Studying the Law as We Study the Word (2 Timothy 2:8-15)

By Yolanda Smith

As Americans nervously prepared for the implementation of the newest phase of the Affordable Care Act on October 1, 2013, it was clear that even on the eve of its implementation, many looming questions still swirled around this new law. “What will it entail?” Who has to sign-up?” “What will it cost,” “Will I have to give up my current health care plan?” What if I have a pre-existing condition?” “What are health-care exchanges?” “How long do I have to sign-up?” and “What penalties will I incur if I don’t sign-up?” As medical experts advised Americans to educate ourselves about the Affordable Care Act, I was reminded of an important lesson found in 2 Timothy 2:8-15.

As people of faith, we sometimes don’t take time to prepare ourselves for what is ahead. With so many things vying for our time and attention, it is difficult to educate ourselves about all facets of critical matters. Even in our relationship with God, we gloss over important details that will guide us into a closer walk and become content with a distant half-hearted relationship. However, a casual walk with God is not one we should settle for. By delving into God’s Word, we are able to draw upon God’s wisdom for guidance and find a deeper relationship with God as we travel through this journey of life.

In a similar fashion, we cannot settle for casual knowledge of the Affordable Care Act, which is now upon us and “gives Americans unprecedented information about the health plan choices in their own communities.” The Kaiser Family Foundation reports in a recent poll that 51% of all Americans are still unsure about how the ACA will affect them. 42% of Americans thought that Congress had overturned the act or that the Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional. And, many Americans worry that they will have to shell out more money due to the new health reform law. This uneasiness and misinformation certainly warrants a closer look as we journey through the multiple avenues of the Affordable Care Act.

Embracing the Word of God as a guide for our lives also demands a closer look at our text, which offers three important insights. In his last letter, Paul admonished Timothy to study the word (v. 15, KJV). As a pastor, Timothy no doubt had to deal with some of the same issues that pastors, ministers, and church leaders are dealing with today: church members arguing and gossiping over petty differences and causing confusion and discord within the church; imposters within the congregation teaching a different gospel; and weary believers who had lost sight of God’s direction in their lives (v. 8, 16-18). But in the midst of this confusion, Paul recognized the importance of preparing for the journey not only for Timothy, but for those who would also come after him.

To “study” simply means to apply one’s self diligently and make a concerted effort to give close consideration to something that is worthy of our attention. Studying is more than simply reading or reciting a few passages of scripture in times of need. It involves a thorough investigation of God’s word.

During the antebellum period, African Americans pressed into a system of chattel slavery had a great love for learning the Bible. Despite the fact that it was often distorted and used to keep them in bondage, they embraced the Scriptures as a source of education, resistance, freedom, hope, and direction in their lives. As Virgil Wood, minister, scholar, and contributor to the African American Jubilee Edition of the Holy Bible maintains, “Blacks knew instinctively that literacy would provide untold opportunities and it would give them access to reading the Bible for themselves” (p. 31).

In a similar fashion, the Affordable Care Act provides access to information and affordable services for millions of people without health insurance. A close study of this law reveals a wide-range of benefits including reduced premium costs, prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against anyone due to their gender or a pre-existing condition, a wealth of affordable choices, capping out-of-pocket expenses, holding insurance companies accountable, covering preventative care, and much more. In other words, just as the Bible was a source of power and empowerment for many African Americans, the ACA, “puts individuals, families and small business owners in control of their health care.”

A second insight from our text reflects the importance of workers who actively apply God’s word. We must be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22). Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24-27 illustrate this point, “Everyone who hears these words of mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise [person] who built [their] house upon the rock” (NAS). And when the storms began to rage and the winds began to blow, and the waters began to rise, the house was not destroyed because it was built upon a firm foundation. Jesus goes on to say that those who hear his words and do not act upon them will be like foolish people who build their houses on sand and when the storm rages their houses are destroyed.

The final insight from our text requires us to teach the word. When we teach the word, we are sharing what we have learned with others. But in our sharing we must be sure we are “rightly dividing the word of truth” (v. 15, KJV). This simply means that we teach the truth correctly without taking it out of context, distorting it or making it say what we want it to say to prove a point. When we rightly divide the word of truth we can avoid errors, misleading comments, misguided teachings and useless controversies that can often be harmful to listeners. (v. 14)

Several years ago when Magic Johnson first announced that he was carrying the AIDS virus, he was catapulted into the limelight as an instant spokesperson for AIDS. Some of the commentaries I heard about Magic’s new mission during that time were quite interesting. But the most memorable comment was from a woman who was concerned about the accuracy of some of Magic’s comments about AIDS. In essence she said, “I have no problem with Magic Johnson being the spokesperson for the AIDS disease, but if Magic is going to be a spokesperson for AIDS, he must first educate himself on all aspects of the disease. Then and only then can he be a credible spokesperson for the disease.” Fortunately, Magic seemed to have instinctively heeded this admonition. As if preparing for the NBA championship, he has become an important, informed, and articulate teacher and spokesperson for HIV/AIDS.

Are we credible teachers of the word? Can we stand and share God’s word accurately? As people of faith, we are not only called to study and apply the word, but we are also called to teach the word correctly. As we strive to make Affordable Care available to every American, we must also study, apply, and share its major components correctly. In so doing, we have a unique opportunity to heed the words of Christ: “to bring good news to the poor,” to “proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,” to free the downtrodden, and to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV).

 

Yolanda Y. Smith has served as Associate Professor, Research Scholar, and Lecturer of Christian Education at Yale Divinity School. She authored Reclaiming the Spirituals: New Possibilities for African American Christian Education. Her forthcoming book is Women’s Spirituality and Education in the Black Church. She served on the YDS Women’s Initiative on Gender, Faith, and Responses to HIV/AIDS in Africa and Board of Directors of the AIDS Interfaith Network, CT. She served on the Religious Education/Scholars Subcommittee of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and Advisory Board of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. An ordained Baptist minister, she currently serves as President of the Religious Education Association.

 

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