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Why Paul Told Timothy to Rightly Divide

By Justin Johnson

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15

Perhaps you have heard this verse used as a slogan for Bible study, or even dispensational Bible study, but why did Paul tell Timothy to rightly divide the word of truth?

What did Paul mean by “rightly dividing the word of truth”?

In the verse immediately preceding this command, we learn that there were contentions about words from God that subverted the hearers and destroyed their faith.

“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.” – 2 Tim 2:14

Paul’s command to rightly divide the word of truth was intended to rescue these men from subversion, by putting “them in remembrance”.

Remembrance of what? Apparently it was remembrance of Paul’s gospel.

“Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel…” – 2 Tim 2:7-8

They were to remember that Paul was appointed the preacher, apostle, and teacher of the Gentiles, and were to continue in what they learned from him ( 2 Tim 1:11-13).

Paul’s gospel gives the full explanation as to the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection, which was hidden since the world began, but had been appointed to Paul to preach.

“Who saved us… according to his own purpose, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest… whereunto I am appointed a preacher…” – 2 Tim 1:8-11

Paul endured much trouble in preaching the mystery of the gospel committed unto him by the Lord (1 Tim 1:11; 1 Cor 9:17; Eph 6:19-20).

By the grace of God he persisted to see all men profit from eternal life and the riches of God’s grace according to his gospel. It was only through Paul’s gospel that men could now obtain this profit in Christ.

Timothy possessed the same commission from Paul ( 1 Tim 6:20-21), but instead of profiting the hearers they were being subverted.

Some men desired to be teachers of the law which Paul called vanity (1 Tim 1:5-9). Others were teaching the profanity by denying the resurrection.

The word of truth rightly divided should have brought all men to understanding God’s will. The opposite had occurred, because of wrong doctrine.

Timothy faced pressure to change the doctrine he had learned from Paul, and perhaps follow the teachings of Moses, Jesus under the law, or the circumcision.

Paul exhorted Timothy not to be ashamed of him, nor the message of grace he learned from him, but to be strong in the grace (2 Tim 1:8; 2 Tim 1:13; 2 Tim 2:1).

Paul is famous for posing the question, “do I now persuade men, or God?” Here, Paul does not let Timothy answer the question, but supplies the answer himself.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed… “ – 2 Timothy 2:15

We study to show ourselves approved unto God, and not unto men.

There was no reason for Timothy to back down or be ashamed of Paul or his message of grace, even if it meant he had to suffer the inconvenience of ruffling the feathers and charging some men to be quiet and “teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3).

Timothy was a teacher of the truth, a workman of the Lord, and he needed to prove himself in this. He would be an unashamed workman if he did one thing:

“…rightly dividing the word of truth” – 2 Tim 2:15

Rightly divide it from the strife and wrong doctrine that existed. Hold fast the form of sound words!

Paul is commanding Timothy to continue in the faith that he learned from him (2 Tim 3:14). Speak those things that he heard from him, and not from the teachers of the law, circumcision, vanity and profanity.

Letting these strifes and oppositions against Paul’s doctrine would not only be wrong, but harmful to the hearers. This would have been wrong division. Hindering the hearers from understanding God’s will.

Rightly divide the word of truth for the profit of the hearers. Mix it with confusion, and placate the profane, and the faith would be overthrown.

Paul told Timothy to give people what is right from the Lord, and shun what was wrong. This can be hard when what is right is not what people want.

Right division is the separation from wrong doctrine to stand for what is right and profit the hearers.

“But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.” – 2 Timothy 2:16

The word of truth revealed to Paul for the church today is right, and any doctrine contrary to what the Lord had revealed to him for today is wrong.

This is why Paul charged Timothy to rightly divide the word of truth. A failure to do so would result in a failure in the faith of those he ministered to.

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Published: October 25, 2014
Last Modified: October 25, 2014
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