Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

Intro: The apostle Paul wanted his young protégé, Timothy to not be ashamed of his work as an evangelist, and be approved by God. What did he need to know and do to accomplish this? Consider this…

  • 2 Timothy 2:15 – Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
  • As we have mentioned before, the text of this epistle is focused on the work of an evangelist. Paul is directing Timothy on several elements of his task. But there are many times when the words are applicable to all Christians – you and me.
  • Paul admonishes Timothy to be a worker who is not ashamed of his work, by rightly dividing the word of truth. How do these words apply to us?


  1. Viewing the Context: We notice the call to not be ashamed of what God was doing through the word. Paul mentions not being ashamed 4 times in this context. It is a continuing admonition…
  • 2 Tim 1:8Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner,
  • 2 Tim 1:12Paul – For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed
  • 2 Tim 1:16Onesiphorus… he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain;
  • 2 Tim. 2:15 Timothy was to be… a worker who does not need to be ashamed, How would Timothy accomplish this?
  1. Remind them of these things (2:14) Paul tells Timothy to remind the other Christians of “these things”. What are these things? Previous exhortations focus on the importance of the message he had heard from the Paul, the apostle. Confidence would come through a commitment to what God had revealed.
  • 2 Tim 1:8 – 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord..1:13Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me; 2:2the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2:3endure hardship; 2:5–must compete according to the rules.
  1. Charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit (2:14) Although words are important to teaching, the one who teaches them cannot strive about them uselessly. The thought here is to not be contentious or wrangle about empty and trifling matters (1 Timothy 1:4, 6:4,5). When this happens, souls are subverted (overturned, capsized)


  1. “Be Diligent”You might be more familiar with the KJV rendering here “Study to show yourself approved”. The KJV use of “study” does not accurately convey the original meaning of this word. While other passages call on us to study (mediate on) the scriptures, that is not the thought here, and if we use this verse in this way, we are misusing it.
  2. The original word is spoudazo (spoo-dad’-zo) which means “to use speed, i.e. to make effort, be prompt or earnest: to do (give) diligence… endeavor or labor; persistent zeal (Strong’s; Thayer’s) Be diligent is an accurate rendering.
  3. Paul incorporates the noun form of this word into a negative command – Romans 12:11“not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”
  4. “Not Lagging in Diligence” – The phrase here could be translated, “do not be lazy in zeal and intensity.” Paul’s phrase sets in contrast 2 opposite words: lazy (not lagging) and zeal (diligence). Albert Barnes said, “An idle man and a Christian are names that do not harmonize.” William Barclay stated, “There is a certain intensity in the Christian life. There is no room for lethargy in it.” (The Daily Study Bible Series, Romans, p. 178).
  5. The writer of Hebrews warns against this attitude in Hebrews 6:10-12 – 10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. They had already displayed a work and labor of love, but they needed to be diligent to the end, not becoming sluggish, or they would not inherit the promises. Do you know what it feels like to become sluggish? My car has done that before. I noticed it most when it was time to push on the gas and get going. It seemed to want to make excuses and hold back.
  6. It may be easy for us to relax; to be “at ease.” – Amos 6:1“Woe to you who are at ease in Zion” – Amos’ words were directed toward those in Israel that were unconcerned about God’s judgment or their accountability. Jeremiah 48:10 says, “A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lord’s work!” (NIV) What did you say the last time you were asked to do something for the church or the cause of Christ? Are we making an exerted effort to know what God says?
  7. Being diligent means to be zealous and careful at the same time. Not always together in a person. Some are eager to do a job, but not very careful about how they do it. Others may be particular andexacting but have not desire to get involved in the work, or do not care if it gets done or not.


III. Present Yourself Approved of God – What do I need to be diligent about? What is the objective of the unashamed worker? To present myself to God, and He being pleased with the presentation.

