“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
The Importance Of Doctrine
Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus are filled with references to doctrine. In fact, we find the Word of God using it in the Pastoral Epistles seventeen of the fifty times the word “doctrine” is used in the New Testament. Considering the fact that these epistles were written to teach and train men in how to lead churches, we can conclude that doctrine is of very great importance in the life of the church.
What is doctrine? The first mention of the word is in the words of Jesus: “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matthew 7:28–29) We can quickly see that Jesus’ doctrine was His teaching, because the words are use synonymously (This is also done in Mark 4:1-2.). As we study more throughout our Bibles, we will find that doctrine is the foundation of our faith and of the life that we should live as God’s children. Many will declare that doctrine is unnecessary, yet that is in itself a doctrine, being taught by those who choose to abandon the doctrines of the Scripture.
Let us notice how important it is that we get our doctrine and our practice correct: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–20) The infallible, inerrant, imperishable Word of God is the Christian’s sole authoritative guide. It is the fount of all doctrine/teaching, and is to be respected as such so that we endeavor to be faithful to it even in the very least thing. Notice this, because today many will often speak of some issues as being of little importance. Every bit of Scripture is God’s Word and of equal authority. While there are some doctrines that are of utmost importance because they are fundamental to our salvation (Consider Romans 16:17 in the context of the whole letter.), we are obligated to honor God’s authority by respecting even the smallest of detail, i.e. the jots and tittles, and both teaching and obeying them. There are no unimportant or trivial doctrines. In fact, the one whom God considers great is the one who both teaches and obeys even the least of the Biblical doctrines.
Let us notice further that it is the Scripture that is the source of our doctrine and not what men have to say: “Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:1–9) We continue and find that Paul’s teaching on the inspiration and authority of Scripture shows us that it is the Scripture that is the Word of God and our doctrinal authority. It is the doctrine found in Scripture that instructs, corrects, directs, and perfects us so that we become fitted for the place God purposes for us to fill (See 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5). It is this doctrine that the man of God is to preach to the church, opening the text, explaining the text, and applying the text. This alone is the health of the church. If the church is to be saved from shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:18-20), the man of God must be serious and fervent in doctrine. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18–20) We call this text “The Great Commission.” It is the mandate of the church to teach, or make disciples of all nations. This is the task of the church, to bring the doctrine of salvation to all people. After men become believers, they are to be baptized and taught, or indoctrinated in all things that Jesus commanded us. This being the command given to us by our Master, faithful churches, Christians, and pastors are the ones who, using the Bible, value doctrine, teach doctrine, and apply doctrine.
Luke records that Jesus “came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power. And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice, Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not. And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out. And the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about.” (Luke 4:29–37) Notice that Jesus’ teaching was with power or authority. There are many people today who are focused on issues such as healing, deliverance, prophecy, tongues, and emotionally ecstatic experiences, calling these things the power of God. We must remember that Jesus rebuked people who looked for signs such as this (See Matthew 12:38-42;16:1-4), and realize that the emphasis of Christ is the revelation of God in Scripture and the authority of God in Scripture. What occurred in Capernaum was Jesus teaching with authority. His Word and doctrine were what was important. While many seek signs and emotions as evidence of power, God’s Word here declares that it is the very doctrine of Christ that has the power.
It is very important to note as well that the very ministry of the Holy Spirit is to indoctrinate us: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26) It cannot be emphasized too much in our day of emotionalism and sign seeking, that the Holy Ghost’s work is to enlighten us to understand the Word and doctrine of Christ.
When, on the day of Pentecost, thousands believed, were saved, baptized, and added to the church, they then “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) It is imperative to notice that, not only is doctrine essential to the health of the church by keeping us from shipwreck as we have already seen, but the early Christians were immediately immersed in doctrine by the apostles. One does not need to wait until he has reached a certain degree of spiritual maturity before he studies doctrine. In fact, one cannot attain spiritual maturity without right doctrine (See Ephesians 4:11-16.). Doctrine is the foundation of our faith and that which nurtures our growth in the faith.
