A little over a year ago, I was asked this question. “What is your favorite Bible verse?” To be honest, I found it very difficult. After all there are 31,102 verses in the Bible. How do I pick one? Often, we will pick verses that are particularly comforting and encouraging. Several verses come to mind. Verses that I run to when I’m discouraged or depressed. They are usually promises that God is there with me, that He cares, and that He won’t abandon me.
How many of you were given a Bible “promises book” when you graduated from high school and went off to college? They are popular gift items because it makes finding God’s promises easier. We don’t have to perform an exhaustive search, open up our BIG Bibles, and dig for these golden nuggets of encouragement. Someone else has already done it for us. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, we should be thankful that there are Bible “miners” out there who are willing to dig up and collect these affirming jewels.
When I was younger I chose 2 Timothy 2:15 from the King James Version as my favorite verse. Here it is:
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)
I like the wording in the King James because it uses the word “study”. As a teenager and a student, I knew what the word “study” meant. I could relate, even if I didn’t like studying. So why would a non-studious, teenager pick this particular verse as his favorite? I was not very studious, academic, or scholarly. When someone would say, “you’re a gentlemen and a scholar” I was probably neither. I may not have been very serious about schoolwork, but I was passionate and very serious about studying the Bible. I was a “bookworm”, singular. The Bible was the only book I was wormy about.
When I was around ten or eleven years old, my mother had just become a Christian. She was attending a Bible study class in Atlanta that was led by a teacher named Kay Arthur. Kay had just started an “inductive” Bible study ministry in Chattanooga called Reach out incorporated. Now it’s called Precept Ministries. The Bible studies were called “Precept Upon Precept” for adults and “Line Upon Line” for kids. The name of the Bible study series was based on this scripture:
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: Isaiah 28:10 (KJV)
Kay Arthurs “method” of Bible study was called “inductive Bible Study”. Inductive Bible study is a prominent and useful methodology that helps readers observe the text (precept upon precept; line upon line), then interpret the text, and finally apply the text into their lives. Kay wasn’t the first person to come up with this. Anyone have a guess as to who else may have incorporated this type of Bible study “method”? I’ll give you a clue. He founded the Methodist church and movement.
Everyday I watched my mom sit in her chair in the living room and study the Bible. Whenever I was home from school she would take me to hear Kay Arthur at Roswell Street Baptist church. We went to family conferences at Reach Out Inc. in Chattanooga. My mom sent me to a weekend retreat for teenagers in November of 1978. I got saved and became a Christian that weekend. Everything changed and my Biblical training began. My mom ordered “Line Upon Line” studies and various devotionals for me to study. We also attended a great church that was very serious about Biblical training. Before I became a Christian I hated going to church, but after my conversion I couldn’t get enough. I studied the Bible everyday. I loved it and still do. This love of scripture and God’s word is what eventually led me into ministry.
Let’s go back the to 2 Timothy 2:15. In the Greek or original text the word for “study” is Σπούδασον. It means to study, be diligent, or be earnest. In other words take it seriously. It’s important. Why is it so important? Our ultimate desire as a Christian is to please God and enjoy Him forever. We want His approval. As an affirmation junkie, I can relate to this. I want approval. I may not always get it, but I still want it. God’s approval is everything, and 2 Timothy 2:15 tells me how to get it. Study!
The opposite of approval is condemnation, rejection, and shame. 2 Timothy 2:15 has an antidote for that. In the verse it says, “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”. Studying is not easy. There is a reason they call it “homework”. But it’s not enough just about attaining knowledge for knowledge sake. Our purpose is transformation. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” This “word of truth” transforms us from old to new, from sin and shame to holy and approved, from condemnation to salvation.
How many of us have felt ashamed that we either didn’t do our homework or didn’t do it very well? Been there done that more times than I care to admit, but there was an easy remedy for my shame and embarrassment. Do it and do it well. Avoid the shame altogether and make a straight path to approval. This is what Paul means by “study to shew yourself approved by God”, and the phrase “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Here is the same phrase from a couple of other translations:
- “who correctly handles the word of truth.” New International Version
- “one who interprets the message of truth correctly.” Common English Version
- “accurately handling the word of truth.” New American Standard Version
The New American Standard Version (NASV) is supposed to be one of the most accurate translations of the Bible. It was the first translation that I owned. “Accurately handling” is from the Greek word ὀρθοτομοῦντα that means to “cut straight, handle correctly, or teach rightly.” This brings to mind our school days and class projects. Specifically using scissors to cut out shapes on paper. If we didn’t want to mess up our picture or shapes, our cuts were made very carefully and many times along the lines. We wanted to be accurate. We wanted to do it right.
Paul explains to Timothy that handling, studying, and interpreting the scripture needs to be done correctly and accurately. In other words, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Later in the letter Paul shares this:
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3 (NIV)
The Greek word for “sound” in this verse is ὑγιαινούσης and it means “I am well or right”. Have you ever heard the phrase “sound as a pound”? ὑγιαινούσης also means “pure and uncorrupted.” So, there is a fine line between what the Bible accurately and actually says and what we want it to say. There is a problem when we drift or cut too far one way or the other, when we add in or take away from the “word of truth”.
I may not have understood why I chose 2 Timothy 2:15 as my favorite verse 41 years ago, but I think I do now. We are living in an age where “sound doctrine” is no longer being “put up with” or tolerated. It no longer fits the popular narrative. It is now considered offensive and narrow minded. I understand how difficult it is to apply an ancient text in a modern age. We may have more information and better technology today, but from a Biblical perspective I would rather defer to those who knew the Lord best, the eyewitnesses, than assume my second hand interpretation is greater or more accurate. Am I smarter or more spiritual than Paul, Peter, or John? Many things have changed since the Bible was written, but human behavior has not. We need God’s truth now more than ever.
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management