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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: June 18, 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 to HBS.
For the benefit of y’all, especially those who have recently partnered with our verse-by-verse study of God’s Word, rightly divided, I offer this brief summary of 1 Timothy.
The Author And Date
The Apostle Paul, as directly named in 1 Timothy 1:1 is the author. He wrote 1 Timothy circa 62-63 AD from Macedonia (most likely from Philippi) after being released from his 1st Roman imprisonment and prior to his 2nd and final Roman imprisonment (Acts 24-28; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; 2 Timothy 4:6-8).
1 Timothy is one of only four letters in the N.T. written by Paul to individuals. The others are 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Timothy was the only person to receive two individual letters from Paul in the N.T. Timothy was from Lystra, in modern-day Turkey, the son of a Greek father and Jewish mother. His mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, were women of faith (2 Timothy 1:5). They taught Timothy the O.T, Scriptures from his youth (2 Timothy 3:15). He was led to the Lord by Paul in Lystra (1:2). In Acts 16:1–5, we learn that the brethren in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take Timothy on his 2nd Missionary Journey, but he was not circumcised. Paul had him circumcised not because of the Mosaic Law but to prevent Jewish malcontents from causing them trouble along the way. Thus, Timothy became one of Paul’s companions on his 2nd Missionary Journey.
Timothy would be with Paul during his first Roman imprisonment. When 1 Timothy was written, however, Timothy was in Ephesus, serving as a pastor among the various house churches that existed then. His work included evangelism, teaching, appointing elders and deacons, and standing firm against false teaching. Paul wrote to outline his responsibilities in the Church and to encourage him in “these things.”
This six-chapter epistle
focuses both on Timothy and his work among the church members at Ephesus. The book of Ephesians discusses this assembly
in more detail.
Chapter 1 includes the usual Pauline greeting followed by three areas of emphasis: a warning against false teachings (1:3–11), Paul’s testimony (1:12–17), and his words of encouragement to Timothy, “his own son in the faith” (1:18–20).
Chapter 2 discusses two areas of importance to the Ephesian Believers under Timothy’s care: the role of prayer in the church, and teachings re: the role of women in the Church.
Chapter 3 focuses on three areas: qualifications of elders (3:1–7), qualifications of deacons (3:8–13), and emphasis on the importance of the Church of Christ in the world (3:14–16).
Chapter 4 highlights various dangers in the local house church, while chapters 5-6 highlight duties among various groups of people. These included the aged and the younger “men” (5:1–2), widows (5:3–16), spiritual leaders (5:17–25), masters and servants (6:1–2), and false teachers (6:3–5). 1 Timothy 6:6–19 addresses the relationship between godliness and finances, and concludes with a word for Timothy to “keep that which is committed to thy trust…” (6:20–21).
Please open your Bible at 1 Timothy 3:14-16.
“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
The Mystery of Godliness
First things first; it should be understood by all that in 1 Timothy, chapter 3, Paul tendered the standards of character and conduct which should be found in a bishop/elder/pastor and a deacon. It should also be understood if all of these qualifications were fully met, the situation in the Church of Christ would be ideal today. But we know it is not. The fact is there are none who qualify in every way and few, if any, who meet every single one of these qualifications. The fact of the matter is if we waited for men who fully qualify for these offices in the Church in every way, we would have no spiritual leadership at all. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Think about it. Did Saul/Paul meet all the qualifications of an apostle? Not so much. He wasn’t part of the Lord’s ministry to the nation of Israel starting with the “baptism of John” (Acts 1:21-22). What’s more, before his calling he was the main persecutor of those Jews who believed in Jesus’ name, i.e., the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 8:26-38). So, one would think he would be the last person on earth God would choose to be His steward of the mystery of the Grace of God (Acts 9; Galatians 1:11-17; Ephesians 3:1-9). In today’s thinking, it would be like picking Osama Bin Laden to be the Prime Minister of Israel. Based on logic and history that would not end well. But God did choose Saul of Tarsus and made him His chosen vessel to use for the remainder of his lifetime (Acts 9:15). So, the truth of the matter is God uses ordinary people for extraordinary things for His glory not ours. Said differently, the Lord doesn’t call the qualified He qualifies those He calls.
