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
We are told to study. The end result of this study is that we rightly divide the word of God. Implicit in this is that it is possible to wrongly divide the word. We see that Satan wrongly divides the word in Matthew 4. Peter tells us that some wrest the scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). Cults twist scripture to make it say things it does not say. We need to be diligent in our studies so that we do not mishandle and misuse the word of God.
So what does it mean to rightly divide the word of God? Rightly dividing the word of God means the scriptures are used to convey the message that God wants to convey. We have to study to discover that message. Studying is more than using a computer program to find verses that use the same (or similar) word or phrase and then stringing those verses together. Studying is more than using a concordance or reference Bible to find related passages. To rightly divide the word we must answer a very big question: what is the purpose of the passage? Why did God include the passage in the scriptures? What message did God intend to convey with the passage? Many times, a preacher will come up with points he wants to convey and then searches for scriptures that seem to support his points. That is going about the study the wrong way. We must study the passage and discover the points that God is making in the passage – we must start with scripture and get the points contained in the scripture. Starting with points and then looking for scripture is only conveying the message the man wants to convey, not the message God wants to convey.
For instance, a preacher may want to preach a message about diligence – how we should be diligent. Now, being diligent is great and we should be diligent – I’m not arguing against that. But if you want to preach God’s message about being diligent, that message should be gleaned from a passage that God intended to teach us about diligence. It should not just look for examples of diligence and use those verses as props. We should not use the prodigal son’s older brother (Luke 15) in a message about encouraging Christians to be diligent. If you look at the purpose of that passage – why God included it in scripture, it is not to teach us about diligence. Even though the older brother was diligent in working for his father, that is not the lesson God wanted us to learn from the parable. The older brother represented the self-righteous Pharisees who Jesus was calling to repentance. The purpose of that passage was to let the self-righteous know they still needed to repent and have faith.
I have heard at least 4 people hold the older brother up as example to follow. That is wrongly dividing the word. When Jesus told that parable, he was not holding the older brother up as a model to follow. The purpose of the passage was a call to repentance. Using the older brother as an example of diligence is wresting the scriptures to the destruction of the hearers. It is missing the whole point of the parable. We do not need more people following the example of the Pharisees – the older brother. Our churches are already full of the self-righteous.
The Bible is a large book which means there are ample places to find a verse that can be twisted and misused. We need to be careful how we handle the word. We need to be careful in our study of the word. There are plenty of false religions and cults that practice false doctrine because they do not rightly divide the word of God. If we are trying to make a point and find a verse that seems to support our point, we need to be very careful to make sure that is the point God intended to make with that verse. If we are not careful, false doctrine creeps in and false practices are soon to follow.
Preach the word, but preach it rightly. And to do that, you need to study. Study to find the message God wants to preach from the passage. Don’t study to find passages to support your message. Our doctrine and our practice depends upon it.