Cutting straight in gospel ministry
There are some jobs in which it’s important to be able to cut straight.
If a tunnel engineer oversees a tunnel being dug from both ends, but doesn’t cut through the rock straight and the ends don’t meet in the middle, the result is two holes to nowhere. If a carpenter doesn’t cut the new door straight, it won’t do its main job: shut.
The apostle Paul says to Timothy that being a gospel worker who teaches the Bible is another job where it’s vital to cut straight:
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. (2 Timothy 2:15)
The word the ESV translates as “rightly handling” conveys this idea of cutting straight. There is a connection to the English word orthodox.
The call is pretty clear: do your best to get it straight, to get it right, when you teach the Bible.
We certainly don’t want to be like the builder who is embarrassed when his shoddy work is highlighted to the owners by the building inspectors. We don’t want to be ashamed when God scrutinises our work—the work of communicating such a crucial message as the gospel of salvation found in Jesus Christ. Our aim should be to work hard (“be diligent”, in the CSB) to have our quality work approved by God. (It is God’s approval we seek, not that of our human hearers or readers.)
It’s easy to assume this is a word addressed primarily to the trained professionals who preach Sunday by Sunday in our church pulpits. However, I don’t think there’s any reason it has such a narrow scope.
For me, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have ‘preached a sermon’ in my life. But, I suspect like so many of you, I can think of other contexts where I have the responsibility to teach and present the word of truth. For starters, teaching my own family and particularly helping them understand tricky passages of Scripture. Leading a weekly home group is another obvious example. I happen to exercise a ministry in which I regularly teach in writing (like this article), but perhaps you teach in a children’s or youth ministry, or adult Sunday school class, or you lead an evangelistic Bible study, or… there are any number of contexts where you might “handle the word of truth”. In all those responsibilities, God wants you to work diligently to do it “rightly” and be an approved worker.
Furthermore, this teaching task is one we need to recruit more workers to:
… what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)
So the people we recruit also need to “be able”, competent, to teach. Our job is not just to pass on the message to them, but to pass on the message in such a way that they see how we rightly handle the word of truth. They can then emulate that and keep the gospel message straight.
One man I greatly respect for the many years he has rightly handled and taught the word is David Jackman. But what adds enormously to David’s contribution to the gospel cause is how much time and energy he has also devoted to training others in how to rightly handle the word of truth, particularly through the Cornhill Training Course, Proclamation Trust, and Oak Hill Theological College.
We’re delighted at Matthias Media to be partnering with David in publishing his new resource to help men and women of God to rightly handle the word of truth. The new book is called From Text to Teaching: a guide to preparing Bible talks.1
This relatively brief book would be a wonderful gift to give (or work through with) new ministry apprentices, youth group leaders and many others taking up teaching roles. But it is also a helpful refresher and encouragement to those who have been doing those sorts of ministries for some time. I urge you to take a look at it.
I just hope the printer rightly set up their guillotine to cut the edges of the book straight.
1. “Talks” is defined pretty broadly! David applies the principles to “any type of presentation in which a Bible passage is being explained and taught”.↩