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What does it mean to be rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)?


rightly dividing the word of truth
Question: "What does it mean to be rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)?"

Answer:
Timothy had incredible advantages. He was taught the Word of God by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), and he was discipled by Paul and served with Paul in ministry for years. Timothy knew the Word of God and was well-equipped. Even still, Paul tells Timothy that he needed to be diligent in the study of the Word and in rightly dividing the Word of truth. Without that continuing diligence in the Word, Timothy would not be able to stand firm, and he would not be able to maintain sound teaching. Paul warned Timothy to pay attention to himself and to his teaching (1 Timothy 4:16). Because all Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, it is exactly what we need in order to be equipped for every good work God intends for us (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

Paul encourages Timothy to be diligent to present himself as a workman approved by God who would not need to be ashamed because he was rightly dividing or accurately handling the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). First, Paul’s instruction makes it clear that the study of the Bible is work. It takes effort. It takes diligence. We need to be committed to doing that work if we desire to be equipped for what God intends us to do in life. Second, Paul helps us to focus on the idea that this work in the Word is not about the approval of other people. Rather, it is God who is assessing how we handle His Word, and so we are studying His Word for Him. Also, we understand that, if we are diligent, we will not need to be ashamed because we will have been faithful with the remarkable stewardship of His Word. Sometimes we may take for granted that we have His completed Word—the Bible. We may be unaware of how many people suffered and died to provide us the freedom and opportunity to own our own Bibles and read them in our own language. How sad would it be if we took this—one of the very greatest of freedoms—and were not diligent to make the most of it?

Paul’s final comment in 1 Timothy 2:15 is helpful because it tells us what success looks like in the study of the Word: to be “rightly dividing” the Word of truth (NKJV). The Greek word translated as “rightly dividing” is orthotomountaortho means “right or proper,” and tomounta means “to cut.” Literally, success in handling the Word is to cut it properly or correctly. This is farming imagery, as a farmer who is plowing a field would seek to cut straight furrows in order to plant rows of seed. When plowing, a farmer would look at a point on the other side of the field and focus on that point to ensure the line cut in the dirt was straight. This is what the good student of the Word is doing, as well: remaining focused on the goal or outcome and being diligent to handle the Word of God properly. To rightly divide the Word of truth is to “cut it straight.”

Ultimately, in studying the Word, we are trying to understand what the Author has said and not allow our own opinions or views to cloud the meaning of what He has written. When we are diligent to “cut straight”—to rightly divide the Word of truth—we can understand what He has communicated in His Word and be well-equipped for what He would have us to do and how He would have us to think.

Recommended Resource: 2 Timothy, MacArthur New Testament Commentary by John MacArthur

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