New Testament Insights
Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. — 2Timothy 2:14-15 ESV
Optional fuller reading: 1 Timothy 1-6; 2 Timothy 2
In a previous reading (Day 4), we noted that Paul’s last written epistle, 2 Timothy, contains a succinct declaration of Paul’s call for training leadership for revival. Today we focus on the key. The leader must be grounded in God’s Word. In Paul’s mind, whether or not Timothy would be able to “correctly handle” Scripture would make all of the difference.
The King James Version translates the Greek word for “correctly handle” as “rightly divide.” Orthotomounta, is a compound word composed of “ortho” (as in “orthodox”) and teono (meaning, “to cut”). This compound word would be commonly used for the stonemason who etched and then sliced through a piece of rock without destroying it. In the same manner, it described the surgeon who used the scalpel to heal rather than hurt patients.
To rightly divide Scripture is to cut through potentially divisive issues to find central biblical truths that advance God’s work. One must know how to rightly divide Scripture when teaching about styles of worship, the use of spiritual gifts, the meaning of prophecy, the call to holiness without legalism, the command to love without compromising truth, and many similar topics.
During The Great Awakening, John Wesley and George Whitefield sought to rightly divide the truth about God’s sovereignty in our salvation. Wesley emphasized one’s freedom to choose God. Whitefield emphasized God’s election of those who are His. These two men had spent their college years at Oxford together in the same small group for spiritual growth and service, called “The Holy Club.” Nevertheless, once they stepped into ministry, they preached and taught on opposite sides of this significant issue. So divided were they over the doctrines of election and free will that while Whitfield was on a mission trip to the American Colonies, John Wesley persuaded many of Whitfield’s followers to turn away from their leader. Nevertheless, when someone later asked Whitefield, “Do you expect to see John Wesley in Heaven?” The preacher replied, “No. John Wesley will be so close to the Throne of Glory, and I will be so far away, I will hardly get a glimpse of him.”
When Whitefield died in 1770, Wesley likewise proclaimed at the funeral his great appreciation for Whitefield. These men knew, as should all mature believers, how to rightly divided the Word, separating out doctrines that have been and always will be debatable among Christians from those which are core essentials to our salvation, unity, and growth. Laboring side-by-side in the kingdom for lost souls, they disagreed on the way in which God saves, but did not debate the need for everyone to hear and respond to the Gospel.
We too must develop a mature outlook on Scripture, balanced and focused on the core essentials of the faith such as salvation, growth, evangelism, holy living, caring for the poor, and being always prepared for the Lord’s return. If we are spending more time debating fine points of doctrine rather than obeying the clear commands of God, we are missing the declared will of God for our lives.
The goal of Awake! is to help foster revival and to raise up leaders of revival in a balanced and biblical manner, avoiding the extremes. To this end, we encourage you to make use of the resources provided by the host ministry, Scripture Awakening, and those offered by each of the partner ministries. Scripture Awakening, for example offers tools to help us to read the Bible (Bible in 90 Days, or B90), study it (BNEXT resources) and live it (BEYOND resources). OneCry, Prayer Connect, Church Renewal Journey, and the other Partner Ministries also aim to equip us for ministry that is balanced and effective.
On August 22, 2015, we will host a half-day seminar designed to equip you and your church or small group leaders to this end. Training and tools will be made available to you. Check out the Awake! Follow-up Seminar page and consider bringing several leaders from your church or fellowship.
Your Word, O Lord, gives us wisdom for living and light for the walking. Help us to know it and to follow it. May you bring a revival in our day that is based on a holistic understanding of Scripture. Guide leaders of this revival to teach in such a way that true unity grows through Christ and the Gospel, a unity that does not compromise either love or truth, a unity based on the Spirit’s power and purity.
- Paul exhorts Timothy to “rightly divide” the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). List some of the doctrines or biblical teachings that tend to divide rather than unite believers. Which of these teachings do you wish you could “rightly divide” with more skill?
- List some of the core truths that should unite believers despite their differences. With this list in mind, do you think it is a good thing that we have so many denominations in the Christian world? Why or why not?
- Take a few minutes to highlight from 1 & 2 Timothy a few of the many areas in which Paul urged Timothy to use sound judgment to rightly divide truth. Pray for leaders of revival today to have such wisdom.