  1. Present Yourself… The word present (paristemi -par-is’-tay-mee) means to stand beside (exhibit) for the purpose of inspection. It is the word used to describe the offering (presenting) of a sacrifice to God, with the purpose of pleasing Him. Romans 12:1present your bodies as living sacrifices.. He inspects the what is presented, and who presents it.
  2. B. Approvedof God… The word approved (dokimos -dok’-ee-mos) means one “accepted after testing” (Guthrie, cf. Lenski). Used of metals that have been tested and found to be the proper weight. The final and righteous objective in teaching and preaching is to be approved of God. Those who teach can be tempted to please men, rather than God. What does it mean to be approved of God in this regard? It involves more than just saying the right words. Paul explains…
  • 1 Thess 2:4-12 – 4 But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. 5 For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness — God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. 9 For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, 12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
  1. A worker who does not need to be ashamed…a workman who has no cause for shame when his work is being inspected.This inspection (and possible shame) are before God, not men. It is God who must be pleased. Earlier Paul compared the Christian to a soldier and wrote …2 Timothy2:4No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
  2. We do not always obey, and our hope is not based on perfect obedience. But our approval before God demands that we be diligent about obeying Him.
  3. 2 Cor. 5:9 “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.”The word translated “aim” is from a compound word that means to “act from a love of honor. Strong adds the comment that it means to be “eager or earnest to do something”, and corresponds to the diligence we have been considering. Lenski paraphrases vs. 9 as “We love it as a point of honor , ever to be well-pleasing to the Lord – not only to do what He says, but to have him take pleasure in us and in all we do.”
  4. God works in us for this very purpose – that we might be what pleases Him. Hebrews 13:20-21 – Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (NKJ) The Christian has no greater goal in life than to be pleasing to God. – This purpose transcends all other aspirations.
  5. Rightly dividing the Word of truth….This phrase modifies the previous ones, in that it defines how Timothy could be an unashamed worker who is pleasing to God. He must rightly divide the word. What does that mean? Again, we conclude that the familiar translation may be misleading.
  6. The Greek word translated as “rightly dividing” in the KJV is orthotomeo(or-thot-om-eh’-o); which literally means to make a straight and accurate cut – as a carpenter or stone mason. It described the work of an engineer as he made sure the road or building was straight and plumb. Metaphorically, the word means to proceed on a straight path, without deviating from side to side; It is equivalent to doing right. Notice these more accurate translations… ESV – rightly handling the word of truth; HCSB – correctly teaching the word of truth; NASBaccurately handling the word of truth.
  7. I have heard gospel preachers use the KJV wording to teach that Paul was instructing Timothy to be able to discern between the OT and NT teaching (rightly divide it) or to be able to discern between what command or scripture applies to us and what does not. Although we do need to be able to properly, and accurately discern the difference between the law of Moses and the law of Christ, and to recognize to whom the author is speaking, that is not what Paul is teaching here.
  8. Some dispensationalists use this verse to contend that the gospel of Peter was different from the gospel of Paul; and some passages of the NT are for the Jews and others for the Gentiles – we must rightly divide them. The word here does not mean to divide a thing into its various parts. (would have used another word).
  9. Rather, Paul was instructing Timothy to preach God’s word accurately, correctly, and with precision. When we use the word of truth to teach others we must hold a straight course, without deviating from the meaning of the text. Peter spoke of those who wrest (twist) the scriptures to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16) They interpret the scriptures in such a way as to support their established position. (painting the bullseye on a target after you shoot.) What Paul calls for here is honesty with the text – Tell it like it is, and let the chip fall where they may. What does that look like?
  10. It necessarily implies that I cannot be approved by God without knowing and applying the word of truth revealed by Him. Although the word “study” is not an accurate rendering of the text (as we noticed before) the practice of spending time in the scriptures with a view towards knowing what they teach is essential to obeying this command. 1 Tim 4:15-1615 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
  11. b. Do not bring your presuppositions into the text: We have been taught things that may or may not be true. If we read the scriptures in an attempt to support our already held views, we may distort the true meaning, or at least fail to see it ourselves. The technical term for this is “eisegesis.” The Calvinist does this often in his interpretation of passages that clearly teach freewill and the possibility of a Christian falling from grace. But we are also prone to this – explaining away those things that seem to contradict our perceived position.
  12. Interpret the verse in context(“with text”) It is very easy to take one verse and make it say what the author never intended. Look at the verses (or chapters) surrounding a verse to see what subject or theme the author is addressing. Who is being addressed? How would the original audience have interpreted these words? What do the original words actually mean? A good rule is “let scripture interprets scripture.”
  13. Read all the scriptures teach on a subject, and interpret the passage accurately in each one. Associated with this principle is the fact the Bible, as the words of God Himself, do not contradict each other. Consider Paul’s analysis of the OT scriptures as he wrote to Timothy later in this second epistle. 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for CORRECTION, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Scripture must be considered as a whole, because it is all equally from God. That does not mean it is all equally applicable to me, but I cannot approach God’s word piece-meal, and choose only what pleases me. I must approach it with a desire t cut a straight line and plot a straight course.
  14. e. Read and study with a view toward both instruction and correction. Notice Paul’s words in 2 Tim 3 – Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for CORRECTION, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”It is all I need, and I need it all, so that I might be thoroughly equipped to do the work. But the first work God expects is personally inward. What does God expect of me? Jeremiah 10:23-24: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps. O LORD, CORRECT ME, but with judgment; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.”

Conclusion: Timothy had a serious task, and so do we. Our eternal salvation, and that others as well, is dependent on being diligent in accurately handling the word of truth. Do you know the truth? Maybe we can help you learn what God wants of you. Maybe you have learned the truth, but have not responded to it. Can we help you become approved of God. In the end this is all that matters.


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