Rightly Handling the Word of Truth

by Mike Ratliff

14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:14-15 (NASB) 

One of the lynchpins of whatever it is that God calls us to do to take up the slack in the battle for the truth is that we must be those who do indeed present ourselves to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of Truth. What does it mean to “rightly handle the Word of Truth?”

I am a big fan of William Tyndale. Yes, I know he has been dead since the early 16th Century, but he worked and wrote in a time when Protestant Reformation was young and still being defined by Luther and his followers and others. Tyndale was in exile in the Antwerp area of modern day Belgium when he wrote his classic work, The Obedience of a Christian Man. Henry VIII was on the throne of England and had just broke from the Roman Catholic Church. All of Tyndale’s old Catholic enemies had either been imprisoned, killed, or were in exile themselves because King Henry had confiscated all of the property of the monasteries and Catholic churches. However, Tyndale had to stay on the continent because King Henry still did not approve of an English Bible and that was William’s primary passion. He had already published several editions of an English New Testament that had been smuggled into England where it sold rapidly to people starving for the truth of God’s Word.

Tyndale was working on a new edition of his Bible that would include an updated version of the New Testament along with the Old Testament. During this time William published The Obedience of a Christian Man which, I feel, is his finest work outside of translating the Bible. If we look at the reformers and their struggles and passions we should come away from that with a sense that our modern form of Christianity has become highly superficial. These men risked it all to get the Bible into the people’s hands and the gospel into their hearts. It was a risk because both of those were resisted vehemently by the Roman Catholic Church, most Kings and their nobles, and the civil authorities who were at the beck and call of those in power.

The superficiality of the Compromised Church is manifest most tragically in how it’s ministers treat the Word of God. Since few of them are Bible scholars, they do not know their Bibles, therefore, they use them as if they are nothing more than the user’s manual that came with the monitor on their computer. They never dig into it so the Holy Spirit can break through their calloused hearts with the pure truth from God. This is seen vividly if we listen to their sermons or teachings. They are nothing more than pep talks on how to get by in this life instead of the pure milk from God’s Word. Oddly enough Tyndale wrote about this very thing that was prevalent in the Catholic church of his day. Here is an excerpt from The Obedience of a Christian Man.

Thou shalt understand therefore that the scripture hath but one sense which is the literal sense. An that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth whereunto if thou cleave thou canst never err or go out of the way. Neverthelater the scripture useth proverbs, similitudes, riddles or allegories as all other speeches do, but that which the proverb, similitude, riddle or allegory signifieth is ever the literal sense which thou must seek out diligently. As in the English we borrow words and sentences of one thing and apply them unto another and give them new significations. We say let the sea swell and rise as high as he will yet hath God appointed how far he shall go: meaning that the tyrants shall not do what they would, but that only which God hath appointed them to do. Look ere thou leap, whose literal sense is, do nothing suddenly or without adivisement. Cut not the bough that thou standest upon, whose literal sense is oppress not the commons and is borrowed of hewers.

So in like manner the scripture borroweth words and sentences of all manner of things and maketh proverbs and similitudes or allegories. As Christ saith (Luke 4), Physician heal thyself. Whose interpretation is do that at home which thou doest in strange places, ant that is the literal sense. So when I say Christ is lamb, I mean not a lamb that beareth wool, but a meek and patient lamb which is beaten for other men’s faults. Christ is a vine, not that beareth grapes: but out of whose root the branches that believe suck the spirit of life and mercy and grace and power to be the sons of God and to do his will. The similitudes of the gospel are allegories borrowed of worldly matter to express spiritual things. The Apocalypse of Revelation of John are allegories whose literal sense is hard to find in many places…

And as they are false prophets which prove with allegories, similitudes and worldly reasons that which is nowhere made mention of in the scripture. Even so count them for false prophets which expound the scriptures drawing them unto a worldly purpose clean contrary unto the example, living, and practising of Christ and of his Apostles and of all the holy prophets. For saith Peter (2 Peter 1) no prophecy in the scripture hath any private interpretation. For the scripture came not by the will of man: but the holy men of God spake, as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. No place of the scripture may have private exposition, that is it may not be expounded after the will of man or after the will of the flesh or drawn unto a worldly purpose contrary unto the open texts and general articles of the faith and the whole course of the scripture, and contrary to the living and practising of Christ and the Apostles and holy prophets. For as they came not by the will of man, so may they not be drawn or expound after the will of man: but as they came by the Holy Ghost, so must they be expounded and understood by the Holy Ghost.- William Tyndale

What then does this mean for us who teach or preach? Shouldn’t it be that we must not teach from the Bible unless we do it correctly by rightly dividing it? We must never pull out of it a point here and there to make it say what we want it to say. Instead, keep scripture in context and stay with the literal sense of it. How many false teachings have you heard where people have allegorized scripture to teach something that tickles the ears? Instead of trying to make up an interpretation of scripture, we must use scripture to interpret scripture. This is why we must learn to do word and grammatical studies in the original languages as well as how to use Bible concordances and dictionaries. If we become diligent students of the Word and careful expositors of it will we treat the Word of God superficially? In turn, will our ministries be simply a veneer of superficiality that look grand on the outside, but inside it will be no more than compressed sawdust? No, if we honor the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will use us to reach the hearts of all those God draws to Himself through us.

Not only will our ministries be blessed if we honor the Word of God this way, our own personal walk before the Lord will be deeper and more intimate. Why?

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NASB) 

In v2 Paul instructs Christians to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of their minds. If we are NOT conformed to this world then we are Spirit-led because we are not flesh bound. That means that Paul is telling us what it takes to become Spirit-led. What is it? We must become transformed by the renewal of our minds. What does that mean? Our transformation from immature Christians to mature Christians is a continual process that is mind renewal. What is that? It is what we do when we submit to the Lordship of Christ, repenting, studying our Bibles, praying, sitting at the feet of godly teachers and preachers, obeying our Lord, abiding in Him and working alongside Him yoked up with Him. This is what real disciples of Jesus Christ do. Their minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit as they deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Christ. The Greek grammatical structure of v2 is one in which the verbs tense, mood and voice tell us that this a process. It is continual repeated action, not an action that happens once and its done. No, our spiritual growth is one of continual growth as we renew our minds. This results in the Holy Spirit transforming us unto Christ-likeness.

Now this very short little “lesson” is an example of dividing the word of truth. I didn’t include all of the scripture references here that tie back to these verses, but if I was teaching this I would. I would have shown the actual Greek words and how they are put together by Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit to give us the literal sense of how we take on the role of a maturing Christian. This is what those whose ministries are nothing but smooth veneer on the outside and compressed sawdust inside do not do. Why? They either don’t know how or they are too lazy to do it. Their ministries have no spiritual depth because the Word of God is neither honored or used correctly in them.

My brethren, God is calling some of you to take up the slack, to step up and obey Him as He leads us to tell the truth. We must become equipped to serve Him this way. We must know our Bibles and how to study and teach from them so that God is glorified and Our Lord’s disciples are edified. However, we must never forget that it is the Holy Spirit who leads us and guides us in our journeys through this life and into the Word of God. Our part is found in the book of James.

5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:5 (NASB) 

God’s wisdom is treasure my brothers and sisters. If we are to fight the good fight and take up the slack then we must have this wisdom and discernment. Therefore, we must draw near unto God and ask Him for it so that we can serve Him in His light and not struggle in the darkness left in the havoc caused by those false shepherds who must be replaced as our Lord Reforms His Church.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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