The Proper Dividing of the Word of God as Contrasted with the Practice of the Errorists.
v. 14. Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit but to the subverting of the hearers.
v. 15. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
v. 16. But shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
v. 17. And their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus,
v. 18. who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some.
The connection between these specific charges and the previous admonitions and warnings is close and intimate, for Timothy was to make use of the knowledge imparted to him in his ministry: Of these things remind them, earnestly testifying before God that they do not indulge in quarreling, to no good but to the subversion of the hearers. These charges were intended, as the connection shows, chiefly for such men as were engaged in the work of the ministry. All these men were to be familiar with the doctrine as it had been taught by Paul and briefly summarized also in this letter. Timothy was to remind them of these truths, call them back to their memory, and not merely incidentally and secondarily, but with great and solemn emphasis. Before God, who searches hearts and minds, he was to remind the ministers of their duty. They should exclude, as altogether useless and unprofitable, the custom of striving with words, of quarreling endlessly, 1Ti_6:4; Tit_3:9. To indulge in human subtleties instead of preaching the sound doctrine of salvation, to attempt to explain with human philosophy what God has not revealed, serves only for spiritual undoing, for the subversion of the hearers. If men that occupy the position of teachers in the Church spend the time given them for the instruction of immortal souls unto salvation in the fruitless endeavor to make their own foolish ideas plausible, if possible, in the desire to pose before their people as great critics and unusually learned men, then the hearers become suspicious, then they begin to doubt the truth of the Christian doctrine, believing it to be a mere collection of human tenets. The result is, in many cases, that they are offended and turn from the Church entirely.
In order that Timothy might never become guilty of such behavior, St. Paul writes: Exert thyself to stand approved before God, as a workman that has no cause for shame, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. Timothy should use all diligence, should toil most assiduously, to prove himself a faithful servant of the Gospel and to stand approved in this respect in the sight of God. No matter when a reckoning should then be demanded of him, he would be able to point to such works in the performance of his office as would accord with the demands of God. He should be such a workman as not to cause disgrace, either to his Lord and Master or to himself. This is a very comprehensive, but incidentally a very necessary demand, which is addressed to every servant of the Word. And a chief point for establishing a pastor's integrity in this respect is the test by which he is found a man that divides the Word of Truth properly. The expression is a term taken from the liturgical language of the Jews, and refers to the proper carving of the sacrificial animals. The allusion to the dividing properly is to the work of a steward in a household who makes the right distribution to each one under his care of such things as his office and their necessities require, as one commentator has it. It is the main problem and work of a Christian pastor to know how to divide and apply the Word of Truth, to remain always conscious of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel, and to apply these two doctrines to the conditions and needs of his hearers. It was with reference to this verse that Luther voiced his famous saying: "Therefore, whoever knows this art well, to divide the Law from the Gospel, place him at the head and designate him a doctor of Holy Writ. For without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to discern this difference. The Holy Ghost must here be Master and Teacher, otherwise no man on earth will be able to understand or teach it. " Or, as Walther says, secure, careless, wanton sinners must hear the thunder of the Law; contrite and poor sinners, however, the sweet voice of the Savior's grace.
Whatever does not agree with this chief activity of the pastor should be put aside as dangerous: But profane, empty talkings shun, for they lead people all the farther into godlessness. As in 1Ti_6:20, Paul is not referring merely to useless, vain talkings, that have no use and value in the world, but to such as are incidentally profane, that are far from promoting all true sanctification. Any pastor that neglects the chief doctrines of the Christian faith in the interest of various human philosophies and secondary doctrines, threatens both his office and his person with a great danger. For these profane babblings advance godlessness, irreligion. In the same measure as a person finds pleasure in the various subtleties which false teachers delight in discussing, such as the question of the occupation of God before the creation of the world, the number and order of the angels, etc. , in that same measure his interest in sound Christian doctrine will decrease.
Just how far this dangerous influence may eventually extend St. Paul shows with regard to a concrete example: And their doctrine spreads like gangrene, of whom are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have erred concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and subverting the faith of some. The catchy phrases and plausible arguments used by the false teachers in trying to interest people in their subtleties always made some impression, especially upon such people as were not sound in their faith. Just as a cancer or gangrene attacks a weak spot in the body, one which has in some manner been prepared for such an attack, so the profane vanities of the errorists, so the false doctrine is most apt to find lodging in hearts that are not firm in the doctrines of the Catechism. With terrible quickness the disease will spread if once it has gained a hold in a Christian congregation. The sound flesh of the body of Christ, of His Church, is thus attacked and ruined, unless measures to prevent such an effect are taken in time. Paul names two men whom the disease had conquered, one Hymenaeus, possibly the same man as the one mentioned 1Ti_1:20, and Philetus. These men had not confined themselves to philosophical subtleties, but had continued in their unwholesome quest for false enlightenment, the result being that they missed the goal entirely, that they had erred in one of the fundamental doctrines. By some manner of foolish reasoning they had come to the conclusion that the resurrection of the dead had already taken place, probably by arguing that the Lord had only conversion, the resurrection of men's souls from spiritual death, in mind when He used the term. The result might be that men might grow secure, believing that they were now safe, having once been converted, and could live as they chose. The denial of any fundamental doctrine of the Bible, such as the resurrection of the body, always results in destruction of faith.