Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth
October 19th, 1958 @ 7:30 PM
RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 2:15
10-19-58 7:30 p.m.
Now let us turn in our Book to 2 Timothy, 2 Timothy chapter 2; chapter 2; 2 Timothy. Let us begin at the tenth verse and read through the nineteenth. Second Timothy 2, 10 through 19, and the text is the fifteenth verse. Second Timothy 2, 10 through 19. All right:
Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him:
If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: If we deny Him, He also will deny us:
If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.
Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus;
Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.
Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
[2 Timothy 2:10-19]
And the text is a very famous verse. It is the motto text of the Training Union and has been for the years of its growth, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightfully dividing the word of truth" [2 Timothy 2:15]. And of the text we take the last clause, "rightly dividing the word of truth." I suppose I have looked at that text in Greek a thousand times, a thousand times.
When I went to the seminary in Louisville, one of the beautiful institutions of all America – Norton Hall is the main hall of the seminary – and the beautiful beech trees in front, and the emerald carpet of grass, and the semicircle driveway from Lexington Avenue up to Norton Hall and back to Lexington Avenue, and I drove up the driveway when I was twenty-one years old to enroll in the seminary. And there across the porch above the columns were these Greek letters: orthotomounta ton logon tēs alētheias, Rightfully Dividing the Word of Truth. And for six years attending that school, I looked upon that Greek text countless numbers and numbers of times.
I have never preached on it. I have thought of it many times – told one of our faithful members that when we came to 2 Timothy 2:15, I had already set my heart to prepare a sermon on that text. And that sermon is tonight, rightly dividing the Word of truth. That is truly, verily, actually one of the most meaningful phrases in the New Testament because it bears so many different colors of meanings. And some of them I am taking tonight. By no means is it exhaustive, the presentation I make. Every commentator, every Greek scholar, every great theologian will have a different turn, a different interpretation, as he looks at this phrase, seeks the mind of the Spirit in it, and then presents it in a wonderful new facet. Each one is correct, I think. Each one is rich. Each one has wonderful merit and value. So in the little time that we have for the message tonight, we are going to follow some of the different meanings that have been given to this beautiful and wonderful text, "rightfully dividing the word of truth."
Now there are some who think that the imagery Paul followed in speaking that rightly dividing the word of truth is the scene that he saw, that all Israel saw, in the temple. If you go back and read the Levitical code for the sacrifices, you will find time and again, that the priests are directed how beautifully and carefully and meticulously to divide the sacrifices.
When the worshipper came with a lamb, or a sheep, or a ram, or a bullock, or a goat, after it was slain and the blood poured out at the base of the altar, or sprinkled on the altar and sometimes carried into the Holy of Holies, after the pouring out an offering of the blood; the priest, according to very careful directions, took the sacrificial victim and he carefully dissected it, dismembered it, laying each piece just so, over against each piece. When you read that incomparably meaningful chapter, the fifteenth of Genesis, you will find that Abraham took the separate pieces of the sacrifice that he offered unto God and placed them just so [Genesis 15:9-10]. And the Lord Himself walked between the pieces of the sacrifice and made the great pronouncement there of the destiny of the seed of Abraham [Genesis 15:17].
Now, this, some think, is a repercussion and a memory; a following of a symbolism that Paul had seen many times in the temple, rightly dividing the word of truth. Saying to young Timothy, "You are not to mutilate it. You are not to wrest it. You are not to tear it. You are not to break it. But according to the mind and order of the Spirit, it is to be carefully separated and presented unto God and in the presence of the people" [2 Timothy 2:15].
