About Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth – Part I :: by Gene Lawley

The Apostle Paul’s directive to his son in the faith, Timothy, in 2 Timothy 2:15 carries tremendous importance and impact for any who would embark on a serious study of the Holy Bible. He exhorts Timothy:

“Study to show yourself approved of God, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of God.”

Let’s let that sink in, firmly.

Approval of God is at stake here, he indicates, and personal shame is a consequence if one does not rightly divide the word of God.  The directive to “rightly divide the word” tells us that there are divisions, or partitions, in the Word of God, indicating and supporting the concept of dispensations, or periods of time in which God’s overall plan as it relates to mankind differs in manner and content. (That is my layman’s understanding of that Scripture.)

How does one not rightly divide the Word? By picking and choosing to place various prophetic events, past and future, in different periods of history, contrary to the evidence of historical reality. Here is an example. I once picked up on a television program in which the speaker, allegedly a Jewish Christian, was speaking on the clear evidence that the apostasy of the church is currently underway, as Paul described it in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, that was the speaker’s  stopping point.

I don’t recall him making reference to the revealing of the man of sin that is mentioned as a result of the falling away of believers. So, I sent an email asking why he did not continue the context that ultimately leads to the “removal of the restrainer” who is holding back that gradual encroachment of evil over all people of the world. He replied that he did not believe that was in the same time frame as the falling away, but that it actually happened back in the thirteenth Century—an interplay between Rome and the Catholic Church. Yet, in the context, the revealing of the man of sin is the result, which is followed by his taking over the temple and proclaiming himself God.

That did not happen before the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. and has not happened to this day, for there is no temple, yet, for him to take over. This is still future. Bottom line is that God is not a God of confusion, and rightly dividing the Word of God makes sense of it. A straight forward understanding of the context is that a falling away of faith toward God (you can see it happening now) leads to the removal of the body of Christ—the true church— in whom the Holy Spirit lives and restrains against the evil encroachment of the devil. Then he is revealed to those left behind, upon whom he, the devil, has total and unrestrained access. Given what we see already, it will not be pretty!

One can readily see, I think, the broader “partitions” in the plan of God, which is essentially, the Word of God to Man.  We see the broad periods before the law, under the law, and now, under grace. And, future, the millennium under the rule of Christ—a theocracy—and finally, the eternity promised. One segment leads to a higher revelation of God’s identity—character, attributes, person, etc., and His plan for bringing mankind into a proper relationship to Him, long-term.

For example, the dispensation of the law with its unwavering requirements shows us the unwavering holiness of God and our lack of ability to meet that requirement without His provision of mercy and grace. His perfection in holiness and our total degradation in sin and rebellion, then, is the summation.

That period is marked by the rigid requirements of regular blood and other sacrifices that now are called foreshadows of the coming of that perfect sacrifice, Jesus, the Lamb of God. See Hebrews 10 for this. Another important point for that era is the fact that the Holy Spirit did not indwell believers. John 14:17 tells us, in Jesus’ words, “…now He is with you, but then He will be in you.” Yes, even under the law, “the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4), and before he was renamed to be the founder of the Hebrew nation, Abram “believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

How the Law Points Us to Grace

John 1:17 tells us, “For the Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

It’s another evidence of a division in the Word of God’s dealing with mankind. By foreshadowing that which was to come, while establishing that foundation of grace and faith in the Christ who was to come, the law provided a very necessary factor in sinful man’s relationship with God.

Romans 3:20 tells us that by the law sin is made known, and Romans 6:14 tells us this: “…sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.”

Thus is shown the purpose of the law and its continuing ministry to the world, even today, and God’s solution for believers in this dispensation of grace.  In this article I want to bring together some truths of Scripture that “rightly dividing the Word of God” and will clear up some misunderstandings that may have been missed due to our tendency to follow what someone else has told us, instead of following the rule of those of Berea, as in Acts 17:11:

“These (of Berea) were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”

In Hebrews 10:1-2 we see another indication of a division in the Word. It says this:

“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect, for then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins.”

A shadow is an announcement of a reality that is coming, as in this case the law is the shadow and Christ is the reality.  The sacrifices called for by the laws of Moses were not the real solution to the sin problem, but the coming “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as John the Baptist called Him (John 1:29), was to fulfill that call for reality made by its shadow.

Now, let’s look at a specific doctrine that brought this matter of rightly dividing the word and its connection to  dispensational truths into sharp focus for me. We are told that we are to worship God on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, because that is one of the Ten Commandments God gave Moses on the holy mountain. So bold is that doctrine among its followers some would hold that our failure to keep it may well cost us our eternal redemption.

Jesus told the devil at the temptation incident, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). So, if the law is a

shadow of the reality that is to come (Hebrews 10:1-2), are there select laws that are not a shadow of the reality to come?

Hebrews 10 goes on to describe the inadequacy of the sacrifice of bulls and goats to cleanse one of sin permanently. Thus, it must be repeated over and over. But the blood of Christ, the coming reality, was to be the true sacrifice that could and would do it, because it was [is] eternal, thus constant in time. And you say, “this had to do with temple sacrifices.”

What about the Ten Commandments, in which no mention of sacrifices is made?

What did the commandment to observe the Sabbath actually foreshadow?  And, did Christ fulfill it?  After the creation was completed, God rested on the seventh day, and He wants us to share His rest with Him. Is that too simple or not spiritual enough? The problem is that “resting in the Lord” is a faith issue, not a day of the week issue. Hebrews 4:10 sums it up quite neatly:

“For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his [own] works as God did from His”. In the context it tells of Israel’s failure to enter into that rest because of unbelief.”

So, if the fourth commandment is yet to be followed in its seventh day observance under threat of eternal damnation,  of what future reality is it shadowing?  Paul writes to the Colossians:

“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance [reality] is of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).

Does more need to be said? Yes, just this: “And he said unto them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).

In Part Two, of this topic we will look at the shadowy implications of this concept in another area of biblical interpretation that hovers over us in these last days