GUARDING THE TRUTH
By Lily Sinke (Paraparaumu, New Zealand)
“Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has not cause to be ashamed, correctly analysing and accurately dividing – rightfully handling and skilfully teaching – the Word of Truth”(2 Timothy 2:15 , Amp. Bible).
From time to time I have marvelled – or may I say have even been astounded – at the different interpretations of Scripture that I have heard expounded upon by teachers/preachers. I ask myself that if we are one body, of one faith and have the same Holy Spirit of revelation, how is it that we can all arrive at different conclusions about what God is trying to convey to us? How is it that every now and then, a different “trend” emerges that has everybody “inspired” and believing that this new revelation is the answer to what we should believe and how things should be done? Does it even matter that we don’t all agree on certain points of doctrine, or even on certain interpretations of Scripture?
The second epistle to Timothy (written by Paul), was probably the last epistle that Paul wrote. Like many of the epistles, it contains admonitions to Timothy about how he should conduct himself, and details of conditions that will prevail on the earth in the last days. We can therefore conclude that perhaps the one thing we can all agree upon is that we also need to take heed!
“Study, or be diligent…..” – the Greek has the meaning of using speed, of hastening, endeavouring, labouring, exerting oneself, or giving diligence. Zeal, earnest desire, effort, and haste, are all implied.
Does this only apply to Timothy as a “minister”? Are we as believers to just simply listen to sermons and believe everything we hear?
Acts 17:11 tells us that the Bereans “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so”.
They searched the Scriptures – that is, they examined, investigated, scrutinised. They didn’t just read a passage of Scripture every day! Those guys were diligent; they were serious about finding out the truth; they wanted to make sure the Bible was saying the same thing that was being proclaimed to them! And they did it on a daily basis!
If haste and examination were important in Timothy’s day, how much more important is it in our day?! There is no question that there is an urgency in this hour that we are living in and we are exhorted to make due effort to study God’s Word - and to do it with zeal - and with the recognition that we should not delay!
Why is it important for us all to be students of the Word?
Paul warns us: “For the time is coming when people will not tolerate (endure) sound and wholesome instruction, but having ears itching (for something pleasing and gratifying) they will gather to themselves one teacher after another to a considerable number, chosen to satisfy their own liking and to foster the errors they hold, and will turn aside from hearing the truth and wander off into myths and man-made fictions” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ).
“Having ears itching for something pleasing and gratifying”? Time and time again I am dumfounded at some of the things that I hear coming from even well-known men and women of God which are far-reaching from the truths revealed in Scripture. It seems to me that in many Christian gatherings, people are searching for something that will gratify their soulish tendencies for “excitement”; they want manifestations that will make them look more “spiritual”; they want a message that will feed their self-justification for the sin they are in; make them feel “happy”, and that will not challenge their life-style.
“Gathering up teachers to foster the errors they hold; myths and man-made fictions”? - Yes, for sure. There are many good ideas out there about how we can improve ourselves, become successful, and overcome the enemy. Many are simply inventions of man which remove the finished work and power of the Cross; the present work of Christ as the Mediator between man and God; the power of the Blood of Jesus and its continual speaking on the mercy seat in heaven; and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
I “fear” that in its search for sensationalism and focus on manifestations, the church has become a weak entity, void of prayer and interested only on a “celebration” that goes on between four walls on a Sunday.
Regrettably, if people wish to hold on to a particular point of view, they will indeed “gather up teachers to foster the errors they hold”.
Am I being too hard? No, I don’t think so. Paul himself said that he feared that just as the serpent beguiled Eve by his cunning, so the minds of the Corinthians may be corrupted and seduced from wholehearted and sincere and pure devotion to Christ. They were tolerating the preaching of another Jesus to the one that the apostles were preaching, they were receiving a different spirit (to the Holy Spirit), and a different gospel! (2 Corinthians 11 : 3-4, paraphrased).
The enemy’s plan is one of seduction, corruption and deception. To tolerate false preaching (or a different spirit) is to be seduced away from wholehearted and sincere and pure devotion to Christ. A person betrothed to another is to remain faithful during the betrothal period until the time of the wedding. As the Bride of Christ, it is imperative that we understand the importance of remaining faithful!
