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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: July 09, 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 everyone.
Bonus Lesson – The Significance of Paul’s Apostleship
Since we started studying 1 Timothy, chapter 4, our Apostle Paul has been talking about the subject of ungodliness “in the latter days” of “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). We’ve spent a lot of time on this subject and for good reason. You see, I know people, people I care about, who are currently being deceived by their spiritual leaders, even though they’ve been introduced to Paul and Pauline doctrine. One of them is my brother who has departed “the faith” for what he said were “new truths.” Thus, because the danger for the Church is great, and because many people are being deceived without actually knowing they are being led astray, I’m going to remain on this subject for a while for your benefit or edification.
I begin with this illustration I’ve titled, “Beware.” There was a family with six children that lived near a large river in a northern state known for its severe winters. Each year as winter approached the father called the family together for a meeting and in no uncertain terms he warned his loved ones never walk on the frozen river. Winter came, as it always does, bringing with it the bitter cold, tons of snow, and the river froze over. Then one morning, because it was very cold outside, the younger children decided to take a shortcut to school across the frozen ice. The older children begged them not to it, and reminded them of their dad’s stern warning, but they replied, “Nothing is going to happen to us. We’ll be okay. See you in school.” So off they went. Because the water was shallow closer to the riverbank, the ice was very thick. So, with a false sense of security, the three children began to run towards the far bank of the river. But suddenly, the ice beneath their feet began to crack all around them and in a matter of seconds they all fell through the ice into the frigid water and perished. So, you see, their father was right. The threat was real and dangerous; but it was ignored at great cost to life.
In a spiritual sense, many of God’s children are doing something quite similar. When the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy at Ephesus, he said, “I besought thee…that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (I Timothy 1:3). What one is taught doctrinally is of the utmost importance, after all, they are our marching orders from Headquarters. That’s why Timothy was to be very careful himself to “hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me” (2 Timothy 1:13), then “the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). If Timothy, and those teaching with him, were consistent about teaching “no other doctrine” other than what Paul taught, this sound doctrine would “save” (or deliver, 1 Timothy 4:16) all who heard it from spiritual error. But the opposite was also true. If anyone taught or exposed themselves to “seducing spirits, and the doctrines of devils;” that contradicted what Paul taught, it would have devastating effects. In other words, it would be like “walking” on thin ice, therefore “beware y’all.”
What doctrines were so important that nothing else was to be listened to? Good question. We’d be here for a long time if we tried to articulate all the things Paul taught. However, let’s take a look at a number of things that we must know and hold dear and should consistently demand from those who hold a teaching responsibility in the church. We learn from Romans 6:14 that we are “not under the law, but under grace.” Some people read that phrase and attach little meaning to it nowadays. But the practical impact of this is that we do not try to implement portions of our Bible that were written exclusively to Israel. What does that mean? Permit me to illustrate:
Last week I went outside to retrieve my mail and, per normal, I stood there and quickly scanned it looking for bills, junk mail, etc., and I found a letter not addressed to me. It belonged to my neighbor up the street, so instead of ragging on the mail-man, I hand-carried that piece of mail to its rightful owner. I knocked on his door and when he answered I gave him his letter. If I had opened and read his mail, acting as though it was meant for me, not only would I have broken a few federal laws, I would have tried to appropriate something not meant for me. Thus, when you go to God’s written Word and take something God promised the nation of Israel and apply it to your life, you are in effect “stealing” Israel’s mail. God has something to say in the Ten Commandments about stealing, right. He also has something to say about “coveting” your neighbors’ possessions. So, there’s something to think on as we proceed.
There are two significant programs of God in the Bible. There’s the Prophetic Program directed to the nation of Israel, only, that heralded the promised King and the millennial kingdom on the earth. You’d be hard-pressed to turn a page in the O.T. without bumping into the prophecies that heralded the kingdom program which I includes the Four Gospels (Deuteronomy 28:13; Isaiah 9:6:4-7; Zechariah 9:9-10; Matthew 4:17; Luke 1:33). Every Jew knew of it and longed for the day saying, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
The other program you’ll find in the Bible was a “mystery” (a secret) i.e., a parenthetical period of time kept hidden in the mind of God before the foundations of the earth, until the risen Lord made it known to Saul of Tarsus (a.k.a. the Apostle Paul) by “revelation” (Acts 9; 1 Corinthians 4:1; Romans 16:25; Galatians 1:11-12; Ephesians 3:9). This once secret program is known as: the Age of Grace, the Church Age, and “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24; Ephesians 3:1-13).