We cannot preach the gospel to the lost without doctrine. The very work of evangelizing is to present the doctrine that Christ died for our sins and arose for our justification. The high priests asked the apostles, “Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” (Acts 5:28) That’s right! They preached the gospel and that is a doctrinal stance. Sadly, in our day, it is often those who fail to preach the gospel with clarity who reject doctrine as being important. Even worldly idolatrous people understood that gospel preaching was doctrine (See Acts 17:18-21.), so I am astounded when professing Christians declare that doctrine is unnecessary and divisive. When the Romans believed that gospel and were saved, Paul said, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” (Romans 6:17) True gospel preaching requires the presence of doctrine. Remember, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
To demonstrate the importance of doctrine, God placed gifted people in the church for the purpose of teaching (Romans 12:6-7). We are very plainly told that the pastors, who are teachers, have the task of indoctrinating the saints that they would grow in Christ. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16) The Word of God is also explicit about the value of doctrine because we are told that it is much more profitable to the saints than words that are either difficult or impossible to understand (1 Corinthians 14:6,9). Far from encouraging or embracing anything similar to the often incomprehensible chaos of our modern day charismatic movement, Paul gave us God’s Word commanding us to focus on the teaching and hearing of God’s Word in an orderly manner (1 Corinthians 14:26-40).
Doctrine is also essential to the godly life of purity to which we are called. Paul told Timothy, “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do…But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;” (1 Timothy 1:3-4,8–10) We find here that doctrine is connected to the gospel, and the gospel is connected to moral purity and holiness. Doctrine is referred to as being sound or wholesome or hygienic because sound doctrine leads to sound beliefs and clean living to the glory of God. Doctrine and godliness are two sides of the same coin and cannot be separated. In fact, it is only after God uses Paul to command Timothy concerning doctrine that He guides Paul to warn Timothy about abandoning the faith (doctrine) and making shipwreck. We can be assured that those who abandon sound doctrine will indeed make shipwreck of their faith and often of their morals.
From here we read the Scriptures warning us of false doctrines (1 Timothy 4:1-2), commanding the pastor to be steadfast in doctrine (1 Timothy 4:13,16), encouraging the respect and faithful support of those who labor in word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17), calling for people to live godly according to good doctrine (1 Timothy 6:1-6), and giving direction to train men to be teachers of sound doctrine (2 Timothy 2:1-2). It is obvious that sound doctrine is important.
We have seen before that the task of a pastor is to teach sound doctrine. Not only so, but his life is to reflect sound doctrine in godly living so that the man of God might use sound doctrine to call the ungodly to repentance. “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” (Titus 1:7–11) This is important to note, since many today have practically abandoned morality, holding no standards for the qualifications of a minister. God’s Word, however, commands purity of life so that one can effectively teach pure doctrine. It is not at all radical or unreasonable that we take a stand on ministerial qualifications as given to us in First Timothy chapter three and Titus chapter one. It is a righteous thing that we reject those who are disqualified and refuse to fellowship with them. It is not us who have contradicted and rejected the Word of God, but it is those who refuse to truly embrace sound doctrine by living godly in accord therewith.
Remember, we are to withdraw from those who do not hold to sound doctrine. We read, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Romans 16:17–18) Notice that those who embrace false doctrines are to be marked and avoided because are not truly servants of God and they will deceive others unless we stand against their false doctrines and warn people of them. God used Paul to tell us of these, saying, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)” (Philippians 3:17–19) We cannot be ambivalent toward these purveyors of falsehoods: they do not serve Jesus. We are not called to be sweet and accommodating, nor are we to act as if it is harsh, cruel, and hypocritical to call out false doctrine and false teachers. There is no other way to warn and protect the flock of God than this. This is also the way of obedience to God.
For many years there have been folks involved in ecumenical meetings as if the doctrinal differences between pedo-baptists and Baptists are of no concern. Many act as if theological liberals who deny Creation, embrace evolution, deny the virgin birth of Jesus, deny blood atonement, and deny the literal bodily resurrection of Christ are truly Christian brothers. Let us hear the Word of God: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:” (2 John 9–10) “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” (2 Peter 2:1–3) Considering that such do not know the Lord Jesus, we cannot rightly have fellowship with them, but are commanded to come out from among them (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) and be separate. These people are not in fellowship with God’s people, but are under the judgment of God, as the Scripture has said. Let us then obey God by taking a clear stand against false doctrine.
As we come to the close of this article, let us return to the text with which we began: “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Timothy 4:16) Having warned of abandoning faith (doctrine) and a good conscience, which leads to shipwreck, we are now told how to avoid this. We can all be saved from destroying our spirituality and perhaps our own lives by continuing in good doctrine. It can never be stressed too much how great of a need we have to learn, believe, practice, and continue in sound doctrine. May God help us all to be faithful in this.