The apostle Paul wrote to the evangelist Timothy, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). This verse well-illustrates the need for understanding that word meanings may change, and we must be ever on guard against misapplying or twisting scripture, even when we try to teach the truth. The rendering, “study to show thyself approved unto God” is found only in the King James Version, translated in the year 1611. In 1611 the word “study” meant “strive”, or “be diligent”. Thus the New American Standard Bible renders the verse, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth”. The New International Version renders the verse, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth”.
Bible study is very important, but 2 Timothy 2:15 is not just a command to study the Bible. Being an approved workman involves much more. Paul wanted Timothy to understand that to be a workman that God could approve, he would have to be diligent in his service to God. God is not the kind of Master that accepts shoddy work! By earnestly applying himself in service, Timothy would not need to be ashamed as he stood before God in the day of judgment. To be that diligent, approved workman, he would have to correctly handle the word of truth, what the King James Version renders, “rightly dividing the word of truth”. Of necessity, correctly handling the Bible, the word of truth will involve much study, contemplation, and prayer. It will involve bringing an open mind, an open heart, and a faithful life to the word of truth. Implied in the correct handling is the proper understanding of the divisions between the Old and the New Covenants, understanding that the New Testament is the rule of faith and practice for Christians today.
The goal of being an approved workman should be the goal of all of God’s children. In the verses immediately before 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul stressed the importance of living faithfully before God, even to the point of suffering. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us (2 Timothy 2:12). He then told Timothy, “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14).
The evangelist Timothy was to remind his hearers of the sacrifice of Christ, the need for serving Him, and the need to work diligently to be approved workmen before God. The diligent application of all our energy to the service of God will allow us to join Timothy standing before God without shame. Nothing will help us more to please God than to handle carefully and correctly God’s written word. We should look to the written word of God with the same reverence as the psalmist who wrote, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).