says, “I wish that this were attended to by those who are always armed for fighting with the tongue, and who, in every question are looking for grounds of quarreling, and who go so far as to lay snares around every word or syllable. But they are carried in a wrong direction by ambition, and sometimes by an almost fatal disease; which I have experienced in some. What the apostle says. aboutsubverting is shown, every day, by actual observation, to be perfectly true; for it is natural amidst disputes, to lose sight of the truth; and Satan avails himself of quarrels as a pretense for disturbing weak persons, and overthrowing their faith.”
Yet, when we see men apostatizing from the faith, having fallen into the snare of Satan, we should not be too unduly alarmed. Let us keep in mind that the labors of him who is diligent in presenting himself before God as a workman that needeth not be ashamed, are not in vain in the Lord. It is true, that much scandal is created by those who apostatize and once walked with us in the faith. And at such times the hearts of those, who will be faithful are severely put to the test. It then seems that great pillars are falling, men who once were known as pillars in the church turn away from the truth. What can lesser spirits then do? Such is the experience of the godly preacher, who does not merely prate about a good conscience, but who measured by the objective standards of God’s word presents himself as before God to the conscience of every man, since his sufficiency is of God! He sees men and women leave his congregation. He is put to the test then of either presenting himself acceptable to these deluded and fickle souls or he must prepare himself acceptable to God. And the latter he does. He would rather die than do anything contrary to the will of Him that says: Preach my word, feed my sheep! He will rightly divide the word of truth. For they who do this have a good conscience. And with a free and good conscience they fight against sin and unbelief. Also the sin and unbelief in fickle and evil men, be they ministers or laymen!
He sees this evil teaching proceed farther and farther. The anxious question cannot be downed: has God forgotten to be kind? Is His mercy clean gone? Must unrighteousness triumph in God’s church for which Christ shed His precious blood on Calvary? Must he too follow the multitude, adapt his preaching so that they will not be offended? No, he will give the morediligence before the. Throne of God to show himself approved of God. That is all that matters. That is all that matters more than ever before. He will not engage in “word-strife” but will preach the Word.
And what about the outcome?
To use the words of Paul “nevertheless the foundation of God standeth firm”!
Jesus said: My sheep hear my voice! The elect do not depend on the changing of events, but rest on the solid and immovable foundation; the foundation is in the hand of God. The sheep will indeed know who are the faithful shepherds. They will know who are concerned about their salvation in Christ and who would take from them the “word of truth” by not rightly dividing it. And that will be the deciding factor.
Paul did not write this word simply for dogmatical purposes. He wrote this word for the consolation of the faithful. Just as in the days of Korah, Datan and Abiram God determined who were they, who ministered faithfully before Him, so He does this still in present time! Moses, the man of God, did not gloat that the Lord found him faithful. He saw in it a reason for added humiliation. He knew what it meant to put off all iniquity that he might be fit for the Master’s use. Let no one who has not yet run the race to the end in any way slacken his pace in the running.
The godly preacher has good reason to take heart. He is always more than a conqueror; he is such both in those who are perishing and in those who are being saved. All may seem against him. Nevertheless! the Lord knows those who are His. And, therefore, the godly preacher commits God’s work into His faithful hands. For he is a workman that will not be ashamed in that day when the crown of life is given to all the faithful servants.