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The Importance of Sound Doctrine in the Local Church

January 13, 2008 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Life in the Local Church

Passage: 1 Timothy 1:1–1:3

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Life in the Household of God

The Importance of Sound Doctrine

 

 

This morning we are beginning an expository series that will take us through the book of 1Timothy. I always love jumping into a book of Bible and working through it because Bible says to pastors we are to feed the flock, and I believe that on whole, the healthiest diet for us to go through a book seeking to understand its context and overall message. It helps a pastor to avoid preaching on subjects that are most interesting to him and helps us hear the full counsel of God. So...let's start by turning to...

 

1 Timothy 1:1-2

 

This letter is one of three letters written by Apostle Paul which together are often called the Pastoral Epistles - because they were written to men pastoring churches, not to churches directly.

 

This letter is the first of two written to a young man named Timothy.

 

  • Paul met Timothy while on mission in Lystra and was so impressed by young man that he asked him to accompany him. He was dearly loved by Paul. "True child in the faith". They were closest friends, he was a son in the faith, and a faithful co-laborer that Paul would say of, "I have no one like him."
  • Timothy was left to lead and pastor the church in the major Asian city of Ephesus.
  • This was not a cream puff assignment: the city was known for worship of the goddess Artemis and Paul talks about being attacked by wild beasts in Ephesus - not animals but people violently hostile to Christianity.

 

The letter was written to Timothy, but not to Timothy alone. Paul meant that church read it over Timothy's shoulder. At end of his letter when he closes with prayer, "grace be with you" the you is plural - you all - expects eyes to be reading over Timothy.

 

Purpose of letter:

 

Paul's purpose is clearly stated in chapter 4:14-15

 

"I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you many know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth."

 

With apostolic authority, Paul instruct Timothy and those in the church, how to behave in household of God. What should life look like in the local church? How are certain issues or questions to be handled? Paul will touch on many practical aspects of church life, from prayer in the church to role of women, to qualifications of elders, to how believers are to interact with one another and more.

 

But before he gets to that - there is something urgently on his mind that jumps into right away.

 

I.                  Timothy's charge: confronting false teachers Verses 3-7

 

Five years before this letter was written, Paul knelt on a beach with the elders of Ephesian church to say goodbye to them for the last time. After charging them to pay careful attention to the flock, he warns them that after he leaves savage wolves will come in among them, not sparing the flock.

 

Now five years later, come true, and he has left Timothy there with charge to confront false teachers and command them to stop teaching false doctrine. These teachers aren't just slightly off in some minor areas: they're heretics whose teaching had potential to divert followers away from the gospel. Nothing is more serious than that.

 

The danger of false doctrine

 

False teaching and bad doctrine is a very dangerous thing. I know that some folks in this area don't lock their doors at night - we do! Our kids joke that if we go to mailbox, we lock everything up. But if there was a report that there was a murderer on the loose in area, you would lock your doors at night. A couple of months ago there was a report of a person following kids after school and attempting to kidnap one or two. You better believe parents were keeping an extra eye on children. We take precautions when danger is afoot.

 

We need to recognize how dangerous false doctrine is. The Bible tells us that the only way for lost sinners to be saved is through an understanding and faith in gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel says this: God sent His Son Jesus Christ - fully God, to be born a man - fully God and fully man, to live, die, and rise again so that by believing that Jesus is the Son of God, that He did step into history to live a perfect, sinless life and to die on cross in our place to pay for our sins and then on third day God raised him from the dead we will be saved. Saved means that rather than spending eternity separated from God and being punished for our sin in hell, we will spend eternity with God, as His beloved and adopted children. It is God who saves - saves through the message of the gospel.

 

What this means is that God has chosen to save sinful man through a body of doctrine -the message of the gospel -that has been entrusted to the church. False teaching swerves people away from that body of truth which is only way man can be saved. This is dangerous. False teachings lead people away from a biblical faith in Jesus Christ - apart from faith in Christ no one can be saved. The stakes are eternal.

 

One of the greatest responsibilities of a pastor is to guard the flock from false teaching. There is a bundle of truth that needs to be guarded - that's why Paul ends this letter with this sober charge:

 

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called "knowledge" for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. (6:20-21)

 

I was reading about a road on a mountain in Bolivia called "the most dangerous road in the world". In one year there were 300 deaths from vehicles driving off the cliff. There is a biking company called "Gravity-Assisted Mountain Biking" that takes thrill seekers to top and they ride bikes down. Several bikers have died - the first being a woman who was complaining of her brakes all morning, fell behind her group and was trying to catch up. Her group watched as she rode off the road right in front of them over an 800 foot cliff. On a ride like that, even a small swerve can be fatal!

 

Jesus said the road that leads to life is narrow - gospel of Jesus Christ as handed down by the apostles. Swerve from that - results are eternally fatal. Yet there is a lack of concern for guarding the deposit.

 

A famous pastor, Robert Schuller, writes in one of his books, "To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image--from inferiority to self-esteem ...". He goes on to say that this happens when we meet "the Ideal One" (Jesus) who receives us as his peer and treats us as an equal! As a result, the core of our life changes from shame to self-esteem and we can pray, "Our Father in heaven, honorable is our name"[1]

 

That is a blasphemous swerve. Amazingly, book has endorsements from well known Christian leaders and theologians. We need to guard sound doctrine, to love good doctrine - the same way we would love good brakes on a bike traveling down "the most dangerous road in the world".

