Chapter 4 Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

2 Timothy 2:14-18

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. (vv. 14-18)

We noticed that in this second chapter the believer is presented in seven distinct aspects. We have considered him already as a son, a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. Now we come to consider him as a workman or an artisan, a laborer in this scene to the glory of God.

Referring to what he has already brought to our attention, the Apostle says in verse 14, “Of these things put them in remembrance.” That is, of the importance of being wholeheartedly out for God as a soldier; of the necessity of remembering that an athlete contending in the games does not receive the victors reward unless he observes the rules, and, therefore, of the importance of going by the Word of God, for this is our Book of rules.

If we are to be partakers of the fruit, there must be labor first. Even as a farmer must plow, sow, and cultivate the ground before he can expect a crop, so if we are to receive a reward at the judgment seat of Christ we must labor faithfully and devotedly now.

Then we do not want to forget that our Lord Jesus Christ died for us and has been raised again by the power of God. We do not want to forget that this message of the gospel is ours to proclaim to lost ones, no matter what is entailed in that, no matter whether there be suffering or imprisonment. For Paul it did mean imprisonment and death. But we are to remember, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us.” All these things are to be kept in remembrance as we go on in the service of the Lord.

Then notice this special command, “Charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” It is so easy to become occupied with minor details in regard to the Christian message, which, after all, have nothing to do with the great fundamental issues. How many there are who become occupied with some of these side issues, stressing them on every occasion, and even dividing the people of God because of them, instead of placing the emphasis on the great central truths of the Word that are so tremendously important. We are not really serving the Lord when we are striving with one another about things that are unprofitable. We are called to contend for the faith, not to become contentious. As a rule, it is these minor things that lead to contention when they are emphasized out of all proportion to their relative importance.

On the other hand, the Christian needs to give himself to a careful study of the Scriptures in order that he may understand the truth and use it aright, as we get it in verse 15: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Paul himself says elsewhere that he was not at all concerned about having man’s approval. In writing to the Corinthians he says, “With me it is a small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment” (1 Cor. 4:3). It made little difference to him whether men approved or blamed, but he was greatly concerned to have the approval of the Lord. And this is what he stresses here for us—that we need to study the Word so that we may be pleasing to Him who called us by His grace, who, has saved us in His infinite, loving-kindness, and has left us in this scene that we may glorify Him.

In the Old Testament we read of Abraham’s first son—that son, Ishmael, who was born of Hagar. You remember that all that was contrary to the mind of God. Abraham began to wonder if God was going to fulfill His promise in regard to Isaac who was to be born of Sarah. Instead of blessing coming to the household, there was trouble. Instead of Ishmael being a joy to Abraham and to Sarah, he was the very opposite. We read of Ishmael that he “shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren” (Gen. 16:12). Then long years afterward the time came for him to leave this life, and we are told, “He died in the presence of all his brethren” (Gen. 25:18). Ishmael was a man, as far as we have any record, who was never, in all his life, in the presence of God but lived in the presence of his brethren. He was one whom the world would admire. He was a man of the great open spaces, a daring warrior and a great hunter. He had all the characteristics that men like to see in one another, and so he had the approval of his brethren. But he did not have the approval of God.

It is quite possible for a man, even in the work of the Lord, to be approved by his brethren and not have the approval of God. And so the importance of heeding these words, “Study to show thyself approved unto God.” For not he who commends himself, nor whom his brethren commend is necessarily thus approved, but he whom the Lord commends. He whom God approves is the man who makes much of this blessed Book, who studies it and seeks to live in the power of the truth herein revealed. David prayed, “Order my steps in thy word” (Ps. 119:133). God has given us His Word, not only that it should unfold wonderful and precious things to us concerning the great, eternal future, but that through it we may learn how God would have us live as we go through this scene.

The Lord Jesus prayed for His disciples, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). As we meditate on the Word and let it direct our lives, we will be sanctified in this practical sense. Oh, the neglected Bibles in the homes of the people of God! Wherever you find a neglected Bible you will also find a fruitless life. You will find a life out of fellowship with God. There will be nothing in that life that really honors Him. But where you find that the Word of Christ dwells richly in the heart and mind of a believer, then God will be glorified. So we are to study to show ourselves approved unto God.

Studying the Bible means more than just reading it casually. It means giving it our careful attention, comparing one Scripture with another, weighing the words in every chapter and every verse. But even as we read the verses and meditate upon them, we should avail ourselves of every possible help that might open things up to us more clearly, making it the business of our lives to become more familiar with the Holy Scriptures. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” We are to avoid slipshod work or carelessness in our consideration of the Word. We are not to put our own ideas in the place of the Word. If you were building a house and hired a man to do the work for you, you would hand him the blueprints and instruct him to go by them. Suppose he were to go ahead and work according to his own desires and his own ideas. You would soon discharge him. He might attempt to argue with you and to insist that his ways were better than yours, but you would say, “This is not what I wanted.”

“I know it isn’t according to the blueprint,” he might reply,; “but I thought it would be very much nicer this way.”

You would say, “But I do not care what you thought. I engaged you to build this house according to the plans I gave you.”

So it is when we are working for the Lord. Many of us are very, very busy in what we call Christian service, but we are not working in accordance with the Word. And someday we will stand ashamed before God because of the wasted years that we have spent following our own ideas instead of being guided by His instruction. But if we are to be thus guided we must know the Word and be able to use it aright: “A workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Other translators have suggested different renderings for “rightly dividing the word of truth.” J. N. Darby’s version reads, “Cutting in a straight line the word of truth.” That, I think, is very suggestive. You see, the Bible does not deal with one great subject only, neither does it speak to just one class of people. So as we study the Word, it is always important to ask, as we read, For whom was this written? What did God have in mind in giving it? Is it for me? Is it about me, or does it have to do with some other group of His people?

