What do we study? Homework, English, math, music, dance, business models, the stock market, politics, fashion, people, how to do something?
Why do we study? To get good grades, perform with excellence, get a raise, start a business, know about the world, succeed financially, learn, win approval from someone?
We read in the Bible, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15 KJV).
How would our lives change if we really studied God and what God knows about us?
We’d discover that the only approval we need is God’s. How many of us try to win others’ approval? Perhaps we dress in the popular fashion, use language that really isn’t appropriate, or even compromise our integrity to be in the “in crowd,” get a good grade, get a promotion, or win an account.
What if, instead of doing things to please others, we do things to please God? What if we take to heart the passage from 2 Timothy?
- “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him…” (NRSV).
- “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God…” (NASB).
- “Concentrate on doing your best for God…” (The Message).
- “For yourself, concentrate on winning God’s approval…” (Phillips).
- “Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial)…” (AMP).
This sure would make life easier. We wouldn’t have to worry about others’ opinions, which change quickly. Polls show us how temporary approval ratings are. People are changeable; God is changeless.
Nothing is more lasting, more satisfying, and more rewarding than God’s approval. And you know what? We already have it! God is very pleased with His creation: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1:31 NRSV). God always sees us as His beloved children. Knowing that God’s stamp of approval is already on us helps us make choices that reflect the good God already sees in us. When we concentrate on God, we are able to know what God approves.
If we’re ever wondering or confused about what God approves, we can get quiet and ask ourselves, “Would this thought, word, or behavior be acceptable to God? What would God want me to do?” We can trust that we’ll get our answer. But we have to be willing to change our thoughts and actions if we get a “no” answer. We have to have the courage to do only those things that are approved by God. We know God wants to bless us. So if the action doesn’t bless, then it won’t have God’s approval. Acting with God’s approval keeps us safe and satisfied; it makes us truly happy.
What does it mean to be God’s workman who is not ashamed? It means we work for God through whatever we do and whatever career we choose (be it student, parent, athlete, teacher, entrepreneur, actor, engineer, writer, minister, healer, etc.). God is our teacher, employer, leader, parent – our guide and guardian through everything.
So are we engaged in activities for ourselves or for God? Are we doing something we know isn’t best for us? Maybe we need to make a total change or just re-focus what we’re doing to make it God-centered. When we’re out playing sports, rather than playing to win a personal victory, we can play to bring out the best in ourselves and our opponents: that’s how we play for God. When we’re washing dishes, we can wash them with gratitude for a good meal and appreciation for cleanliness and order. When we’re in a group, we can work with humility, listen with openness, and speak with gentleness. We can do all for the glory of God.
When we’re working for God, we want to do our best; then, we have nothing of which to be ashamed. Regret and shame stem from NOT doing our best, not giving our all. For instance, we may have neglected our studies by spending too much time on Facebook. Or we might cut corners at work to get the job done more quickly, but not as carefully. Or we might not be giving our best to our family; rather, we’re taking out all of our stress on them. God knows and expects our best work. And when we give God our best – at all times and in every situation – we feel good about ourselves and our lives. We feel God’s approval!
As God’s approved, unashamed workers, we have a job to do. We must study the truth. We must think the truth, speak the truth, and act based on the truth. Wow! That’s a huge commitment. Do we always think, speak, and act truthfully? Probably not. Why not? Sometimes it seems easier not to tell the truth. We could even argue that there are times when it’s much kinder not to speak what we see as the truth (telling someone she’s having a bad hair day, for instance). But that’s not the point.
The point is to think, speak, and do only things that would deserve God’s approval -- only those words and acts which have the spirit of Truth, the strength of Love, and the wisdom of Mind behind them. We can be that worker for God…
- “who correctly handles the word of truth” (NIV)
- “laying out the truth plain and simple” (The Message)
- “rightly explaining the word of truth” (NRSV)
- “who knows how to use the word of truth to the best advantage” (Phillips)
- “correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth” (AMP).
It takes patience and awareness to see God’s truth (not people’s opinions) and courage to act on it. God’s truth is always good, always pure, and always brings blessings. When we let the spirit of Truth govern our actions, we can’t help but feel God’s approval and then share God’s approval with others.
So as we start this new year, let’s make a commitment to God and to ourselves -- to study God, to seek only God’s approval, to give our very best as we work for God, to base our lives on God’s loving and unchangeable truth.