Words of Truth

2 Timothy 2
14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

Bilal preached through a passage in James not too long ago. An excellent message from James 3. Listen to this, beginning in verse 1 of James 3:

James 3
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.

We all speak, and we all stumble in our speech. We can be so quickly pulled into arguments of every kind. Some of us even enjoy to argue, to debate, to use the skill of words and language to defeat an opponent who has a view other than ours. It is sometimes like a game, a challenge, that is to use words to defeat another. Everyone uses words, whether spoken, or signed, or written. We cannot communicate well without words. By design we must use them, and God even uses them to communicate with us. Words and language are important. But like everything else that God has created, our words can be used for good or for evil.

At least four times in 2 Timothy 2:14-19, Paul writes about speech, about words, and describes their use:

  • “charge them before God not to quarrel about words,”
  • “But avoid irreverent babble,”
  • “their talk will spread like gangrene”
  • “swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened.”

And for each of these phrases Paul gives a consequence:

  • “does no good, but only ruins the hearers”
  • “it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,”
  • “will spread like gangrene.”
  • “They are upsetting the faith of some.”

Words are powerful – they can encourage and they can tear down. We all know this by experience because we have all been hurt by words. Sometimes the hurt is minimal and passes quickly, but what Paul talks about in this paragraph is very serious. He is talking about words that are used to persuade unbelief, words that are used to bring lasting damage to those who hear and believe them. Serious stuff.

This paragraph, of course, is not just about words themselves, but also beliefs and philosophies behind the words. That is always the case when we speak or when we listen. Words are just a conduit, really, to communicate beliefs. It is the belief that destroys, and words communicate belief.

So this morning I want us to begin to talk about what was so upsetting to Paul and what should be upsetting to us, that is words used to communicate belief that is anti-god and that lead people not to God but away from Him.

2 Timothy 2
14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.

This is Paul’s first reference to words that communicate a belief and the consequences of those words. Paul is reminding Timothy to remind the church people to proclaim truth, the gospel message of truth that he stated back in verses 11-13.

2 Timothy 2
11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

“Remind them,” Paul says, “and charge them ‘before God.’” This is not just a human appeal or an appeal from Paul, but an appeal and charge before God. This is what God wants, this is important to God, truth is what God wants people to hear, He desires that His message be heard. And for this to happen, all that is false must be laid bare for what it is. It is a mixture of truth and error that is so dangerous. And that is what was happening here.

They were not to quarrel about words. This is a debate or argument not over the substance of truth, but the use of and definition of certain words. In this case it is not truth that is sought, but speech that is used to confuse. This becomes more about the speaker and winning a verbal battle rather than truth. Some talk of this as “splitting words.” What that means is using words to find things that aren’t really in them, to so press on one word or two that you neglect or forget the true content of what is behind them. I think even more than that, it is to ignore not just immediate context, but other parts of Scriptural truth so as to distort meaning.

I need to point out that we are not talking here about true believers who may differ on some points of Scripture. You and I may not agree on every point of the Scriptures. That is something different than what Paul is addressing here. He is not talking about those trying to grow in their understanding of truth, but of those who want to insert their own wrong ideas of truth. It is not like there is a Bible study going on, and everyone is trying to understand something. No, these are false teachers with an agenda other than God’s agenda, and they are using their words to manipulate truth to the hurt of others.

Being a Berean is a good thing. Asking questions and seeking biblical answers is a good thing. But word smithing to lead astray, that is evil. So much so that Paul says this about it: “which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” Now, that sounds really bad, and it is!

So two results of quelling about words: it does no good and only ruins the hearer. It is of no value, that is, it does no good. Ruin means catastrophe, it is from a Greek word where we get the word catastrophe. This quarreling over words, it is not a small thing or just a neutral matter, it can bring destruction. In fact it is describing the tearing down of believers. It is literally a “turning upside down.” What is meant to be right side up is turned upside down. A glass of water turned upside down, well that causes a problem. A vehicle turned upside down is useless. So it is with quarreling over words.

One commentator writes: “Word splitting whets an appetite for argument rather than building commitment to the living God. In the heat of debate we must always ask ourselves if the subject is actually worth a fight and a searing disagreement.”

