Thursday, October 7, 2010

RIghtly Divide the Word

2 Timothy 2:15 says: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (NIV). The KJV has "rightly dividing the word of truth". In another place, the word of truth, God's word, is said to be sharper than any sword. But, this verse in Timothy has been used, swordlike, to skewer preachers who do not handle the word of truth the way their critics deem it rightly handled. In the preceding verse, Timothy is counseled to avoid word fights. The Greek word behind this translation is used only here in the New Testament but it means something like splitting hairs. To not put too fine a point on it, it is talking about fighting over minor things and turning them into the major things. It is dividing Christians over how they are dividing or handling the word of truth. Augustine said the preacher should make the truth plain, pleasing and effective. Chrysostom cautioned preachers to stick to the main thing and cut off whatever words are superfluous to it. In verse 15 Timothy is counseled to study to show himself approved. For Timothy as for all pastors, study has to be an ongoing spiritual discipline. A preacher needs to know the word and how to use his words to communicate the word. Correct handling or rightly dividing is a metaphor for a skilled craftsman building with an accurate plumb line. Rightly dividing is from the Greek word we get our word orthodoxy from. It is a hugely important word. It is outlined in the Apostles Creed. It is the outline for all preaching. It is the plumb line. Preachers holding to this line are not ashamed but proud of their work and have no reservations about showing it to the master for inspection. Still it is a hard and demanding task and one that calls for everything the preacher has and is. For it is not only taught but lived, tested in the daily life of the preacher. Matthew Henry, the great preacher, said the task is not to invent a new gospel but to rightly divide the gospel that is committed to their trust. Not to split hairs, not to focus on the minors, but to preach the great realities of the gospel: the birth, life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation. To rightly divide or handle the word of truth was never meant to be negative, a criticism, as in she or he does not rightly divide the word of truth but an encouragement, a blueprint, a vision for what the great call to preach is all about.