Now let me apply that for just a moment. Following that imagery, "rightly dividing the word of truth"; not mutilating it, not breaking it, not tearing it, but presenting it in division, just as God would have us do it; for example, rightly dividing the word of truth to make a clear distinction and separation between, say, the covenants of the revealed Book of God. For example, the covenant of grace and the covenant of works of the law; they’re altogether two different things. And in their presentation, they ought to be rightly divided. "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" [John 1:17]. And any true minster of the Word who rightly divides the truth of God will always present the covenant of the law as a probing of the human heart; as a revealer of all mankind, us included, as sinners before God, as the schoolmaster that brings us unto Jesus [Galatians 3:24]. No man could keep the law, no man be saved by the works of the law [Galatians 2:16], but the law and its covenant and its purpose was to reveal to us our sins, that sin might become exceeding sinful and that we might be led to Christ [Romans 7:13]. And then this is the covenant of grace; we are washed from our sins in the blood of the Lamb [1 John 1:7].
Mt. Sinai, so terrible and so dark and so threatening, if even a beast touched it, he died, but Mt. Calvary, to whom all, to whose gracious feet of our Savior who died, all people could come [Hebrews 12:20-24]. Anybody could kneel. Anybody could touch. Anybody could look: the two covenants rightly dividing the word of truth [2 Timothy 2:15].
Let me take another instance; rightly dividing the word of truth, making a great distinction and separation between cause and effect, between the root and the fruit. It would be a poor botanist who confused a bulb with the bud. It would be a very poor equestrian who put the cart before the horse. So it is the true minster of God, he must rightly divide the truth of the Word.
And when people say, "Oh, I, I’d like to be a Christian, and if I could just get that great joy in my heart, I would trust Jesus and believe." And another one will say, "You know, if I could get that great feeling in my soul, I’d come down that aisle and give you my hand, and follow Jesus." Rightly dividing the word of truth; you have it turned around, you’ve wrested it, you’ve twisted it, you have confused the fruit with the root, the effect with the cause. The great abundant joy that comes to the Christian comes out of his committal to God. First, we trust, we believe, and then God blesses us, coming into our hearts with gladness and singing and praise and all the wonderful promises that are written large upon the Book; rightly dividing the word of truth.
Let’s take another instance. We could be here all night long in it. Let’s take just another instance or two, briefly; rightly dividing the word of truth; making the separation and the distinction between reformation and regeneration. Reformation is the attempt of the natural man to be saved by his good works, by merit. "I shall amend my ways. I shall do better. I shall leave off these things. I shall begin to do these other things." And he thinks by being a fine and better man that he will thereby commend himself unto God. He’s going to be saved in himself. Now that is reformation.
Regeneration is something all together apart and separate; rightly dividing the word of truth. Regeneration is the casting of a poor lost sinner upon the mercy of God. "Lord. Lord," unworthy, undone, sinful and dying, "Lord, have mercy upon me." And God does something in the soul of a man like that. That that He does is regeneration. God makes him a new creation [2 Corinthians 5:17]; rightly dividing the word of truth.
May I take just one other, and then we’ll go to another interpretation of it? Rightly dividing the word of truth, separating, making distinctions that God makes in the revelation; the distinction between justification and sanctification, so many things; sanctification leads to our justification, that is, if I am good, and if I am fine, and if I am perfect and holy in my life, then someday I can be justified before God. They count beads. They do penances. They genuflect. They go through all kinds of endless works hoping thereby to be justified in His presence.
Rightly dividing the word of truth; making a true, careful separation between them, first, God says, there is justification. Christ imputes to us His righteousness. We are lost aliens, shut out from God, dead in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1], but in Christ, "we who are far off have been made nigh" [Ephesians 2:13]. We who are guilty sinners have been washed clean and pure. We who have been prodigal are invited back to the Father’s house. And justification is the declaration of our standing in the presence of God. The Lord looks upon me as He looks upon His own Son, and for Jesus’ sake, I am invited into the household of faith. I am justified by His blood, by His death, by His life, by His resurrection [Romans 4:25]. Oh, glory to the Lamb!
Now sanctification is the commitment of my life to Jesus out of the love of my soul for what He has done for me. And I pray we might be more committed and more given as we grow older and mature in all the beautiful virtues and graces of the Christian faith; rightly dividing the word of truth. What it is to be justified, declared righteous for Jesus’ sake, and what it is to be sanctified, dedicated to God out of the love of our hearts. Now that is one of the pregnant meanings of this beautiful phrase, "rightly dividing the word of truth."