The LORD God laid the groundwork for the creation of the Jewish race with His call of Abram (Genesis 12 and 15 - the Abrahamic Covenant). After Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt they multiplied and Israel became a populous people while enslaved in Egypt. Some estimate their number at that time to be about 7 million (Genesis 15:13; Galatians 3:16-17). After the Israelites were redeemed, i.e., brought safely out of Egypt by the Redeemer, led by Moses and Aaron; they became a nation of people under Moses with a government based upon the Mosaic Law.
All God’s dealings with mankind were mediated through Israel from Abraham to Paul. Based upon the Abrahamic Covenant, God’s blessings to Gentiles were to come through Israel. And all blessings to Israel were to come through the promised Messiah (Genesis 3:15). But here’s the thing, how could God bless Gentiles when the channel of blessing, Israel, had rejected their Source of blessing? The O.T. had no answer for this. The LORD God (Jehovah) had revealed no plan to bless Gentiles apart from Israel for they were to become “a nation of priests” (Exodus 19:6, Isaiah 61:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6); acting as the LORD’s go-betweens the Jews would take God’s good news, i.e., His gospel to the Gentile nations; that was the plan. But that plan was interrupted (not forsaken - Romans 11) after Stephen’s Spirit-filled testimony and his subsequent stoning to death by Israel’s religious leaders (Acts 7).
When God saved and commissioned the chief persecutor of those who believed in Jesus name (Acts 8:35-38; Galatians 1:11-14), namely, Saul of Tarsus, God began a new program. With this program, He could bless Gentiles despite Israel’s rejection of the Godhead in totality not just the Messiah (1 Samuel 8:7; Luke 19:14; Acts 7). With Paul’s commission, God created the Church, the Body of Christ, and ushered in something brand new, i.e., the Church Age. The Church would not operate under the Law as Israel had but under God’s “free gift” of grace (Romans 6:14; Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul was the first person to be saved by God’s grace, alone, therefore, Paul stands at the headwaters of this new program. Thus, the Age of Grace began when the Lord saved Saul/Paul and called him to be His apostle to the Gentile nations, (Romans 1:1), and not at Pentecost, as so many believe and teach.
While the Twelve were commissioned and taught by the Lord for three years during His earthly ministry, the ascended, heavenly Lord commissioned and taught Paul for three years (most of which was probably spent in the Arabian desert, most likely at Mt Sinai the same place the LORD God gave Moses and His people the Law (Galatians 1:17-18). The Twelve were commissioned within the borders of Israel. Paul was commissioned beyond the borders of Israel. After the ascended Lord commissioned Paul He revealed doctrines to him He had never revealed to the Twelve. Below I’ve listed a few of significant differences between the Twelve’s ministry and Paul’s ministry you ought to be aware of.
· Proclaimed repentance (means: to change one’s mind about Jesus being the Messiah) and water baptism for salvation (Acts 2:37-38).
· Proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:17; Acts 3:19).
· Saved and commissioned within the borders of Israel (Matthew 16:13, 16-17).
· Were taught in Christ’s earthly ministry and ministered to Jews only (Matthew 10:5; Acts 11:19; Galatians 2).
Our Apostle Paul
· Proclaimed “believe” alone for Salvation (Romans 4:5-6; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
· Proclaimed the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).
· Saved and commissioned on the Damascus RD, i.e., outside the borders of Israel (Acts 9:3).
· Was taught in Christ Jesus’ heavenly ministry (Galatians 1:1, 11-12).
· Ministered primarily to Gentiles (Romans 11;13; Galatians 2:7-9).
In retrospect, then, Paul is “the man” for the Body of Christ as Abraham and Moses were “the men” for the nation of Israel. Only when one understands these biblical truths can one begin to understand their Bible and the doctrines Paul preached and defended passionately and rightly so (See Acts 15 – the Jerusalem Counsel).
With all that in mind, from Romans 11:13 we see that Paul is “the apostle of the Gentiles.” Peter, James, and John wrote Scripture, but confined their ministries to the nation of Israel. Their writings dealt largely with the prophesied millennial kingdom that would follow Daniel’s 70th week or the Tribulation. Only Paul refers to himself as the apostle of the Gentiles, meaning he’s not, and never was to be the 13th apostle. He further urges all Believers to imitate him in word and deed saying, “be followers of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 1 Timothy 1:15-16). So, someone who is sound in doctrine will recognize Paul’s letters as the exclusive “commandments of the Lord” for Believers in the dispensation of grace (Romans 16:25-27; I Corinthians 14:37).
