Rightly Dividing the “Word of Truth”
Towards the end of Paul’s ministry, he felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to return to Jerusalem. He was warned not to go. There were prophetic words to him that If he went to Jerusalem, he would be bound in chains. This did not deter Paul. He wanted to go to Jerusalem to share the Gospel, “his Gospel,” the Gospel he had received directly from the Lord through a revelation of the Holy Spirit.
What was Paul’s Gospel?
#1 That all people (Gentiles) could be saved, not just the Jews.
#2 That all Christians, including Gentiles, were no longer under the Law, and they were not obligated to follow the Law.
#3 That the true set-apart people of God were no longer natural Jews (outwardly through law-keeping and circumcision) but the true people that God now called his own were those that were circumcised in the heart and were what Paul called “Spiritual” Israel.
#4 That the Natural Jews who continued to keep the Law and claim that they were sons under the covenant of Abraham (by the seal of circumcision) had been rejected by God. They are cut off (there is a pun there) from the Tree of Faith (Rom. ) and need to accept Jesus to be grafted back into the Tree.
#5 Any believer in Jesus who continues to keep the Law is “cursed” (Galatians) and is an “Idiot” (Paul’s word) for believing that any form of Law Keeping has any benefit in the eyes of God.
To the Jews, this was absolute blasphemy.
This was actually a greater blasphemy than what they accused Jesus of when he said he was the son of God. To reject the Law was the greatest sin a Jew could imagine.
In Acts 21, we find that Paul arrived in Jerusalem, and those traveling with him, mostly Gentiles, went in to meet with James, the leader of the Jerusalem church.
They met with James, and all of the other church elders were also present.
In that gathering, they gave a report of the work of God among the Gentiles (Acts 21:19), with Gentile believers present as witnesses and evidence of Paul’s Gospel.
When these leaders of the Jerusalem church heard their report and saw those who came with them representing some of the fruit of their ministry, they glorified the Lord for what had been done (Acts 21:20).
However, in the immediate context, their exuberance turned quickly into concern.
While these leaders were excited about what God was doing through Paul and Silas in the Gentile world, they also had concerns about Paul’s presence in Jerusalem.
Paul arrived in Jerusalem with a large entourage of mostly Gentile believers from other countries.
Their arrival in Jerusalem, the center of Judaism in that day, would draw immediate attention among the Jews in that place. Add that to the fact that Paul himself would still be remembered by some of the older Jewish leaders as an enemy and a traitor.
But beyond all of this going on in the non-believing Jewish community, these church leaders seemed concerned that some Jewish believers might not be so excited about their presence in Jerusalem either (Acts 21:20-21).
How they phrased their concern is seen in Acts 21, verses 20-24.
This verse is given in the NLT (modern language) Translation.
“You know, dear brother, how many thousands of Jews have also believed, and they all follow the law of Moses very seriously. But the Jewish believers here in Jerusalem have been told that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn their backs on the laws of Moses. They’ve heard that you teach them not to circumcise their children or follow other Jewish customs. What should we do? They will certainly hear that you have come.“
Did you read that verse?
The believing Jews, who are “Christian” Jews, that is, believers and following Jesus, were also following the Law and would be unhappy to see Paul and his Gentile Christians.
These Jewish believers were mixing the message of the New Covenant with the Old Covenant.
This would be the equivalent of someone in our time adding Jesus to another religion, such as Buddhism, or adding Jesus to Hinduism.
We don’t add Jesus to anything. We leave our old beliefs when we come to know Jesus as Lord, which in Paul’s Gospel included leaving their religion of Judaism.
This mixing of Old Covenant and New Covenant realities was the very reason Paul was compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem with his Gentile believers.
He went to confront their error and preach “his” Gospel.
Long story short, Paul was attacked by the Jews, arrested, and judged that he should be put to death.
He cried out to the Romans that he was a Roman citizen, and the Roman guard came in and took him away from the Jews who were about to kill him.
He was sent to Rome, where he was imprisoned to await a trial and judgment under Roman law.
It is in this context, with Paul in Chains in a Roman prison because of the Jews, that he wrote his second letter to his son in the faith, Timothy.
2Ti 2:8 Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach.
2Ti 2:9 And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained.
2Ti 2:10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.
He was in Chains and in Prison because he preached his Gospel to the Jews. These Jews who rejected his Gospel put him there. They would have killed him, but he was only spared by the Romans stepping in and taking him to Rome.
He then says this well-known verse to Timothy.
2Ti 2:15 Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.
The King James says: “Rightly Dividing” the truth.
Some modern translations say to correctly handle, explain, or accurately handle the word of truth.
The Greek word for “dividing” literally means to “cut straight” or to cut correctly (there may be a pun there).
To “DIVIDE” the word of truth.
In Paul’s mind, at this point, what is the correct or accurate “dividing” or cutting of the Word?
When Paul tells Timothy to “Rightly Divide” or, as some translations say, “Explain the truth correctly,” I think that Paul is referring to his Gospel that correctly divides the Law from Grace and correctly “cuts” the Old from the New.
Correctly distinguishing the OLD Covenant from the NEW Covenant.
This is how we correctly “Divide” the Word of Truth.