Pastor David B. Curtis


Rightly Dividing the Word

2 Timothy 2:15

Delivered 06/08/1997

I want to spend our time together this evening looking at a very important exhortation in Scripture that should convict us all as to our time spent in God's Word. This exhortation is found in 2 Timothy 2:15 and it applicable to all of us.

2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

I like the way the KJV puts it, study! This verse is a call to study in order that you may handle correctly God's Word. Let's look at the context of this verse. Paul is writing to his son in the faith, Timothy. Chapter two is a call to faithful service in the midst of tremendous opposition.

2 Timothy 2:1 (NKJV) You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:3-6 (NKJV) You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. 5 And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops.

The soldier, the athlete, and the farmer all need endurance. In verses 11-13 we have a "faithful saying" -- this expression is used five times in the Pastoral Epistles and nowhere else.

2 Timothy 2:11-13 (NKJV) This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. 12 If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.

A faithful saying was a familiar, recognized statement or saying -- everybody knew this. Apparently during the latter half of the first century this formula was quite generally used to emphasize important truths. Such truths as these were often repeated in the Christian assemblies and were well known. They were summarys of doctrines and could have been used as hymns.

2 Timothy 2:14 (NKJV) Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.

The "these things" refers back to the faithful sayings. Timothy is to put them in remembrance, to keep reminding them. "Words to no profit" refers to the attention to words without attention to their meanings. Battles about undefined terminology are useless and causes damage to the hearers.

The word "ruin" is katastrophe, which literally means "turning upside down." It is the antithesis of edification. Then in verses 16 we have another warning to a void.

2 Timothy 2:16-17 (NKJV) But shun profane and idle babblings , for they will increase to more ungodliness.

In contrast to the useless discussions just warned against verse 15 tells us the laborer of God must give diligence to the kind and quality of his work. We want to focus on this verse.

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

We should be ashamed to teach anything other than the truth of Scripture. Anyone who misrepresents, misinterprets, or detracts from God's Word has cause to be ashamed. This verse tells us how to avoid being ashamed, and how to be approved. The KJV says to "study." The NKJV says "be diligent," the Greek word is spoudazo . It is a word used of a workman meaning to endeavor or exert oneself. It is a call for maximum effort. We are to apply maximum effort to "present yourself approved to God." The word "present," is the Greek word paristemi, it means to stand beside. You want to be able to stand alongside God as approved. Approved is the Greek word dokimos. It means one who has been put to the test and measures up, thus winning the approval of the one testing him, who is God. His goal is not to please men, but God. Paul put it this way in:

Galatians 1:10 (NKJV) For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 2:4 (NKJV) But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.

The word "worker" is the Greek word ergates. It means a laborer, toiler. It pictures a hard worker making every effort to stand approved before God. Now how is it that we are to show ourselves approved to God? It is by "rightly dividing the word of truth." This is the heart of it all. The work of God's laborer, the thing that he makes every effort in order to stand approved before God is in his handling correctly the Word of God. "Rightly dividing" is orthotomeo, which means to make a straight cut. It was used for cutting a straight line with a saw; making a trail through the woods; of building a building 3D cutting a straight edge on the stones. It was used for cutting cloth or hides, any kind of a straight line that had to fit together with something else.

Paul was a leather worker, a tent maker. He would have to use a lot of hides to make a tent. They would have to be cut right (straight) if they were going to fit together. If you don't cut the pieces right they won't go together right. It's how you cut the individual pieces that makes the whole thing come together. That's exactly what he is saying -- if you don't know how to cut the pieces, you can't make the whole thing fit. The point being you can't be a theologian until you have been an exegete. Paul is calling for a straight forward exegesis. Exegesis means to explain what Scripture says. The word comes from the Greek word meaning "to guide out of." To exegete Scripture is to get out of the words the meaning that is there, no more and no less. The word eisegesis means to read into a text something that isn't there. The idea of cutting is inherent in the verb rightly dividing, it means the correct analysis of the Word of truth. You can't develop your system of theology unless you put the parts together right. It is my conviction that every believer ought to be a theologian. Theology comes from Theos 3D God and Logos 3D word, or doctrine. So theology may be defined in the narrow sense as the doctrine of God. If you are going to know God you must know theology. Some uninformed believer may say 'why do I need to know theology? All I need is to know Jesus.' My reply would be 'who is Jesus?' As soon as we begin to answer that question we are involved in theology. No Christian can avoid theology, every Christian is to be a theologian. And the theology that we hold must come from a careful exegesis of the Scripture. 09

Paul, in this verse, is speaking to Timothy but beyond Timothy Paul's instructions apply to every preacher and teacher since that time and to a degree they apply to every believer. Everyone must handle accurately the Word of truth, cutting every part of it straight so that it fits together.

You might ask, 'why exert so much effort to Bible study?' I'll tell you why, because Scripture is the self-revelation of God. In it the mind and heart of God is laid bare on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture we learn who God is and what he values. In the Bible God reveals Himself.

I could plead with you to study the Bible for personal edification and so that you may stand by God approved. I could say that the study of the Bible would probably be the most fulfilling and rewarding educational experience of your life. But ultimately the main reason why we should study the Bible is because it is our DUTY. Ramm "Most of the material of the Bible is for the Christian, and specifically for his growth in knowledge and holiness and spirituality. The Bible and it's study is one of the prime requisites forevery Christian in order that he may lead an effective and genuine Christian life."

We live as human beings under an obligation by divine mandate to study diligently God's Word. It is a duty, not an option. Why is it that so many believers don't study God's Word? I think we can safely say that every home in America has a Bible, why don't we study it? Because as out text states it, study is work, serious and diligent work and we are into amusement and entertainment. We fail in our duty to study God's Word because it's work. It's not like reading People magazine or a novel. It takes work, effort, mental discipline. Our problem is that we are lazy. Most Christians do their work badly, they do it selfishly, leaving off anything that would be a sacrifice to them. If they feel like studying they study; if not, they neglect their duty. Believer, if you want to understand who God is and what he wants of you, you must make every effort to handle correctly the Word of God.

R. C. Sproul in his book 'Knowing Scripture' makes this sad yet insightful comment, "If you have read the whole Bible, you are in a small minority of Christian people. If you have studied the Bible you are in an even smaller minority. Isn't it amazing that almost every American has an opinion to offer about the Bible, and yet so few have really studied it?"

In order to interpret the Bible correctly we must have some understanding of Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the science of biblical interpretation.

Luke 24:27 (NKJV) And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

The word "expounded" is the Greek word diermeneuo which means to explain throughly, expound, interpret.

The purpose of hermeneutics is to establish guidelines and rules for interpreting the Bible. Any written document is subject to misinterpretation and thus we have developed rules to safeguard us from such misunderstanding. The Supreme Court's job is to function as a board to interpret the Constitution. They are to be involved in hermeneutics.

God has spoken and what He has said is recorded in Scripture. The basic need of hermeneutics is to ascertain what God meant by what he said. Edward White said, "There is no folly, no God-dishonoring theology, no iniquity for which chapter and verse may not be cited by an enslaved intelligence." Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice Act 3 scene 2 said, "In religion, what error but some sober brow will bless it, and approve it with a text, hiding the grossness with a fair ornament." Peter put it this way in his second epistle.

2 Peter 3:16 (NKJV) as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

Untaught means ignorant; and unstable is asteriktos, which means unfixed, vacillating. The word twist is strebloo, it means to put on a torture rack, to twist or pervert. It's real easy to twist or distort the Word of God but it is hard work to interpret it accurately.

Before I give you some principles of hermeneutics, let me remind you that illumination of the Scriptures is the work of the Holy Spirit. There are three terms that we must understand in relation to the Spirits work and the Scriptures.

REVELATION--This is God unveiling Himself to man. Revelation is complete in the Bible. INSPIRATION --This is the infallible recording of what God has make known to us. Both revelation and inspiration are closed. ILLUMINATION -- this is the Holy Spirit giving us an understanding of the inspired revelation. I think that there are three keys to illumination, they are humility, holiness, and hard work.

Humility -- David prayed that God would open his eyes to the wonderful truths of His Word.

Psalms 119:18 (NKJV) Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law.
James 4:6 (NKJV) But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."

I think that we should humbly pray and ask God to teach us before we ever look into His Word. Holiness-- by this I mean practical holiness. If you have known sin in your life and won't deal with it, you're not going to grow. God is not going to be illuminating His truth to you when you are not acting on what you already know.

Psalms 119:100 (NKJV) I understand more than the ancients, Because I keep Your precepts.
1 Peter 2:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,

Hard work -- this is where so many fall short. We are not willing to labor at understanding God's truth. We want it to come to us by reading a devotional for ten minutes a day. Isn't God important enough to you for you to spend some time getting to know His revealed will for your life? The Scriptures themselves call us to hard work in order to understand them.

Psalms 119:2 (NKJV) Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, Who seek Him with the whole heart!

99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Yo ur testimonies are my meditation.

Proverbs 2:1-5 (NKJV) My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, 2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding; 3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, 4 If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God.
Psalms 119:148 (NKJV) My eyes are awake through the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word.