Our apostle had no tolerance for anything other than the pure, untainted, “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24; Galatians 1:6-12). He demanded that it always be taught in a crystal clear manner (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). That meant salvation being proclaimed as a gift of God’s grace, apart from man’s works, and received through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 3:24-28). Beyond this, Paul taught that he was not sent to baptize, “lest the Cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (I Corinthians 1:17). Today there is only “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) and that is the baptism of the Holy Spirit which places the Believer into the Body of Christ at the moment of salvation (I Corinthians 12:13). Once saved, we are eternally secure, because we are “sealed” with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit “unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Our security is not based on our performance but in the power of God (Romans 1:15-17). Paul also taught that miraculous signs such as “tongues” and “prophecies” have “passed away” by the completion of that which is perfect, i.e., Scripture or the Holy Bible (1 Corinthians 13:8-11). Therefore, anyone who claims they’ve received special revelations from God, or miraculous powers, are deceivers. Today God uses His written Word to provide all that we need for our doctrine and daily walk.
Paul asked some of his converts “if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward?“ (Ephesians 3:2). Clearly, they needed to understand that the days in which we are living, and the program we are under, are different from anything at any other time in history. In the preceding chapter, he explained that “in times past” Gentiles were not a part of God’s dealings. Israel was His exclusive focus of outreach, and Gentiles were rarely saved, and only then by becoming a Jewish proselyte. “But now” (Ephesians 2:13) Gentiles “are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Paul summarizes the above doctrines and more, by telling Timothy that “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (Timothy 2:15) is the only way to be, “approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.”
Parents that refuse to allow their children to attend other churches or youth groups, where these basic Pauline doctrines are not understood or consistently taught are wise indeed and are holding to the principles and doctrines Paul taught and held dear. This may not be easy or popular, but the Scripture warns us about exposure to wrong doctrine, and warns us upfront to “beware” for the danger is great. If all Believers would follow this practice they would not only be obedient to Scripture, but also avoid being “tossed to and fro… with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
What Happens When You Listen To And Heed Unsound Doctrine?
I see three things that can happen:
1) We can become a spiritual “shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:19). Hymenaeus is an example. He had “swerved” and “turned aside” (1 Timothy 1:6) from the sound doctrines of Paul, believing and teaching others that the resurrection had already occurred. He was wrong to make this assumption, however, this caused a great deal of unnecessary confusion and chaos in Ephesus.
2) We can “overthrow the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:18). This happened continually to the converts of the Apostle Paul. The Galatians were so “bewitched” that they no longer understood the gospel that saved them, and they desired to submit themselves to the do’s and don’ts of the Mosaic Law. Some of the Believers at Colosse, though saved, ceased to properly esteem the Lord Jesus Christ as their “Head,” and began the practice of worshipping angels (Colossians 2:18-19).
3) Believers can “depart from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1). This certainly does not mean they can lose their salvation. But rather it refers to saved Believers “departing” from the sound doctrines of Paul as their guide for living. I’ve already mentioned my brother as an example of this poor decision.
All of this could have been, and can be avoided, if Believers will simply obey what God said about allowing no other doctrine to influence them. I offer a few examples below.
In 1970, a woman by the name of Rose heard the gospel of God’s grace and trusted Christ as her Savior. Soon after she was introduced to a host of dispensational literature. She was thrilled to see the difference between Israel and the Body of Christ, being under the law as opposed to being under God’s amazing grace. She became a well-grounded Grace believer, and even led a cousin by the name of Maria into the Grace message. Eventually Rose began to attend a church that believed in miraculous Pentecostal signs. When her husband became ill, those in her church told her with certainty that her husband would be healed of his cancer. They knew this because they had “heard from God.” Even though she had known God’s Word, rightly divided, exposure to such false doctrine had her so confused that she believed what they told her and became utterly dismayed and discouraged when her husband died of cancer.
Maria became a well-grounded Grace Believer also, through years of reading Grace literature and listening to Grace teachers on tape. She regularly listened to Christian radio. Several of the preachers on the radio, though nationally recognizable, had her utterly confused. Some taught that if you didn’t live in a certain way you would lose your salvation. Maria spent months in spiritual agony, until she made the decision that she would listen to “no other doctrine” than that of God’s Grace. Only then was her peace and assurance of salvation restored.
On October 31, 1983, Korean airlines flight 007 departed from Anchorage, Alaska for a direct flight to Seoul, Korea. Unknown to the crew, the computer flight navigation system contained a one-and-a-half degree routing error. At the point of departure, the mistake was unnoticeable. One hundred miles out, the deviation was still too small to be detectable. But eventually the giant 747 strayed into Soviet airspace. Soviet radar detected the plane on radar and dispatched fighter jets to intercept. Over mainland Russia, the jets shot down flight 007, and all on board lost their lives. This tragedy occurred because the plane was only a little off course. Spiritually speaking, we can come to a tragic end ourselves by swerving off the course of doctrine that is consistent with the teachings that Paul taught in his letters to all the grace assemblies.
