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Wielding the Sword

The writer of Hebrews likens the Word of God to a sharp double edged sword that is able to divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow. He goes on to argue that it has such a level of razor precision that it is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the human heart (Hebrews 4:12). He is making the case that God’s word is able to pinpoint the origin and nature of a man or woman’s inner darkness which is something they themselves cannot do alone (Jeremiah 17:9). Just imagine the overwhelming power for holy and righteous personal transformation that such a word could provide! But if the Bible is like a sword, then it stands to reason that it brings with it the same kinds of dangers that all weapons and all truly useful tools carry. The use of a sword requires knowledge, skill, and practice.  You cannot pick up a sword and wield it with skill if  you do not know how to use it, or don’t understand the purpose of each of its parts. In fact, it is foreseeable that trying to wield such a sharp object can damage the wielder, as well as anyone standing around him or her.  In the same way, a gun is a wonderful tool to defend against dangerous enemies.  In the hands of someone unacquainted with its use, it is a terrible and bloody liability. Even carving up a whole chicken with a simple, small, but sharp knife carries the burden of unintentional self-harm.

And yet, the bible expects us to use it. Paul urges his young protege, Timothy, to be diligent to show himself approved by God, and to rightly divide the word of truth.  The King James Version translates Paul’s statement as “Study to shew thyself approved . . . rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” In other words, Paul expects Timothy (and by extension, us) to be diligent in trying to understand the word of God, and then to interpret it correctly so that we can apply it in our own lives, and then help others to understand it and apply it in theirs.  Despite its dangers when we wield it unwisely, there’s still an expectation that we understand it and wisely wield it.  

But how do we do that? The Bible seems long, dense, and sometimes incomprehensible. First, handle it with care. It is a living transcript from the mind of God! Secondly, be diligent. Study it daily in small digestible sections. Do not neglect it and do not give up. Thirdly, take great care in understanding the context of any passage.  Every passage is nested in a larger thought and sequence of logic. And each of those larger sequences of logic are nested in a time, and a place.  Fourthly, ask yourself who the author is, to whom is he writing, and what is his intent? What was he trying to say to the people to whom he was writing? What he was originally trying to say to them is far more important than any esoteric, spiritual message you might imagine is being said to you through the words he wrote a thousand years ago. Forgetting this rule has created many false teachers and doctrines. Fifth, ask yourself what the definitions of words are. Sixth, ask yourself if there is a valid universal application for what you’ve learned from the passage. And finally, enjoy the story. Enjoy the letter. Allow it to immerse you in the same way you would any good piece of literature.

The more diligent you are in studying the bible, the better and more safely you’ll wield the sword. The more productive you’ll find the tool, and the more transformation you’ll see occurring in yourself, and in some of those around you. 

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