This is the final post in a blog series on 2 Timothy 2:15. I began the series recognizing that many people use this verse (and the KJV translation “study to show thyself approved unto God”) as a motto for schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, and other educational programs. (See “Study to show thyself approved unto God?“) In the next post, I showed that it is very unlikely that the initial command in 2 Timothy 2:15 meant “study.” (See “Did Paul tell Timothy to study in 2 Timothy 2:15?“) Then, I suggested that “word of truth” more likely refers to “the gospel” instead of the Scriptures or the Bible. (See “In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by word of truth?“) Finally, I said that the phrase “rightly dividing/handling the word truth” probably meant to live according to the gospel without straying one way or the other. (See “What did Paul mean by rightly dividing the word of truth in 2 Timothy 2:15?“)
My goal in all of this is to understand what Paul meant when he wrote this verse to Timothy. How did he expect Timothy to respond? And, how does it affect us today? If Paul did not intend for this verse to encourage Timothy to study the Bible, then what did he mean?
First, here is the verse again in a few different translations:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV)
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)
The syntax of this verse begins with an imperative (command) with an infinitive as it’s object. The infinitive (as a verbal noun) then has three objects in apposition (in parallel):
Make every effort / Be diligent (Imperative)
to present yourself to God (infinitive with a prepositional phrase)
1) an approved (person) (emphasized)
2) an unashamed worker
3) rightly dividing the word of truth (gospel)
The first object of the infinitive (“an approved ‘person'”) is a nominative adjective (an adjective with an assumed noun). It is in a position of emphasis before the infinitive in the Greek sentence. The second object (“an unashamed worker”) is a noun with an adjective. The final object of the infinitive (“rightly dividing the word of truth (gospel)”) is built on a participle (“rightly dividing”) with its on object (“the word of truth”).
These three terms stand in parallel with one another.
Why is this important? Because Paul is not telling Timothy how to be “an approved person” or “an unashamed worker” or “[a person who] rightly handles the gospel.” Instead, Paul is exhorting Timothy to live that way before God. This is in contrast to the way other people are living and presenting themselves “before God.” (See 2 Timothy 2:14 for example.)
Furthermore, while “an approved [person]” is in a place of emphasis, the terms do not seem to build on each other. There is no conjunction connecting them, which tends to indicate apposition (parallel) instead of some kind of sequence.
As Paul has told Timothy several times in each of his letter, Timothy is living according to the gospel. This is an exhortation to continue in that way of life, recognizing that he is living his life before God, not for the pleasure or acceptance or approval of people.
But, the beginning imperative is important. You cannot coast into a life that is lived according to the gospel. It takes diligence… effort… concerted focus. So, the exhortation to Timothy – in the presence of those who live contrary to God’s desire – is for the young man to do whatever it takes to continue down the path of the good news of Jesus Christ. As a person approved by God, an unashamed worker, and one who is already living according to the gospel… this is exhortation to continue down the road he is already walking, without letting others tempt him into a different manner of life.
Of course, this is a good reminder for all of us. Are you approved by God in Jesus Christ? Are you an unashamed worker indwelled by and empowered by the Holy Spirit? Are you walking the straight line dictated by the good news of Jesus Christ? Then make every effort to keep walking down that same path, recognizing that you are in the presence of God… and regardless of what those around you do or how they live.
Series on 2 Timothy 2:15
- Study to show thyself approved unto God?
- Did Paul tell Timothy to “study” in 2 Timothy 2:15?
- In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by “word of truth”?
- What did Paul mean by “rightly dividing the word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15?
- 2 Timothy 2:15 – Putting it all together