Since we are creatures of habit, we often assume that we understand the import or meaning of a passage of scripture simply because we have heard it referred to numerous times in a certain context or we have read it repeatedly without giving much consideration to the context in which it is given. Now while we do believe that Paul’s exhortation to Timothy would of necessity require a certain level of endeavor and dedication to “rightly dividing the word of truth”, we are not at all convinced that he is exhorting Timothy to simply “study” it as one would study a scientific journal or book of facts, in order to adequately discern its content or “rightly divide it” as a whole.
Usually, when we hear an exposition of this text, the emphasis that is placed upon it is to point out how a man would prove his value as a worthy workman by digging into the scriptures and spending many hours of labor therein, studiously considering their meaning and even reading and consulting the opinions of others as to what these scriptures mean.
We certainly find no fault in a person “studying” in this fashion, nor in one doing so in order to become familiar with both the text and the context of the Scriptures, known as The Holy Bible. In fact, we can find instances wherein this sort of activity is commended in the scriptures. When Paul preached to those Jews in Berea, Luke points out that “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
Paul commends Timothy’s “knowledge” of the scriptures which were no doubt instilled in him from a young age by his faithful grandmother and mother. (see 2 Tim.1:5) “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim 3:15-17)
So, we are quite sure that a continual and devoted perusal of the scriptures is a habit which is becoming to the children of GOD, who desire to walk according to the truth which is found therein. We would never wish to discourage anyone, with a desire to follow CHRIST, from setting aside time to read and meditate upon these scriptures.
But we are equally as sure that this exhortation which Paul gives to Timothy, is not primarily one which is given to promote that endeavor. Rather this is an exhortation which would apprise Timothy of the work of the SPIRIT in the sons of GOD, moving them to give diligence to walk in obedience to CHRIST.
The word “study” which is used here is a word which literally means “to make speed towards, endeavor or desire, labor or be diligent”. It is closely related to the thought set forth in I Thessalonians 4:11; “And that ye study (i.e.; be eager, or earnestly endeavor) to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” Though the Greek word (for study) used in II Timothy 2:15 is not the same word which is used in I Thessalonians 411, the thought conveyed is very similar if not synonymous.
No one assumes that Paul was telling the church at Thessalonica to go into a room with the Bible in hand and read it. Rather the exhortation is that they should apply themselves to that which they are taught by the SPIRIT to emulate. This is in great measure exactly the same thing that Paul is telling Timothy. Give diligence to walking in obedience to HIM, who has exhorted HIS disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
The exhortations given in the New Testament are not set forth for the purpose of apprising the free born sons of GOD of their “duties” nor describing an avenue whereby they can gain the blessing of GOD, but rather of demonstrating to them the conduct which is expected and wrought in the saints of GOD by the action of HIM who works in them both to will and to do of HIS good pleasure. (see Phil.2:13) HE is their ever faithful GUIDE to lead them into all truth, both by holding forth CHRIST as their example and by enabling them to fulfill that which is pleasing unto HIM in word and deed.
A “workman that needeth not to be ashamed” is one who is approved by GOD not because of what he does, but rather his approval manifests itself in that which GOD is pleased to do for and in him as one who is HIS ”workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) This verse sets forth no conditions, but rather testifies of HIS purpose in grace. The “study” or “endeavor” is the evidence of the approval rather than the cause of it. It shows or manifests the work of the SPIRIT in the child of GOD.
A right dividing of the scriptures is not arrived at through “study” (as a devoted scholar) but rather by the revelation of GOD who constrains HIS people to love HIS word and gives them a proper understanding according to the measure of faith which HE is pleased to bestow upon each. Thus, they can only “rightly divide” (i.e. make a straight cut; properly dissect) the scriptures as such knowledge is bestowed upon them and they are enabled to grasp the truth of it, by the work of the SPIRIT in them.
John speaks of this very concept in his first epistle; as he contrasts those who are “of the truth” and those who are not. “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and istruth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” (1John 2:20-27)
He clearly states that those who are of the truth walk in the truth and abide therein, thus they are given grace to be “right dividers” of the truth and need not the carnal understanding of men in order to stand therein. Paul goes on to show Timothy the folly of those who “received not a love of the truth” (see 2 Thes 2:10) when he mentions Hymeneaus and Philetus who embraced error and drank it up with no shame, desiring to seduce men weak in the faith and to subvert their hearers with lies and deceptions designed to overthrow the faith of some, even as Satan goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.
The sons of GOD are not so easily turned aside from CHRIST, even as the LORD said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) “And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5) Even as Paul writes, “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2Thes 2:13-14)
So, Paul is not simply exhorting Timothy to spend time reading the scriptures in order to be able to rightly divide the truth. Rather the exhortation is to endeavor to be found as one who is already approved of GOD, made a workman able to rightly divide the word, by the operation of the SPIRIT of GOD who alone is the TEACHER of GOD’s people. This is the same sort of exhortation as that which Peter speaks of when he says, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” (2Pet 1:10). It also serves the same purpose as that which Paul wrote to the Philippians saying, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)
If we were to paraphrase this passage in 2 Timothy we might write, “Give diligence to manifest your acceptance and approval of GOD as the workmanship of CHRIST called thus to toil, (and/or suffer) who have no reason to be ashamed having been given a spiritual understanding of the truth as it is in JESUS CHRIST.” May our “study” be after this manner and then be found rightly dividing the word of GOD in the same fashion as Paul who said, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” (Phil 3:8-11) All other “endeavors” (i.e.; studies) are fruitless.
