Rightly Dividing the Word of God

Our text for this sermon is very important to understanding the Bible. It is found in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, A workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Paul names two things important to understanding the Bible: (1) Study, which is something very few people do, and (2) Rightly divide the Bible, which is something very few people know how to do. Today let us look at Paul’s admonition to study the word of God. The Bible is inspired and cannot be mastered like books that are written by man. The more we study the Bible, the more we realize how deep and infinite this book is. Paul says we must study to show ourselves approved unto God. We simply will not be approved of God if we do not study His word. I am probably talking to a number of people right now who never read the Bible. We are all busy people. We have moved into the background all those things in our lives that we do not consider to be very important. Unfortunately, Bible study is one of those things that has been put too far down the line in our order of importance. We pay lip service to the Bible, but we just never get around to studying it.

Reasons We Should Study the Bible

Let us look at some reasons why we should read the word of God daily. First, we should study the Bible because it points out the way to Heaven. Turn to Acts 20:32, “Brethren, I commend you to God, and. to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified.” Notice that the writer says the word of God is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among the sanctified. Do you really want to go to Heaven? You can, but the man who really wants to go to Heaven will devote some time looking at the road map. The word of God has power to save or to destroy. We are told in James 1:21, “Put aside all filthiness and excess of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the implanted word of God which is able to save your soul.” The word of God is powerful because it is Spirit‑filled. Jesus said, “The words I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” This book has the secret to life now and in the hereafter. Study it that you may live.

Second, we should study the Bible because of the precious promises contained therein. Look at 2 Peter 1:4, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature.” In order to claim these promises, we must know what they are; and we will never know about God’s promises if we do not study the Bible. Let me give you an example. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we are told that God will never allow a trial greater than we can bear but will make a way of escape for us. I can rest assured that nothing will ever come to me that God does not provide a way out of. The knowledge of that promise provides strength and comfort, but I would not know about it if I never read the Bible. Folks, if you do not study the Bible, you are cheating yourselves out of many blessings. Look at Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this book of prophecy, and keep those things that are written therein.

Another reason why we should study the Bible: It is going to judge us in the last day.. This, to me, is a most serious thought. One day I am going to stand before God in judgment and be judged by the things written in this book. That should be a frightening thought to those who never take time to look at the Bible. Hear Jesus in John 12:48, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” I cannot think of anything more serious than going before God in the day of judgment totally ignorant of the Book that He has given us to live by. Does a serious student go to take an examination over material he has not bothered to read? Judgment is coming, and it is a serious thought. Please consider and start arranging for time to familiarize yourself with the teaching of this book.

Last, we should study the Bible because it is from the mouth of God. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16). The word “inspiration” means “God breathed.” Study because your life depends on it.

Two Things Essential to Understanding the Bible

Two things are essential to understanding the Bible. First, it must be studied diligently.. One cannot understand the word of God by casually reading a few verses now and then in a very aimless manner. Second, the Bible must be rightly divided. Look at our text found in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word or truth.” Notice the two essentials that Paul names: Studying and rightly dividing the word of truth.

Rightly Dividing the Bible

In the first part of our lesson, we endeavored to give reasons why we should study the Bible regularly. Now we want to talk about rightly dividing the Bible. What does the apostle mean by saying that the Bible must be rightly divided? First, we need to realize that the Bible is not just one book. It is a collection of sixty-six different books, written by about forty different men who lived over a period of fifteen hundred years. From the time Moses wrote the first book of the Old Testament until John closed out the Bible with the Revelation, over fifteen hundred years had elapsed. How amazing that forty different men could write and their work cover such a long span of time, and yet there is not a contradiction to be found! We know that these men were guided by a power higher than themselves as they wrote the Bible. But we need to remember that not everything written by every writer was intended for all men for all ages. That is the reason Paul said we must rightly divide the word of truth

An Example of Wrongly Dividing the Bible

May I relate a story I heard many years ago that illustrates the necessity of rightly dividing the word of God. A man who had never been a student of the Bible decided that he would begin to read this book. His method of study was the same as most people who read a few verses in the Bible every once in a while. He opened the Bible at random and began to read the verses his eyes fell upon. The place he happened to read was the twenty‑seventh chapter of Matthew where the writer tells about Judas who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. When he realized what he had done, he took the money back, and the Scriptures say in Matthew 27:5, “He cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went out and hanged himself.” When the man in our story read that Scripture, he began to feel very bad. He closed the Bible, and the more he thought about this man’s hanging himself, the worse he felt. But he thought, “Maybe if I will read again in the Bible, I will feel better.” He opened the Bible again at random and this time his eyes fell upon Luke 10:37 where Jesus said, “Go thou and do likewise.” Quickly the man in our story closed the Bible and said to himself, “Surely this does not mean for me to do the same as the man who hanged himself.” Now he really felt bad, but he said, “It cannot mean for me to go and do the same.” So he opened the Bible at random again. This time his eyes fell upon 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” By this time our man was thoroughly confused and troubled by what he had read in the Bible, but he returned once more to the book. This time his eyes fell at random on John 13:27, “And whatever you are going to do, do quickly.” Our story is a bit far out and is intended only as an illustration that will point out the need to rightly divide the word of God. What was the problem with this man? It was failure to rightly divide the word of truth.