It is difficult sometimes to know when to argue and when to let things go. It may depend on who we are talking with, a believer or not, someone committed to truth or not. And it will depend as well on the subject. A discussion with a true believer over an essential of the faith can be very edifying, not destructive. An argument with an unbeliever over a moral issue, well, unless we are clearly evangelizing, then arguing over morality is useless. An argument with a known false teacher is the same. A known false teacher needs Christ, that is a time for evangelism, not quarreling over words. There is something much deeper that needs addressing, that is, a need for regeneration, repentance, and belief.

I hope this is clear, and Paul helps us further with verse 15. He adds what Timothy and what we should focus on, what we should be doing, rather than just what we should avoid and urge others to avoid. Here is what he says:

2 Timothy 2
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Verse 15 gets to the heart of the solution to the problem of quarreling with words. We are not to fight with words, argue with words to simply win a battle or prove a personal point. That is not to be our focus or our aim. What are we to do? We are to rightly handle the Word of truth. When we do this, we will be as one approved by God and have no need to be ashamed.

Our aim as believers ought to be that we clearly and carefully speak and present God’s Word as God meant it. We are and must be students of God’s Word and careful expositors of it.

Now think about this with me. First, we are to do our best in this. Do our best to handle God’s Word. Sounds reasonable, right? And yet, are we doing our best in the study and understanding of God’s Word? Or are we sloppily throwing God’s Word around? Do we understand it, have we studied it?

Are we too quick at times to say what this passage or that passage means? Have we studied it, or are we just repeating what someone else has said about it? “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved” And, he goes on, “as a worker who has no need to be ashamed.” The worker here is as compared to an agricultural worker. In an example of a farmer, it is easy to recognize the farmer who is not working hard.

I remember driving around with my grandfather in southwestern Oklahoma looking at farms. In that part of the country, farms were farmed in what they called sections. A section was one mile by one mile. The roads were in these squares: no curves in the roads, every mile there was an intersection. And so typically every time you passed an intersection, you would see a new plot of land probably farmed by a different person. Some of those sections looked perfect, crops in perfectly straight rows, and no weeds between any roads. And the next section may just look like a mess, with rows not straight and weeds everywhere. Some farmers worked really hard and had no reason to be ashamed. Others, well, they may have been ashamed by their work.

Are we laboring diligently, constantly, to be those who need not be ashamed? Are we learning the Word of God, carefully studying it, and speaking of it with understanding rather than just throwing out what we may want it to mean?

Part of the danger of asking a group of people after reading a passage the question, “What do you think that means?” is that it is probable that many have not carefully considered its true meaning before throwing out a view of it. We should not do that, we should respect the fact that it is God’s Word and be slow to speak when we have not examined it.

2 Timothy 2
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

How do we rightly handle God’s Word? Well, after careful study, we speak of it from its context and from the context of the Scriptures as a whole. And with that understanding, we don’t get pulled into silly arguments that tend to take away from its God-assigned truth.

There are other places in the Bible where the phrase “word of truth” is used.

Ephesians 1
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14

Colossians 1
5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel

The Word of God and truth go hand in hand, and it is our duty to be sure they never separate as we speak of it.

We don’t have to win every argument. We don’t have to feel the weight of convincing all people of truth. God’s Word does not say, “You must win every argument, and you are responsible to convince all people of truth.” Those things belong to God and Him alone. All we are told to do is handle God’s Word rightly. It is pleasing to Him that we handle it rightly, and by that we are countering false teachers who insist on quarreling over words.

This does not mean we don’t speak with passion and conviction, for we should. But our passion and conviction is not to lead us off track into silly arguments that only harm those who hear.

We need to speak truth in faith. And by that I mean we speak truth and we trust that the Holy Spirit will use it as He pleases.

Isaiah 55
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

When we speak God’s Word of truth, it goes out and it will accomplish the purpose intended by God. He will use it and it shall succeed in the thing for which it was sent. In that we can find comfort and experience peace. He is faithful to do His will even as we faithfully speak His Word.

I don’t know about you, but this is a great relief to me. It tells me I don’t have to be a great orator or a highly creative speaker. I simply need to understand rightly His Word and be willing to speak it and explain it. The power and use of it is all in God’s hand.

So for us, let’s study and know the truth and be willing instruments in God’s hand, used by Him as we share it with others.

2 Timothy 2
14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.