Clearly said, men do not enter or graduate from seminary with all these qualifications. Therefore, how much better for the pastor-to-be and the deacon under consideration to have a keen sense of their inadequacy from the start having this attitude, “By the grace of God I will do my very best from this day on to fulfill all these qualifications to the glory of God.” Yet, as insufficient as we all most certainly are, the Lord has made us more than adequate to meet the qualifications of these church offices. Isn’t that what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (Colossians 1:11).
“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:”
What “things?” The answer: some say this means everything Paul wrote starting with 1 Timothy 3:1. Others hold the phrase, “These things I write unto thee” takes us all the way back to Paul’s opening salutation at 1 Timothy 1:1. The case could be argued with either one, but I hold Paul meant the latter.
“…hoping to come unto thee shortly:” – there’s no disputing this statement. It is evident that while Paul “hoped” to come to Ephesus shortly to see Timothy, he was not certain of it. All (without a doubt) depended on what Caesar’s verdict would be. As we know from Scripture, Paul was “delivered out of the mouth of the lion” and did, for a time, enjoy a period of freedom before being arrested again. He would never experience freedom again (2 Timothy 4:17). Paul was executed in Rome circa 67-68 AD. According to ancient sources such as Clement, Dionysius, Eusebius and Tertullian, Paul was executed by beheading, a death befitting a Roman citizen, which he certainly was.
Thus, Paul wrote this epistle, as he said, “…that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (verse 3:15).
Here I want to point out to y’all many religious people misunderstand Paul’s very important message above. I say this because I’ve experienced what I’m about to say.
Drawing from two decades of Catholicism I recall that when entering the local church immediately there was a sense of reverence or awe. I note we first dipped a hand into the holy water provided, made the sign of the cross, walked to a vacate pew but before entering and sitting down, we genuflected (took a knee). This is because we were taught the church is God’s house and the auditorium (place of worship) is His holy sanctuary, i.e., the place He dwells. This edict, and others, came from Rome the headquarters of the Roman Catholic faith and were not to be trifled with. As sincere and religious sounding as this might be, these folks are actually living in another dispensation, when the LORD God (Jehovah) actually had a physical temple on earth and His presence occupied its sanctuary (Exodus 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:43).
That being said the truth of the matter is no physical building on earth can properly be called “the house of God” in this dispensation of the grace of God. In verse 3:15, Paul said “the house of God” today is “the church of the living God,” and “the church” is not a building I don’t care how big or how opulent it may be. I want to also point out at this time, one of the most misunderstood terms in Scripture is the word “church.” In the street-language of Paul’s day, i.e., in Koine Greek, the term “church” is the word “ekklesia,” pronounced: ek-klay-see'-ah; Strong’s Greek #1577, and generally means: a people called out of the world and to God; an assembly of Believers.
For example, Scripture says Barnabas and Saul met with “the church” in Antioch: “And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church (ekklesia), and taught much people” (Acts 11:26b).
And in 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul wrote: “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church (ekklesia) of God.”
The word in the N.T. is also used to refer to any assembly of people such as the Jewish nation, “the church (ekklesia) in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38), the convening of citizens for the purpose of deliberating (Acts 19:39), and to discuss legal matters pertaining to the Mosaic Law (15:6 ). But here’s the thing, when Paul refers to “the church” of today, i.e., in the dispensation of the Grace of God, “the house of the living God,” is the true Church, an assembly of Believers, the Body of Christ, in which God dwells by His Spirit (Colossians 1:24-27). This is why, in Ephesians 2:19-22, the Bible student reads that those who have been reconciled to God through Christ Jesus are built into this living (organic) building:
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the (holy) Spirit ” (See 1 Corinthians 6:19, 12:12-14 and 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
I reiterate for emphasis, “the church of the living God” today is organic (a living, breathing organism) and not an organization. An organism carries the implication of something that’s alive; it has a head and a body, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head, if you’re a true Believer, you are part and parcel of “the one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18), and it all derives from Him. Whereas with an organization, anyone can put one of those together. One of the problems with that concept is people begin to trust in the organization’s ability and apply techniques to make it more successful. Sadly, many pastors today act like CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) of a corporation and they manage their church as though that’s what it is.
Then there are church bodies, whether it’s the Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterian gatherings, and the like, they all have their centralized headquarters. And one of the dangers that I have witnessed first-hand in local fellowships I’ve attended is those men who are selected to be an “elder” or a “deacon,” tend to be people who are more outgoing, successful in business, successful in life, and maybe they have a money or access to money, and they would be good to have on the inside of their organization for the sake of future contributions, and so forth.
