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 KJV)
Lots of people imagine lots of ways to please God, and many apply biblical principles thinking this is what they are accomplishing. Be good as possible. Obey laws. Act morally. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. God loves a cheerful giver. Faith without works is dead. Etc.
But I wonder how many of them would say the way to please God is through "study of the word of truth"? If I want to love others and not offend them, this sounds like a recipe for arrogance and hypocrisy, a matter of right and wrong by which to judge others. Yet, God wants us to study Scripture if we are to know His purposes. Let us carefully consider why we should study the word of truth.
I specifically chose the King James version for this devotion. If rightly dividing the word of truth is what keeps a workman unashamed and approved unto God, then the word "study" is probably more appropriate than the phrase "do your best" found in other popular translations of this verse. "Do your best" simply sounds like trying hard to be a good person.
Many people, whether they go to church or not, think pleasing God, or living the life we were meant to live, is all about being a good person who is kind, generous, and loving to others, and/or obeying civil and moral laws. They miss the point of what it means to be under grace and not under the law as part of the body of Christ.
Yes, Scripture does say, "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Galatians 5:14 ESV) But, context is critical here. Putting behavior before identity is putting the cart before the horse.
It is the word of truth, not behavior, that will transform us (John 17:17, Romans 12:2) into His image. It's about our identity in Christ from which pure and blameless behavior can flow.
Instructions and admonishment from Paul about behavior are directed toward believers, or "saints," as he addresses them, so that they may grow in grace after they are saved. Instructions about righteousness are directed toward unbelievers, intended to bring them to repentance, changing their minds about doing things on God's terms instead of their own.
(This thought helps to understand why Jesus was a friend of sinners, who were humble, yet He hated the religious leaders, who were arrogant and self-righteous. The former largely didn't hesitate to believe, and great crowds followed Him and were astonished. The latter, however, wanted to kill Jesus for claiming to be God, and only followed Him for the purpose of trapping Him in committing blasphemy, so they would be justified in accusing Him of being worthy of death before the crowds.)
Moral behavior is a good thing. Loving your neighbor is also good. Acts done in kindness are real good things. But, let our focus be on letting Him change us through His word, which is His chosen method, instead of trying to change ourselves for Him by ours.
Seeking Him is restful and joyful, although it does take focus. Seeking to please God on our terms can lead to burnout and frustration, or give a false sense of the complete joy intended for us. Many become more like Martha than Mary, and are anxious and busy (Luke 10:38-42), instead of listening to and assimilating in our hearts the words of life (John 6:68).
We are powerless to change for Him on our terms. However, His word is powerful and active to change us on His terms (Hebrews 4:12). If His words are so powerful and capable of transforming us, and giving us reason to not be ashamed, making us approved unto God, surely they are worthy of great study.
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Other Scripture Referenced Above:
Biblical Principles throughout Scripture
Thoughts of being a friend of sinners / hating religious leaders throughout 4 Gospels
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, (John 6:68) Read the context of at least John 6:63-69.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
(Hebrews 4:12) This verse is also the subject of a previous devotion, Why Scripture? (Part 3).