Sermon: God Speaks . . . and We Must Interpret His Word

We must have a clear understanding of God's Word before we can correctly apply it to our lives.

Sermon series: God Speaks - part 3

  1. God Speaks . . . and We Can Trust His Word
  2. God Speaks . . . and We Must Obey His Word
  3. God Speaks . . . and We Must Interpret His Word
  4. God Speaks . . . and His Word Guides Us

Scriptures: 2 Timothy 2:15

Connection to unit theme

God speaks to His people by His Spirit through His Word. In order for us to understand God's Word rightly, we must interpret it appropriately. Doing so requires understanding the different types of literature (genres) used in the Bible and reading each type accordingly.

Introduction idea

As you know, we are focusing these last four weeks of our "God Speaks" series on the Word of God and our response to it. In today's message, we want to focus on reading God's Word rightly in order to understand His message clearly. We must have a clear understanding of God's Word before we can correctly apply it to our lives. Recognizing the different genres used in Scripture and reading each type accordingly will help us interpret God's Word faithfully, understand it clearly, and apply it correctly.

I. Interpreting Scripture rightly requires a right heart (v. 15a)

Paul is writing to Timothy, his son in the faith, and the young pastor of the church in Ephesus. Paul begins his admonition to Timothy by telling him to "be diligent" (strive) to present himself to God as one who is "approved" (that is, one that has been tested and found to be pure, like tested metal). If he lives in such a manner, he will have no reason to be "ashamed." There were those around the young Timothy who had reason to be ashamed. They had been tested and found lacking. Some were self-serving. Others had been caught up in doctrinal error and/or arguments. Some would simply tell people what they wanted to hear.

Timothy's commitment to Christ – and ours – must be rooted in our faith in Him. When that is the case, the trials of life only serve to demonstrate that our faith is grounded in Christ. When we strive to walk by faith in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, our lives will be "approved" unto God, in which case we need not be ashamed. This will be evidenced, at least in part, as we will see in a moment, by the fact that we rightly interpret and apply God's Word.

Application: Do you have a heart that is prepared to interpret the Scripture rightly – a heart that is fully surrendered to Christ and walking in the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, the One who not only gave us the Word of God but who also leads us to understand its truth?

II. Interpreting Scripture rightly requires a right approach (v. 15b)

Whereas others in Ephesus were not interpreting and/or using Scripture appropriately, Paul admonished Timothy to "rightly divide the Word of Truth." The word translated "rightly divide" literally means "to cut a straight road." It is used only here in the New Testament and only once in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) in Proverbs 3:6, where God is said to "cut a straight path" for those who walk faithfully in His ways. So, how can we "rightly divide" the Word of Truth? Obviously, the greatest requirement for doing so is depending on the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us into all truth. But, what are some practical steps we can employ as we seek the Spirit's leadership and guidance?

A. Consider the context

One of the most important issues in interpreting the Bible correctly is that of context. There are several factors to consider here. What is the immediate context – what is happening in this verse and the surrounding verses? What is this passage's context in light of the book in which it is found? Where does this passage – and the book in which it is found – fit into the larger picture of the grand story of Scripture? For example, Deuteronomy 30 must be read, not only in light of the rest of Deuteronomy, but in light of where it fits in the Pentateuch and in light of the whole Bible.

B. Consider the genre

What is the type of literature you are reading? Is it a historical narrative – telling a story? Is it prophecy, where the prophet of God is either fore-telling a future event or forth-telling God's message to His people? Is it wisdom literature – giving general principles that are usually true, but which should not be read as promises that always come true? Is it a letter – written to a particular people at a particular time, but with theological implications for us today? Or, is it apocalyptic literature (like sections of Daniel or the book of Revelation), describing what will happen at the end times? While the Bible is one unified book, telling one consistent story (from creation to re-creation), we must read each of these literary types appropriately to understood them correctly.

C. Consider the meaning

Any given passage of Scripture can only have one meaning, that being the meaning God the Holy Spirit intended when He inspired men to write it down. When we consider the words in a passage, in their context, according to the literary type (genre), guided by the Holy Spirit, we can discover their meaning. While some passages are admittedly more difficult to understand than others, we believe in the perspicuity of Scripture – that the Bible is sufficiently clear for us to understand the meaning God intended and its implications for our lives. A good rule of thumb for difficult passages is to interpret them in light of ones that are clearer.

D. Consider the application

While passages of Scripture have only one meaning, they can have multiple applications for how they should be applied. The question is, are you reading simply to understand the meaning? Or, are you reading so that, understanding it rightly, you may obey it fully?

Application: The question is not, can we "rightly divide the Word of Truth?" The question is, will we do the hard work of presenting ourselves to God as those who have been tried and tested, unashamed, because we have handled His Word well, both understanding it and living it out?

Conclusion idea

Our first understanding of the Word of God should be coming to an awareness of our own sin and need for a Savior. After that, we must seek to understand God's Word rightly and live it out faithfully and obediently, by the power of His Spirit, for the sake of His glory.

Randy Mann is minister of education and evangelism at Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina.