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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: March 26, 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, one and all, to HBS where the Light of Truth is always on. With that thought in mind I pray that you are checking my words to see if they are in line with God’s Word, or what He actually said and meant for this “dispensation of the grace of God,” thereby showing yourself to be in harmony with the Lord’s command “Study (the Word of God) to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
“The Best of Men are Just Men at Best” (Alistair Begg).
For those who were absent last week we looked at church traditions (paradosis) with regard to “the teachings of men,” especially those authorities who hold a church office. These men, more often than not, are not fact-checked by their congregants. Instead they are esteemed to such an extent that their followers believe they are incapable of error in spite of the fact that the threat of “deception” is as real today as it was in Paul’s day. Point of fact, Paul often warned grace Believers about the danger of “deception” (Romans 16:17-18; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). Case in point, he opened 2nd Thessalonians, chapter two, by beseeching those saints in Christ not to be “shaken in mind or… troubled,” or “deceived” (2:1-3). Then he closed that chapter with an exhortation to “stand fast, and hold the traditions” he had taught them both “by word or epistle.”
We note the fact the word “tradition” denotes that which has been handed down, from one generation to the next, and is not necessarily false. This certainly applies to the “traditions and/or doctrines” Paul taught and “charged” Timothy to command “some that they teach no other doctrine” than that which he “handed down” to them. So, more to the point, although Paul’s epistles were written two thousand years ago to the grace Churches of that era, they remain God’s Word to us today, and we’re to walk (live) in light of those traditions or truths handed down by Paul, God’s called apostle to the gentile nations (Romans 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1).
Please open your Bible, again, to 1 Timothy 1:1-4.
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith; Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge (command) some that they (do what?) teach no other doctrine (paradosis), Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.”
“Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith; Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith; - verse 1:2 identifies the letter's recipient and offers a standard Pauline greeting with a notable exception; more on that to follow. As one can plainly see, the letter was written to Timothy and is one of four personal letters by Paul in the N.T.; the others are 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Here Timothy is referred to as Paul’s "own son in the faith." Paul isn’t implying that he’s Timothy’s biological father their relationship was spiritual, meaning he had led him to faith in Christ. In Acts 16:1-3 we pick up on the truth that Timothy had already been saved, “by grace through faith,” i.e., by believing Paul’s gospel (Romans 2:16, 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 2:8-9). This most likely occurred during Paul’s first missionary journey and his previous visit to Lystra circa 45-47 AD (See Acts 14:1-9). When Paul expressed an interest in taking him along with him and Silas on his 2nd missionary journey, we learn that Timothy was already “well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.”
Both Timothy and Titus hold the distinction of being Paul’s two closest companions and the only two people he referred to as "my own son" (Titus 1:4).
“…Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:2b).
Paul's opening salutations included the ideas of “Grace and peace” in 10 of the 13 N.T. letters he authored, but here he added the term “mercy” to his salutations in 1 and 2 Timothy and then again in his letter to Titus. Is there a significance? If so, what is it?
The answer: Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy, his final communication, included similar language: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul wrote this letter to Timothy and given his circumstances, (he was imprisoned in Rome, again, and knew he would not be set free this time) he might very well have written, “Pain, mistreatment, and misery accompany me so watch your back!” But instead he selflessly wrote: “Grace, mercy, and peace, to you. No doubt this was because of the difficult and turbulent times and the trying circumstances under which he and these godly men labored. The burden of Paul’s great message to the Church, and the world-at-large, was “grace be to you and peace,” as we learn from his other epistles. But here we note he added the word “mercy,” as he also does in 2 Timothy 1:2 and Titus 1:4. In his fondness for both Timothy and Titus he was demonstrating his genuine concern about all those times they too would need God’s “mercy” when they faced persecution for the cause of Christ and “mercy” when they should fail the ever-faithful Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to “God our Saviour” that He has compassion or “mercy” upon His faithful servants not only in their adversities but also in their failures, or those times when they fail to show-up and take a stand for Him and “the truth.”
We also note the fact that God, in grace, had given our Apostle Paul many spiritual children and each one was affectionately held in high regard and that included the carnal saints in Corinth, Greece for Paul wrote: “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).
But of all the “beloved sons” in the faith Paul had led to the Lord Timothy undeniably was the closest to his heart for he is mentioned in the majority of his writings and sometimes Paul identified him as a co-writer (See Paul’s salutations in 2 Corinthians; Philippians; Colossians; 1 and 2 Thessalonians; and Philemon).
Before we turn loose of this Bible passage I think some observations ought to be made re: the local church, since this subject directly affects Paul’s pastoral epistles.
The Anatomy of the Local Church
A careful study of Paul’s epistles do not reveal the existence of any ecumenical council or other form of human organization exercising control over the local churches. Under the authority of “God our Saviour” Paul established both individual and independent churches or assemblies, each one viewed as a self-governing body, under Christ Jesus, the true Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18, 2:10). Put another way, a collection of local churches, in Paul’s epistles, is never looked upon as “a Church,” much less as “the Church,” but simply as “churches.” Personally, I’ve used the term, “true Church” many times in light of the fact that there are literally thousands of so-called Christian churches in existence today each one claiming to be the true Church, but how is that possible? Borrowing a familiar phrase, “Their Can Be Only One,” the true Church is a living organism made up of true Believers and eternally positioned in the heavenlies, while on the other hand, the local churches are comprised of believers and unbelievers and more often than not teach and preach something other than the undefiled Word of God. In Paul’s day, each local church chose its own officers (1 Timothy 3), disciplined its own Believers (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 6:2), and none answered to any other higher ecclesiastical body.
The Organization of the Local Church
Some people hold the notion that since the Church of Christ is a living, breathing organism rather than an organization, local churches should not be established as an organization. Furthermore, some folks object to what they call a “one-man ministry,” i.e., the pastorate. In their worship services no one is scheduled to speak. Rather all sit and wait quietly for the Holy Spirit to lead an inspired brother or sister in attendance to stand up and address the congregation. The obvious problem with that plan is the one supposedly “Spirit-led” is too often one who is not exactly “slow to speak,” and may even be the one who merely desires to be heard and not necessarily understood. Thus, there is no guarantee that the one who brought the message many waited patiently to hear was in fact chosen by the Holy Spirit to speak God’s message or truth.
I put it to the group, since these are the facts, is it not an indication that some kind of organization is needed in the local church? And, indeed, does not the very fact that the true Church is a living organism indicate to us that the local church should be properly organized? I ask you, what is more organized than the human body, i.e., the eyes do all the seeing, the nose does all the smelling, the ears do all the hearing, and so on (See 1 Corinthians chapters 12 thru 14).
But why, it might be asked, cannot the local church simply meet together as a living organism with Christ Jesus its only Head? The answer: as I previously said, is because the local churches are not the true Church. The true Church is indeed a living organism with a position in the heavenlies. But a local church might include some unbelievers, thus, the local church is merely a segment of the professing Church, and it should learn from what the Scriptures say about the true Church, namely, that organization is indispensable in order for it to function properly or in harmony with the will of God.
Where do we find this information? The answer: Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 12, the analogy of the body and its members is not an argument against organization in the local church, but rather it concerns “the attitude” of Believers toward one another because all those who have been “baptized by the Holy Spirit into the “one body” belong to the true Church, “which is His (Christ’s) body,”
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit “ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
Case in point, the Plymouth Brethren, and similar groups, with all their desires and aspirations to be known as a Spirit-led group, in actuality, have no firm assurance that their form of worship secures the Holy Spirit’s leading. Moreover, with all their objections to organization, it is a simple fact that they themselves are organized.
For instance, the members of the assembly do not wait for the Spirit to lead someone to open their doors of their place of meeting and turn on the lights. Someone must be assigned to do this. They do not wait for the Holy Spirit to lead someone to take care of the finances. A treasurer is chosen to take on this responsibility. They do not wait for the Spirit to lead someone to record their decisions. A secretary does this. And, as with most assemblies, each one has had its leading “elder” who, more or less, took charge. Therefore, in spite of themselves and what they proclaim, the Plymouth Brethren and others are organized assemblies albeit sometimes poorly organized.
“Doth not even nature itself teach you?” (1 Corinthians 11:14).
Let’s be clear, God has ordained elective and/or appointive offices for the local church, thus organization and rank is found within. We know, for instance, that over the “bishops,” or overseers, in the local churches, Paul was inclined to ordain one of their members as their spiritual leader (See Acts 20:17 and 1 Timothy 1:3). Furthermore, he instructed Timothy and Titus, two of these men, as to the election or appointment of other “bishops” and deacons in the local church.
