My Wednesday nights are dedicated to taking the truth of Scripture and learning how to effectively present it to kids. Working with kids reminds me that the lessons I teach must focus on one single point which is underscored by everything else in the lesson. I’m not always successful at this. After all, I’m Captain Headknowledge! I don’t talk long about much. I draw a blank when sports, politics, finances, etc. are the topics at hand, but if you get me on theology, unless I can tell you know more than me, I’m hard to shut up. That’s not conducive to highlighting one single point. I’m the theology geek your fundamentalist mother warned you about. But that’s why I work with kids in the AWANA program at my church. Captain Headknowledge remains a work in progress.
Another weakness in my teaching skills is my lack of interest in finding illustrative material to supplement my teaching. I relate well to what I once read about William Carey when he preached before the group of men charged with examining him in view of his ordination. After Carey’s sermon, one of the men critiqued his sermon by saying something like, “We see you are very capable of telling your hearers what the truth is, but you need to learn to also tell them what the truth is like.” Right there with ya’, Will!
Occasionally, as I’m preparing my AWANA lessons, and others I’ve taught in other classes in the past, an illustration or, in this case, an analogous object lesson of sorts, will give me a particular thrill. I would like to share my most recent one with you today.
I’ve been teaching “expository” lessons on a significant portion of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, leading up to the famous verse after which AWANA is named. As most of you probably know, AWANA stands for “Approved Workers Are Not Ashamed.”
While I started at the beginning of the school year at 2 Timothy 1:7, I have finally arrived at the final paragraph, in which is contained the verse for which the children’s program is its namesake.
“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 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. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymaneus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 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.'”
As I considered verses 14 through 16, I observed that the AWANA verse, verse 15, is “sandwiched” between two verses which seem to provide the photographic negative of one or the other of the two components I’d been drilling into my boys’ heads all year (“Approved Workers . . . (1) Believe the Gospel, and (2) Live Godly.”). Thus came to me my object lesson. I went to the store and bought a loaf of bread, went to the cabinet and grabbed the peanut butter, then to the refrigerator for a squeeze bottle of jelly, scooped up the wife and the three school-age members of my bevy of five children, and hit the road for the Wednesday night service (ask me to forward you a copy of my pastor’s PowerPoint outline introducing his current exposition on the book of Romans, from which I am providentially “let hitherto” in God’s goodness and wisdom).
The Approved Worker Sandwich
1. Unapproved Workers Rewrite the Gospel and Can Ruin Your Faith(“Foundational” Slice of Bread) ” . . . charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.”
2. Approved Workers Believe the Gospel (Peanut Butter–the Protein in PB Satisfies Your Hunger) ” . . . rightly handling the word of truth.”
3. Approved Workers Live Godly (Jelly–Jelly is Sweet, Just Like Godly Lives) “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed . . . “
4. Unapproved Workers’ Irreverent Babble Promotes Ungodliness (Top Slice of Bread) “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.”
Hymaneus and Philetus are prime examples of “unapproved workers.” They are an example of what not to be and do. They don’t believe the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification, so they rewrite their doctrine about the resurrection, which is so closely tied to Christ’s resurrection, which is one aspect of the Gospel. By this false teaching, Hymaneus and Philetus ruined the faith of those who received their teaching.
Hymaneus and Philetus also served as examples of “unapproved workers” in that their irreverent babble spread like gangrene and undermined the godliness of those who followed their teaching and example.
Paul instructed Timothy to charge the Ephesians to neither “argue about words,” and thereby corrupt the purity of the Gospel, nor engage in irreverent babble and thereby promote ungodliness in their own behavior and the behavior of those who may be influenced by their example. Consider, for instance, my kid-friendly illustration–how that they do this on TV all the time. Sometimes they show people doing bad things in a funny way; or they show people do good things in a goofy way. Either way, we laugh about it, and if we’re not careful to keep in mind what’s really right and wrong, we can be led to think the bad thing isn’t that bad and the good thing isn’t that good. False teachers are irreverent about the gospel and godly living. They’ll make fun of those who believe the true gospel and they’ll make fun of those who try to show they believe the true gospel by living godly. They’ll laugh at them and get others laughing at them and all the time they are losing more and more faith in the gospel and respect for godly believers.
But Paul does not just load Timothy down with such a pile of imperatives alone. His instructions are explicitly based (as ours should ALWAYS be! Ahem!!) on some very edifying indicatives, which, speaking of sandwiches, both proceed and follow the present passage (an imperative sandwich! Mmm!!)
Notice that verse fourteen begins with “Remind them of these things.” What things? “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, will also reign. (vs. 11, 12) and in keeping with a popular form of Pauline homiletics, “But God’s firm foundation stands sure, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are his’ (v. 17). Professing believers may far too often be led astray by ungodly and argumentative irreverends of spiritual ruination, but, take heart, says Paul, none of God’s elect will ever be irrevocably lost after this manner! God preserves his elect and they will persevere in their belief in the Gospel, the end of the right handling of the Word of truth, and they will persevere in their “experimental Calvinism,” their godly lives, until the end of the age, at which time they will be able to present themselves to God once and for all as workers who have no need to be ashamed! Thus Paul encouraged Timothy to serve the flock of God under his charge by the power of the indwelling Spirit, guarding the good deposit (another term for the Word of truth, the central point of which is the good news of redemption in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ) which has been entrusted to him.
I offer this presentation to my fellow Reformed bloggers not, as some may assume, to glory in what a great exeget, expositor and homileticist I am, but for your collective constructive criticism. I’m out to continue learning how to teach God’s Word God’s way with the help of those of you who are a little further down the Reformation trail.