God gives us tools to help us be diligent seekers of His truth. One skill that is mentioned in the scripture is rightly dividing. The underlying greek word ( ὀρθοτομέω - orthotomeo ) means to make a straight or true cut or slice. We use this process in many areas of our lives. In construction we cut property lines with fancy survey scopes so that we can properly distribute and mark boundary lines for the land. In the study of science, we classify organisms by observing similar traits or qualities. We organize our clothes so that we can find what we need to wear each morning. When we search for something on the internet we cut lines with search words to pull out specific information from the vast ocean of images and articles floating on the world wide web. Categorizing, measuring, grouping all involve cutting clear straight lines to help organize information so that we can learn and grow in our understanding. Likewise, when we come to learn about God through the study of His word we are also given instruction to properly organize and categorize the information he has given so that we can understand his ways and his thoughts about the things of life and therefore grow in our relationship with him so that we can follow him and live as he wants us to live.

There are many ways that we can rightly divide or categorize scripture. One way is simply by observing the differences and similarities of the various passages God has given on a subject. From these similarities various groupings often present themselves. God has also provided us some categories that can be used like tools to help us seek and find his will about the issues of life. One set of these God given categories can be found in 1 John 2:15-17...

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

Understanding the Context

Before we dig into defining this set of categories, it’s important to see the immediate context of this passage. John is writing this letter to believers and the purpose for the letter is so that believers may have a joy filled life. He doesn't just mention having some joy in our lives. John wants our joy to be the maximum joy we can have in this life. So, the purpose of this letter is to help each of us understand how we can get the most out of the life and time that God allows.

To fulfill this purpose, John also states that he wrote these things so that we, as believers, would not sin. John doesn’t give a list of right and wrongs but in various ways he does repeat the struggle with sin we will face during our time on earth. He uses words like abide and fellowship to describe the main way to overcome this struggle. Our close relationship with God is way to combat the power of sin. The more we draw near to God and walk with him, the greater the joy we will have as we face and overcome the challenges and issues of this life.

In scripture, when we see a similar command to draw near to God we often see a related command to turn away from thoughts, attitudes, or actions that are against God. Worldly or world is one of the terms used to describe this sphere of influence which contrasts with God's desire or will. John helps us understand how to identify this ungodly influence by cutting some lines (or defining some categories or rightly dividing) to describe improper motives, lusts, or desires which, if we allow to conceive, give birth to sin, distort our soul, and yield destruction and even death.

John tells us the same thing James does in chapter 4 of his letter when he says to draw near or join ourselves to God, but here John approaches it with a negative command to not love the world or the things in the world . When we seek to find joy and contentment from the world's distorted sphere of influence we have allowed the world to control our motives, attitudes, and choices which gives power to the gravitational force of sin, enticing us away from the goodness of God. To help us recognize and describe these deceptive forces we come to the three mortal motives listed in verse 16 of 1 John.

Lust of the Flesh

The first of these mortal motives is the lust of the flesh. The focus here is the physical aspect of life. God has given us many good things that are part of life on planet earth. Some other things man has created so that society may function with order. However, when the pursuit of these things becomes a controlling factor in our lives we allow these things to function as instruments of sin. For example, food and sex are two things that God has given as important parts of the physical life. They are given for the sustenance and production of life and God made us so that these may be enjoyable. These are good things that God has graciously given to us according to his design. Food should be taken with proper moderation and sex is given for the expression of oneness in the marriage relationship. However, when these things become controlling factors in our lives, then we have allowed them to take the place of God. The Bible speaks of various kinds of sexual immorality and uses terms like gluttony and drunkenness to describe when sex and food have become lusts that draw us away from God and His ways. Another example is money. Money itself is neither good nor bad. It is something that man has created to help with the orderly working of society, but when the pursuit of money becomes a controlling factor in our lives we see all kinds of evil blossom. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul describes this love of money as the root of a sinister plant from which all kinds of other evils spring up. Greed and covetousness are other terms that further describe this type of lust of the flesh. Likewise, the consuming pursuit of things is a form of idolatry which acts like a hidden patch of quicksand that traps and devours us when we turn away from the contentment that comes from trusting God's ways and provision.

