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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: July 23, 2021
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Welcome back to HBS and I thank y’all for being with us today. I also thank y’all for your keen interest in what God has said and meant for this dispensation. I say that because I know of people who pick up their Bible, close their eyes while flipping through the pages, and then they point at the page they’re on and say, “This is what God wants for me today.” I also know others who own a Bible and it’s somewhere in their home, they will tell you, but they never pick it up or open it up, and never read it, so God and His Truths are distant to them. They go through their lives not knowing Him or the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 1:7-14, 3:8-9). That’s a sad report to be sure, but there’s hope for these folks, so remember to pray for all those who remain lost (2 Timothy 2:1-4).
We’re still in chapter four of 1 Timothy where our Apostle Paul deals primarily with the subject of ungodliness (ungodly) behavior in the “latter days” of “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
Please open your Bible at 1 Timothy 4:7-11.
“But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach.”
But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.”
The “profane and old wives’ fables” which pastor Timothy was to “refuse,” i.e., reject outright, stand in contrast to “the words of faith and good doctrine” of verse 4:6. These “fables” or stories had zero to do with spiritual matters. Pagan religions in Paul’s day and the traditions of the Church of Rome, no less so, are replete with traditional stories (Greek = “muthos” used four times in Paul’s pastoral epistles, meaning: simply a story – not necessarily with a moral, as Aesop’s Fables), which are supposed to supply supporting, if not final authority, for the things they claim to be true. But Paul consistently opposed such things wherever he encountered them because they undermined the Truth, that is, the revealed Word and will of God in this dispensation (Ephesians 3:1-2).
While there are many errors in the teaching of the Catholic Church for example its belief in the transubstantiation of the communion wafer, i.e., the idea that during Mass the bread and wine used for communion become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, its distorted view of Mary, its venerated saints, etc. of these two rise right to the forefront and call for special attention. They are its denial of the doctrine of sola Scriptura and its denial of the biblical teaching on justification. Simply said, because the Roman Catholic Church has refused to submit itself to the authority of God’s Word and to embrace the doctrine of justification taught in Scripture, it has set itself apart from the true body of Christ. Thus, it is a false and deceptive form of Christianity.
The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura
In the words of reformer Martin Luther, the doctrine of sola Scriptura means: “What is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed.” Roman Catholicism flatly rejects this principle, adding a host of traditions and Church teachings and declaring them binding on all true believers with the threat of eternal damnation to those who hold contradictory opinions.
In Roman Catholicism, “the Word of God” encompasses not only the Bible, but also the Apocrypha, the Magisterium (the Church’s authority to teach and interpret divine truth), the Pope’s ex cathedra pronouncements, and an indefinite body of church tradition, some formalized in canon law and some not yet committed to writing.
Whereas evangelical Protestants believe the Bible is the ultimate test of all truth, Roman Catholics believe the Church determines what is true and what is not. In effect, this makes the Church a higher authority than God’s own Words, i.e., Scripture.
Creeds and doctrinal statements are certainly important. However, creeds, decisions of church councils, all doctrine, and even the church itself must be judged by Scripture not vice versa. Scripture is to be accurately interpreted in its context by comparing it to Scripture certainly not according to anyone’s personal whims. Scripture itself is thus the sole binding rule of faith and practice for all Believers. Protestant creeds and doctrinal statements simply express the churches’ collective understanding of the proper interpretation of Scripture. In no sense could the creeds and pronouncements of the churches ever constitute an authority equal to or higher than Scripture. Scripture always takes priority over the church in the rank of authority.
Roman Catholics, on the other hand, believe the infallible touchstone of truth is the Church itself. The Church not only infallibly determines the proper interpretation of Scripture, but also supplements Scripture with additional traditions and teachings tied to “stories.” That combination of Church tradition plus the Church’s interpretation of Scripture is what constitutes the binding rule of faith and practice for Catholics. The fact is, the Church sets itself above Holy Scripture in rank and final authority so beware.
The Doctrine of Justification
According to Roman Catholicism, justification is a process in which God’s grace is poured forth into the sinner’s heart, making that person progressively more righteous. During this process, it is the sinner’s responsibility to preserve and increase that grace by performing various good works. The means by which justification is initially obtained is not faith, but the sacrament of water baptism. The Roman Catholic Church says works are necessary both to begin and to continue the process of justification in one’s life. But at what point does the person know they are truly saved. Good question.