If we are going to rightly handle the word of God, we must diligently work at it applying the rules of hermeneutics. The primary rule of hermeneutics is called:

The Analogy of Faith -- this means that Scripture interprets Scripture. No part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. Along with this is the rule that The Implicit is to be Interpreted by the Explicit. Implicit means suggested though not plainly expressed. Explicit means clearly stated, definite. For example Paul teaches that salvation is by grace.

Romans 4:4-5 (NKJV) Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
Romans 11:6 (NKJV) And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.

These verses explicitly teach that man is saved by grace through faith "apart" from works. Does James contradict Paul?

James 2:14 (NKJV) What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?

Is James teaching that works are necessary for salvation? I think that he is, but I don't think that this violates the analogy of faith, I don't think that he is contradicting Paul. I think that James is using the word save which is the Greek word sozo not of spiritual salvation but of physical deliverance of the body. James is saying if you as a Christian live in sin, your faith won't save you from the destructive effects of that sin. Paul and James are speaking of two different subjects. If we see them in conflict, that violates the analogy of faith. James' use of save is consistent with it's use in the wisdom literature as physical deliverance. The explicit truth that salvation is by grace alone helps us to interpret the implicit teachings of James.

Another rule is that we are to "Interpret the Bible literally." To interpret the Bible literally is to interpret it as literature. That is, the natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax, and context. When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. Therefore take every word at it's primary, ordinary, usual, literal (Biblical not twentieth century) meaning unless the facts of the context indicate clearly otherwise. The Red sea really parted, Jesus really walked on water.

Most of what the Bible says is to be construed literally. You might say, "most, not all?" That's right, most, the Bible uses metaphors, parables, apocalyptic language and anthropomorphism. Jesus said, "I am the vine." Is that literal? No, it is a metaphor. The Mormons take anthropomorphism literally and make God out to be a man because he is said to have hands, eyes, and ears. If you take that approach what do you do with Psalm 17?

Psalms 17:8 (NKJV) Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings,

Now is God a chicken or duck because he is said to have wings? John 4:24 says that God is a spirit. Remember the analogy of faith, Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. We must understand metaphors, parables, and apocalyptic language. If we don't understand apocalyptic language we will tend to literalize Jesus words is Matthew:

Matthew 24:29 (NKJV) "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

These apocalyptic words only make sense when kept within the context of the ancient Hebrews' use of figures of speech. To literalize them and read into them ideas about the end of the physical universe is to completely misunderstand the Bible on the Bible's terms. That this language is not literal is clear from its use in Old Testament. Check out Isaiah 13:9-13; 24; 34; Nahum 1 for a few uses of this language. To read this without an understanding of how the Bible uses apocalyptic language is to cause you to ignore the explicit words of Christ as to when these things will accrue.

Matthew 24:34 (NKJV) "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

If we literalize the apocalyptic language we must believe that these things haven't happened yet and therefore believe that Jesus was mistaken about when they would happen.

If you approach the New Testament's apocalyptic language without recognizing it for what it is, and do not know how to deal with its tone, images, and symbols, you are sure to go astray. Notice David's use of apocalyptic language in:

Psalms 18:6-8 (NKJV) In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, And my cry came before Him, even to His ears. 7 Then the earth shook and trembled; The foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, Because He was angry. 8 Smoke went up from His nostrils, And devouring fire from His mouth; Coals were kindled by it.

I'm sure you can see that this is not to be taken literal.

Another principle is the Grammatico-- Historical Method. We must focus on the grammatical construction. Grammatical structure determines whether words are to be taken as questions, commands or declarative. For example in Acts 1:8 it says, "You shall be my witnesses." Is that a future prediction or a command? In the English it's unclear, but it's clear in the Greek, it is a command.

"Historical analysis" -- involves seeking a knowledge of the setting and situation in which the books of the Bible were written. This includes the date of the writing, the authorship, the destination. These are all important for a clear understanding of the text. Too often we come from the ego-centric perspective that assumes that whatever the Bible says, it says to us and our generation! Yet that hermeneutic ignores the historical context. When interpreting Scripture we must always be aware that every verse, every line, and every statement has just on interpretation, yet many applications.

Part of historical analysis is the principle of Original Relevance -- what did the original readers understand the text to mean. The Bible was written to real people in real places facing real circumstances. Often you will hear a Christian say, "Do you know what this verse means to me?" My response is "who cares what it means to you, what does it mean?" Once you figure out the meaning then you can apply it to yourself. Whenever we force the Bible to say something on specific items of our life, we are in danger of divination. The will of God is determined from the Bible only in terms of what it says in it's first grammatical sense, or what can be derived from it in terms of spiritual principles. God does not double-talk, when He speaks in Scripture. He does not have a historical, common sense meaning, plus some special message to us in a given situation.