Lust of the Eyes

The lust of the eyes goes beyond something that is pleasing to observe. Certainly, there are things we see or look at and desire to possess which are associated with the lust of the things of the flesh. Lust of the Eyes can also be how we look or appear to others. Many of our actions are motivated by the importance we place on the opinions of other people. We allow people to dictate what is good and acceptable and then we base our thinking and actions of how we measure up to those fleeting standards. Image, reputation, popularity, and mores are often allowed to have a greater influence on our thinking and actions than what pleases God. When we desire or seek the approval others as our standard then we are living by the lust of the eyes and our lives will be tossed around by the turning tides of public opinion or we'll be led down a dark path by those with persuasive words.

However, when we base our identity on how God sees us, we can have confidence because God is faithful and trustworthy. God sees those who trust Him as precious, special, holy because of our relationship with Jesus, the rock and cornerstone.

When we desire the approving eye of others and make choices based on these shifting sands our focus is on self. When these opinions of others are negative, we can quickly fall into depression and numerous destructive habits to retrieve or grab back those lost favorable opinions. When the opinion of others is good or positive, our perspective of self can quickly become inflated and lead to the final mortal motive – the Pride of Life.

Pride of Life

The Pride of Life is highly destructive and is despised by God. There are many words the bible uses to describe this attitude – haughty, puffed up, arrogant, vain. Pride starts with an inflated view of oneself and then progresses to elevate self by the pursuit of power and authority. Authority is not a bad thing when properly given or conferred to those with humility and wisdom, but prideful people seek to take or grab power and authority which was not properly given or conferred. Proverbs tells us that God hates this attitude and usually results in harm and destruction.

Tools to Live

These terms are given so that we have some tools to help us identify these worldly lusts or motives but what value is that to us? Should our attention be on the lusts of the world or the holiness to which we are called?

Throughout the New Testament letters to the church we see that we are to do both.

We are called to watch, be aware, and take heed... so that we do not let sin be expressed in our thoughts, speech or actions. We are commanded to put off the old way of sin and put on the new way of righteousness. We need to recognize when worldly motives have the potential to a get a toehold so that we don't walk in the pathway of sin. While we are to consider that we are dead to sin we also are reminded that evil is present with us internally and externally while we live on this earth. So we must humbly watch to keep these motivations from being controlling forces in our lives.

1 Corinthians 10 reminds us of the power of scripture to instruct us when in verse 6 it says… Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.

One function of the stories in the Old Testament is to illustrate times when poor decisions were made and exemplified the desires that motivated people to destructive actions. As we study these stories, we can use these categories to identify these worldly motives which can help us gain a deeper understanding of how sin grabs hold and results in consequences that are displeasing to God and destructive to many.

As we are able to identify these lusts in these stories God has given, it gives us greater skill and clarity to see when the same passions or desires may entice us to walk in an ungodly manner. Evaluating our motives and desires as well as others around us is needed to walk in the wisdom and will of God.

More importantly we need to know with what we are to replace these worldly motives. God's call to all believers is to be like Christ.

2 Peter 1:4 says ...that through these [great and precious promises in God's Word] you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

God’s Word is living and produces life when we hold fast to it. Peter goes on to tell us that we are to diligently add godly qualities to our lives such as knowledge, self-control, perseverance and love. Throughout God’s word we also see examples of God’s desire for us to think, speak, and act with qualities that reflect His character. Our motivations should be rooted in a loving response of service to God and service for others. As our thinking is changed to think according to God’s word and not our inward desires, God’s produces life through our speech and actions.