In 1 Corinthians we find three definite groups brought before us to whom God has spoken in His Word: the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God (1 Cor. 10:32). To rightly divide the word of truth we need to consider what parts of the Word are written particularly to God’s earthly people, the Jews—what parts have to do with the Gentile nations as such, and what parts are particularly intended for the guidance and direction of the church. There are these three classes of people in the world today

There was a time when there were only two. Before Pentecost there were two classes—Jews and Gentiles. Since Pentecost, since the Holy Spirit descended, we have three groups in the world. The third group is known as the church of God. And this blessed Book has a great deal in it that is addressed particularly to the church of God. Now all Scripture is for me, but all Scripture is not about me… The Old Testament Scripture is for me just as truly as the New Testament, but I will look in vain for guidance as to my path through this world, for instance, in the book of Leviticus or in the book of Chronicles and some other Old Testament books. Yet all are part of God’s Word, and are profitable, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). But we have to learn to rightly divide the Word and see to whom God was speaking and why. Then we will be able to see what is for our instruction as we seek to do what He commands.

These distinctions are not the only ones to be considered when we attempt to rightly divide the Word of truth. There are many other lines of truth. For instance, there is that which has to do with our salvation, which is by the grace of God and to which no works of ours can be added. But it would be a great mistake if we neglected a kindred line of truth which has to do with our responsibility as children of God in this world. On the other hand, we have Scripture passages that deal with our justification, which depends entirely upon the finished work of the Lord Jesus. I cannot be saved by works of righteousness which I have done. Yet there are other Scripture passages that lay tremendous stress upon good works which should follow faith in Christ, and they show me that only as we engage in good works can we expect reward at the judgment seat of Christ.

Before He went away Jesus said He was going to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who would operate in a different way from which He had ever done before. The Savior said, “He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:17). The Holy Spirit was with the people of God before the flood. We read, “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). Noah was a preacher of righteousness for 120 years while he was building the ark. The Spirit of Christ was preaching in him, as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:20. And God said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3). It was the Spirit after the flood that guided the patriarchs and directed them. It was the Spirit of the Lord in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night that led Israel through the wilderness. It was He who spoke in the prophets. And when Jesus was here on earth we read that the Spirit was given to Him without measure.

Thus He was with the apostles. They had wonderful privileges such as no other children of God ever had—the presence of the Spirit was with them in the Person of the Christ of God Himself, “for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:34). Jesus said, “He dwelleth with you,” and then looking forward to the new dispensation, He added, “and [He] shall be in you” (John 14:17). This is the great truth in our present age. If you are born of God, if you are a Christian, then the Holy Spirit dwells in you. What a wonderful thing it is to know that the Spirit of God is moving about through this world in you and in me. This divine Person is dwelling in us! “Know ye not,” says the Apostle, “that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).

Oh, how careful we ought to be then as to our behavior when we realize that the Spirit of God, this heavenly Guest, dwells in our very bodies—those of us who have trusted the Lord Jesus as our Savior. We need to cut in straight lines the Word of truth regarding the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.

We also need to learn how to distinguish between salvation by grace and reward for service. We cannot lose our salvation, but we are ever in grave danger of losing the reward that the Lord will give to all those who are faithful to Him.

There are many other lines of truth that we ought to understand clearly in order to be workmen that need not to be ashamed, cutting in straight lines the Word of truth.

“But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.” This word babblings means “baby talk.” Men may have great learning who are just given to babblings in spiritual matters. Take the great philosophers. What is a philosopher? A man who is trying to find out the mystery of the universe. And here is a Book that will tell him all about it, but he turns his back on that which God has revealed and tries to find things out for himself. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). The mature Christian is instructed out of the Word of God. He is not misled by these babblings. People say sometimes, “I don’t think it makes any difference what a man believes if he is only sincere.” But you know down in your heart that this is not true.

You might drink poison, sincerely believing that it is pure water, but it would kill just the same as if you knew its nature and took it with intent to commit suicide. No, you do not believe it makes no difference what one believes so long as he is sincere. You know in your own heart that one can be sincerely wrong and bring disaster upon himself and others. What we need to be sure of is that God has spoken in His Word. It is only the Word that will keep us right. When we turn from the Word to human theories, which are just profane and vain babblings, they will increase unto more ungodliness. Experience proves that no man’s life will be in the right who refuses the truth of the Word.

We must know the truth of God in order to walk in the truth. The Apostle here instances two men who failed in this—two men who went off into error and misled others. He says, “And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.”

“And their word will eat as doth a canker”—like a cancerous growth in the body, it will get worse. Here are two men who had evidently been fellow laborers to some extent with the apostle Paul. At any rate, they had been recognized as Christian preachers and teachers, but they drifted from the truth. They turned away from God’s revealed Word and took up with vain speculation, saying, “The resurrection is past already.” And with this false teaching they overthrew the faith of some. It might seem a small thing as to whether the resurrection has passed or not, but it is a tremendous thing. If they were right, then our hope in Christ would go for nothing.

God grant that you and I who profess subjection to Christ may give increased attention to this Book so that our Bibles may not be neglected but read faithfully in dependence upon the Sprit of God, as He opens up the truth to us that we may walk in the power of it.