Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
This short study was first penned in January of 2015, but I am posting as a parallel to my two-part study on The Present Age and my note on understanding the Bible.
Some time ago, I started tweeting some short thoughts aimed at getting us to consider context when trying to interpret scripture. It should be understood, before we open the pages of the Bible, that everything we read is FOR us, but it is not all TO us. We need to divide (Greek: orthotoméō, “to cut straight,” “dissect correctly,” Strong’s #3718) the scriptures and understand context.
Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. -2 Tim 2:15
There are many examples of Christians claiming for The Body promises that are meant for other companies of believers. Here's a well-known Bible promise many apply to themselves. They claim Jer 29:11 for their "life verse." Let's look at it isolated and then in context.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. -Jer 29:11
Great verse. A lot of people claim it. But is it a promise to us?
For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.
The context is a promise to Israel that God still has a future plan for that nation (the New Covenant, two chapters later, Jer 31), even though they were headed into captivity. Precious few Israelites would see a return to Jerusalem, but the promise is not to individuals, it is to the nation. So those who heard this promise directly from Jeremiah would not apply it to themselves.
Promises and Principles
Is there a principle here? Yes, but it still involves God's future plans for Israel. Jeremiah lays out for Israel the future promise of the New Covenant (Jer 31; Heb 8). That promise has not yet been fulfilled. The principle we take from Jeremiah 29 is that God plans no evil for those who are his and we can trust that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28)
We rest in the fact that, as God kept and will keep his promises to Israel, he will keep his promises to us.
There is a principle of God's faithfulness to His word, His care, His people. But nowhere can we claim these promises for this life. Jeremiah 29 teaches us that God will be faithful to our hope and promise of resurrection life in a future day. We can find comfort in his faithfulness. In Jeremiah 31 we see that same truth. There is a principle to be understood, but not a promise to be "claimed."
God said it, I believe it, that settles it?
Let's look at 2 Sam 7:12-13 the way people claim Jer 29:11:
When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Well, God did say it, and I do believe it. It also settles it. Should we claim this promise as our own? Obviously not. This principle of interpretation needs to be applied to many New Testament passages as well. Let me point out just one "promise" nobody is "claiming."
Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Mt 19:28)
This is a promise (a) to the chosen twelve AND (b) to the nation of Israel. You and I are not here. We cannot claim one of the thrones. But even though neither the thrones nor the tribes have anything to do with the Body (Eph 3), we can still learn from this scripture. It teaches us about the future and about God’s character. Jeremiah 29 and 31 become real. It helps us interpret the parables and the expectation of Pentecost and the Book of Acts if we'll let it.
So many who claim to understand the difference between the Body and Israel, those who understand God's dispensations, those who understand the wicked fruit born out of the Replacement Theology... so many of these same folks practice clandestine Replacement Theology by trying to rob promises and scripture from Israel when the Holy Spirit clearly tells us these things are for Israel, her King (David), and her Apostles (the Apostles to the Circumcision).
Matthew 19:28 is invaluable. We learn more about the coming kingdom in Israel than we do in Acts 1 where the Lord teaches the twelve (eleven) about that still future kingdom. But to do this we must separate promise from principle. The promise is not to us. The principle does not concern us. But it is there FOR us! Without context, we can get really confused!
The Great Commission
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. -Matt 28:16-20
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” -Acts1:8
This topic deserves a study of its own, but in context of this study, I present for your consideration the idea that neither of these passages are give to us in this age.
The Matthew 28 commands the eleven to teach disciples to “observe all things that [Jesus] commanded [them].” This involves truths revealed during the earthly ministry of Christ. In the “Present Age” study we noted that there are commands, ordinances and practices in the Acts Age which are not consistent with the Post-Acts Age. If we read the Lord’s teachings and manner in the gospels, we need to see that he was sent “only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matt 15:24) and commanded his disciples to go to Jews only (Matt 10).
How many times have we heard in regard to Acts 1:8, “Raleigh is my Jerusalem” or “New York is my Jerusalem,” etc.? No. Jerusalem is Jerusalem. They were commanded to wait in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost and after their witness there, they could then go on to Samaria and then unto the rest of the world. But to whom in the rest of the world?
We know Peter was the first to go to a Gentile believer (Acts 10, Cornelius believed before Peter got there), but note what the scripture teaches after he reported his experience with the other disciples in Acts 11,
Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only .
As noted in the Present Age study, they were commissioned to Jews in the gospel age and into the Pentecostal Age. In the Post-Acts Age, all distinctions we lifted, the wall of partition lowered, and the one new man was created.
We will leave that there, we should make application as it applies to all practices in the One New Man of the Present Age.