Let us not allow ourselves to be corrupted and seduced by somebody’s enticing words and seemingly colourful and convincing message simply because that person is what I call a “Christian celebrity”!
Again, Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 2 : 1-3 not to be deceived – that the falling away will precede the Day of the Lord and the revealing of the man of sin. What is the falling away, or apostasy? It signifies a defection, a revolt or a forsaking of the faith. That is, some people’s firm conviction of truth will be forsaken, or they will withdraw from it. Coupled with that, so will their personal surrender to God, and their conduct inspired by such surrender.
“For although they hold a form of piety (true religion), they deny and reject and are strangers to the power of it – their conduct belies the genuineness of their profession” (2 Timothy 3:5 ).
Outwardly, they will look genuine - but their conduct will prove their genuineness!
“For the Holy Spirit distinctly and expressly declares that in latter times some will turn away from the faith, giving attention to deluding and seducing spirits and doctrines that demons teach. Through hypocrisy and pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Timothy 4:1-2 ).
Paul is not talking about unbelievers, but Christians! Christians in the latter times will give attention to deluding and seducing spirits and doctrines that demons teach!
What a sobering thought! What a wake-up call for urgency and diligence in studying and knowing God’s Word!
These admonitions should be well heeded by the present-day Body of Christ.
I have given these Scriptures in an effort to emphatically stress the importance of the Word of God and that it is imperative that we know what He says! I do believe reading God’s Word is very important, but without study we tend to remain babies, always requiring milk, and somebody to feed us, rather than paying due diligence to learning to feed ourselves. Even some babies at a very early age often refuse to eat if they are spoon-fed, but loudly complain until they are given the spoon. They may make quite a mess, and more food might end up on the floor than in their mouths, but they do learn to feed themselves!
The writer of Hebrews said in 5:11-14 that by now they should be teaching others, but they still needed someone to teach them over again the very first principles of God’s Word. He said they had become dull in their spiritual hearing and sluggish, even slothful in achieving spiritual insight! They needed milk, not solid food – and he described people who continued to feed on milk as inexperienced in the doctrine of righteousness,and babies!
I would not like to receive a letter like that!
But who does solid food belong to? Those who are of full age. And who are those of full age? Not just the “oldies” physically. Those whose senses and mental faculties are trained by practice to discriminate and distinguish between what is morally good and noble, and what is evil and contrary either to divine or human law.
here’s a training that must take place so that we don’t become dull and sluggish in what we hear from God. Such training is a “practice” rather than an event on a Sunday morning. Importantly, that training helps us to distinguish both what is good and what is evil.
“Rightly dividing the Word of Truth”
To “divide” is “to make a straight cut”, i.e. to correctly expound the divine message
The Word of God must be “handled aright” or “rightly dealt with”. The meaning is not to “divide” Scripture from Scripture, but to teach Scripture accurately.
It’s the Spirit of God Who wrote the Word, and now He is the one who supernaturally assists us in interpreting the Word, not according to our own understanding, not according to our own human interpretation; not according to our gathering together of certain verses to make them say what we want them to say; and not according to the latest popular “trend”; but by allowing Scripture itself tointerpret the truth of God’s Word. All this done with scrutinising, with faith, with prayer and by listening in all humility to the Spirit of God.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:13 : “And we are setting these truths forth in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Holy Spirit, combining and interpreting spiritual truths with spiritual language to those who possess the Holy Spirit”.
For the serious student of the Word of God, there are principles for interpreting His Word. Erroneous and sometimes damaging theories have often arisen out of lack of understanding of this fact. Someone can always “prove a point” by the compilation of certain Scriptures, but is this point correct? Is it indeed what the Word of God is really saying?
The Geneva Study Bible puts it like this: “By adding nothing to it, neither deleting anything, neither mangling it, nor rending it apart, nor distorting it: but marking diligently what his hearers are able to bear, and what is fit to edifying.”
This should be reason enough to cause us to filter everything we hear through His Word!
To rightly divide the Word of Truth is to preach the whole counsel of God.
“For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 ).