Speaking personally, I was baptized on the eight day of my birth, in the church, by a parish priest, and was later told while attending Catholic School that I was saved by that good work and admitted to the only true faith on earth. In short, I was taught that all Protestants were pagans and headed straight to damnation/hell. Furthermore, I was taught that justification is forfeited whenever the believer commits a mortal sin, such as adultery, missing church service on certain holy days, not fasting properly for the communion service, etc. What’s more, if I should die with a mortal sin credited to my account I would wind up in hell because all my good works would be negated, which brings me, long way around, to my teaching point. Every Catholic I’ve approached with the question, “Are you saved?” answered: “I hope so.” Not one said they were going to spend eternity with God in heaven. This is why I say and teach the majority of Christendom has no assurance of salvation; they are merely hoping God will recognize their good works, and if enough of them were done in one’s lifetime, then perhaps God will open the gates of heaven and admit them.
The error in the Catholic Church’s position on justification could be summed up in these four biblical arguments:
First, Scripture presents justification as instantaneous, not gradual, and certainly not something a person can earn on their own. Contrasting the proud Pharisee with the broken, repentant publican who smote his breast and prayed humbly for divine mercy, Jesus said that the publican “went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14). His justification was instantaneous and complete before he performed any work, based solely on his repentant faith. Jesus also said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). Eternal life is the present possession of all who believe and by definition eternal life cannot be lost. The one who believes immediately passes from spiritual death to eternal life, because that person is instantaneously justified in God’s eyes (Romans 5:1, 9, 8:1).
Second, justification means the sinner is declared righteous, not actually made righteous. This goes hand in hand with the fact that justification is instantaneous. There is no process to be performed justification is purely an instantaneous reality, a declaration God makes about the sinner. Justification takes place in the court of God, not in the soul of the sinner. It is an objective fact, not a subjective phenomenon, and it changes the sinner’s status, not their nature. Justification is an immediate decree, a divine “not guilty” verdict on behalf of the believing sinner in which God declares him or her to be righteous in His sight.
Third, the Bible teaches justification means righteousness is “imputed,” not infused. Righteousness is “reckoned,” or credited to the account of those who believe Paul’s gospel (Romans 2:16, 4:3-25). The Believer stands justified before God not because of their own righteousness (Romans 3:10), but because of a perfect righteousness outside themselves that is “reckoned” to them by faith (Philippians 3:9). Where does that righteousness come from? It is God’s righteousness (Romans 10:3), and it is the Believer’s in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). Christ’s own perfect righteousness is credited to the Believer’s personal account (Romans 5:17, 19), just as the full guilt of the Believer’s sin was imputed to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). The only merit God accepts for salvation is that of the Lord Jesus Christ; nothing man can ever do could earn God’s favor or add anything to the excellency of Christ.
Fourth, Scripture clearly teaches that man is justified by faith alone, not by faith plus works of any kind. According to our apostle, “If it by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6). Elsewhere Paul testified, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9), emphasis added; (see Acts 16:31 and Romans 4:3-6). In fact, in the writings of Paul or our marching orders from Headquarters found in his epistles, it is clearly taught that “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:28, 9:31-32, 10:3; Galatians 2:16).
In contrast, then, Roman Catholicism stresses the need of human works. Catholic doctrine denies that God “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5) without first making them godly. Good works, therefore, become the ground of justification in the Catholic faith. As thousands of former Catholics will testify, yours truly being but one of these, Roman Catholic doctrine and liturgy obscure the essential truth that the Believer is saved by grace through faith and not by his or her own personal achievements (Ephesians 2:8-9). In a simple sense, Catholics genuinely believe they are saved by doing good, confessing sin, and observing religious ceremonies or sacraments, or by trying to be the best person they can possibly be and surely, they think, God will take notice of their effort, but then again, maybe not.
Adding good works to faith as the grounds of justification is precisely the teaching that Paul condemned as “a different gospel” (See 2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6). This errant teaching nullifies the grace of God, for if admirable righteousness can be earned through obedience to Catholic doctrine, “then Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:21). Thus, any religious system that mingles works with grace, then, is “a different gospel.” It’s a distorted message that, according to our apostle, is “anathematized,” i.e., a person or thing accursed or consigned to damnation or destruction (Galatians 1:9), not by a religious council or medieval bishops, but by the very Word of God that cannot be broken. In fact, it does not overstate the case to say the Roman Catholic view on justification sets it apart as a wholly different religion than the “one true faith,” for it is directly opposed to the simple Truth re: the grace of God:
“But now (denotes a time element) the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that (join the Roman Catholic Church? No. Scripture says upon all them that) believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:21-28).