Our Apostle Paul indicates that both the “bishops” and the “deacons” occupy official positions within the church, but he does not say whether by election or by appointment by a superior. The fact that Titus was instructed to “ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5) clearly indicates that more than mere age was required for the office of elder. Thus, all “bishops” were “elders,” but not all elders were bishops.
But how did Timothy and Titus “ordain” bishops and elders, was it by election or appointment? The fact is we do not know, but when all is considered it matters little, for even if it were by personal appointment, does anyone assume that either of these pastors would have arbitrarily appointed men to these church offices without first ascertaining who had gained the affection and respect of the members of the assembly? How could one be an effective overseer who did not have the people’s confidence?
To be sure, there have been unworthy elders and deacons for the local churches on earth that are at best made up of far-from-perfect believers. But with Scriptural organization the ministries of the church are at least not “left up for grabs,” as they say, so that one person might take charge of a service and preach, merely on his own assumption that he is being led by the Holy Spirit, when in fact he is not. You see there are no new revelations coming from God today. Scripture teaches us the written Word of God is “complete” and thus the final authority in all things related to faith and practice: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:9-11).
The Bible may not tell us everything we “want” to know, but it does tell us everything we “need” to know. God’s Word, therefore, is true and “complete.” Even if no one ever believed any of it, it would still be the true Word of God and “complete.” Truth is not relative, as many claim today, the Word of God is true, period.
It should be further noted, with regard to deacons, that while they have been called “the servants of the church,” they were also servants, or assistants, to the bishops, the overseers, who were obviously “over” them. The Englishman’s Greek Concordance reveals that the word diakonos, whether rendered minister, servant, or deacon in the English language, consistently refers to one who carries out the directions of another.
The Apostle Paul’s Own Example
A good example of the proper recognition of organization and of rank in the local church is found in the record of Paul’s visit to the council at Jerusalem, as found in Acts 15 and Galatians 2. The question whether the Believers in the church at Jerusalem at that time belonged to the Body of Christ is beside the point here. The Body of Christ is the Church of this present dispensation (Ephesians 1:22-23), 3:1-11), but God has always had His Church (ekklesia, i.e., a called out assembly) or His called-out people (See Exodus 12:42; Hosea 11:1; Acts 7:38; Matthew 2:15, 18:17).
Paul, though sent to the Council at Jerusalem both by God (Galatians 2:2) and by the church at Antioch (Acts 15:2), did not simply appear at this governing council to argue his case against the bondage of Gentile Believers to circumcision and the Mosaic Law. We note it took at least three separate meetings to accomplish the purpose of this visit.
First, Paul had a private preliminary conference with those who were “of reputation,” lest by any means his effort should prove to be in vain (Galatians 2:2).
Then, when the believing Pharisees “rose up” to object (whether at a meeting of the council or not, we don’t know) saying the Gentile Believers must subject themselves to circumcision and the Law, “the apostles and elders” (not the entire church) came together for to consider this matter” (acts 15:5-6).
It was at this meeting that there was “much disputing” (Acts 15:7) and that Paul “gave place by subjection, no not for an hour” that “the truth of the gospel (i.e., his gospel), (Galatians 2:2) might continue with” the Gentiles Believers (Galatians 2:5).
Scripture holds the results of this historical meeting. When the Jewish religious leaders “perceived” the validity of Paul’s message and ministry, a decision was reached and announced by “James,” (Jesus’ half-brother) and not the Apostle Peter, to the effect that the Gentiles should not henceforth be “troubled” by efforts to bring them under the bondage of the Law:
“And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen (the Gentiles), and they unto the circumcision (the Jews)” (Galatians 2:9).
To say that this was a great victory for God, His called Apostle Paul, and for “the truth” is an understatement. The three top leaders of the Jerusalem Council (who had previously been at odds with Paul and his ministry to the Gentiles) shook hands with Paul and Barnabas in a solemn, public agreement that Paul should now be recognized as the Apostle to the Gentile nations, per the will of God, themselves agreeing from now on to confine their ministry to the nation of Israel.
So then, it was at this church meeting that the action of the apostles and elders were evidently explained to them, ratified by them, and it was agreed that they would send letters of confirmation to the Believers at Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia by the hands of trusted brethren who would further corroborate Paul’s oral report to the Gentile Believers. All this gives evidence that there was great respect for organization and rank within the church, not only among the Judean believers, i.e., those who believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah (See Acts 8:26-37), but also on Paul’s part. Thus, organization in the local church is not something to be ignored or disrespected. It is to be embraced by all.
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