“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
When I think of “rightly handling the word of truth,” I think of the many times I’ve sat across the table in a restaurant having coffee with someone who has reached a low point in their marriage or fallen off the path of purity or is caught in the minefield of relational conflict. What do you say in these conversations? How do you “speak the truth in love” to people in the midst of these painful situations? I want to be able to “rightly handle the word of truth” in these situations. I want to know the specific Scriptures that speak to the dynamics of all these kinds of situations and bring clarity, perspective, correction, and hope. I want to be so familiar with those Scriptures, having pondered them and applied them in my own life, that I’m able to weave them into these conversations and unpack how they apply to the specific circumstances of each of these unique situations. That’s what I think of when I read Paul’s exhortation to work hard to at ‘rightly handling’ Scripture.
How do we learn to “rightly handle” Scripture? Sitting under good preaching helps. So does reading good books. Group Bible studies can help. But I’ve personally found that all of these are intensely magnified by my own regular and systematic reading of Scripture. Maybe an illustration of this will help here. I served in the United States Air Force for a number of years as a Judge Advocate (a military lawyer), and I still have on my shelf my copy of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ is a thick book full of the rules and procedures of military law that, up to that point, I had viewed more as a ‘reference book’ – something to use to look up the appropriate citation when it was called for. I think many of us approach the Bible that way, using it only as a reference book to look up verses that might apply to specific situations we’re facing. But the best advice I ever received as a Judge Advocate was from a senior Judge Advocate who encouraged me to read some of the UCMJ every day so that I would become increasingly familiar with it and it would become more and more part of my thinking. I saw this lived out in military courtrooms as the best trial attorneys in courts-martial were those who knew the rules and procedures of the UCMJ so well that they didn’t have to fumble with the book looking them up, because it came right to them.
That same advice applies directly to our relationship with Christ, our progress in sanctification, our understanding of God’s will, and our ability to be used by the Lord to minister to others. The more we are reading ‘the Book’ in a regular and disciplined manner, the more it becomes part of our thinking and equips us for “every good work.” I want that to be increasingly true of me. I want that to be increasingly true of you.