Rightly Handle the Word of Truth

“You should read your bible every day for one hour” declared the pastor. “Why one hour you ask? Because that’s what Jesus said to his diciples, ‘can you not watch with me one hour?‘”

Another preacher declared, “It says in Hebrews 12  that we are surrounded by a great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…‘ Therefore we as Christians must be aware that people are watching us everyday and we must lay aside our sins otherwise we undermine our testimony of the gospel to them!”

“Christians should always pray in tongues in front of unbelievers” says a third minister. “Because it says 1 Corinthians 14 that ‘tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers.”

I have heard each of the above uttered in church or in various staff meetings that I have sat in over the years. Each of them comes from a heart to use scripture as a guide that dictates to us how we are to live our lives. They express ideas that sound biblical.

And they are each a fundamental misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the scriptural text that they are quoting.

This is an amazingly common occurence in church today. A preacher uses a verse of scripture to justify or support a certain point. Hundreds of people with Bibles open on their laps in front of them nod along as the preacher makes his or her statement. The statement is completely inconsistent with the words that are 24 inches away from the congregation’s eyes, but they do not blink as the misrepresentation is made.

How does this happen?

Because both the preacher and the congregation have ignored Paul’s instructions in 1 and 2 Timothy.

2 Timothy 2:15 says ‘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.’

Its an instruction that is given by Paul to Timothy as part of his general advice on how to lead the church, but it can be justifiably applied to all of us  who follow Christ regardless of whether we are in church leadership or not.

Both the New King James translation and New American Standard Version of the Bible use the word ‘diligence’ in place of  ‘do your best’ to emphasise the hard work that Paul is advocating.

We are to work hard to rightly handle the word of truth. It is no small thing to interpret the Word of God. It is not a work that is meant to be limited to religious professionals but to whatever degree God has gifted us we have a responsibility to work hard to understand and express what the scriptures say.

1 Timothy 4:16 says, ‘Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.’

These are heavy words. Clearly there are consequences to how we live and what we believe.

What does watching your life and doctrine mean?

Don shared some great tips in his most recent post on some self reflection that you can use to examine your life and your salvation so I won’t repeat them here. Instead I’ll focus on a couple of tips on how to watch your doctrine.

For the congregation at large it could be as simple as reading a couple of different commentaries from reliable sources on a passage that is not completely clear or which we have trouble understanding. It means taking the time to meditate on the verses we read and think through them rather than just reading them as fast as we can so we can tick the day’s box on our bible reading plan.

For those charged with teaching the Word of God, it means doing the hard work of understanding what the text is saying, what is meant in its original context and what it means for us today.

We may very well still interpret scripture differently and reach different conclusions, but at least we will do so from a place where we have worked hard to understand scripture to the best of our ability. More importantly we will have attempted to let scripture speak for itself, not simply tried to find some words to support our own theories. This practice is called proof texting and it is a lazy and underrated error in the church today.

We are to worship God will all our heart, mind and strength. This is to apply to all aspects of our lives. Lets do so when we seek to understand and teach what God’s Word says.

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4 responses to “Rightly Handle the Word of Truth

  1. Soli deo gloria

    James, I haved loved Pauls letters to Timothy since I came to know the Lord. This word to the great apostles son in the faith was so helpful to me in the middle of so much flabby religion. I’m tempted to nod approvingly with my Bible on my lap….. But this isn’t really a good example of 2 Tim 2v15 is it? If you are going to criticise the first 3 examples, then you also need to make your case for applying the title verse to general congregations too, not just moving to a different verse to make another point. Its not that I don’t agree with your sentiments, but YOU MUST LABOUR to demonstrate your assertions from Scripture too. Don’t you think that is fair?

  2. Thanks for this reminder, James.

    In the blog “FaithFusion”, an address delivered by Josh Harris is reported where his subject is, “Rightly handling the Word of Truth”. He makes three points about Paul’s charge to Timothy.

    1. Handle the Truth faithfully. (2Tim 2:15)
    Paul was saying, “It’s not about you, Timothy, it’s about the truth. It’s like a diamond. It’s been given to you to protect and guard, to hold up so that others can see it in all its beauty. … You are to keep it clean, so that its truth can shine out — unchanged.

    2. Live the Truth personally. (2Tim 2:20-22)
    “Soak yourself in God’s Word and be cleansed and be renewed so that you can be useful to God. … Make sure that your life is defined by truth from God’s word. Not the latest self-help book — not the latest philosophy and idea that’s out in the world — no! Make yourself pure in the Lord.”

    3. Represent the Truth humbly. (2Tim 2:24-26)
    Christ is the audience we must please: by studying doctrine, working in churches, leading in churches, starting families, making decisions about our future children’s education. “We will only stand before Him on the last day unashamed if we rightly handle the Truth, if we live that truth in our lives and if we live that truth humbly.”

  3. Paul really expatiate the gospel and his teachings are just what every believer need. You cant ignore Pauls’ teaching and expect to be a better christian or believer especially his messages and letters to the church.

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