In mentioning all this I’m not trying to muddy any church’s reputation I’m merely citing the difference between an organism and an organization (corporation). An organism is a living body . . . ; the church is called His body, Christ’s body, and He’s the Head, and we really need to draw our life, our strength, our direction, from Him, and, of course, He has given us His Word to guide us. And it’s a tragedy when we begin to look beyond His Word, or abandon His Word altogether, as we rely on ourselves to come up with ideas on how to make our church grow in number, and make it more
effective or acceptable to others, and that’s usually accomplished by watering-down the Word of God so as to make it more palatable to those in attendance. This might be a sound marketing strategy for the overall health of a corporation but not with “the church of the living God” and Paul cites why that is below:
“…which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Here, with the local Church in mind, Paul used an interesting symbol to describe a basic function of the Lord’s Church on earth. He referred to it as “the pillar and ground…” or “the pillar and support of the truth.” The implication, then, is “the church of the living God” is to stand firm as a witness to His divine Truths. It is not to hide it, or alter it, or water it down for expediency’s sake; it is to stand, alone if need be, but tall and bold as God’s witness to the truth revealed from heaven.
This Bible verse is a serious subject requiring serious consideration here at the close of chapter three in which the responsibilities of the bishops and the deacons are listed. Great responsibility rests upon men of God to seek only to know “the truth,” rightly divided, to obey it, and to make it known to others in “the household of faith” and those without (Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 4:4-6).
I firmly believe one of the questions the Lord Jesus Christ will ask each saved Believer at the Judgment Seat of Christ is “What did you do with My Word?” For the saved Believer has been entrusted with God’s Word and the ministry of reconciliation: “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us (insert your name here if you know Christ Jesus as your Savior) the ministry of reconciliation;” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
What does this mean? I’m glad you asked because, as for me, I never knew this verse existed until I began studying God’s Word. I’m saying I didn’t hear or know of many things of God, including the ministry of reconciliation, while attending the Catholic Church even though I spent 20 years of my life in that organization. Thus, based on my experience this might be the only place you’ll hear it. That’s why I take the time to explain it to y’all now.
We are commissioned by the resurrected and ascended Lord of glory to tell those in need of salvation, that all obstacles separating sinful man from a holy God were dismantled by the cross of Christ, (Romans 5:8), so that all who remain alienated from their Redeemer, through pride or ignorance, foolishness or folly, carnality or unbelief, unbelief or rebellion may hear the wonderful news of salvation, sanctification, glorification, justification unto eternal life “and be ye reconciled to God.”
It is not God's will that anyone should perish but that all come to faith in Jesus through Paul’s gospel (Romans 2:16, 16:25-27). And so, He has made us His witnesses, His ambassadors for Christ here on earth where the spiritual battle rages. He has given us the ongoing ministry of reconciliation so that all who trust in Jesus for the salvation may be reconciled to God. It is as if God Himself were making an appeal to the lost… through us. And this is one of main differences between Law and Grace. The Law says “do this” “don’t do that…” Whereas God’s Grace, in the dispensation of grace, pleads, literally begs the lost, “be ye reconciled to God.”
Just as Jesus reconciled us to Himself... so we have been entrusted with the word of reconciliation. We have been entrusted with the responsibility of telling the unsaved the glorious gospel of grace (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), so that they can also be restored into a right relationship with God. How astonishing, we who have been saved have been entrusted with the message of restoring people into fellowship with God the Father.
It was through His work on Calvary's cross that the Son of God, as Son of Man, worked together to bring condemned sinners back to Himself. Sin had to be punished and the wrath of God was poured out on His beloved Son as payment for our sin so that we might be reconciled back to Him. And as He cried in triumph, “It Is Finished,” the veil of the temple, that separated a holy God from sinful man, was torn from top to bottom. Divine justice had been served. The price of sin had been paid, God was satisfied, so that God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to Himself: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;” (Colossians 2:10, 13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 9:12).
I ask y’all to think about all that and then think about this. Does it not stand to reason great condemnation will fall upon those who, though entrusted with God’s Word, have ignored it, tinkered with it, altered it, watered it down, explained it away, in order to maintain and promote their own religious ideals and theories.
