Do Your Best

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Do Your Best!

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.

Paul’s second letter to Timothy is one of my favourite books in the Bible ever since I became a Christian. It was a letter from an old and well-seasoned man of God to a young man seeking to be a good servant of God. As a young Christian, I set to memorise many verses from this book as part of my Christian growth and discipleship. In those days, we used to emphasize Scripture memorization especially in Sunday School and Youth services. I think that it was one of the most effective tools for Christian growth. Nowadays, we don’t seem to emphasize Scripture memorization as much, which I think is a great loss to the church.

In any case, Paul was now in prison, probably for the second time. The first time he was arrested in Jerusalem when the Jews brought false accusations against him, and his case was eventually transferred to Rome when he wasn’t getting a fair trial and he appealed to Caesar. Though we have no direct confirmation in any of our historical records, he was probably released as there was no real case against him. This second time, he was probably arrested together with other Christian leaders as part of the Emperor Nero’s “Operation Lallang” against the Christian community.

On July 18, AD 64, a great fire broke in Rome and burnt for six days and seven nights destroying four of the city’s fourteen districts and severely damaging seven before it was finally put out. Most of the Romans blamed the emperor for the disaster, so Nero needed a convenient scrape goat and he found it in the Christian church. This time, Paul realized that he would be facing his impending execution, and so he wrote this farewell letter to his son in the faith, young Timothy. He writes in 4:6-8: “You take over. I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming” (The Message).

These, however, were not the only words Paul had for his young protégé, nor were this his only concern. At that time Paul had placed Timothy to take charge of the church in Ephesus which was going through a difficult time with false teachers and prophets wrecking havoc in the church. After reminding his friend of his faith and calling, he gives some sound advice to the young pastor as he faces a difficult task in a challenging situation.

In dealing with false teachers and teaching, he tells Timothy to “Do [his] best to present [him]self to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” There are three parts to Paul’s counsel to young Timothy, which I like to explore with you today. But first, I wish to say something about the translation of this verse. As I mentioned earlier, I used to memorize many verses from this book. And this is one of those verses. Now in those days, we were using the old King James Version which lends itself well to Scripture memorizing. This is the KJV rendering of the verse:  “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Like most of my contemporaries then, I took this verse as a command to study the Bible so that we might be approved by God. Now I firmly believe that studying the Bible is a very important part of Christian life and growth, and Jesus himself does encourage us to “search the Scriptures” for it the Word of life, but this, I am sorry, is not what Paul is saying in this verse.

Let me read to you some of the modern translations of this verse:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved (NIV/ESV)

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God (NASB)

Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker (NET)

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval (NLT)

The same word in the original is also used in 4:9 and 4:21:

“Do your best to come to me soon.”

“Do your best to come before winter.”

The idea is Paul is conveying is to “be diligent, to make every effort, to do your best.” Actually, The KJV isn’t wrong altogether. Paul is telling Timothy to study (to work at) on how he should present himself as one who would be true and tested. He is telling young Timothy to do his best:

·       To present himself as one who is approved by God

·       To be a worker who would not be ashamed of his work

·       To be a teacher who is rightly handling the Word of truth   

1.      To be approved by God

Human beings are funny creatures. From young, most of us seek approval – first from our parents, then our teachers, later our friends, peers, colleagues, our bosses. Those who claim that they do not seek approval from anyone are usually those who have sought approval and received none, or were deeply disappointed and hurt, and so they decide do not wish to be disappointed or hurt anymore. But most of us do seek approval at least from those whom we love or cared about. What I am saying is that it is human to seek approval. The real question is from whom do we seek approval? If we try to seek approval from too many people, we are going to set ourselves up for major disappointments and hurts. The simple fact is that we cannot please everyone. I remember a story of a very talented musician who was performing in a concert. The audience’s response was tremendous. At the end of his recital, they were all on their feet giving him a thunderous ovation. As the musician was taking his bows his eyes was focused on just one person in the audience – his old master. Only when he saw him nod in approval did he feel that he has done well. In much the same way, our eyes should be fixed firmly on the Lord himself, for his approval is the one that should ultimately count.