 

II.               The Contrast: What does it promote?

 

We don't know exactly what they were teaching, but had to do with myths and "endless genealogies". Probably teaching from the Old Testament - especially genealogies - that found hidden meaning and symbols and mysteries that unlocked deeper spirituality. These teachers and folks that followed them were thinking they were really going deeper and farther than Christians who were just believing the Bible for what says.

 

What this promoted was speculation (vs 4).  The supposed deeper teachings were spinning wheels in useless speculating and meaningless talk about stuff that 1) we never know for sure 2) diverts us from the work of God and 3) going to be wrong about anyway. Its fun and there's an exciting sense of being "deep" in speculation. But it goes nowhere.

 

Years ago got my hands on a book called The Bible code. Mathematical contortions, found hidden prophecies and meanings God has hidden in Bible. I was a Christian - and a pastor - but I got really excited about it. I found myself finding hidden messages more tantalizing than the straightforward message of Bible.

 

Fortunately I was sharing my excitement with a friend and he said, those books just distract me from the Word of God and don't produce anything good in my life. I should have known that - I lost sight. It's easy to do.

 

One of the tests is what fruit does that doctrine bear in our lives? Fruit of good doctrine isn't that we become some kind of biblical geek, but that the work of God is promoted in our lives! Paul does have a pragmatic side: God's work needs to be built on truth - but know what? Truth needs to lead to the promotion of God's work too. It can't just be stuff we fill our heads with or argue about in church meetings. It must be the work of God that is promoted in our lives - we need to make sure that is happening.

 

III.           The goal: Love

 

Paul has a goal in mind with this charge given to Timothy: love. Goal of sound teaching: a true and Christlike love.

 

There is a story of a shopkeeper who became so obsessed with keeping the shop in order that that became all they thought about. Eventually they stopped unlocking the door because the customers were the main guilty parties in messing the shop up. They lost sight of the goal for a lesser goal.

 

A church should examine itself regularly to make sure not losing sight of goal: are we loving? Is our feeding on Word of God causing us to grow in love? If not, something is wrong: either doctrine is wrong or application is wrong, cause true gospel of Jesus Christ must transform us to become a loving people. Goal of charge to guard deposit and command false teachers to stop is love.

 

False teachers were not motivated by love for church:

 

Desiring to be teachers of the law; without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

 

They had no idea what they're teaching but wanted to be teachers. They want a following. Motive. Not love for people, love for following.

 

The goal of sound doctrine is love. But notice that love includes commanding certain persons to stop teaching false doctrine. In other words, love will fight for important truth when necessary. Love doesn't fight over every doctrinal difference - that is proud and divisive. It recognizes big swerves that will take people over the side of a mountain and will fight, commanding them to stop.

 

Love is not the same as being nice. Niceness is avoiding confrontation and never making people feel uncomfortable - Bible does not call us to "be nice". We are to love.

 

Any parent who has seen child getting too near a busy street knows this. They yell "Stop!" A parent who says, "I wish they wouldn't, but they want to and I don't want them to think I'm not nice" isn't loving.

 

Love isn't seeking to be liked, its wanting what's genuinely best for others. The Gospel is the goal in our lives.

 

The inner workings of love

 

Paul then goes on to identify where love comes from:

 

  1. pure heart

 

Gospel does its work in our hearts. God looks on heart - reality of our faith must be from inside out.

 

  1. Good conscience

 

John MacArthur describes the conscience as our "self-judging faculty". We have a clean conscience because of forgiveness and cleansing of guilt through Jesus' atonement, but good conscience means we have a good self-judging faculty. We know right from wrong. We discern well what is of God and what is not. The choice is before us, a good conscience weighs right information rightly and comes to a right conclusion.

 

Our conscience is not authority. A clean conscience and does not mean we are clean. Paul speaks of those who have "corrupt consciences" (Titus) or a "seared conscience" - in other words, through sinful choices their consciences no longer do what God intended - judge them self accurately. Love flows from a good conscience - one that is accurate by God's standards. Guard your conscience. If you've done something eats away - don't ignore or justify it, repent and receive cleansing and forgiveness.

 

  1. Sincere faith

 

Sincere means without hypocrisy, genuine, true. But in Paul's use it doesn't just mean how truly (sincerely) we believe it, but how true what we believe is: the body of truth given to us by the apostles must be held to and held to sincerely. The heretics were probably sincere men - dangerously misguided. So a sincere faith means holding to truth of scripture with a genuine, authentic faith that permeates the heart.

 

Conclusion

 

This is a solemn charge that is as true for us as it was for Timothy. We must guard against false teachers. We must cling to sound doctrine. That sound doctrine must be rigorously and graciously applied so that we grow in love. The charge is for us and we must take it seriously and seek to obey it. But we do not obey it alone. We must have, and do have, the help of the Holy Spirit.

 

By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:14)

 

Isaac Watts taught children to sing what is really a prayer:

 

Order my footsteps by the Word,

And make my heart sincere;

Let sin have no dominion, Lord

But keep my conscience clear.

 

Let's ask God for His power, the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to love sound doctrine, detect false teaching, and grow in love.

 

 

 


[1] Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation [Word, 1982], pp. 68-69

 

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