Foy E. Wallace, Jr.
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
The divine injunction couched in the inspired aphorism, “Preach the word,” is quite commonly called “Paul’s charge to Timothy.” But fundamental to this charge and certainly of equal importance is the admonition to rightly divide the word. And prefatory to both of these is the command to study the word. The charge to Timothy, then, is in reality composed and delivered in three parts–study the word, rightly divide the word, and preach the word. The solemn charge was not meant for Timothy only. We, too, should study to rightly divide the word of God, prompted by the holy purpose enjoined—“to show thyself approved unto God.”
Handling the Word
The caution to rightly divide or handle aright the word of God implies that it may be subjected to a wrong division or an improper handling. Indeed, some men in the apostles’ day were charged with perverting the gospel (Gal. 1:7); corrupting the word (2 Cor. 2:17); making merchandise of the truth (2 Pet. 2:3); wresting the Scriptures (2 Pet. 3: 16); and of handling the word of God deceitfully, in craftiness and dishonesty (2 Cor. 4:2). A perverted gospel cannot save. Jesus declared that it is the knowledge of truth, not the belief of error, that makes men free (John 8:32). Though a perverted gospel may have in it all the elements of the true gospel, its power to save is lost in perversion. Bread is God’s power to quell the hunger, but the admixture of a poisonous element—a spoonful of arsenic, for instance—in a loaf of bread would destroy its power. Water is God’s power to quench the thirst, but the admixture of salt will destroy the quenching power of water. The gospel is God’s power to save the soul, but its admixture with error—the doctrines and commandments of men, when heard and believed—destroys its saving power. Hence, Paul’s alarm concerning the perverters of the word at Galatia:“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6, 7). Error preached, error heard, and error believed cannot result in the truth obeyed. No man can accidentally obey God. The truth preached, the truth believed, and the truth obeyed makes a Christian. Nothing else does. How important, therefore, is the word of God, and how careful men should be in their handling of it!
Rightly Divide the Word
In the third chapter of Galatians the right division of the word is based on the three grand divisions of the Bible, commonly called the patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian dispensations, but Scripturally known as the promises, the law, and the gospel. The promises were to Abraham. The law came 430 years after, through Moses, and was“added because of transgression” until Christ should come. The law was not added to the promise God made to Abraham—it “came in besides”—that is, between the promise and its fulfillment. The promise was that Christ, the seed of Abraham, should come, and through him all nations be blessed (Gal. 3:8-14, 17, 19). Since the law was added only until the seed should come, “which is Christ” (Gal. 3: 16) it follows that the law automatically ended with the coming of Christ. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24, 25). Upon this plain and proper division of the word, Paul affirms the abrogation of the law in numerous references. We are not under the law (Rom. 6:14); we are dead to the law and delivered from it (Rom. 7:6); Christ is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4); and Christians are not to be judged by the law (Col. 2:14-16). It is in obedience to the gospel, therefore, that men are saved today. The Acts of the Apostles—their preaching under the commission of Christ—plainly reveals the terms of our salvation.
Preach the Word
We do not wonder, then, that Paul’s final charge to Timothy from prison environs was to “preach the word.” But if it is a dead thing, as theology and the creeds teach, and conversion is wrought in some weird and mystic manner, why preach it? God’s word is not dead. It is the living word. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). It is the powerful word. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). It is the saving word. “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” (Jas. 1:21.) The gospel is God’s power to save and God’s power to condemn. Preach the word!