Now we’re going to turn to another one. In the American Revised Version of 1901, and in many of the studies, you will find it translated, "Rightly handling the word of truth." And that is a fine and meaningful interpretation, "Rightly handling the word of truth"; handling the word of truth. It is called in Ephesians 6, the sword. "Taking the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" [Ephesians 6:17]; rightly handling the word of truth, rightly handling the sword of the Spirit.
Now a sword is not to be played with, tampered with, taken lightly. A sword is for war! It’s for cutting. It’s for offense. It’s for attack. It’s for victory; the sword of the Spirit of God! We are not to be fascinated just by its glitter, nor are we to be charmed just by the jewels in its hilt. But it’s like a sharp two-edged sword that proceeded out of the mouth of our risen and resurrected Lord. And by it, God pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and reveals before God the thoughts and intents of the heart [Hebrews 4:12]; rightly handling the word of truth. It is a sword to be plunged to the hilt into the sinner’s life, that he might know himself dead in his trespasses and in his sins, that he might be resurrected to the new life in Christ Jesus; rightly handling the word of truth.
It is a trumpet. It is a resounding call to awake. Awake! Arise! I have a man that comes to church every Sunday at eight-fifteen, and he goes sound asleep, for two-and-a-half years, and he’s never failed. And I look at him every Sunday. And I preach loud, and he’s still asleep. And I preach quiet, and he’s still asleep. And I preach long, and he’s still asleep. And I preach short, and he’s still asleep. And for two-and-a-half years, I’ve been trying to think through something – besides hitting him with a songbook – that would arouse that saint. I haven’t figured out anything yet, but I’m still working on it.
The word of God is a trumpet. It’s a call. It’s a marching order! It’s the sound of the marching feet of the saints of God behind Prince Immanuel. Awake! Arise. So oft times a sermon is a sedative. We’re saved. We’re saved. We just sit with our folded hands; "A little more sleep. Don’t disturb me." No; rightly handling the word of God! It’s a trumpet! Arise! March on and out and up and beyond; rightly handling the word of truth.
It is the rock of the foundation of the church. We don’t deal with quicksand. We’re building with the great fundamental truths and revelation of Almighty God. And our souls are on that foundation, and our church and our lives and our hope are on the great rock of the truth of the Son of God; rightly handling the word of truth.
Now the next one is my own. What the actual word is orthotomounta ton logon tēs alētheias. Orthotomounta, orthos is straight; orthodox, orthopedic; orthos; so many combinations of that Greek word orthos; orthos, straight; orthos, straight. Now tomeo is to cut. Atom is uncuttable; an atom, atom. Tomeo is to cut. Orthotomounta it’s a participial form of the Greek word orthotomeo. And actually, what the word actually means is to cut straight.
Now Paul was a tentmaker. And I am supposing that it is correct to say that many times he used that word, orthotomounta, cutting it straight, making tents. Had he been a farmer, he would have said plowing a straight furrow. Now what does he mean when he refers to this fact, that when we come to the word of God and the word of truth, we ought to plow a straight furrow? We ought to cut a straight line, orthotomounta ton logon, the word.
Well, I think he means this; there are many preachers and many interpreters and many expositors who plow a crooked furrow around many of the great doctrines of the faith. May I mention some of them?
How many preachers and how many expositors and how many biblical commentators, and propagandists, and speakers, and writers, and authors today, how many of them still believe in and present that old time doctrine of total depravity? How many of them do? Now may I repeat as I’ve said many times, total depravity is not the doctrine that a man is as vile as he can be, but the doctrine of total depravity, the old-time, long ago doctrine of the saints is this, that man is a fallen creature and that we live in a fallen world. And that taint, that quest, that evil, that iniquity, that shortcoming, that mistake, that lack has entered every faculty of a man’s mind and body and soul. There is no part of the man that escapes. Every faculty that he has, every emotion that he possesses, every deed that he does, has in it that element of shortcoming and lack, that we are sinners! Now how often do you see that and read that today? You don’t ever see it. And you don’t ever hear it. And you don’t ever read it. It has fallen out of the nomenclature of modern theology.