“Every Scripture is God-breathed – given by His inspiration – and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, and for training in righteousness (that is, in holy living, in conformity to God’s will and thought, purpose and action), so that the man of God may be complete and proficient, well-fitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ).
If we need a consultation, God’s Word has the answer!
More than that, Paul tells Timothy what that counsel is!
It’s Profitable – that is “to our advantage” – to “increase” or “build us up”:-
By instructing us – like the training of a child – hence discipline, correction, chastening.
By reproving us – that is, a proof, proving, test.
This instruction and reproof should bring conviction of sin!
For correction of error and discipline in obedience – that is, to straighten us up again!
For training and building us up, in righteousness - leading us on from one degree of virtue to another. We will continually advance and see this progress in proportion to the degree that we are obedient to His Word!
This Scripture certainly refutes the theory that we are all already perfect, that we need no conviction of sin, error, or disobedience, nor instruction in holy living! God loves us, but doesn’t always like our behaviour. Are we willing to allow the Holy Spirit to “cut away” those unpleasing areas in our lives, bringing progress and building up, or do we wish to settle for “God loves me just the way I am”?
Sin in the church must be called what it is or else we look no different to the world. Refusal to address this because of fear of losing church members if they are “challenged” is not an excuse!
“Every Scripture is God-breathed, and given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit”.
Every Scripture, not just the ones that suit us! Not just the ones that we take out of context and make them say what we want them to say!
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus Who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His coming and His Kingdom: herald and preach the Word! Keep your sense of urgency (stand by, be at hand and ready, whether the opportunity seems to be favourable or unfavourable, whether it is convenient or inconvenient, whether it be welcome or unwelcome, you as preacher of the Word are to show people in what way their lives are wrong) and convince them, rebuking and correcting, warning and urging and encouraging them, being unflagging and inexhaustible in patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2 )
It’s the whole counsel of God! Not just the Scriptures that give us the ‘warm fuzzies’!
His Word is designed to change us, to differentiate between what is soulish and what is spiritual, to penetrate into the deepest parts of our nature and expose, sift, analyse and judge the very thoughts and purposes of our heart!
Timothy was to continue to keep preaching the Word! It’s the Word that must be preached! Not fantasies, imaginings nor caprices!
Sound and wholesome teaching is important!!
…So that the man of God may be complete and proficient, well-fitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17 ).
Not only every Christian minister, or public teacher/preacher, but every person devoted to the service of God.
The Greek speaks of being “fitted out”, that is, exactly right.
Thoroughly equipped for every good work: That is, to prepare perfectly, or to complete for a special purpose.
By means of every Scripture - which is the whole counsel of God - we are perfectly prepared and exactly fitted out for the spiritual service and purpose that God has for us!
The Church is to be the pillar and foundation of the Truth
“If I am detained, you may know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and stay – the prop and support – of the Truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 ).
A pillar is a column supporting the weight of a building. Used metaphorically here, it discloses that the local church, collectively, has a responsibility to maintain the doctrines of the faith by teaching and by practice.
The church is also to be a “support bulwark” or “stay” of Truth. This word comes from a word meaning “steadfast, firm”.
In looking up the word “bulwark” I find the alternative meanings of “rampart, safeguard, bumper, mainstay, backbone and reinforcement”.
Paul was reminding Timothy that the revealed truth of God’s Word has been entrusted to the Church, and the Church has a responsibility to reinforce truth, to safeguard it, to uphold it and to remain steadfast and firm; to also entrust it to others that its pureness may be preserved throughout future times.
“A little leaven [a slight inclination to error, or a few false teachers] leavens the whole batch [it perverts the concept of faith and misleads the church]” (Galatians 5:9 ).
She is not to be a compromising church; not a church that forsakes truth in order to be “relevant” in today’s society; not a politically-correct church; not a lukewarm church; not a church that waters-down the message of the Gospel in order to remain popular and trendy; and not a church that replaces the Holy Spirit with soulish activity and entertainment!
When a building is assaulted by war or by elements such as earthquakes, its tendency is to fall. When truth is assaulted (as is happening today) by error, the church as a pillar should uphold it when it would otherwise tumble into ruin! It is in fact the church that should be upholding truth in the world!