The gaining of “carnal knowledge” (even of subjects which might be considered by some as being spiritual in nature) can be of great use, and is not in and of itself detrimental, but it sometimes serves as more of a hindrance to the sons of GOD than a help in light of what Paul says to the Corinthians. “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. “ (1Cor 8:1) He goes on to say that a man might possess such wisdom, so as to speak with the tongues of men and angels and yet be devoid of the work of the SPIRIT, (which causes the sons of GOD to act in love towards their brethren), and be without profit either to himself or to those he might profess to love. (see I Cor.13:1,2)
Men, often, (and easily, because of their natural bent) become proud of what they know, if not overtly, at least in their own private ruminations, causing them to have an accusing or condescending view of other brethren who are perhaps not as “enlightened” as them (at least by their own definition of enlightenment). Such “knowledge”, most often gained by their “study”, serves, then, as a hindrance to that which Paul has exhorted the brethren to. “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Php 2:2-3)
There can be no doubt that there is a valuable use to the setting forth of sound doctrine which is edifying to the hearers and that which gives glory to the ONE who is the embodiment of TRUTH. But the sons of GOD must never forget the words of Paul which comes upon the heels of his warning about the “puffing up” of knowledge when they would be earnestly contending for the faith. “And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him.” (1Cor 8:2-3)
It is easy to become satisfied with what we know, at the expense of honestly appraising our own attitudes and actions as the followers of CHRIST. It is far simpler to defend a point of doctrine and seek out those who will corroborate our “position” than it is to humble ourselves before one another as brethren and seek to bear one another’s burdens as the disciples of HIM, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Php 2:6-7) It is easier to be a teacher or an expert in doctrine than it is to be a servant.
That man who knows “doctrines” that he has gleaned from hours of “study”, but who has not been “taught” by the SPIRIT of GOD, to love the brethren of CHRIST, to do good to men who hate you, and to pray for those who despitefully use you, is as devoid of truth as that man who mocks the scriptures and misrepresents the sound doctrine contained therein. Paul touched on this when he admonished those who are given teaching gifts; to teach and lead by example rather than decree. “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1Pet 5:2-3)
We are often enamored in the flesh with those who have great gifts of oratory and eloquence, whose “turn of a phrase” tickles our ears. It is natural to be impressed by a man’s scriptural knowledge and carnal ability to expound it. Yet Paul pointed out that these qualities are of little consequence compared to speaking the truth in love with power which cannot be derived from books of any kind. “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1Cor 2:1-5)
The “faith of CHRIST” cannot be learned by personal study. It cannot be taught by the best of teachers, regardless of their “gifts” and abilities. Neither can a man by any effort of his own or that which is applied by others, ever grasp it or see the fruits of it made manifest in his life in the flesh. Apart from the SPIRIT of GOD directly applying this “faith” in his very soul, a man will remain ignorant of truth, even though he may be steeped in sound doctrine.
Some will tell us that we have “departed” the faith or have become libertines or antinomians because we do not embrace some form of “orthodoxy” which they deem proper on account of their “study” of the scriptures and their impeccable doctrinal understanding.
We certainly do not embrace very much which goes by the name of “orthodoxy” in the current day regardless of which “school of thought” it might derive from. Nor do we have any desire to be identified with any accepted “school of thought” or “theological tradition” regardless of which “camp” it comes from or which “guru” endorses it...
We do desire to be found faithful to that ONE who has called us from darkness to light, to declare such things as we believe to be true, and to be found in great humility before HIM and those brethren which HE has called HIS own. Where we find men of like mind who have no other agenda but this “study” (i.e.; endeavor) we are encouraged. Where we find men who are not interested in anything but the magnification of CHRIST’s glory in the earth, we have fellowship, not in doctrine but rather in the “faith of CHRIST”.
1. When is it Christians all agree, And let distinctions fall?
When, nothing in themselves, they see That Christ is all in all.
2. But strife and difference will subsist While men will something seem;
Let them but singly look to Christ And all are one in him.
3. The infant and the aged saint, The worker and the weak,
They who are strong and seldom faint, And they who scarce can speak.
4. Eternal life’s the gift of God; It comes through Christ alone;
’Tis his, he bought it with his blood; And therefore gives his own.
5. We have no life, no power, no faith, But what by Christ is given;
We all deserve eternal death, And thus we all are even.
May we be given grace to be “students” in the school of CHRIST, HIS yoke is easy, and HIS burden is light.“LORD to whom shall we go, THOU hast the words of eternal LIFE. (John 6:68)