What you read today is this, that man is good. By nature he is an angel. And if you don’t teach children to be sinners, they won’t be sinners. If you teach them to think positive and not negative, they won’t think negative. And all we’ve got to do is to educate these little angels that are born unto the world. All we’ve got to do is to just teach them the goodness of their human natures, and they will be good.
Now that’s the modern doctrine of education, of pedagogy, of theology. That’s the modern doctrine in pulpit, in pew, in school, in class, in professorial chair. It’s the doctrine that has swept over this whole world!
Now the Book says, when you plow a straight furrow and when you present this work honestly and fairly, just like it says, the Book says that a man is born with a twist in him; with a black drop in his veins, and that he is a fallen creature by nature; born that way! [Psalm 51:5]. You don’t need to teach him to be a sinner. He is a sinner as such; born that way. And I couldn’t illustrate that better than by these pictures every once in a while I see in the newspapers of a tiger cub, or a little lion cub. Oh, every other week you’ll find somebody, even here in Dallas, that’s got a little cub for a pet. So the little thing is so playful. The little kitten is so bundly and fluffy and you want to squeeze him. And he’s just a nice little thing. But, but give him time, just time. You don’t have to teach that fluffy little, nice little plaything, you don’t have to teach him to bite, and to scratch, and to claw, and then ultimately to kill. He’ll do it anyway! There’s nobody that’s got a lion by the tail, a tiger by the foot and by the ear that I know of, when he gets big. He’s all right as a little kitten, but you let him grow and be himself, you will be happy to give him to any zoo that will take him off your hands. You didn’t teach him that. He’s born that way!
Just like a skunk; who teaches a skunk how to do what he does? He’s born that way. It’s like teaching a rattlesnake to bite. You don’t need to teach those little newborn snakes how to use their fangs. They’re born knowing how to use their fangs. That is human nature. And that is the doctrine of total depravity! You don’t have to teach a child sin or darkness or night. That child will fall into sin and to darkness and to night! He’s born that way.
Now that’s the doctrine of total depravity. We have to be saved, all of us. We have to be saved. We have to be regenerated. We have to be touched by the power and the Spirit of God; rightly dividing the word of truth.
Now may I say another one like that? Depravity; plowing a straight furrow; cutting the line honestly and straight; now, here is another one. Our salvation is by grace. It is not of man. It is not by man, nor is it achieved through man. But it is a gift of God. It is grace in election. It is grace in redemption. It is grace in effectual calling, reaching to your heart. It is grace in the final perseverance of the saint. It is grace in the perfection by which we shall glorify God in heaven. It is grace. "By grace are you saved" [Ephesians 2:8], all of us, because of the goodness and the choice of God. And that through faith, not by works, not by amelioration, not by amendment, not by reform; but receiving it by faith as a gift from God, looking unto Jesus, "Look unto Me, all ye ends of the earth, and be ye saved: for I am God the Lord, and there is none other" [Isaiah 45:22]; the centrality of Christ Jesus.
Let me tell you something. There was a fellow – he’s not an isolated incidence – there was a fellow who made an address to a chapel group of students in a certain university. And being Christmastime, he made an address on Christmas and the meaning of Christmas. He never once referred to Jesus. The omission was very flagrant and very noticeable, and some of the group asked the distinguished preacher about it after it was over; a wonderful address on the meaning of Christmas with no reference to Jesus and His birthday.
And the man replied, "Sir, it is possible," and I quote him verbatim, "It is possible to have Christmas Day with no reference to Jesus at all." And he spoke of the values of Christmas and the ideals of Christmas, and at the same time, disassociated them from the Lord who made Christmas possible. That’s plowing a crooked furrow! That’s cutting the cloth in a crooked way. When you cut off the fountain, the stream will die. You cannot have Christian ideals and Christian values without the fountain source that gave them birth, Christ our Lord; "rightly cutting the word of truth" [2 Timothy 2:15], orthotomounta ton logon tēs alētheias.
