2 Timothy 2:15
“When the word of God is opened without reverence and without prayer; when the thoughts and affections are not fixed upon God, or in harmony with His will, the mind is clouded with doubts; and in the very study of the Bible, skepticism strengthens. The enemy takes control of the thoughts, and he suggests interpretations that are not correct. . . . Those who look to the Scriptures to find discrepancies have not spiritual insight. With distorted vision they will see many causes for doubt and unbelief in things that are really plain and simple.” - Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, 110
God speaks to His people by His Spirit through His Word. To understand God’s Word rightly, we must interpret it appropriately. Doing so requires us to understand the different types of literature (genres) used in the Bible and read each type accordingly.
In today’s message, we want to focus on reading God’s Word rightly so that we may understand His message clearly. We must have a clear understanding of God’s Word before we can correctly apply it to our lives. Recognizing the different genres used in Scripture and reading each type accordingly will help us interpret God’s Word rightly, understand it clearly, and apply it correctly.
I. INTERPRETING SCRIPTURE RIGHTLY REQUIRES A RIGHT HEART (VERSE 15A)
Paul is writing to Timothy, his son in the faith and the young pastor of the church in Ephesus. Paul begins his admonition to Timothy by telling him to “be diligent” (strive) to present himself to God as one who is “approved” (that is, one who has been tested and found to be pure, like tested metal). If he lives in such a manner, he will have no reason to be “ashamed.” There were those around the young Timothy who had reason to be ashamed. They had been tested and found lacking. Some were self-serving. Others had been caught up in doctrinal error and/or arguments. Some would simply tell people what they wanted to hear.
Timothy’s commitment to Christ was to be rooted in his faith in Him, as ours must be. When that is the case, the trials of life serve only to demonstrate that our faith is grounded in Christ. When we strive to walk by faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, our lives will be “approved” unto God, and we will not need to be ashamed. This will be evidenced, at least in part, as we will see in a moment, by the fact that we rightly interpret and apply God’s Word.
Do you have a heart that is prepared to interpret the Scripture rightly? Do you have a heart that is fully surrendered to Christ and walking in the power and leading of the Holy Spirit? He is the One who not only gave us the Word of God but who also leads us to understand its truth.
II. INTERPRETING SCRIPTURE RIGHTLY REQUIRES A RIGHT APPROACH (VERSE 15B)
Because others in Ephesus were not interpreting and/or using Scripture appropriately, Paul admonished Timothy to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.” The word translated “rightly divide” literally means “to cut a straight road.” It is used only here in the New Testament and only once in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) in Proverbs 3:6, where God is said to “cut a straight path” for those who walk faithfully in His ways. So, how can we “rightly divide” the Word of Truth? Obviously, the greatest requirement for doing so is to depend on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us into all truth. But, what are some practical steps we can employ as we seek the Spirit’s leadership and guidance?
A. Consider the context. One of the most important issues in interpreting the Bible correctly is that of context. There are several factors to consider here. What is the immediate context? What is happening in this verse and in the surrounding verses? What is this passage’s context in light of the book in which it is found? Where does this passage—and the book in which it is found—fit into the larger picture of the grand story of Scripture? For example, Deuteronomy 30 must be read not only in light of the rest of Deuteronomy but in light of where it fits in the Pentateuch and in light of the whole Bible.
B. Consider the genre. What type of literature are you reading? Is it a historical narrative, telling a story? Is it prophecy, where the prophet of God is either foretelling a future event or sharing God’s message to His people? Is it wisdom literature, giving general principles that are usually true but which should not be read as promises that always come true? Is it a letter, written to a particular people at a particular time but with theological implications for us today? Or, is it apocalyptic literature (like sections of Daniel or the book of Revelation), describing what will happen at the end-time? While the Bible is one unified book telling one consistent story (from creation to re-creation), we must read each of these literary types appropriately to understand them correctly.
C. Consider the meaning. Any given passage of Scripture can have only one meaning: the meaning God the Holy Spirit intended when He inspired men to write it down. When we consider the words in a passage in their context, according to the literary type (genre) and guided by the Holy Spirit, we can discover their meaning. While some passages are admittedly more difficult to understand than others, we believe in the perspicuity of Scripture—that the Bible is sufficiently clear for us to understand the meaning God intended and its implications for our lives. A good rule of thumb for difficult passages is to interpret them in light of ones that are clearer.
D. Consider the application. While passages of Scripture have only one interpretation, they can have multiple applications for how they should be applied. Are you reading simply to understand the meaning or are you reading so that, understanding it rightly, you may obey it fully?
The question is not “Can we ‘rightly divide’ the Word of Truth?” The question is, “Will we do the hard work of presenting ourselves to God as those who have been tried and tested, unashamed, because we have handled His Word well, both understanding it and living it out?”
Our first understanding of the Word of God
should be coming to an awareness of our own
sin and our need for a Savior. After that, we must
seek to understand God’s Word rightly and live it
out faithfully and obediently, by the power of His
Spirit, for the sake of His glory.