Therefore, Rome’s religion is filled with stories, but what do they prove? Nada. Yet these are often accepted as revealed truth, even though they often contradict what God has said. Little wonder, then, that Paul used strong language in repudiating all those like them, and instructs Timothy to “refuse” them, i.e., to refuse to even consider them. “Rather,” said Paul, “exercise thyself… unto godliness.” Said differently, “Occupy yourself with God, the Word of God, the things of God, and its main subject: Christ, the Son of the living God” not as Israel’s Messiah, but as the Head of the Church of Christ (Colossians 1:1-20).
“For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that (eternal life) which is to come.”
The casual Bible reader and others have lost the meaning of this verse by supposing that the words “bodily exercise,” here, refers to a good work-out at their local gym or elsewhere. In actuality, what we have here is another one of Paul’s metaphors. It’s true the noun “exercise,” is the Koine Greek word gymnasia; pronounced: goom-nas-ee'-ah, Strong’s Greek #1129, from which we get the English word gymnasium, but the same word is used in the preceding verse, where Timothy is urged to “exercise” himself “unto godliness.” So, the connotation here is assuredly not physical but spiritual.
The gymnasium and the stadium are two of Paul’s well known metaphors. The gymnasium is where the athlete did their training, disciplining their bodies to endure
strenuous exercises, by putting their bodies through rigorous tests of strength, speed, reflexes, etc. Again, Paul used this word four times in his pastoral epistles and each time as a spiritual metaphor. The stadium or place where the actual contests took place (Greek = agon; meaning: to struggle, like engaged in an intense athletic contest or warfare) such as the Isthmus Games that were held in Corinth, Greece every two years is also used as a metaphor by him along with the verb agonizomai, referring to the contest itself (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:12-14; 1 Timothy 4:7-8; 2 Timothy 2:5, 4:6-8).
In his letters, Paul makes a number of references to the Greek games, mostly using them as a metaphor for the Believer’s life. These games were very important in Greek culture, particularly because the Greeks exalted the human body and athletic prowess. This is one of the reasons Paul utilized these metaphors; he knew the people could lock-on to what he was trying to teach them. The Greek Olympic Games, which date back to circa 776 BC, were the most well-known, but the second most important in Paul’s day were the Isthmian Games held near Corinth. We know from history that these games were held in the spring of AD 51, around the time Paul was there.
The Isthmian Games were held in honor of the god Poseidon (Neptune), the god of the sea. At the center of the site of the games was a temple to Poseidon, together with a stadium for the foot-races, a theatre and a hippodrome for chariot races. Inside the temple was a small building called the Palaimon where athletes took an oath, swearing to obey the rules of the games and not to cheat, otherwise they would be disqualified. Athletes competed in foot races, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus and javelin, the long jump and chariot racing. For each competition, there was only one winner, who received a crown of celery leaves. No award was given for second place.
Thousands of people from the Mediterranean area attended the games but there were no hotel or motels i.e., no permanent accommodations the athletes and spectators could stay in, so they lodged in tents set up in surrounding fields. This without a doubt presented a good business opportunity for Paul, together with Aquila, whom he met upon arriving in Corinth. Together they provided a living for themselves working as “tentmakers.” They could make or repair tents for those in need and all this activity provided an opportunity for Paul and Aquila to preach (herald) the gospel of grace to multitudes of people (Acts 18). A thought that takes us back to my opening remarks.
So, getting back to verse 4:8, “bodily exercise” is a metaphor and an answer to all those who discipline their followers by “forbidding them to marry” or commanding them to “abstain from meats,” i.e., food, two things Paul previously mentioned. They said these restrictions bring health to the soul, but as we have seen, it is not by mortification of the body (the practice of asceticism by penitential discipline to overcome desire for sin and to strengthen the will) that we grow spiritually, but by a steady diet of the Word of God, studied not just read, and the use of right division, along with true godliness.
Just about any physical discipline might “profit” us in some form or fashion but such profit is at best meager and short-lived. But discipline in godliness provides bright hope for this life and for that which is to come (4:8). In other words, no person is so richly blessed as the one who is truly godly, nor is any used so effectively in the cause of Christ: “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.”
People disagree over the meaning of verse 4:9. Imagine that. Some believe when Paul wrote: “This is a faithful saying,” he’s referring to that which precedes this verse while others think he’s referring to what follows it. This Bible guide believes and teaches “This is a faithful saying” refers to that which Paul has already discussed. Think this through, Paul, who has been around the block more than a few times, as it were, knows full well that some, especially those who are steeped in pagan religion and its traditions, will doubt that “godliness is profitable” so to emphasize there is profit in godly behavior Paul added the statement, “This is a faithful saying” (4:9a).
