We know that God is almighty and that with Him nothing is impossible. Yet can it be that there is something God cannot do?
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
Yes, says Paul: “He cannot deny Himself.” And He cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He cannot do these things because they are contrary to His nature which is faithfulness and truth. God remains faithful even in the face of human faithlessness. He does not go back on His Word. He does not fail to keep His promises.
Because God is faithful and cannot deny Himself, His Word does not change. It remains forever what Paul calls it here — namely, “the word of truth.”
Paul reminds Timothy that those who teach God’s Word need to be careful how they teach it. It is God’s approval that you want, says the apostle, not the approval of men. Be diligent in your work with the Word; be the kind of worker who doesn’t have to be ashamed of his work.
Be careful to handle — “divide” — that Word rightly. The Greek word that Paul uses here means to cut something straight; it’s a figure of speech perhaps derived from Paul’s trade of tent-making. He knew from experience the importance of straight cutting. Careless and crooked cutting would either waste valuable fabric or it could result in an inferior finished product.
Straight cutting of God’s Word is teaching both law and gospel—teaching it as it is, not perverting or changing it. The faithful teacher lets God speak and resists the temptation to try to make the Word acceptable to human reason or in line with current fashion.
Such warnings and reminders to teachers of the Word are necessary because of the great harm that can be done to hearers when teachers fail to handle it rightly.
A Trust to be Guarded
Timothy is directed to warn others “not to strive about words.” Paul does not mean that we should never make an issue of words used to express the teachings of Scripture. The truth that has been given to us is a trust to be guarded (2 Timothy 1:12-14) and we are to contend for the faith (Jude 3). That means that sometimes words that misstate Christian doctrine need to be opposed.
Paul warns here against striving about words “to no profit.”
This happens when someone out of pride insists that his words and expressions are the only way to express a teaching of Scripture. Or it happens when someone makes an issue of an expression that is not wrong and falsely accuses another of false doctrine. In such instances what often follows is a wrangling that does not profit, does not build up, but rather leads to “the ruin of the hearers.” Those who listen to such useless wrangling or striving may be so put off that they stop coming to hear the Word and start distancing themselves from the fellowship of believers.
Paul also tells Timothy to “shun profane and idle babblings,” and he gives an example to show what he is talking about. He mentions two men who were guilty of this very thing. They had strayed from the truth and were spreading a destructive false teaching. He even names them, because they were to be marked and avoided (see Romans 16:17f).
What were Hymenaeus and Philetus saying that was so harmful? They were saying that “the resurrection is already past,” denying the doctrine of the future resurrection of the body as taught by Christ and the apostles.
Now we might wonder how anyone could be deceived or have his faith overthrown by such an obviously absurd false teaching. But false teachers can be clever. We can imagine them quoting statements from Paul’s writings, such as Colossians 3:1, where the apostle says that believers have already been “raised with Christ.” These words they would take out of context, misusing them to support their denial of the resurrection of the body on the last day.
They had already done terrible harm. Some had been taken in by their false teaching and had lost the Christian hope of bodily resurrection. Paul warns of spiritual ruin and the overthrowing of faith where God’s Word is misused.
But where faithful teachers handle the Word rightly, the hearers will be blessed. They will be built up and strengthened in their faith in Jesus Christ.
God’s Word remains the word of truth. Though men may be faithless, He remains faithful. His Word — including the law of God which accuses and condemns sinners — is true and unbending. His Word — including the gospel with all His promises in Christ — are sure and certain. All of them have been or will most certainly be fulfilled — every one of them!