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2 Timothy 2:14-19 Study Guide: Rightly Handling God's Word

Community Group Study Guide — Rightly Handling God’s Word
2 Timothy 2:14-19

Study Information:
Sometimes we can look back on the early church and romanticize things about how great they must have been having been trained by people who were trained by Jesus himself! There is a lot we can learn, but passages like this one teach us that the early church was not a place of absolute harmony and agreement around sound truth. There were people manipulating God’s word for their own purposes, and their false teaching that was upsetting the faith of others. We’ve all heard bible teaching that has missed the mark at one point or another. Often, it is unintentional and correctable especially if the church leaders are learners and humble, however there are bible teachers out there who manipulate God’s word to suit their agendas and efforts. Paul’s charge to Timothy was to remind his church before God to focus on right truth, as revealed in God’s word, and to listen to “good workers” rather than the “bad workers.” The mark that distinguished between good and bad workers was how they handled God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:14, 16). 

For Pastors and church leaders, teaching and defending sound doctrine revealed in God’s word is one of the most important tasks they have since the Word guides how we worship and live. And for followers of Jesus, we’re commanded to be shaped by God’s word rather than trying to bend God’s word so it is shaped to our purposes. 

A Good Worker:
2 Timothy 2:14-15
Key to Timothy’s pastoral ministry during this season of change and transition, from Paul and the other Apostles to the next generation, was a commitment to sound truth. When Paul told Timothy to charge the church to not quarrel about words he was essentially telling them to stay committed to sound teaching. There appears to have been division around things where there should have been zero division over (see 2 Timothy 2:18). There should be healthy debate and discussion around theology in the church, but this quarreling of words was not that. Paul used the term “words” because the idea of sound doctrine or sound words was a theme in all his pastoral letters (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). There were groups or factions who were deviating towards false teaching and fighting about it with church leaders who were committed to sound doctrine. It seems like even in the ancient church there were people who wanted to either teach false things for their own gain or make political or cultural things the main thing and by doing so were swerving from the truth. 

Timothy’s charge from Paul was to present himself as a good worker approved by God. The idea of being “approved” meant that he had been tested and weighed and came out of that process as one who was solid and faithful. Core to being a good worker was how they handled the word of truth. The word “handle” here means “cuts straight” and was used in the Greek translation of the book of Proverbs for one who followed a “straight path.” Compare this with 2 Timothy 2:14 and the warning to not quarrel about words and 2 Timothy 2:16 and the warning to avoid irrelevant babble. This is not a prohibition against disagreement and debate, rather quarreling about words was getting caught up in false doctrine and drifting from accepted scriptural teaching as passed down by the Apostles  (2 Timothy 2:1, 17). Someone who “cuts the Word straight” allowed their life to be formed and shaped by scripture, like what Hebrews 4:12 teaches us. A “bad worker” would do the opposite and try to curve or bend scripture for their purposes. 

This is important for the church to keep in mind because being a pastor is more than being a good and faithful bible teacher, but it is not less than that. Core to pastoral ministry is teaching truth about God’s word and helping the church to grow in right knowledge of God that leads to faithful living. We’re tempted to want our pastors to be CEOs, grow the business of the church, be experts on politics, social movements and viruses… too soon? Pastors and church leaders should not be ignorant of those things, but that is not the focus for spiritual leadership in the church. More than that, if a church leader has a pattern of deviating from clear theological truth that is of “first importance” then they should not be teaching or leading in the church (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). 

A Bad Worker:
2 Timothy 2:16-18
So far Paul called out two people who were ashamed of him in his chains and their failure to show gospel community and in this passage Paul added two more names to his list of warning for Timothy. Hymanaeus and Philetus had been swerving from truth and getting into errors in gospel doctrine. Specifically, they did not cut the word straight but were curving it to their own purposes and upsetting the faith of others by teaching that the resurrection had already happened. Likely they were teaching that only Jesus Christ was raised and that there was no future resurrection for his followers. Their error was not a small matter but a big miss and had huge ramifications for the church. This kind of teaching increased ungodliness and spread like an infection in the community upsetting the faith of others. Paul called it a swerving from the truth. The word “swerve” here is from archery and talks about deviating from the target. Paul has used this word before in 1 Timothy 1:6 and 6:21 as a warning against false teachers who use the church and scripture as a means to teach ungodly things. People using the Bible to justify their bad teaching or lifestyle choices is not a new invention but one that the church has had to confront since the church began.  

Guard Against False Teaching
2 Timothy 2:19
What can followers of Jesus do? First, remember that not every one who calls themselves a Christian actually is. Paul said in verse 19 that “the Lord knows who are his” and that means that we do not have the same level of knowledge that God does around who is truly a follower of Christ and who is not. This is a warning for us to use discretion and to compare what we hear from Bible teachers with scripture. Second, we are to actively depart from iniquity. Iniquity carries the idea of imperfection or blemish. This means we fight sin in our lives and we also fight against false teaching and guard sound truth. One of the best ways you can do this is by being active in reading your Bible and studying theology, specifically how the church throughout history has interpreted theological truth. The ancient Creeds and Confession statements like the Nicene Creed, Apostles Creed, Westminster Catechism and Heidelberg Catechism are a few helpful examples. Third, we come to the Bible with the posture of a learner who wants to submit their life to what they find there. We all have the temptation to want to bend scripture to suit our current lifestyles and choices, but we will best grow in Christ and knowledge of God when we actively look to how we can come into conformity with God’s word rather than trying to conform God’s word to our lives. 

At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read 2 Timothy 2:14-19

What is the main difference between a “good worker” and “bad worker?”

What does “swerved from the truth” mean? See 1 Timothy 1:16 and 6:21 for more examples of how Paul used that term. 

How did this quarreling over words and irrelevant babble lead to ungodliness and the spread of false teaching in the early church community?

What are some ways you can personally guard against being caught up in false teaching?