Now in the little moment that remains – and I ought to quit already – let me say one other. Two of the great, great, great Bible expositors of all time were Chrystostom and John Calvin. This is the way Chrysostom interpreted that text. He interpreted orthotomounta, he interpreted it as "cutting out the word of truth," and he used the imagery of a large piece of leather. And the man is cutting out a saddle, or he’s cutting out boots, or he’s cutting out shoes, and he has to cut it out to fit the pattern and the need. And he used it to refer to taking the word of God for holy purposes and holy uses.
Now John Calvin did it like this. He took the phrase and he made it refer to the steward in the house. He said the mind of the Spirit in using the word was of a steward in the house who took the food, and he apportioned to each one as each one had need. The servants were apportioned their lot, and the little children their lot, and the babies their lot, and the older people, the father and the mother. The steward in the house was appointed for the purpose, among other things, of apportioning the daily bread. And Calvin said that is the mind of the Spirit here; rightly dividing; rightly, apportioning the word of truth for each one according as each one has need.
Now bear with me just a minute while I take the thought of John Calvin and John Chrysostom and apply it to their meaning, what they referred to in interpreting like that. They would say this, that the word of God ought to be given, it ought to be apportioned as each one would have need.
Now, a lost man; there is a portion in the Word of God for a lost man. You wouldn’t sit down, or let’s say the angels, the angels would not have sat down with Lot in the days of the judgment of Sodom and discussed with Lot and his daughters about predestination or the limits of primordial agency. But the word of God to the lost man is, "Flee the wrath to come. Lot, there is a fire, a judgment of God! Lot, flee for your life! Run to God! Escape the judgment of heaven" [Genesis 19:15-17].
Now that is the meaning of this word according to Calvin and Chrysostom. We are to take the Word of God, and when you talk to a lost man, you’re not to talk to him about the doctrines of election, about perfection, about sanctification, but you’re to take the Word of God and apportion it to him according to the need of his soul. "Sir, you’re lost and you need Jesus. Will you take Him now and be saved?"
I read out of Spurgeon this week one of the sweetest stories. Spurgeon and Moody were great, wonderful, marvelous preachers and admirers of each other. Moody went to the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London and sat there and heard Spurgeon preach. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and Moody said, "O God, won’t You bless me as You have blessed this servant Spurgeon." He was greatly, greatly encouraged by the wonderful ministry of that marvelous Baptist preacher in London.
Now Spurgeon was a wonderful admirer of Moody. In the seminary at Louisville, in our homiletics class, at the front of the class was one of the most beautiful portraits I have ever seen. It was a portrait made, painted of Spurgeon and was given to Dwight L. Moody, and the Moody family gave it to the seminary at Louisville. Oh, I wish I had that picture. I wish somebody would give me a picture of Spurgeon or a bust of Spurgeon or a bronze of Spurgeon. If you ever find one, won’t you give it to me? Won’t you? I’d love to have it. That man, how he could preach and how he could divide the Word of God. Well anyway, when Moody and Sankey were in Britain, they made a tremendous impression upon Spurgeon. And this week I read out of one of Spurgeon’s sermons a little incident that he said happened in the revival meeting of Moody and Sankey at Edinborough. Spurgeon said that Moody was up preaching, and there was a man there in the audience, there was a man there, and as he sat there he was just drinking in the message of salvation by the evangelist Moody. And right in the middle of the service, why, his friend said, "It is time to go. We must go." And they left. The two men left and went to the outside door, and that man who was listening so intently to Moody preach, that man paused at the door. And his friend said, "Come on Jamie let’s go."
And he replied, "No. No. I’m going back. I’m going back." And he left his friend and went back into the big hall and sat down there and listened, and Spurgeon says, and how wonderfully can he say it, "And he listened unto Christ and unto salvation. And he was converted that night and saved that night." And Spurgeon said that the next day the man who was a miner went down into the pit, and while he was working down there, a great mass of rock fell upon him. And his friend tenderly carried him out, and just before Jamie died, he said, "Oh, Andrew, I settled it last night. Oh man, I settled it last night." And then Spurgeon added, "Blessed be God, we have settled it last night"; apportioning to each one his measure of need, using the word for holy purposes.