We are to also Determine carefully the meaning of words. Whatever else the Bible is, it is a book which communicates information verbally. That means that it is filled with words. Thoughts are expressed through relationships of those words. Each individual word contributes something to the whole of the content expressed. The better understanding we have of the individual words used in biblical statements the better we will be able to understand the total message of Scripture. Accurate communication and clear understanding are difficult when words are used imprecisely or ambiguously. Misuses of words and misunderstanding go hand in hand. Take for example Proverbs 29:18.

Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

This verse is often quoted to inspire people to look to the future and believe that God will do great things in a certain area, such as a vision of growth, or a building program. What does the word vision mean? Webster gives a meaning of the ability to foresee or perceive something not actually visible. That is often how this verse is interpreted. What does the Hebrew word used here mean? Vision is the Hebrew word khaw-zone, which means a revelation from God, see Isaiah 1:1. Having no revelation from God is quite different than not having the ability to foresee something not visible. The NKJV makes this verse more understandable to the twentieth century reader.

Proverbs 29:18 (NKJV) Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law.

Another example would be the use of the word 'elements' or 'heaven and earth' in 2 Peter:

2 Peter 3:10 (NKJV) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.

If we give a wrong meaning to 'elements' or 'heaven and earth' we will totally miss Peter's meaning. The Greek word for elements is stoicheia. It is only used seven times in the NT. The biblical meaning of elements is the elements of religious training, or the ceremonial precepts that are common to the worship of Jews. And the idea of heaven and earth in the Hebraic thought referred to "authority and peoples." What Peter is saying is that Judaism and the Old Covenant Law are about to pass away being replaced with the New Covenant and all its blessings. If we are going to understand the Bible we must determine carefully the meaning of words.

There are two basic methods by which words are defined: etymology -- which is the science of word derivations. And usage -- which is how the author uses a word. Usage always takes precedence over etymology. In addition to origins and derivations, it is extremely important for us to study language in the context of its usage. This is necessary because words undergo changes in meaning depending on how they are used. The word 'scan' used to be defined in English dictionaries as meaning to read carefully, in close detail. More recent editions define scan as to "shim over lightly." A foreigner could study the English language until he had it mastered, but you put that person on a city street corner in America and he will have a hard time figuring out what is being said. He might over hear two teenagers talking and hear them say, "that's the bomb." He would fear for his life.

Also there are scores of words in the Bible that have multiple meanings. Only the context can determine the particular meaning of a word. For example the word "baptize."

Baptize comes from the Greek word baptizo, the primary meaning is to plunge, to dip, to immerse. But there is more than one meaning for the word baptize. In any language there may be literal and metaphorical meanings of a word. What does the word fox mean? Literally a member of a canine family, but metaphorically a good looking woman. Metaphorically the word baptize means a change of identity, or to identify with.

Romans 6:3 (NKJV) Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
1 Corinthians 12:13 (NKJV) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

Alexander Carson said, "No man has a right to say, as some are in the habit of saying, 'the Spirit tells me that such or such is the meaning of such a passage.' How is he assured that it is the Holy Spirit and that it is not a spirit of delusion, except from the evidence that the interpretation is the legitimate meaning of the words." [Examination of the principles of Biblical Interpretation page 23.]

We must form our theology, what we believe about God, from our exegesis. And when Scripture doesn't agree with your theology, change your theology, don't twist the text to fit into your theology.

Why do we need all these rules? Why can't we just read the Bible and understand it? I'll tell you why, it is because when you open the Bible, you are immediately transported into a world that is very different from your everyday world.

It is full of strange customs, language, thought patterns, and history. Opening these pages sets you down in a different world, time, and culture. To understand what is being said you have to apply the rules of hermeneutics, you have to do some work.

Believers, this is God's Word. The Supreme Sovereign of the universe has given to us His Word. We must make every effort to interpret it correctly, accuratel y, that we may stand approved. Yes, it is work, hard work, but it's well worth it.

The study of the Bible is not beyond any Christian, it is a matter of spending time in it, reading it, studying it, praying over it. We need to overcome our laziness and make time for learning about our God and what he expects from us. If the average salesman knew as much about his product as the average Christian knows about the Bible he would starve to death.

Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. How can we glorify God if we don't understand who he is and what he expects of us. And how can we know these things if we spend so little time in His Word.

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