Watch Your Life and Your Doctrine
(1 Timothy 4:11-16) This passage speaks to Timothy as a pastor. And so this passage takes on special weight to those called to Christian leadership. But it is not exclusively for pastors. It is good, godly counsel for every Christian.
These verses are a series of commands:
Basically, Timothy, keep a close watch on these two things: your life and your doctrine - pay attention to them Timothy. Don't neglect them.
I. The Destructive Force of Neglect
The opposite of keeping a close watch is to neglect. In verse 14 Paul tells Timothy not to neglect the spiritual gift that is in him through laying on of hands. Neglect is a destructive force, but it usually doesn't destroy in one quick moment, but rather it is a slow journey to destruction. Proverbs 24 paints a graphic picture of neglect.
(see Proverbs 24:30-34)
Pay attention to what's most important
I once heard an accomplished violin player say that the way she got so excellent was by "planned neglect". She didn't have time to do everything that made a claim on her time, so she planned to neglect some things so that the things that were most important to her were not neglected. We can't juggle everything - we will neglect some things. Keep a close watch on the most important things in life: your life - how you live as a Christian, and your doctrine - what you believe as a Christian.
Every Christian, and especially the Christian leader, has to watch his or her life. It doesn't matter how pure our doctrine is if our lives are overgrown with weeds and thorns. It is not enough to pay attention to what we believe if we are not paying attention to how we live. It's easier to study doctrine than to study our heart. God's Word calls us to do both.
II. Keep A Close Watch On Yourself
Watch your devotion
It's easy to become familiar with God's Word so that it fills our heads but doesn't affect our hearts anymore. It's not enough to just "do these things," Paul says, "devote yourself to these things." It's a command! It means that half-heartedness and lack of passion for God and the things of God is a problem I/We can do something about! As with all of God's commands - we are not able to do this apart from His enabling, but oh the grace He gives when we ask!
"Run, John, run," the law commands
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
Yet better news the gospel brings;
It bids me fly and gives me wings.
Watch your example
Paul recognizes that because of Timothy's relative youthfulness, there might be some who are tempted to look down on him for his youth. Paul doesn't tell Timothy to argue or demand respect - he calls him to earn their respect by setting an example. Live in such a way as people learn to trust and respect you. As one person put it, it's hard for people to look down on you when they look up to you.
Set an example (keep the bar high) in speech, conduct, love, faith, purity. Let people see Christ in your lifestyle. Lead the way, set the example, earn their respect so that Jesus might be honored in your witness. There is no way to get around the fact that people are looking at your life. They're supposed to - that's what Paul is saying. Set an example. Christian leaders aren't perfect - we are all sinners saved by grace, but we should make it our aim to set an example. People will not see perfection in our lives in any area, but if they're watching they should see progress.
“Practice these things; devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.” (vs 15)
III. Keep A Close Watch On The Teaching
In verses 11-13 we are also encouraged to keep a close watch on our doctrine. We are never to take for granted that what we believe, or teach, or hear taught, is biblical. We must always be searching the scriptures to see if these things are so.
Colossians 3:16 gives this instruction: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…”
It's clear that Scripture was to have a prominent place in the life of the church. It was to saturate their meetings…
- Read it publicly (remember that they didn't have Bibles to hand out then, so to read the parchments out loud was the only way church could hear God's Word - especially the writings of the apostles),
- Then exhort from it - much like today's practice of reading God's Word and then preaching a sermon.
Keeping watch on our doctrine always keeps us close to Christ and His finished work on the cross.
The temptation of the church today will be to find new and novel things to preach and teach. There is no greater danger than straying from the cross on which the Prince of Glory died. J.I. Packer is addressing the issue of certain churches moving away from the old gospel truths to new, watered down, versions of the gospel:
The preaching of the new gospel is often described as the task of "bringing men to Christ" as if only men move while Christ stands still. But the task of preaching the old gospel could more properly be described as bringing Christ to men, for those who preach it know that as they do their work of setting Christ before men's eyes, the mighty Savior whom they proclaim is busy doing his work through their words, visiting sinners with salvation, awakening them to faith, drawing them in mercy to himself.
-JI Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood, (pg. 139)
Salvation is the free gift of God purchased through Jesus Christ. However, the pastor/or professing Christian who swerves into error and heresy not only endangers their own soul, but might lead others to hell with him. It's that serious.
But the faithful proclamation and application of the gospel truths and Bible to our lives will lead us to spiritually safe ground and the Lord will use us to help guide others to that spiritually safe ground as well.