“Handling the Word of the Truth Aright”
“Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.”—2 Tim. 2:15.
1. To what is God’s Word likened, and so what attitude should we have in using it?
THE Word of God is alive and powerful in our lives. Like a sword, it can divide the soul and spirit. (Heb. 4:12) It gets down to our reasons for what we do. It differentiates between what we may seem to be as a living soul, and what we really are in our heart, in our attitude and in our spirit. Since God’s Word is likened to a sword, we want to be sure we use it skillfully. We want to be cautious that we do not use such a cutting instrument in a wrong way, but, as Paul counseled, that we use it “aright.” When we undertake a reading and a study of God’s Word we want to do it in such a way that we get the true meaning and a clear understanding of what it says.
2. How should we not view the Bible, and so what questions would be appropriate when we read a portion of the Scriptures?
2 Often the context or material surrounding a verse we may read will help us to understand and apply it in the proper way. We want to remember that the Bible is not a collection of disjointed, unrelated verses, gathered together at random, and appropriate for use under any circumstances to prove a point that we may feel to be correct. Rather, we must get the whole picture when we read the Word of God. We want to ask who is speaking, to whom, on what matter and if the text relates to a specific topic only. This is important if we are to ‘handle the word of the truth aright.’
3. What background information aids one properly to understand 2 Timothy 2:15?
3 To illustrate, let us consider the words of Paul to Timothy at 2 Timothy 2:15. There he says: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” These words were written to a person well grounded in God’s truth and to one doing the will of God. We know this because of what Paul wrote to Timothy earlier, as recorded in the beginning of this letter. To Timothy, Paul said: “For I recollect the faith which is in you without any hypocrisy, and which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, but which I am confident is also in you.” (2 Tim. 1:1, 2, 5) In his words recorded at 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul was telling Timothy how to give instructions to Christians, those who were a part of God’s congregation. Though it is true that a Christian should use the word of truth correctly when speaking with unbelievers, Paul was not in this case telling Timothy how to convert unbelievers to Christianity. This is evident by what Paul said to him concerning his teaching: “Just as I encouraged you to stay in Ephesus when I was about to go my way into Macedonia, so I do now, that you might command certain ones not to teach different doctrine.” Here it is evident that some within the Christian congregation were teaching different doctrines, were not “handling the word of the truth aright.” Paul also counseled Timothy: “The things that you heard from me with the support of many witnesses, these things commit to faithful men, who, in turn, will be adequately qualified to teach others.” (1 Tim. 1:3; 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:2) Again, the mention of committing the important information to faithful men who could also teach others in a qualified way gives further evidence that Timothy was dealing with those within the Christian congregation. He was to use the truth to benefit and guide his brothers.
AVOID DISTORTING SCRIPTURES TO PROVE A POINT
4. (a) Show to what extent the clergy of Christendom go in misapplying Matthew 10:28. (b) What is the real truth of this scripture as it pertains to the soul of man?
4 It is imperative that we avoid willfully misapplying a text to prove our point. The clergy of Christendom are often guilty of this very thing. Take, for example, Matthew 10:28. We read there: “And do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Clergymen will point to the first part of Jesus’ words to prove that the soul is immortal and cannot die. Is that what Jesus really said? It may seem like it, if you stop reading in the middle of the verse. But if you read the rest of the verse you see that Jesus plainly debunked the immortal soul doctrine when he said that one should fear him who could destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. By “handling the word of the truth aright” the true sense or meaning comes to the fore.
5. (a) How do some interpret 1 Peter 4:6? (b) What is the true meaning of the verse, and what additional Scriptural proof can you site?
