Recently, a pastor friend of mine was discussing the spiritual ramifications of the lockdown on his congregation. He commented that so many of his people had more time because they were working less. Some had permanently lost jobs, others had been furloughed, while others didn’t need to commute because they were working from home. He then said his encouragement for them during the lockdown continued to be that his people would used their extra time to increase their personal study of the Bible; they could be good workers in the Word.
That should be true of us all, not just now, but all the time. We all need to be good workers in the Word. What are the qualities of diligent students of the Bible? There are three characteristics of good workers in the Word found in a key verse: 2 Timothy 2:15. Paul wrote to Timothy and told him, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a worker who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
The first characteristic of a good worker in the Word is to be someone who is willing to work hard at the task of studying the Bible. The word translated “Be diligent” actually means “make every effort.” One dictionary describes it as being especially conscientious at discharging an obligation. The word translated “worker” refers to someone who labors to exhaustion. It’s the word used in Matthew 20, the parable about the laborers in the vineyard, to describe those who worked hard in the vineyard from early morning to nightfall. Studying the Bible requires hard work. If we’re to understand God’s Word, we’ve got to put in the time, we’ve got to do the work.
I have a friend who was a pastor for many years. He never taught his congregation the principles of observation, interpretation, and application because he told me his people would never practice them. They didn’t have that kind of effort. He would be happy if they would open their Bibles daily and read a chapter for just five minutes. My friend’s view of people was realistic but unhelpful. If we’re to grow and be effective servants of our King, we’ve got to make the effort not just to grab a Bible verse here and there but take the time to study hard.
The second characteristic of a good worker in the Word is to study, only seeking God’s approval. According to 2 Tim 2:15, we are to work hard “to present yourself approved to God.” Our study of the Bible is not for the applause of others but the affirmation of God. The word “approval” means to be tested and proven true. We study and learn for an audience of one—God Himself.
This idea proved to be a great comfort to me when I was planting a congregation in the New York area. At the outset, I never knew how many people might show up. One week we might have 50 people at services, another we might have five. I would labor all week preparing a Bible message, translation, exegesis, application, illustration—it was hard. And then hardly anyone would show up. I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. My wife Eva would encourage me by reminding me that it really didn’t matter how many people came because success isn’t measured by the size of the crowd but the faithfulness of the servant. My study and communication of God’s Word was always to be for an audience of One—The Messiah Jesus and no one else.
The third characteristic of a good worker in the Word, according to 2 Timothy 2:15, is to be accurate in our use of Scripture. The phrase “accurately handling the Word of truth” actually means “cutting it straight.” It was used in ancient Greek of cutting a straight road in a forest or cutting stones straight for building a stone structure. If we cut the Scriptures straight we’ll understand them for what they truly mean and be able to explain them to others in a simple straightforward way.
This was the secret of D. L. Moody’s success. R. A. Torrey wrote a booklet called Why God used D. L. Moody. He wrote:
God used D. L. Moody, because he was a deep and practical student of the Word of God. Nowadays it is often said of D. L. Moody that he was not a student. I wish to say that he was a student; most emphatically he was a student. He was not a student . . . [of secular subjects]; he was not even a student of theology, in the technical sense of the term; but he was a student, a profound and practical student of the one Book that is more worth studying than all other books in the world put together; he was a student of the Bible.
Torrey went on to say, “It was largely because of his thorough knowledge of the Bible, and his practical knowledge of the Bible, that Mr. Moody drew such immense crowds.” He was successful because he spent the time in the Scriptures so he could “cut them straight” in his understanding, application and exposition of the Word.
When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I declared to one and all, that yes I believed but “I wasn’t going to be a fanatic about all this.” Then I was invited to a Bible study and I reluctantly attended, not because I wanted to study the Bible, but because I heard that a cute girl I had met the week before would be there. That Bible Study was about 2 Timothy 2:15. As we talked about this verse I thought of my Dad—he was a cabinet and furniture maker—a true craftsman. I realized God wanted me to handle His Word, the way my Dad crafted a piece of oak or mahogany. I determined to study the Bible and to teach it to others. I became a fanatic. Then, a few years later, I enrolled at the Moody Bible Institute and on the day I arrived as a student, I learned that 2 Timothy 2:15 was the theme verse at MBI. How appropriate. That was 46 years ago this week and I haven’t regretted for one moment becoming a fanatic about the Messiah Jesus and His Word. If any of us hasn’t yet committed to being a good worker in the Word, how about starting today.