That means you can count on the profit of godliness as much as you can count on the fact that Christ came to save sinners for this too is “a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation…” (1 Timothy 1:15). Both parts of that saying are “worthy of acceptation,” that Christ came, and that He came to save sinners, and both parts of this saying are “worthy of acceptation,” that godliness profits in this life and the life to come. If you are not finding godliness profitable in this life, it is only because you haven’t learned that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). If someone continues to lust (another word for lust is greed) after the profit that being dishonest can bring, or if a person persists in lusting after the flesh that carnality can bring, they have not yet learned to be “content” with consistent godly behavior and see no profit in it.
We Believers should react to the promise of this profit as Paul did, by choosing to “labor” for the Lord (4:10). How hard would you labor at work if you knew every dollar you earned could be spent in this life and saved for your life after retirement? You wouldn’t care if anyone “reproached” you, so don’t worry if you “suffer reproach” and/or persecution for working for the Lord’s profit in this life.
Of course I think it goes without saying to believe God can profit you in the next life, you have to believe in “the living God” (4:10). Godliness can even profit unbelievers who apply godly principles to their lives but not in the life to come. That’s why Christ is “specially” the Savior of Believers, for we are saved the misery of sin in this life (1 Timothy 4:16) and from the penalty of hell and then the Lake of Fire that is to come. So then, Paul would have pastor Timothy emphasize over and over again the superiority of godliness over mere religion and its many traditions that profit a person nothing.
Verse 4:10 also stands as a strong statement against the Calvinist’s doctrine of Limited Atonement, the teaching that God does not love all and that Christ did not die for all, but only for those folks referred to as His “elect.” Clearly, here we have a qualified statement against the background of an unqualified one. It’s unqualified because this errant teaching is not found anywhere in the Bible. If the “all men” are the elect, then who are “those that believe?” (Ezekiel 33:11; John 3:16-17; Romans 3:22, 5:18, 11:32; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:4-6; Hebrews 2:9-11; 2 Peter 2:1, 3:9; and 1 John 2:2).
But this verse also answers the Universalist’s doctrine that teaches “God is the Savior of all men,” therefore, all will be saved, but that He is the Savior “specially of those that believe,” since believers will be saved in this life, but unbelievers have to wait until the next life to come. This belief does not hold, however, for the passage does not say God is the Savior first of those who believe, but “specially of those who believe.” This, then, must indicate that He is the Savior of all men in a general sense, and the Savior of Believers in a special sense. Thus, God is potentially the Savior of all men, but is the Savior of Believers “specially,” just as the lifeguard at the beach is such to all, but is so in “a special way” to that person he actually saved from drowning.
Those who fail to recognize the truth of God’s love for all miss an important aspect of the message of grace. One aspect is, of course, that we who are saved were saved by the purpose, love, and power of God (alone). But the other aspect is equally important. God has made a bonafide offer of salvation to “all men,” since Christ paid the price “for all.” Thus the Believer can approach any reckless sinner and say, “Your sins have been paid for; will you believe this truth and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?” This is the thrust of 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, where Paul addresses all the unreconciled people saying, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
It is also the thrust of verse 5:19 where Paul said, “To wit, that God was in Christ (on Calvary’s cross), reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”
Without a doubt we need not engage in arguing to prove that all this is not only an offer, it’s an invitation from God our Savior, and that the lot of the unsaved is not changed, just because Christ died for them. Rather Christ’s death for the sins of all is the basis of God’s offer of salvation for all that would believe. The trespasses (sins) of the unsaved are not “imputed” to them now; they may be saved, not by climbing the highest mountain, swimming across some wide and treacherous river, or walking one mile on broken glass barefoot, but by simply believing that their sins were “imputed to Christ,” which is very essence of the gospel of the grace of God. But here’s the thing, should they reject God’s sincere offer of reconciliation the greater condemnation will be theirs, first for all their sins (Revelation 20:12-13), and also for spurning the offer of salvation, i.e., the free gift of God, purchased for us all at so great a price for it cost the Lord Jesus Christ His life (Romans 5:8-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:10).
God’s plan of salvation in this dispensation is not a technical matter; it is the expression of the love of God for guilty sinners. Here I post a quote from Dr. Harry Bultema, 1918 -1947, who rightly said, “The Lake of Fire will be but the indignation of God, burning over love spurned.” The unsaved must be given to understand that salvation is not merely a matter as to whether or not God will one day save them. They must be given to see their desperate condition and to understand that they must either receive God’s free gift of salvation through His beloved Son, or spend eternity absent from God’s love forever.
God’s Love For All – Not Just Some
“These things command and teach.”
Here I just want to communicate the thought that it is one thing to possess opinions, but quite another to stand for one’s convictions; it’s one thing to believe what God has said, but quite another to “command and teach” them, to hold them forth as the very Word of God for “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5, 16:26).
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