5 Closely related to the immortal soul doctrine is the belief by some that it is the spirit of a man that lives on and is personally identified with the man. First Peter 4:6 is cited to support this view. There we read: “In fact, for this purpose the good news was declared also to the dead, that they might be judged as to the flesh from the standpoint of men but might live as to the spirit from the standpoint of God.” Believers in the idea that the spirit as an intelligent being survives the death of the body contend that Peter here gave evidence of this when he mentioned the good news as being declared to the dead. Is this so? In order to ‘handle God’s word aright,’ we must let it speak for itself. Was Peter there referring to persons who were physically dead? Since the physically dead are “conscious of nothing at all” (Eccl. 9:5), these dead mentioned by Peter are the same as those Jesus spoke of when he said: “Let the dead bury their dead,” and those referred to by the apostle Paul when he wrote: “It is you God made alive though you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Anyone living who is dead in the sight of Jehovah can come to life in a spiritual sense by hearing the word of God, repenting and following the Lord Jesus. The hope for the literal dead is the resurrection and the opportunity then to hear the good news and to be judged.—Matt. 8:22; Eph. 2:1.
6. (a) What explanation of Isaiah 14:12-16 has been given? (b) What is the Scriptural explanation? (c) Thus who is the Lucifer of Isaiah 14:12-16, and whose attitude does he reflect?
6 Jehovah’s people, too, need to be cautious in the applying of scriptures so that they correctly present God’s Word in their preaching and teaching activity. As an example, take the statement that is sometimes made that one of the names given to Satan the Devil is Lucifer. Reference may be made by some to Isaiah 14:12-16. According to the Authorized Version (King James), verse twelve says: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” The word “Lucifer” is a translation of the Hebrew word heh·lelʹ, “shining one.” Heh·lelʹ, as here used, is not a personal name or a title, but, rather, a term describing the brilliant position taken by Babylon’s dynasty of kings in the line of Nebuchadnezzar. It would not be correct to say that Satan the Devil is the one here called Lucifer as though it were one of his names. The expression here refers primarily to the king of Babylon, for, according to verse four, this is a “proverbial saying against the king of Babylon.” Also, Isa 14 verses fifteen and sixteen of this chapter fourteen say that this “shining one” (Lucifer) is to be brought down to Sheol, which is mankind’s common grave, not an abiding place for Satan the Devil. Furthermore, the fact is that those seeing this “shining one” brought into this condition say: “Is this the man that was agitating the earth, that was making kingdoms rock?” Satan is not a man but an invisible spirit creature. Thus, while the king of Babylon reflected the attitude of his father, the Devil, still the word Lucifer was not a name given to Satan the Devil. By “handling the word of the truth aright” we are prepared to speak the clear sayings of God as we have them on the printed pages of the Bible.
7. (a) Why is no injustice done to the Bible by the use of properly selected texts to prove particular points, and whose example do we have in doing so? (b) Show how the apostle Paul might have proved by references to the Hebrew Scriptures that Christ was to suffer and to rise from the dead?
7 However, there is no injustice done to the Word of God when his servants use properly selected texts from various parts of the Bible to prove doctrinal points. While it is true that opposers of God’s Word at times charge that the Witnesses deviously use scattered texts in the Bible to prove their points, we well know from a study of the Bible that Jesus and his apostles used selected texts to prove certain basic truths. For example, Jesus, when being tempted in the wilderness at the end of his forty days of fasting, referred to various passages of God’s Word to rebut the arguments of the Devil. (Matt. 4:3-10; Deut. 8:3; 6:13, 16; 5:9) The apostle Paul also employed this technique with the Jews when teaching in the synagogue. The account in Acts 17:2, 3 says: “So according to Paul’s custom he went inside to them, and for three sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving by references that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying: ‘This is the Christ, this Jesus whom I am publishing to you.’”—See Psalm 22:7, 8; Isaiah 50:6; 53:3-5; Psalm 16:8-10.
MEANING OF TEXTS OFTEN HIDDEN IN CONTEXT
8. (a) Why is misapplication of the Scriptures to be avoided? (b) Show what the real meaning of Proverbs 10:7 is, and why. (c) What scriptures would it be wise to use in discussing who is not entitled to a resurrection?