First Division: Old and New Testaments

The first major division in the Bible that is vital to an understanding of it is the distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament.. The Old Testament centers around Moses; he wrote the majority of it. It is referred to as “the law and the prophets.” The New Testament has Jesus Christ as its central theme. It is referred to as the truth of the gospel. Look at John 1:17, “For the law was given by Moses (Old Testament), but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (New Testament).”

Are you one of those persons that has always believed that the whole Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, is applicable to you today? It is not possible to be under both covenants at the same time. They are, Paul says, contrary to each other. It is very important that we understand the difference between these two covenants in order to rightly divide the word of God. Look at our text again found in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of God.” Paul says that he Bible must be studied and rightly divided in order to be understood.

Contrasting the Old and New Testaments

Let us begin by turning to the eighth chapter of the book of Hebrews. Paul is contrasting the Old Testament with the New Testament all the way through this chapter. He shows the New to be superior to the Old. In verse six he calls the New Testament a better covenant which is established on better promises. Look at Hebrews 8:7‑8, “For if the first covenant (Old Testament) had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second: but finding fault with them, he saith, behold, the days will come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” Notice that the writer says the first covenant was not faultless; that is, it had faults or flaws. What were the flaws in the Old Testament? All we know is what God has revealed in His word, but Paul tells us what the major flaw in the Old Testament was, the sacrifice for sin. In the Old Testament men offered the blood of animals as an atonement for their sins. Animal sacrifices were made continually for the sins of the people, but those sacrifices could not really take away sin. Read now Hebrews 10:11, “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” Paul said the sacrifices which those priests offered daily in the temple could never take away sins. They were animal sacrifices, and the blood of animals could not remove sin. You need to read the eighth, ninth, and tenth chapters of Hebrews to see this in its completeness.

Look now at Hebrews 10:3‑4, “But in those sacrifices there was a remembrance made of sin again every year; for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” Paul said those sacrifices could not take away sin, but they did cause God to forget their sins one year at a time. Let me illustrate. Suppose I go to the bank and borrow a thousand dollars for

one year without any security. I just sign my name and walk out with a thousand dollars. (Don’t try to do that because banks do not do business that way, but God did.) At the end of the year the note falls due and I cannot pay it, not even the interest. My banker makes a new note and adds the interest. And this continues year after year until I die. That is exactly what God did in the Old Testament. Paul says that those animal sacrifices caused God to forget their sins one year at a time, but those same sins were remembered again the next year. Thus they offered sacrifices for the same sins over and over again.

Now if you look at this same chapter, Hebrews ten, you find that Christ offered one sacrifice for sin forever. That sacrifice was His blood which was poured out on the cross for us. Paul tells us that our sins are forgiven and remembered against us no more forever. We do not offer an animal because through faith and obedience we have access to the blood of Jesus Christ which removes sin forever.

Now let us go back to the covenants, the Old Testament and the New Testament. Paul said that the first covenant had flaws and we have looked at one flaw. The New Testament is perfect according to James 1:25. Notice what Paul says God did. He took the Old Covenant out of the way and replaced it with the New. Look at Hebrews 8:13, “In that he saith, a new covenant (New Testament), he hath made the first covenant old (Old Testament). Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” To put it another way, look at Hebrews 10:9, “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” The first covenant had to be removed in order that the new covenant could be established.

Let us look at the conclusion to Paul’s reasoning in Hebrews, chapter 8. Please turn now to Hebrews 8: 13, “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” Now consider what we have learned from Hebrews, chapter 8. The Old Testament had a weakness and that weakness was the animal sacrifices for sin. Under the Old Testament system, sins were not forgiven but “rolled forward” a year at a time like a renewing a note at the bank. However, when the blood of Christ was poured out for sin, that was the perfect sacrifice. The Old Testament faded out and was replaced with the New Testament.

The apostle continues to contrast the Old and New Testament in chapters nine and ten of Hebrews. He explains the sacrifices of the Old Testament. Look at Hebrews 10:11‑12, “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man (Christ), after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” Observe the contrast Paul makes in these verses. Under the Old Testament system, the sacrifices were made over and over for the same sins; but under the New Testament, Christ has made one sacrifice for sin forever, His blood. Now look at Hebrews 10:9, “Lo, I come to do thy will, 0 God. He taketh away the first that he may establish the second.” Christ came to do God’s will, which was to take away the first covenant in order to establish the second.