Some will attend other churches and think that it will not have an ill effect upon them. Surely, they think, I can benefit from Grace teaching and non-grace teaching. Others will read literature, attend conferences, fellowship in social church events and otherwise generally expose themselves to errant doctrine. But the effect will be the same as it was in Paul’s day. The Corinthians began to question the apostolic authority of the Apostle Paul. They became confused about the value of working for the Lord, and increasingly carnal in every way imaginable. Little by little they became willing to compromise sound doctrine and justify associations that they knew were wrong. Later they became antagonistic and hypercritical of Paul. The result was that he had to waste valuable time to confirm his apostleship, his ministry and the sound doctrine the Lord of glory had revealed to him and he to them. Unfortunately, some were unretrievable. In other words, some “departed from the faith” just like those that Paul warned Timothy about. The threat (danger), therefore, is real.
Case in point, Paul warned Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (a story or teaching that is untrue).
In the days before the Rapture, Grace teaching will be less popular then it is presently. Even those who know it will begin to think these truths are boring if not out-of-date. They will want something new, something that “trips their trigger.” By that I mean something exciting and entertaining, something that moves them emotionally because it will make them closer to God. They will want to soft pedal Grace truth, and have “itching ears” for other doctrines. Many will abandon a church that stands for sound Pauline doctrine to attend other ministries. I wonder if one of the arguments won’t be that what they are doing makes them feel closer to God. The real issue is how does God feel about the “new” doctrine they are now partnering with? Now we are reminded of the Scripture that tells us “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). Those of us who have been privileged to understand God’s Word, rightly divided, must stand true to “the truth” of God, and allow our emotions to soar with the joy of doing what is right in the eyes of God instead of what appears to be “popular” at any given time.
Early in aviation history, pilots had to learn the lesson of inertia. When flying through clouds or thick fog which prevented them from seeing the horizon, they could not feel the plane’s wings beginning to bank right or left. Initially pilots followed the myth of instinct: they believed they could feel the turn of their plane, and many banked unknowingly into a spiral dive that ended in a crash. Pilot William Langewieshe writes, “instinct is worse than useless in the clouds.” The only way for pilots to fly through the clouds is to rely on instruments like the artificial horizon gauge. This is a gyroscoped line that stays level with the earth’s surface and unerringly indicates when the wings bank left or right. In the early days of this instrument, the biggest problem fliers had was relying on their feelings instead of this instrument. When it comes to spiritual matters, our feelings, experiences, or what is most popular is not a reliable guide for us to follow. For those who hold there is safety in numbers Jesus Himself implied that following the crowd is an unsafe practice with these words: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Today God uses the instrument of His Word to teach us how we’re live our lives all pleasing to God: “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:” (Colossians 1:9-10).
Let’s be clear, there are no new revelations coming from Headquarters my friends. God’s Word is complete and unerring, if we are willing to rightly divide it and accept “no other doctrine” than what is taught by the inspired writings of the Apostle Paul.
In closing, I offer this not-so-well known truth. Approximately 90%, give or take, of the professing Christians do not follow the “traditions” (paradosis) and doctrines of the Apostle Paul. These folk, sadly, follow the teachings of whatever denomination they profess to “feel” comfortable with.
those who are unaware a denomination is a church organization that unites congregations of similar beliefs and
practices. Examples of denominations
include the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church of America; the
Lutheran Church, the Church of God, the Seventh Day Adventist Church; the American Baptist Church,
etc. Denominationalism, then, is a
devotion to one’s own denomination (“I’m a Methodist and proud of it”) or, more
negatively, an emphasis on denominational differences to the point of being
narrowly exclusive (“If you’re not a Lutheran, then you’re wrong”). The negative type of denominationalism could
be called sectarianism, and it is overly divisive.
Denominations vary in their creeds, practices, and traditions. Denominationalism clings to the particular creed, practice, and tradition of one denomination and rejects all other groups as unworthy of association. While there is nothing wrong with having denominations, per se, we should strive for peace within the church. Paul writes, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. . . .” ( 1 Corinthians 1:1-11).
What I mean is this: one of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas (Peter);” still another, “I follow Christ.” But, “Is Christ divided?” “Was Paul crucified for you?” “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12–13).
The saints at Corinth, Greece were dividing themselves into groups based on the personality and practices of their favorite teachers. Paul rebuked them for this early display of denominationalism as wholly unnecessary and damaging to the unity of Christ (See Ephesians 4:1-7).
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