8 For texts to be deliberately misapplied, though, is to do gross injustice to the Scriptures. We do not want to be guilty of such misapplication even in more or less minor matters. As an illustration, in speaking with someone about the resurrection we might say that the Bible definitely proves that the wicked are not going to be resurrected. We may then read to them this Bible verse: “The remembrance of the righteous one is due for a blessing, but the very name of the wicked ones will rot.” (Prov. 10:7) Now, it is true that those whom Jehovah considers grossly wicked, not covered by the ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus, will not have a resurrection. However, Proverbs 10:7 does not prove this determination by Jehovah. Why not? When reading the context of this chapter in Proverbs, it is noted that a series of contrasts is outlined: a wise son and a stupid son, a hardworking person and one slack of hand, a son with insight and a son acting shamefully. But the resurrection and Gehenna are not there being discussed. So it would not be appropriate to say this scripture deals with that matter. Rather, the point to be made is that the name or reputation of wicked ones is not a pleasant memory, but sickening, putrid. To prove that some will not be resurrected, it would be better to refer to Scripture texts on Gehenna, the second death.—Matt. 23:33; Rev. 21:8; see also Matthew 25:46.
9. Why does insistence on considering the context of a scripture not hinder one in explaining the truth?
9 This making sure of matters by reading and getting the sense of the context in no way hinders one in explaining the truth. To the contrary, it strengthens one’s argument based on the Bible, because it becomes readily evident to the one being instructed that what is being taught is really what the Bible says. The Bible is the inspired Word of Almighty God, and to get his mind on matters, with the assistance of the holy spirit, is to benefit from the wisdom of the Creator as set out in his written Word. Jehovah had something in mind in placing a text in the Bible. He knows precisely what we need and so he provides that which assists us and aids us to grow spiritually in discernment and in the accurate knowledge of him.
10, 11. (a) What meaning might one easily ascribe to 1 John 4:18? (b) What does the context establish as to the true meaning? (c) How does this agree with Psalm 139?
10 Our relationship with Jehovah should be as his children. As such, how much do we truly appreciate his love and care for us? Do we ‘handle his word aright’ in regard to what it says about our personal prayers to him and do we understand what his Word tells us concerning how he wants us to feel toward him? Many have read the words of 1 John 4:18 concerning perfect love and have made the wrong application of those words. The Bible there says: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love throws fear outside, because fear exercises a restraint. Indeed, he that is under fear has not been made perfect in love.” At first glance some have concluded that they will just never be able to be perfect in love, because fear causes them to walk around or to run from danger whenever possible. But is that the kind of fear the apostle is here talking about?
11 A reading of the context of 1 John 4:18 will help us to see the special meaning of this verse of Scripture. The previous verse shows that the discussion by John is a continuation of the discussion on having “freeness of speech.” He is not here speaking about freeness of speech in preaching the Kingdom good news. Rather, he speaks of freeness of speech as regards one’s speech toward God. This is shown in the third chapter of First John, 3 verses 19-21. So the person in whom God’s love reaches its full expression feels free to come to his heavenly Father in full confidence. His imperfection and sinful condition do not deter him from coming to Jehovah to ask for help in doing the will of Jehovah. As a child can come to a loving father in full confidence that his father will understand him and help him, even when he has made a mistake, so should one feel about one’s heavenly Father, Jehovah. One should feel free to approach him with any problem one may have, to ask for assistance in doing the will of one’s Father. One should have no morbid fear of the heavenly Father, that Jehovah will exact absolute justice from an imperfect, sinful creature, that he will condemn one outright for one’s sinful condition of mind and heart. This is not to say that one should revel in doing wrong and then go to the heavenly Father to seek forgiveness, thus taking advantage of Jehovah’s mercy. But it does mean that one need not fear to go to one’s heavenly Father to seek to straighten out that which is crooked, to correct one’s imperfect thoughts or actions, knowing that Jehovah knows all there is to know about one.—Ps. 139:1-3, 15-18, 23, 24.
