RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH
By ERNEST J. LONG
IN these days of declension and widespread departure from the truth of God, the task of the Christian teacher is one of grave and growing responsibility. Happy the man who, in his ministry of the Word, can affirm with the utter sincerity of the Apostle Paul:- “I do not handle the word of God deceitfully, but, by manifestation of the truth, commend myself to every man's conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4: 2). Paul’s dying commission to Timothy was - “preach the Word.” Now that is surely another way of saying, “declare the whole counsel of God,” without fear, and without reservation.
This is no light undertaking. It commits us to declare not only pleasing truth, but pungent truth; though most of us certainly need the bracing tonic - if not the outspoken rebuke - more than we need the soothing syrup! Natural eloquence, and a novel message - particularly if it flatters the carnal man - may fill a church, but it will never glorify Christ.*
[* Note. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. “Our brethren who say that every believer will escape the Great Tribulation, and our other brethren who say that every believer will experience the Great Tribulation, both unwittingly jettison overboard the priceless dynamic of fear, which therefore is sadly lacking in nearly all Second Advent literature. No plot of ground is so carefully avoided as one in which lies an unexploded time-bomb, if it is known to be there. Scripture commands fear. ‘If ye call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to each man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear’ (1 Pet. 1: 17). For there is a ‘salvation’ - an escape from the perils of coming judgment - which is within our own grasp and dependant on our own efforts: ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2: 12). So our Lord, though He constantly said, ‘Fear not’ anything on earth including martyrdom, commands fear with awful emphasis. ‘I will warn you’ - He is addressing disciples (verse 1) – ‘whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell [Gehenna]; YEA, I SAY UNTO YOU FEAR HIM’ (Luke 12: 5).”]
Paul, who is our pattern, was no mere man-pleaser. “If I yet pleased man,”
he said, “I should not be the servant of Christ”
(Gal.1: 10). It mattered little that his carnal critics
said of him,- “His bodily
presence is weak, and his speech contemptible”: in other words, “he has neither personality nor eloquence.” Here is Paul’s rejoinder to such critics (I am
giving the virile rendering of
It is tremendously reassuring to remind ourselves that God has foreseen the exceptional difficulties and dangers of these last days, and has made the fullest provision for our needs. It is as true today as when Peter wrote his Second Epistle that “His divine power hath given unto us ALL THINGS that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1: 3); and although we may be standing upon the very brink of the great apostasy - the general landslide from the Faith - there are certain things which, if we do them (says Peter), “WE SHALL NEVER FAIL.” For not only is our faith sustained and buttressed by “exceeding great and precious promises,” but all the resources of the Godhead are, through the Holy Spirit, constantly available to us. The grace of God, the power of God, and the truth of God are at the disposal of the Lord’s [obedient] children in every age: and let us remember that the grace that saves also suffices; the power that keeps also enables; the truth that sanctifies also equips.
Then, too, it is greatly reassuring to remember that not only is the Truth of God constant and invariable in every age, but that error itself, even so-called “modern” error, is no novelty, that it should take us by surprise. I believe the devil exhausted his ingenuity centuries ago; for all pseudo-modern cults, stunt religions, spiritisms, tongues’ movements and the rest are simply ancient errors in modern guise - reappearances, recrudescence’s of early heresies that assailed the Christian Church in the days of Paul and John, of Tertullian and Chrysostom, Augustine and Cyprian. Were any of these saints and worthies in the world today, they could immediately and infallibly pigeon-hole such re-hashes as Christian Science (falsely so-called), Millennial Dawnism, Buchmanism, and a score of other “isms.” Such “isms,” alas! have split up, not merely Christendom, but often the Church of God itself into water-tight compartments of intolerant and mutually exclusive little coteries.
In this age, as in every age, there is only one type of Christian who is carried away by every new stunt religion; and that is the Christian who does not know his Bible. The devil comes not always as a roaring lion, neither do his emissaries always appear as fairly obvious wolves in sheep’s clothing. They often turn up like silver-tongued angels of light, complete with frock-coat and bed-side manner; and they look upon the Christian who does not know his Bible as their lawful prey.
Now let us bear in mind, in view of all this, that the Bible is not only up-to-date, up-to-the-minute; it is over a thousand years ahead of the daily newspaper and of current error. We may therefore accept Paul’s advice to Timothy, the young teacher, as the safest possible guide in these days when Satan is making a final, large-scale, and alas! highly successful onslaught upon the citadel of the Church’s faith.
First of all, in his Second Letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 1: 13) Paul reminds Timothy that truth is neither fluid nor flexible. It is not something that you can conveniently pour into any mould, or press into any shape. The “whole counsel of God,” therefore, cannot receive a purely denominational impress. The exact opposite is the case. Truth is itself a mould, a matrix, an exact pattern or form: the truth of God is expressed in words: so the doctrine of Verbal Inspiration is simply the obvious insistence that infallible truth can only be expressed in infallible words. And so Paul urges (verse 13 of 2 Tim.1) - “Hold fast the form of sound words.” “Hold tenaciously” - never for a moment relax your grip - “the form, the pattern, the inspired outline, of the sound doctrine, the wholesome teaching, which you have heard from my lips.”
“To differ from Paul is to confess oneself in error”: to hearken to Paul is to sit at the feet of Christ; for the great apostle was Christ’s chosen vessel and mouthpiece for the transmission to His Church of precious revelations of divine truth that had been kept secret from the foundations of the world.
Later on, in his Second Letter to Timothy, the last that Paul ever wrote, he underlines the duty and responsibility of the Christian teacher in these words:- “Study to show thyself approved unto God,* a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2: 15). The context is illuminating. In the previous verses Paul condemns those that “strive about words to no profit”; whilst in the following verse condemns “profane and vain babblings that increase unto more ungodliness.” To modernize the language and clarify the point at issue, with younger readers especially in view, may I say that here, as ever, the truth is indicated as a mean - a sane, wise, spiritual mean - between two extremes.
[*“What is so wonderful, so unique in the Christian life is that in every believer there are such undreamed of possibilities. On the human plane we are so hopeless and helpless. Our friends assess us at our true value. They know our weaknesses, our deficiencies, our limited capacity, how few are our talents, how puny our possibilities. They have sized us up so clearly, sometimes so cruelly. But when a child of God steps out in faith and on God, and discovers the secret of taking hold of God, of taking Him at His Word by faith, then a new factor is introduced which confounds all calculations, and nullifies all estimates.” ]
In verse 14 Paul is warning against a narrow rigidity. In verse 16 he is opposing a wanton laxity. There is a narrowness that begets exclusivism; and there is a broadmindedness that leads to ungodliness. Both are abhorrent. In verse 14 there is “strife about words,” Bible readings in which verbal polemics degenerate into wordy contentions, clamorous strife, open discord; with the inevitable result that the faith of those who listen is either unsettled or even completely overthrown. Narrow-minded intolerance, masquerading as orthodoxy, was in the Church in Paul’s day: it is with us still. In verse 16, on the other hand, there is a laxity in the pulpit that goes to more and more daring lengths of impiety. Such loose teaching, says Paul, destroys the hearer like a deadly gangrene that eats deeper and deeper. And Hymenaeus and Philetus are also with us still.
What, then, is Paul’s ideal for Timothy, for you, for me? Listen: - “Study” (strive; be diligent; seek earnestly) “to show thyself approved unto God” (to commend yourself to God; to “set yourself in God’s presence as one who has been tested, and proved worthy by trial”; that is what the words mean); “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed” (one who needs not blush for his work); “RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH.”