The word is that translated “approved” could also be translated “tested, or pass the test.” It is like the SIRIM seal that reads, “Tested and Approved.” In our Christian walk, we will encounter a series of tests – the question is will we pass these tests and at end of our life, when we come face to face with God, and he declares us, “Tested and Approved.” Or, in one of Jesus’ parables, we hear the words, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”

2.      A worker who not ashamed of his work

Work is a very important component of life. Some Christians have the wrong idea that work is God’s punishment for sin. If Adam had not sinned, we would not have to work. However, if we look at the Bible more closely, we find that work precedes the entrance of sin into the world. When God created Adam, God placed him in the Garden to care for it. Before that, the Scriptures declares that God worked six days, and on the seventh day, He rested from all his work, setting the pattern for us to work six days and rest on the seventh as well. We are made to work, and not just to earn money so that we can eat, live and play. The Christian teaching about work in contained in the words “vocation” and “calling.” Paul in Ephesians 2:10 puts it this way, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Again, some Christians have the wrong idea that “calling” is reserved for a select few, and the rest of us who are not called can do what we want. True, not everyone is called to be a pastor or minister; but all of us have a calling related to the gifts that The Lord has given us.  The professional boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson, speaking at a graduation service in a prestigious university in exhorting the graduates to be use their gifts and talents to the best of their abilities, and not to waste them, said, “God has giving me a gift; beating up people.” I am not sure we want to argue with him about it, but he is right. Our callings are varied: some are called to be doctors, nurses, teachers, civil servants, bankers, accountants, businessmen. The question is, are you proud of the work you are doing? Are you are hardworking, honest, caring, conscientious in your daily work? I love the story of a homemaker who puts up a plague just above her kitchen sink that reads, “Divine service is performed here daily.” Our work should be an act of worship to our God who sees all things, big or small. Are we proud of the work we do, or shall be ashamed when we stand before him at the judgment?

3.      A teacher who handles the word of truth rightly.

In the last phrase we encounter an interesting word has troubled scholars and Bible translators quite a bit. Even today, we are not quite sure exactly how the word should best be translated or what it’s referring to? In the past, scholars thought that the image of “cutting” implied in the word: hence, the KJV translates it as “rightly dividing the word of truth.” John Calvin in the sixteenth century uses the image of a father cutting a loaf of bread and distributing it to the children at dinner. Most scholars today think that the main thrust of the word is not “rightly” and so the word should mean “handling rightly.” Paul is telling Timothy that he should do his best to handle the Word of God (word of truth) rightly in his teaching. The false teachers were twisting the Word of God in their false teachings that would to more ungodliness and ultimately to eternal destruction. Right teaching will lead to and will always be accompanied by godly living. To put it in another way is, good and right teaching is always practical and not merely speculative. The same word is found in the Greek Old Testament in Proverbs 3:6 and 11:5.

“In all thy ways acquaint thyself with her (wisdom), that she may rightly direct thy paths.”

“Righteousness traces out blameless paths: but ungodliness encounters unjust dealing.”

In both instances, the word is related to godly living.  What I want to say is that, godly living and good teaching goes hand in hand. Godly living is the proof of good teaching, and good teaching will lead to godly living. Of course, Timothy is a pastor and teacher and these words will be most relevant to those of us who are teachers and pastors. However, all Christians are teachers in that things we say or teach, as well in the things we do, or the way we live. And we should seek to be good teachers in our words and actions.

In closing, let me share a story about Henry Kissinger, who served years ago as the US Secretary of State.

Winston Lloyd, who later became one of the top American foreign policy experts, was an aide to Henry Kissinger. One day he brought to Kissinger a long-awaited report on conflicts in South America. Without even glancing at the report, Kissinger asked, “Is this the very best you can do?” Lloyd stammered for a few moments and said, “There were a few informational gaps.” “Take it back,” Kissinger said and dismissed him. Two weeks later, after working night and day, Lloyd again entered Kissinger’s office and held out the report. “Is this the very best you can do?” Kissinger asked, without looking at the document. Lloyd hesitated and admitted that there were some parts of the report that were incomplete. Kissinger told him to take it back. Three weeks later Lloyd asked for another meeting. For the third time Kissinger asked, “Is this the very best you can do?” Lloyd replied, “Mr. Secretary, this is my very best effort.” Kissinger smiled and said, “That’s all I ever ask. I’ll be happy to read your report.”

Have you done your very best?

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