12. How does a proper understanding of 1 John 4:18 benefit us individually?
12 Having this correct understanding of 1 John 4:18, one comes to realize the excelling value of one’s spiritual relationship with Jehovah one’s Creator. One speaks from one’s heart to Jehovah and asks direction upon one’s life, that it might be pleasing to Jehovah. Thus our being “made perfect in love” means that love of God in us is not in any way undeveloped, but, rather, because of this perfect love we are moved continuously to do his will wholeheartedly with full confidence in our heavenly Creator and Father. This, in turn, gives us great freeness in our approach to God through prayer.—Eph. 3:12; Heb. 4:16; 1 John 5:14.
HANDLING PROPHETIC SCRIPTURE ARIGHT
13. (a) What is it important to bear in mind about many Hebrew Scripture prophecies, and how is this shown in connection with the prophecy at Isaiah 35:1, 7? (b) Of what are prophecy fulfillments on Jehovah’s people of ancient times a sure guarantee?
13 As we study God’s Word and become more and more conversant with its message of beauty and its meaning in our lives, we well realize that to understand it in the way Jehovah has purposed is enriching and rewarding. How often we have quoted from the Hebrew Scripture prophecies regarding the blessings in store for mankind in God’s righteous new order, and rightly so! But often we may have failed to see that many of the prophecies have already undergone a fulfillment on a miniature scale with ancient Israel. Take, for example, the words of Isaiah 35:1, 7, where we read: “The wilderness and the waterless region will exult, and the desert plain will be joyful and blossom as the saffron. And the heat-parched ground will have become as a reedy pool, and the thirsty ground as springs of water. In the abiding place of jackals, a resting-place for them, there will be green grass with reeds and papyrus plants.” The context of this scripture shows plainly that it applied to the returning Jewish exiles in the days of Governor Zerubbabel. Isa 35 Verse 10 says that “the very ones redeemed by Jehovah will return and certainly come to Zion.” It was his purpose to make that land a miniature paradise for them, and this would require that he make the wilderness and waterless region, as well as the desert plain, to become as reedy pools and springs of water. By proper application of these sayings of God, we well realize that his performing of miracles in behalf of his chosen people of ancient time is a guarantee of a much greater further fulfillment of such promises under the rule of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is readily apparent that Jehovah will indeed pour out a blessing on this earth under the Kingdom rule of Christ Jesus, making not only the desert “blossom as the saffron,” but opening blind eyes and deaf ears and restoring health to the lame, even as this prophecy says.—Isa. 35:5, 6.
14. Why should all true Christians want to handle God’s Word of truth aright?
14 Without question we can say that the “word of God is alive and exerts power.” (Heb. 4:12) God is alive. He speaks to mankind through the pages of his living Bible, thereby giving power to his servants and understanding of deep truths concerning himself and his purpose for mankind. Every Christian witness of Jehovah God should want to handle that word aright, to be able to use it effectively in teaching others and in cutting down false religious teachings that have darkened the minds and hearts of untold millions held captive to Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. Says Paul to Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
15. To understand and appreciate God’s Word, what effort should we put forth?
15 To use God’s Word aright one has to read it and study it, looking for the hidden treasures contained therein. Such understanding and appreciation does not come automatically, but requires hard work and diligent seeking. Says the proverb: “My son, if you will receive my sayings and treasure up my own commandments with yourself, so as to pay attention to wisdom with your ear, that you may incline your heart to discernment; if, moreover, you call out for understanding itself and you give forth your voice for discernment itself, if you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it, in that case, you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the very knowledge of God.” (Prov. 2:1-5) From what we have considered in these paragraphs, it is evident that we should want to know why things were said as they were in God’s Word and what application can be made of the words. We should always seek reasons for the way explanations are given and seek to handle the Word of God aright.
16. What further information will assist us to handle God’s Word aright?
16 The succeeding article will show that there are entire Bible books written with a certain people in mind and with a certain message to be conveyed. In handling this precious word of God in the right manner, it will be to our advantage to seek out information on this matter, to know the background, purpose and value of the inspired words.