The early apostles “turned the world upside down”. They preached Christ and Him crucified; their focus was on obedience to what the Holy Spirit was saying. The Word that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost brought conviction and repentance, with 3,000 souls being added to them; the fear of God came on every soul; there were many wonders and signs, healings and miracles; daily there were people saved. The power of God was made manifest as truth was preached! Today in many gatherings what we call “power” is a far cry from what was going on in the early Church!
How do we respond or re-act when Truth is preached?
We can view two examples in the Bible:
In Acts 2:37 Peter preached a true Gospel message – The Person of Christ, His crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t “pull any punches”, saying “whom you have crucified”.
They were “cut to the heart”. Metaphorically speaking, they were “sawn through mentally” or “rent with vexation”. The result – conviction and three thousand added to the church.
In Acts 7:54 when Stephen addressed the Sanhedrin, preaching truth, they also were “cut to the heart”. On this occasion, they gnashed at him with their teeth, stopped their ears and stoned him! Rather than bring conviction, the preaching of truth resulted in his death!
When we hear truth, what does it do to us? Does it convict or enrage us? Do we receive the Holy Spirit and what He is saying, or are we like those in the Sanhedrin, who Stephen said were stiff-necked and uncircumcised in the heart and ears, and strived against the Holy Spirit?
Truth is a Person
Truth is a Person! The Person of Jesus Christ! The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. To reject Truth is to reject their divine Persons.
In fact, the love of truth is one of the things that keeps us from deception (2 Thessalonians 2:10 ). We are to receive not only truth, but the love of truth. Those who choose to follow Satan and his cohorts who work lying wonders, will be deceived, believe the lie, and go into further delusion. These lying wonders will include all sorts of pretended miracles and signs and delusive marvels! Hmmm interesting……how will we know the difference unless we know the Word of God and are continuously led by His Holy Spirit?
The character of the workman
What did Paul mean when he said that Timothy was to do his utmost to present himself approved to God as a workman who has not cause to be ashamed?
“…….we refuse to deal craftily (to practice trickery and cunning) or to adulterate or handle dishonestly the Word of God; but we state truth openly – clearly and candidly. And so we commend ourselves in the sight and presence of God to every man’s conscience” (2 Corinthians 4:2 ).
It is clear that Timothy had to contend with false teachers, as Paul encouraged him to be inspired by the prophecies he had received, and to “wage the good warfare”. Part of that warfare was in contending with these false teachers (1 Timothy 1:18 ); and men who opposed the truth (2 Timothy 3:8 ).
When Timothy’s work was inspected by God, it would be found to be “worthy” because he had candidly taught the revelation of God’s Truth, and as such there would be nothing for him to be ashamed of, and nothing in his work that could be “put to shame”. As a faithful servant in the performance of his duty, he would have “rightly divided” and “preached the whole counsel of God”, and thus appealed to every man’s conscience that he spoke to.
Good work is secured by being done for God’s approval, and not necessarily man’s approval. Sometimes those approved by man are man-pleasers and may even be those who are disapproved by God!
In fact James 3:1 tells us that teachers will be judged by a higher standard, because they have assumed greater accountability and condemnation if they preach incorrectly!
Timothy would stand with a clear conscience and would hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
What of the person delivering the Word of Truth?
Both the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:1-4 , 14), and the Apostle John (Revelation 10:8-11 ) were told to “eat the book” or scroll. It was sweet as honey to taste, but bitter inside. They had to spiritually eat God’s Word before they could speak or prophesy God’s Word! Divine truths can be sweet to the taste, but bitter in inward working and experience. God’s Word has both sweet and bitter things to say to us! Just as important is a message to those who teach/preach/prophesy. God’s Word must be “eaten”!!
So, to get back to my original question, does it matter if we don’t agree, or if there are different interpretations?
I might leave you to answer that one. But in conclusion, a study of Ephesians 4:11-16 may hold some answers!
Perhaps the stand-out to me in this verse are the words “the full knowledge of the Son of God”. It is, after all, all about Jesus and knowing Him, as individuals and corporately!