When my oldest son was young we lived in the slightly rolling E. Texas hills covered in pine trees. We both took up golf and the perfect place to learn was an amalgamation of nine holes wrapped around a natural gas pumping station outside the tiny community of Elysian Fields. The employees whiled away their lunch hours whacking golf balls on a makeshift driving range that eventually led to the makeshift golf course. They opened it to the public and it became a place you could go put $5 in an envelope on the honors system, drop it in the iron receptacle, and go play all day. No pressure, no galleries, no marshals, no clubhouse, just a place to walk, laugh, hit a golf ball, and learn from your mistakes. We went there often to enjoy each other’s company as much as sharpen our love for the game I still enjoy decades later.
One day we encountered an older gentleman on the opening hole. We had our golf bags with the requisite 14 clubs, our three wheeled walking carts, and lots of golf balls. He had a putter and a four iron in his hand and two balls in his pockets. That was it. He invited us to play along with him. After three holes several things were apparent: he could beat our tails on any day ending in ‘y;’ more clubs guarantees more choices how to hit the ball, not increased chances of success; we knew the rules but he knew the course; and what he had, he knew how to use well and with confidence.
“Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2.15, CSB) I have 60+ different Bibles and many more translations available on my phone apps. None of them make that verse operative because of their numbers, but they are not irrelevant to it. Don’t be tricked into the easy comparison the above narrative affords. The older gentleman didn’t beat us because of his arsenal, but rather his application. It wouldn’t have mattered if we had had 100 clubs, he knew how to use what he had and he knew the exact distances on every hole from every angle. Take a good look at the verse: “correctly teaching the word of truth.” The NASB uses the phrase “accurately handling;” the KJV says “rightly dividing,” an agricultural reference to straight furrows.
Education alone does not cut it; neither does just having a holy desire to serve. What matters is throwing oneself into the task, getting beat up a bit, and learning from every mistake, and keep getting better at it. Inspiration plus instruction is a potent combination. Passion lasts longer when precision is wedded to it. The older gentleman at the golf course could beat us because we were novices; we had intentions and desires but callow skills. Likewise he would have had little chance against a pro who possessed the complete package of superior equipment, superior expertise, and superior experience.
And practice alone is not the cure all; it is essential but not a surefire road to success. Practice can be detrimental if it ingrains bad habits. Any guitar player who plunks the same trite chords or the immortal opening notes of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ may satisfy a person tucked away in some man cave, but it will never propel him to master the instrument. The earlier verses of 2 Tim. 2 teach us we need a mentor to elevate our skills (vs. 3-6, every soldier needs a C.O., an athlete his coach, the newbie farmer is taught when to plant, irrigate, harvest, etc.). You may have a love for doing ‘x,’ but if someone doesn’t teach you how to do ‘x’ better, you will likely stay at a recreational level of competency. Timothy was not allowed to remain a casual reader of the Word for himself; the context of this command from Paul is confronting and silencing false teachers, a theme oft repeated in 1&2 Tim. To do so required diligence (NASB), study (KJV), your best (NIV), every effort (NET).
So when you find someone who knows the Word better than you, don’t shy away or be intimidated; learn from him, glean, accumulate, acquire wisdom (Prov. 4.7). It worked for Apollos (Acts 18.24-27); we owe it to our King and His Kingdom. For Timothy to preach the word (2 Tim. 4.2) and confront those refuting the gospel he needed to study to become approved first.
Be sure to include time in the Word in the upcoming holidays. (1 Tim. 4.13)