“STUDY to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needethi not to be ashamed, rightly diving the word of truth.”
Paul addresses Timothy as “My dearly beloved son,” and nothing could more feelingly express the interest of the apostle in the young man Timothy, younger certainly in the ministry, even if not so much younger in years. Paul never married, and therefore had no sons of his own flesh and blood, but he calls Timothy his son, because of the spiritual relationship which the one bears to the other in the gospel. John, likewise, addressed his epistle, “My little children,” not meaning that they were literally his children, but that they had been given to hear the word understandingly from his lips, and that he had begotten them by the word of truth, which is the gospel. Likewise had Paul begotten Timothy, Timothy being Paul’s fruit in the ministry, therefore he felt fully warranted in addressing him as “My dearly beloved son.” In reading this second letter of Paul to Timothy, there are two expressions in it that strike the attention. The first is in the fifteenth verse of the first chapter: “All they which are in Asia be turned away from me.” This denotes that even in that early day of the church, and in the time of the apostles themselves, the apostasy, or falling away of the churches, had already set in. Already those who called themselves christians were departing from the faith and order of the gospel church, and were receding into legalist practices and teachings. This falling away, Paul says here, included “all they which are in Asia.” This does not mean that the churches in Asia had disbanded, or that they had ceased to call themselves christians, but it means that they had fallen away from the doctrine of grace as revealed in the ministry of the apostle Paul, therefore “turned away from me [Paul].” The other expression that strikes us in reading this letter is to he found in the second chapter, third verse: “A good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Nothing more severely tests whether one is a good soldier of Jesus than his standing firm in the midst of unfaithfulness on every hand, his facing unpopularity and scorn, his constant emphasis of the doctrine of grace, even though all men forbear. This is an exceedingly severe trial of one’s call to preach, and needs great grace to withstand the ordeal. This grace Paul had so that he stood firm to the end, and this grace he desired for the young preacher, Timothy, that he, too, might be found enduring hardness with the courage which living faith alone can impart. It seems to us that these two expressions to which we have just called attention furnish a key to what was in the mind of the apostle in addressing this letter to Timothy. Being older than Timothy in years, in experience, in grace and in the ministry, and knowing so well the temptations and trials that beset the minister of Jesus, he could but fee an interested anxiety in the welfare and in the labors of the young Timothy, so that he could not refrain from giving expression to this interest, love and sympathy which he did in these two letters written to Timothy. They are full of good advice and wise counsel, advice and counsel which we believe were blessed to the spiritual uplift and strengthening of the ‘young man in his ministry. These two letters of Paul to Timothy, though neither of them long, cover a great deal of ground, for in them Paul calls attention to the different points of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, to the order of the house, the function of prayer, the qualifications of elders and deacons, and various other matters, all of which the apostle deemed of importance to the “son” Timothy, as well as to all the church. He stirs Timothy up to the remembrance of those things which Timothy already knew and believed, but which need to be kept constantly before the mind of one who professes to be, and is called to be, a. Preacher of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us take up the text at the beginning of this article in order: “Study.” Study what? Is Timothy here commanded to study books, to give himself to an intellectual life, and to the gaining of knowledge which may develop his brain power? Is the even commanded to study the Bible? No, we think none of these things were in the mind of Paul when he told Timothy to study. The word “study” here means “be diligent.” In another place, Paul says, Neglect not the gift that is in thee. That which improves a man’s gift is the use of that gift. If one is called to preach, then let him preach, and not refuse to do so. Wherever a door is opened in the path of the preacher, wherever and whenever some hungry sheep somewhere calls for preaching, let him preach to that one. In this way he will not neglect his gift. A man’s ministry comes first, before everything else; even before one’s own family and one’s personal interest and temporal welfare must come the work unto which one is called in the vineyard of the Master. Just as sure as external things intervene and interfere with one’s ministry, just so sure is the usefulness of that ministry affected. Therefore, if God has given Timothy a gift to preach, let him preach, and let him do it wherever and whenever the way is opened for that gift to be exercised. Let him not pass by the opportunities of to-day, looking for some bigger thing to-morrow. We well remember a letter which brother Chick wrote us just after our ordination, in which he used this expression: “Do with your might what your hands find to do.” He meant nothing more and nothing less than the thought we have just presented, that whatever opportunity there is presented in our path to declare the name of Jesus, declare it with such ability as God gives at that moment, and despise not the occasion because only one or two or a few are there to hear it. “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season.” This is one way in which Timothy’s diligence, or “study,” was to be manifested. Again, let him “study” himself. Let him consider his failings and his shortcomings, his dependence upon grace and his need of the tuition of the Spirit. Let him take care how he behaves himself in the house (church) of God. Nothing hurts a man’s ministry more than improper and undignified conduct in his goings out and comings in before the people to whom he ministers. This Paul I mentions in his first letter to Timothy when he says that these things I write unto thee that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living” God, the pillar and ground of the truth. Let him “study,” that is, consider this matter of personal conduct and behavior. Again, let him take heed to the doctrine. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” This is the kind of “study” that Paul desires to see Timothy engaged in. The word “save” is here used in the sense of “establish.” In taking heed and in holding fast the sound doctrine of grace which is in Christ Jesus, he will both save himself from error and delusion, and also save from error and delusion those that hear him; thus will his ministry confirm the churches in the faith of Jesus and establish them in his glorious truth. Studying many or few books will never make a man a better preacher. We do not mean that a preacher of Jesus need be an ignoramus in the world’s affairs, a veritable numskull whenever he mixes with his fellow-men, but we do mean that if any preacher reads or studies any book, even the Bible, with the idea that it will make him a better or more able preacher, that preacher has much to learn as to what it takes to make a preacher. Far be it from us to say that one called to preach should not read the Bible. He should most certainly read it, the Scriptures should be the man of his counsel, and we cannot understand how a man called to preach can help reading the Bible, indeed he will be compelled to read it. The stirrings of his gift within himself will compel him to read it whether he wants to or not. We simply mean that any reading that is done with a view to conscious self-improvement is effort vainly pursued. The Bible should be read for its own self, and for the truth’s sake, and. not with any ulterior purpose or selfish motive. If we are wrong in this, then our experience is wrong, for we have proved time and time again that whenever we have picked up the Bible with a view to our improvement in ability as a preacher, we have found it locked up and sealed away from our understanding. Now, what is the object of this “study,” this diligence on the part of Timothy? It is that he may be manifested as approved unto God. This does not mean that he may show God his approval, but that those to whom he ministers may see in that ministry that Timothy is truly a God-called and God-sent laborer in the vineyard. In other words, it is the one who hears Timothy preach that receives the evidence that Timothy is surely approved of God. Timothy, nor any other one called to preach, is to make any effort to please man, he is not to accommodate himself to the carnal tastes and inclinations of the natural man. The very fact that hundreds and thousands of men calling themselves preachers of the gospel study to please their congregations, to discover what will draw large crowds, and what will especially hold the young people, is in itself an evidence that such men are not called of God to preach, and that their ministry. has not his divine approval. The evidence that a man’s preaching is approved of God is that he stands by the Scriptures, and proves what he says by the Scriptures, that his testimony accords with the written word, and with the experience of the subjects of grace. Such an one takes the Bible as his only authority in doctrine and order, and his preaching is not dependent upon logic or argument to clinch it, but upon the enforcing power of the Holy Ghost, which carries conviction to the hearts of those that hear, and which spiritually demonstrates its truth within them. Such a preacher thus evidently approved of God unto the church is a workman who needeth not to be ashamed. He cannot be put to shame or confusion, for his doctrine is irrefutable when substantiated by the word of God. It cannot be gainsaid nor denied, though it may be scoffed at. Very often those who cannot disprove a thing seek refuge in ridiculing and belittling that thing. “Rightly dividing the word of truth” does not mean simply to show the difference between truth and error. It does not mean simply to tell what Arminians believe, and the distinction of that from what Old Baptists believe. Neither does it mean simply to tell one’s own personal experiences. The word of truth itself needs to be divided, and not simply to be distinguished from error. One qualification of an elder is aptness to teach. (1 Tim. iii. 2.) This means ability to teach what the Scriptures mean, ability to expound them and to open up their meaning to the spiritual ear. In dividing the word of truth the law is separated from gospel, and each is given its proper place in the plan of salvation; works are distinguished from grace, the flesh from the Spirit. Then, too, doctrine is defined and explained, the experience is outlined and interpreted, exhortation comes in for its share in stirring up the pure minds unto a godly walk and conversation, and so forth. As we write these thoughts as they flash through our mind we wonder whether we have ever really preached a single sermon. The standard or ideal which Paul sets before the young man Timothy is so high and exalted that we exclaim, Lord, who is sufficient for these things? Surely no man ever can of himself preach the gospel, or behave himself seemly in the house of God; he cannot of himself be diligent, or rightly divide the word of truth. Grace must be his sifficiency every hour and every moment of his days and nights, else his ministry cannot profit those who hear. Grace is the armor of the man of God, it alone can stay him successfully against the cunning wiles of the devil. May the good Lord raise up more and more such preachers in this degenerate age to minister unto his humble poor. Old Baptists cannot look unto nor endow a college to turn out their preachers, they must and do wait upon their God in this matter, and he has never disappointed their trust. We may not have all the preachers we want, but we most assuredly shall have all we need, for we are promised that God will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Written at the request of sister Nancy Hutchison, of Herndon, Va. L.
Elder H. H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Volume 84, No. 15.
August 1, 1916.