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In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). The Greek word translated rightly dividing is orthotomeo, and is used only this one time in the Scriptures. It means “to cut straight,” to make a true and accurate division.
This is a very interesting and significant verse, because Paul is saying that if we understand how to accurately divide the word of truth, we will be approved by God.
I have always assumed that to rightly divide Scripture means to correctly interpret it, and that is certainly an essential objective. However, this definition does not fully satisfy the meaning of the term rightly divide. From one of the roots of this Greek word (orthos, meaning “correct, straight”) comes our English word orthodontics, which refers to a branch of dentistry that mainly deals with straightening the teeth of children.
I would like to share with you what I believe is an accurate application of the phrase rightly dividing. This has been one of the most important and thrilling discoveries of my life!
When I began memorizing large portions of Scripture as a young boy, I experienced a deep joy in the Lord. When I studied the Scriptures and their interpretations in college and graduate school, I was further enriched in the Word of God. Then, as I have taught the truths of God’s Word over the past 40 years, I have had a delight in seeing its power transform lives.
However, I have never experienced exhilarating excitement and delight in the Lord and in His Word to equal that which I have experienced in these last months by seeing all Scripture through the eyes of Christ’s commands.
As I used to read the words of David, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God” (Psalm 42:1), I had to admit to myself that this was not actually true in my life, and I wondered whether it ever would be true. However, it is now a reality.
I feel like the disciples must have felt on the road to Emmaus when Jesus opened up the Scriptures. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Later they exclaimed, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:27, 32).
I am experiencing that same “burning of heart” as I take a command of Jesus and see its foundation in the Old Testament and its application in the New Testament.
There are three clear divisions within Scripture. First, there are the Law and the prophets. The Law, or Pentateuch, includes the first five books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy. The prophets are composed of the rest of the Old Testament from Joshua to Malachi.
The second division of Scripture is the teachings of Jesus. They are found in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The message of these books is the central revelation of God to man. The entire Law and the prophets are understood only in the light of Christ and His message. He is the living Word Who came from the Father to communicate light, truth, and love to mankind.
The third division of God’s Word is the teaching of the apostles, beginning with Luke’s account in Acts and ending with John’s message in Revelation. Notice the structure of these three divisions.
|Law and the Prophets||Teachings of Jesus||Apostles’ Doctrine|
|Moses and the four Major Prophets:||Jesus and the four Gospels:||Paul and four primary writers:|
|Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel||Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John||Luke, John, Peter, and James|
Jesus emphasized the importance of concentrating on His commandments if we want to demonstrate our love to Him, experience His love, and have Him reveal Himself to us. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).
When Jesus sent His disciples out with the Great Commission, He instructed them to make disciples by teaching all His commandments. (See Matthew 28:20.) This is exactly what Paul and the apostles did. They based their entire message on the commands of Christ.
Paul makes a powerful affirmation of this fact in I Corinthians 14:37. “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
All 49 general commands of Christ are referred to or explained in the Book of Romans. Paul concludes this book by stating, “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ… according to the commandment of the everlasting God” (Romans 16:25–26).
We might wonder how Paul received the commands of Christ since Paul was not with Jesus during His earthly ministry. He got them directly from Christ in a special revelation, as he states, “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11–12). Paul emphasized to Timothy that He based sound doctrine on two things: Christ’s own words and that which leads to Christlike living. (See I Timothy 6:3.)
Paul explained to the Corinthian believers that the wisdom of God is not comprehended by human intellect but by the discernment of the Holy Spirit through the mind of Christ. (See I Corinthians 2:6–16.)
Since the Old Testament is the foundation of Christ’s commandments, and the epistles are the application of them, we can know the mind of Christ by viewing the Old and New Testaments through His commands. With this perspective we can understand the true meaning of the Law and the prophets and the application of Christ’s teachings in the epistles.
Let’s take one command of Christ and see how its foundation is laid in the Old Testament and its application is explained in the New Testament.
Paul exhorts us to “let the word of Christ dwell in… [us] richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in… [our] hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). Notice how this verse includes all three divisions of Scripture. It begins with the word of Christ, then goes to the Old Testament psalms, then to the New Testament with its dynamic of grace.
Some make two divisions in Scripture—Law and grace. They claim that Law is the Scripture before Christ died and grace is the Scripture afterward. This would place most of Christ’s teaching under the Law. God demonstrated the fallacy of this reasoning on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus spoke together and Peter suggested making three tabernacles—one for Moses, representing the Law; one for Elijah, representing the prophets; and one for Jesus. God removed Moses and Elijah, leaving only Jesus, and declared, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.” (See Luke 9:28–36.)
Ever since I discovered the rich treasures in the commands of Christ, I have been looking for opportunities to share them with others. For this purpose, Daily Success has been developed.
Daily Success is a 49-week program of e-mail encouragements focusing on the 49 general commands of Christ. The program is designed to help men catch a vision for becoming the spiritual leaders that God intends them to be in their families, churches, and communities. Members of the Daily Success program also have access to additional online resources to facilitate a deeper study of each command.
You can join thousands of others who are receiving daily encouragement and resources for success by enrolling today at dailysuccess.org.
David compared his longing for the Lord with a deer panting after the water brooks. The deer’s intense desire for water is based on its experience and anticipation of its thirst being quenched.
When Jesus confirmed His teachings by opening the spiritual eyes of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, their hearts were fulfilled in a way that they had never before experienced.
“…In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (II Corinthians 13:1).
John spoke of three witnesses in heaven. “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (I John 5:7).
These witnesses correspond to the three divisions of Scripture. God the Father gave the Law to Moses and the prophets. Jesus became the Word and taught the truth of God. The Holy Spirit filled the apostles for the writing and understanding of New Testament truth, and “these three are one.”
All three divisions of Scripture have one message—love God and others.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).
“For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (I John 3:11).
Those who make only two divisions of Scripture—before and after Christ’s death—must thereby place Christ’s teachings under the Law.
When Peter wanted to make three tabernacles for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, implying that their messages had equal value, God removed Moses and Elijah and declared, “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Mark 9:7).
Copyright © 2002–2011, William (Bill) Gothard. All Rights Reserved.