To the lost man, "Look unto Jesus and be saved" [Isaiah 45:22; Acts 16:31]. Fellow, there are a thousand things little lambs can’t understand, but they can trust the great Shepherd. There are an increasing number of things, that as you grow in knowledge, will be an infinite, vast, inexplicable, unfathomable mystery to you. That’s not for us. That’s for God to know. Ours is to look and live, to trust and be saved, "rightly dividing the word of truth" [2 Timothy 2:15].
That’s the invitation for you, and then for us who are saved and for you when you’ve given your heart to the Lord, rightly apportioning the Word of God to you, why, man, all of it is then yours. Christ is yours. The promises are yours. Death is yours. Time is yours. Eternity is yours. Heaven is yours. Everything is yours in Christ Jesus, just to accept, and to believe, and to trust, and to be saved, and then each day, its wonderful portion of grace, and mercy, and love, and goodness, and revelation, and knowledge, and understanding, and wisdom, and glory, and promise, until someday we come to that fullness of knowledge, when we shall know as God knows us [1 Corinthians 13:12].
Ah, blessed friend, to come to the Lord in faith, to bow at His feet, to look up into His eyes, to ask forgiveness of our sins, the saving of our souls, to plead our cause in His presence, to ask Him to keep us forever, is it not the pearl of price? Is it not a joy of heaven? And is it not yours for the asking? Is it not for you, for you?
While we sing our song of invitation and appeal, somebody to trust the Lord as his Savior, would you come down here and stand by me? In this balcony around, on this lower floor, down the stairwell or into the aisle and down here to the front. "Tonight I give my heart to Jesus." Or, "Tonight I put my life in the fellowship of the church." One you somebody, a family you somebody, as God the Spirit shall whisper the word and lead the way, would you come? Would you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, into the aisle, down to the front, "I give you my hand pastor; my heart have I given to God." Or, "We’re putting our life with you in this blessed and wonderful church." To make it now, would you come, while we stand and while we sing.
RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 2:15
A. The text a famous verse
1. Motto text of the Training Union
2. Above the columns on the porch of Norton Hall
B. Expression so meaningful because it bears so many phases of meaning
1. Different expositors see in it many different references, figures – each one rich, varied, enlightening
II. "Rightly dividing"
A. Expression taken from the act of the priests in dividing the sacrifices(Genesis 15:9-10)
B. So the word of truth not to be hacked, torn, mutilated(2 Timothy 2:15)
1. To divide between the covenants of grace and works (John 1:17, Galatians 3:24, Romans 7:13)
2. To divide between cause and effect, root and fruit
3. To divide between reformation and regeneration(2 Corinthians 5:17)
4. To divide between justification and sanctification(Ephesians 2:1, 13, Romans 4:25)
III. "Rightly handling" – American Revised Version of 1901
A. Like handling a sword(Ephesians 6:17)
1. Not to be played with, taken lightly
2. Like the two-edged sword form mouth of our Lord(Hebrews 4:12-13, Revelation 1:16)
B. Like a trumpet – rousing, calling men to action
C. Like a foundation stone
IV. "Holding a straight course in the word"
A. Literal words orthotomounta – to cut straight
1. Paul a tentmaker; probably used that word "cutting straight"
2. A farmer plowing a straight furrow
B. Many preachers, interpreters, expositors who plow crooked farrow around great doctrines of the faith
1. Human depravity
2. Salvation by grace (Ephesians 2:8, Isaiah 45:22)
V. Chrysostom and Calvin
A. Chrysostom – "cutting out the word of truth" for holy uses
1. Used imagery of a large piece of leather being cut out for different uses
B. Calvin – to divide, to allot to each one his portion, as the steward of the house is appointed to apportion to the different members of the household
C. Some truths to be pressed upon the lost man
1. Spurgeon, Moody and Sankey
D. Truths to the saved man, the child of God – all is yours