Friends or Enemies

Who we are is revealed in our motives and attitudes and expressed finally in our actions. What are the things we seek? What are the desires that motivate us? What and who do we love? To what do we give ourselves? These are very important questions that we continually need to ask and consider. From God's word we see some pretty clear and straight lines that are cut. James 4 tells us that if we love the world and seek to obtain things solely for our pleasure then we are friends with the world and enemies of God. John tells us that if we love the world or the things in the world the love of God is not in us. John then helps us to identify the inward motives of one who loves the world. Near the end of Jesus’ time with his disciples he prays for those who will follow him because a follower of Jesus is not of the world because Jesus is not of the world. Therefore, followers of Jesus are enemies of the world and Jesus prays for us because the world will hate us. Jesus is not hiding this from us – he tells us straight up. And then he sends us right into the world, so that we may take his message of life, joy, and contentment that are found as we draw close to God.

May we glorify God through obeying his word in all we think, say and do.

Questions for Thought and Discussion

General Comprehension/Review

  1. As we grow in our understanding of who God is, how will our thinking, attitudes, and actions change?
  2. What does it mean to be complete or thoroughly equipped?
  3. List some ways discipline is difficult.
  4. Define Doctrine:
  5. Define Reproof:
  6. Define Correction:
  7. Define Instruction in Righteousness:
  8. How do the four terms above relate to each other (how are they alike and different?)
  9. Why is the book of Galatians mostly a book of correction?
  10. What are some ways we must be like God to reflect His ways to the world?

Deeper Discussion/Thought

  1. Summarize 2 Tim 3.16-17 in your own words.
  2. What benefit can we gain by categorizing passages we read by Doctrine, Reproof, Correction, and Instruction in Righteousness?
  3. Can you identify specific verses that seem to fall into one of these categories? These may be favorite verses or memory verses from past studies.
  4. How do we handle passages that seem to fit more than one category? Do we pick the most prevalent one? Do we use multiple categories?


Group Exercise – Can we apply what was taught?

  1. Identify sections, verses or phrases to categorize – you will need to choose a passage with which the group is familiar, or provide additional time for the group to read and evaluate the portion of scripture you chose.
    1. Books: Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, Timothy, Jude...
    2. Chapters: Here is a sample of verses to help you begin: Exodus 32, Leviticus 1, Psalm 23, Proverbs 2, Matthew 5, John 3.16-18, Acts 7, Acts 17.22-34 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, 2 Peter 3, or any chapter in the books listed above
    3. Verses: Use familiar passages or verses the group has previously studied together
  2. Have the group read the passage together – if you have a large group, gather into smaller groups of 3-5 people for this activity. You can choose the same passage for each group, or give each group different passages.
  3. Have groups determine if the passage is mostly Doctrine, Reproof, Correction, or Instruction in Righteousness. Ask them to give reasons for their determination.
  4. If you have several groups with different passages, read each group’s passage aloud so that other groups might benefit from the discussion.

Leader Note: Not all groups will work well together the first time. As group leader, you can facilitate better group discussions by keeping the following in mind:

  • Give passages that challenge, but do not frustrate the groups’ ability to understand.
  • If possible mix the group with older and newer believers, introverts and extroverts, adults and young people. We can learn so much from each other when given the chance.
  • Make sure one person does not dominate the group discussion. While sometimes a leader is needed to keep the group moving, that person should be encouraging other member’s input.
  • Keep the discussion on the passage assigned. While reading Bible passages often leads to discussions about modern topics, make sure the groups remain focused on the Scripture and what it says. The purpose of this lesson is a better understanding of God’s word.

Personal Challenges – Make the lesson your own!

Hide it in your Heart:

Memorize 2 Timothy 3.16-17

Scratching the surface:

Write out your five favorite verses. Place each into one of the categories discussed in 2 Timothy 3.16-17. Underline or highlight words or phrases that show what the verse is saying.
Bonus: List three things you learned or were reminded about God and His character from the verses you chose.

Get out the shovel, we are going deep!

Choose an epistle (any book from Romans --> Jude) from the New Testament. Read it through several times – several means more than twice! For each chapter in that book, create a chapter title and identify which category(ies) it falls into: Doctrine, Reproof, Correction, or Instruction in Righteousness.
Bonus: List three things you learned or were reminded about God and His character from the book you chose.

Additional Information maybe for a group leader or extra resources to read or audio only links.