Approved By God
Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved, a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed, accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth. But avoid all irreverent babble and godless chatter [with its profane, empty words], for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their teaching will spread like gangrene. So it is with Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have deviated from the truth. They claim that the resurrection has already taken place, and they undermine the faith of some.
2 Timothy 2:15-18
Not every speaker who talks about God is godly, and not every author who writes about spiritual life is writing about God’s truth. In Timothy’s world, as in ours, a lot of popular teaching about God sounded good but was at least “a half bubble off center.” In the first century, some teachers said that man’s spirit is entirely good and the body entirely wicked. Those teachers claimed to have special knowledge beyond what was written in the Bible, but their teaching resulted in confusion and rampart sin. Today, far too many of us simply accept what a teacher says about God and spirituality. Paul told Timothy to study and dig deep in order to find out what’s true and what can’t be trusted.
One of the most common messages we hear is that God wants all of us to be rich and healthy. All we need to do is ask Him- perhaps give a wad of money to the teacher’s ministry- and God will give us everything we want. To many people, this sounds attractive, however, those who have read the Scriptures know that, while God promises blessings, they are often spiritual ones- not necessarily financial and physical blessings- and they are often experienced in the crucible of suffering. That’s a very different message!
We are wise to follow Paul’s advice to Timothy to study the Scripture verses in the context of longer passages, by using trusted resources like study Bibles, and by listening to respected teachers.
Does it really matter that we dig deeper? Only if we want to pursue God and live by His truth instead of a counterfeit, and only if we want to be approved by Him.
Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure, nor this thing or that, but simple growth. We are happy when we are growing.
W. B. Yeats
The phrase “approved by God” is a worthy goal to press toward. We have often heard another phrase that we endeavor to hear when we stand before Christ, “Well Done!” In our world we often strive to receive the approval of others around us. Children look to parents for approval or they look to peers for approval. Sometimes much of what we do, how we act, how we dress, and how we love is motivated by the approval or disapproval of others. Sometimes we go along because we fear rejection by those from whom we seek affirmation or validation even if we feel or know that in doing so we are doing destructive things. The power of the need to be approved is incredible.
Since the church is comprised of individuals who “live in the world” it often feels the pressure to be approved by that same world but Jesus has called us to live in a manner that is approved by God even if it is a way contrary to the practices of the world around us. Christ told us that even though we “are in the world, we are not of the world.” Therefore our approval cannot come from the world but from God. Our question of lifestyle, choices, decisions, and conduct must be answered in light of the approval of God and not whether society gives approval.
Consider the people of the Bible and how even in difficult situations, sought the approval of God. Let me mention a few. We read that when Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were brought to Babylon, they were offered the kings food. They were far away from home as prisoners. Surely they could have justified participating in the directive from the king. Instead they chose to refuse to eat meat that had been offered to idols and to remain true to God and eat vegetables. I think this choosing the approval of God over the approval of their captors set them up for success when they faced more serious choices. We read that Daniel chose the approval of God over the approval of the king and continued to pray even after prayer was banned. He got thrown into the lion’s den for his choice. We read that the 3 Hebrews chose the approval of God and refused to bow to the idol. They were thrown into the fiery furnace. Yet we also read that they were elevated in position in the earthly kingdom because they sought the approval of God first. We read that Christ sought the approval of the Father and though He was crucified, He has been exalted by the Father and given a name above all names. We read of Stephen who sought the approval of God and was stoned for preaching the gospel, yet in his last words, he said, “I see Jesus, standing at the right hand of the throne.” What a welcome that must have been.
We may never face or be given such drastic opportunities to choose the approval of God or the approval of the world, but everyone of us everyday make that choice. Those who seek the approval of God, even in suffering and pain and loss find the hope and comfort and assurance of eternal life and eternal joy. Those who seek the approval of this world constantly chase the ball for the world’s approval is fickle and today’s hero is often tomorrow’s villain. Far too often we give up our souls and our self esteem and values for the sake of temporary approval from those around us who are seeking approval for themselves. Many times lives are messed up and futures are destroyed because of our need for temporary approval by those who may not even like us. Doesn’t it make more sense to seek approval from the One who lovingly created us and who loved us more than He loved Himself rather than seeking approval from those who may not even be our friends tomorrow.?
Moses, the great Old Testament, taught us that the approval ratings of fellow humans rise and fall with the circumstances. Those who give high ratings today can easily take them away tomorrow. As he led the Israelites across the wilderness, he went from hero to zero and only when he could provide their need did he regain their approval.
If the fallacy of chasing world approval hasn’t sunk in, consider Jesus Himself who was celebrated on the Triumphal Entrance and a week later was rejected and crucified. Those who seek approval from God find a consistent, caring, merciful One who never varies in expectation and is never fickle with His feelings.
Dr. John Thompson