The presence of God and the maintenance of the truth of God are the most important characteristics of “the true church” and when, according to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the members of Christ’s body are taken up and away from this earth, “the truth” will be abandoned and the world, including those who make up the religious world, will be given up to believing “a lie:” A lie is the direct opposite of “the truth,” is it not?
“And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
Therefore, it is not strange or difficult to imagine the local church (ekklesia) is called upon to be the very “eye of the storm,” if you will, the very center of “godliness,” i.e., reverence and devotion to God, in a world at enmity with God the Father and His Son, thus, 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
The Mystery of Godliness
Confusion reigns in the local churches re: the subject: “the mystery of godliness” this is most likely due to the phrase, “God was manifest in the flesh,” you see, some people assume this is referring to the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ, or His deity. Thus, to them “the mystery of godliness” is about Christ. He most certainly was “God manifest in the flesh” but Paul’s talking about “the mystery of godliness,” and not the virgin birth of Christ our Lord. “Godly” is short for God-like, and the Lord wasn’t like God, He is God. We, the saints in Christ Jesus, are the ones who are supposed to be godly in this dispensation; so this verse is about us, the Body of Christ, and speaks of its present sanctification There are three degrees or phases of the Believer’s sanctification, positional, present, and ultimate. Paul has this in mind as, by the Spirit, he wrote:
“… (God) hath chosen us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children…” (Ephesians 1:4-5).
“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification…” (I Thessalonians 4:3).
But a word of caution is needed, lest in striving to be “holy and without blame before Him,” the Believer leaves themselves open to discouragement and disillusionment because, after all, he or she is human with human frailties. This brings to mind a close friend of mine because just recently he told me about his prayer life. He said the first thing he does is confess his sin and then asks for forgiveness. In other words, he’s been taught to bring his cares and concerns to God, but before you do, make sure you do so with a clean slate. I pointed out to him that’s not necessary in this dispensation because all sin past, present, and those not yet committed, have been paid for by the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:8-13). I just recently showed y’all that truth when we covered “The Unpardonable Sin.” I directed his attention to that Bible study so that he could begin walking or living his life in light of those Truths.
To that permit me to add nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to sanctify the flesh to God – some people think that’s what being “holy” is all about. But the Scriptures teach that the flesh, our old Adamic nature, is totally corrupt and experience bears witness to this truth. The flesh cannot be improved, reformed, or converted and “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). It is for this reason that God sent His own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” to “condemn sin in the flesh” on Calvary’s cross (Romans 8:3). We are not, then, to seek to improve our old nature but recognize it as condemned by God and crucified with Christ:
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him…” (Romans 6:6).
“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11).
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
But while the Believer’s flesh cannot be sanctified to God, their body can and should be. Paul has much to say about this. See Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, etc. For now
let’s review his statements to the church at Thessalonica:
“That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4).
“For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7).
And thus concludes:
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Therefore, my friends, it was no mystery that Christ would be “God manifest in the flesh” (Isaiah 7:14), but it was a mystery that “the church” (ekklesia) would manifest God in our flesh (Ephesians 5:32). The unnecessary controversy occurs when people say “God manifest in the flesh” isn’t about the Lord. But here’s the thing, there are many Bible verses that teach Christ is God (Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 1:23; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13; etc.); this isn’t one of them. The context here isn’t about Christ’s earthly ministry; it is about the local church, remember (1-15)? When the Lord was here, He was “the pillar and ground of the truth” (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 3:15). Now that He’s returned to the Father (Psalm 110:1), we, “the church (ekklesia) of the living God” are or we should be.
It’s true, God was manifest in the Lord’s flesh (John 1:14). But that word “dwelt” is the same word for “tabernacle,” i.e., a portable tent designed by the LORD God for His purpose. When Christ was here, He was a tabernacle, i.e., a tent made of skin with the glory of God inside. Now that he’s gone, we are a tent made of skin (2 Corinthians 5:1) with God’s glory inside (2 Corinthians 4:8-11). When we live our lives as Paul directs, we manifest God in our flesh as the Lord did when He walked among His creation: “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:9-10).
This Bible guide believes wholeheartedly in the virgin birth and the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. But, it’s a simple fact that the particular subject Paul discusses here is not the Lord Jesus Christ, it is “godliness;” our “godliness and not His. Godliness is the subject of this entire chapter, whereas, “ungodliness” is the subject of the one that follows. That being understood it seems natural for Paul to close this section of Scripture saying, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:”
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