Why God Gave a Law with Flaws

The Galatian Christians were having the same problem understanding the two covenants as those to whom Paul wrote in Hebrews. Some of the same arguments are also found in the epistle that Paul wrote to the Galatians. Maybe some of you are wondering why God gave a law that was not perfect. Maybe we can answer that by looking at Galatians 3:19, “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” The Old Testament was often referred to as the law. Jesus called it the law in John 1:17, “The law came by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ.” Now the apostle asks the question we are asking. “Wherefore then serveth the law?” Why did God give an imperfect system which he knew he would one day replace? Watch Paul’s answer, “It was added because of transgressions until the seed should come.” The Old Testament was necessary to lead the world up to Christ, who is the seed of whom Paul speaks.

Please turn now to Galatians 3:23‑25, “But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” Look at what the writer is saying. The cross is the dividing line. Everything in the Old Testament points forward to Christ, and everything we do today points backward to Christ. Thus the cross of Christ becomes the central object of the whole Bible. The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed forward to the one perfect sacrifice for sin, Christ. The ordinances of the New Testament point backward to His death. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ. Baptism re‑enacts a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We cannot go back to the Old Testament for any of our practices in Christianity today. If we do we become a debtor to do the whole law. Paul warns us in Galatians 5:3‑4 that Christ becomes of no effect to us if we try to earn our salvation by the ordinances of the old law.

Our Attitude Toward the Old Testament

What is our attitude toward the Old Testament now that we are no longer living under its laws and ordinances? Should we study it or should we ignore it completely? Paul answers this question in Romans 15:4, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Paul tells us

that the things written before Christ came are instructions to us in how God deals with his people. Through studying the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, we grow in faith and hope. Look also at 1 Corinthians 10:11, where Paul is discussing some incidents of the Old Testament, “how these things happened unto them for examples and they are written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the earth are come.” Much of the Old Testament is a history of God’s dealing with His people, the Israelites. Paul says that those things are written for our instruction but we are not to go back to the Old Testament for doctrine. We serve God today according to the New Testament. Turn to 2 Corinthians 3‑6 where Paul says, “God hath made us able ministers of the New Testament….”

Consequences of Using the Old Testament as Our Authority

Suppose we do go back to the Old Testament for some part of our doctrine. Let us say we decide to practice incense burning in our services as they did in Old Testament times. What would be wrong with burning incense since God accepted it in the Old Testament times? This question is answered in Galatians 5:3, “For I testify to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.” Paul warns the Galatians that their going back to the Old Testament for even one practice obligates them to do everything set forth in the whole law. The Galatians were having problems with circumcision. They had observed circumcision for hundreds, even thousands, of years. When Christ came and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and laws, He did away with the need of circumcision and brought in the New Testament, which frees men from the outward rituals of the old law. Some Christians were having trouble giving up circumcision, so Paul warned them that any man who insisted upon circumcision was obligated to do everything in the law. He tells them that they cannot bring over a part of the law.

Now look at the next verse, Galatians 5:4, “Christ is become of no effect unto you,

whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.” After telling these Galatians that they cannot go back to the Old Testament and keep just a part of the law, then Paul explains his reasoning. Their going back to the practices of the Old Testament nullified the death of Christ, taking away their salvation by grace. We tie this verse with John 1:17 where Jesus says, “The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Paul’s central thought to the early Christians might be paraphrased; “If you go back to the Old Testament, you are leaving salvation by grace through Christ and going back to a system of salvation by works under the system of Moses.”

Religious Division: A Product of Not Rightly Dividing the Word

One of the saddest things in the world today is the divided condition of the followers of Jesus Christ. How tragic that those who believe in Jesus should be divided into hundreds of different bodies that are teaching conflicting, contradictory doctrines and wearing so many different names! Jesus prayed in John 17:20‑21 that his followers would be united as He and the heavenly Father were. No one can believe that a divided religious world is pleasing to God and Jesus. I believe with all my heart that the great masses of people worshiping God today are honest and sincere. (Oh, I am sure there are hypocrites in all churches, but the majority of worshipers in all churches are surely sincere.) However, the Bible cannot be responsible for all the confusion in the religious world today. That would be saying the Bible is the worst book of contradictions ever written. The problem lies in our misunderstandings of the Bible. The Bible must be rightly divided in order to be understood. Let us look again at our text in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved , a workman that needeth not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth.”

One of the prophets said, “Hear O ye Heavens, and give ear O earth, for the Lord hath spoken.” When God speaks, it is time for man to stand still and listen. The word spoken by the Lord should be received with reverence and attention. God has spoken to us in the Bible. This is the word of God just the same as if it had been spoken this very day. We should give it respect and careful attention.