Watch Your Life and Doctrine

May 4, 2008 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Life in the Local Church

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:11–4:16

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Watch Your Life and Your Doctrine

 

1 Tim. 4:11-16

 

For our guests we are in a series in the book of first Timothy. This letter is written by a seasoned minister - the apostle Paul - to a young minister, Timothy, who has been left in Ephesus to pastor the church there, a church that was facing some significant difficulties. The passage we are looking at this morning, more directly than any of the other passages, speaks to Timothy as a pastor.

 

And so this passage takes on special weight to those called to Christian leadership. If any of our men here have a question about whether there is a call on your life to pastoral ministry, please pay special attention. I want to pay special attention to what God says to us in this passage. This passage speaks to me. And you.

 

But it is not exclusively for pastors. It is good, godly counsel for every Christian and has much to say to every Christian. And that is how I am going to preach this passage this morning.

 

These verses are a series of commands. Depending on how you break them up, 10-12 commands in these 6 verses. But this isn't a buckshot passage - all these commands combine to bring weight of one sober charge to Timothy. That charge is summed up in verse 16:

 

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

 

I.                  Keep a close watch...

 

Timothy, keep a close watch on these two things: your life and your doctrine - pay attention to them Timothy. Don't neglect them.

 

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. It was a reminder of that day when Timothy was installed by Paul and others by the laying on of hands. Timothy isn't a pastor because of his own call, but because of the call and gifting of the Holy Spirit as confirmed by other leaders around him.

 

God has given the gift by the Holy Spirit, but Timothy is responsible for cultivating and developing that gift - not neglecting it. All of these verses call Timothy to pay attention to God's call on his life as expressed through his doctrine and his life. 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 paints a graphic picture of neglect:

 

Proverbs 24:30-34 (ESV)  

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,

31and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles,

and its stone wall was broken down. 32Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. 33A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, 34and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

This man walks by the property of a lazy man - a neglectful man. He observes that his field is overgrown, his vineyard is covered with thorns, the stone wall is broken down. It's the picture of a man whose life is falling apart - not from blunt force trauma, but simply from the passing of time.

 

Pastoral application:  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.

 

II.               Keep a close watch on yourself...

 

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.

 

The pastor of the small Assembly of God church closed the Wednesday night service in prayer. He had taught and preached truth from the Bible and then socialized with people as one by one they left for the evening. Finally he climbed into his car and drove out of the parking lot - but he didn't turn in the direction of his home. He turned in the opposite direction. What he didn't know was that two of his elders followed him, two men who had recently become concerned about him and suspicious that he was not going home after the services.

 

He parked in a rest stop off the highway where gay men were known to stop to meet other men. Driving up behind him, his elders confronted him and in a moment his ministry, his family and his reputation were blown sky high.

 

This true story of a pastor I knew is an illustration of someone who was more careful about his teaching than he was about his life. Somewhere along the line, he stopped watching his life.

 

Now, his sin is not the sin most of us will battle. But there are other roads we can turn on - roads that lead our lives away from the Bible truths we may know so well. 

 

  • We hear a message on purity and go home and fill eyes and minds with impure images on Internet - we've turned our lives in the wrong direction
  • We hear a message on being gentle and blow up in a rage on the way home - we've turned our lives in wrong
  • We hear a message on forgiveness and hold bitterness against our spouse or someone else - we've turned.
  • We hear a message on paying attention to lives, and neglect our lives as soon as we drive away.

 

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.

 

a.      Watch your devotion

 

Paul calls Timothy to devote himself to these things. Devote yourself to public reading of Scripture.

Practice these things (apply them), devote yourself to them.

 

Literally, "be in these things" - give yourself to them completely. As my dad used to say, "put your heart

in it!" It's easy to become familiar with God's Word so that it fills our heads but doesn't affect our hearts anymore.

 

This is where the battle is most often for me. I am pretty consistent in having quiet time in the morning. And because I'm a pastor who needs to preach a message most Sundays, I study the Bible every week too. I might consistently open my Bible (and that's a good thing) but Paul would ask a further question: am I opening my heart to God's Word? Is my heart in it? Am I allowing God's Word to stir my affections and love for God?

 

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 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.

b.      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. There are those who do that today. I have met people who think you need to be over 40 to be an effective pastor. Tell that to Spurgeon who became the pastor of a church of 450 people at age 16.

 

My appeal to young people is this: don't buy into those low expectations for your life! In their book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations, Alex and Brett Harris open with these words to teenagers:

 

Most people don't expect you to understand what we're going to tell you in this book. And even if you understand, they don't expect you to care. And even if you care, they don't expect you to do anything about it. And even if you do something about it, they don't expect it to last. Well, we do. (p. 3)

 

We do too. And Paul does too - notice he 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 are few things that bother me more than when I hear bad reports about Christian workers or Christian owned companies. Now, of course, there can be misunderstandings and even slanderous things said about Christian workers that may not be true. But when a Christian works, they should be the hardest worker, the most honest employee or employer, the most cheerful and gracious person, the most Christ-like speech, the purest person on the job! A Christian should set an example in their work.

 

The same is true of Christian leaders. When you grow closer to a leader and get to know his life more, do you grow in respect or grow disillusioned? I've talked to people who have been involved in the inner workings of a particular church only to leave disillusioned and disappointed at what they saw. This should not be.

 

If you do aspire to leadership, 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.

 

c.       Watch your progress

 

Practice these things; devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. (vs 15)

 

We're not talking about perfection, we're talking about progress. Progress means moving from here to there. It means advancing. People will not see perfection in our lives in any area - but if they're watching they should see progress. If we are stationary in our growth in God, something is wrong. Our devotion and our example should progress to higher heights.

 

III.           Keep a close watch...on the teaching

 

We are also 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 be so.

 

Command and teach these things (vs 11)

Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (vs 13)

 

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 writings of apostles), then exhort from it - much like today's practice of reading God's Word and then preaching a sermon.

 

Col 3:16 gives this instruction: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly...

 

The Word of Christ is to dwell in God's people richly. It is to speak with authority into our lives - the very authority of God. Command...these things.

 

Keeping watch on our doctrine must always keep us close to Christ and His finished work on the cross. The temptation of the church 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. Several weeks ago I quoted JI Packer's insightful statement that "The preacher's commission is to declare the whole counsel of God; but the cross is the center of that counsel, and the Puritans knew that the traveler through the Bible landscape misses his way as soon as he loses sight of the hill called Calvary."

 

The high point of God's redemptive work - the summit of our redemption - is that hill called Calvary - and every scripture and message should have a sighting of Calvary.

 

CJ Mahaney writes to pastors, Your congregation should experience the amazing and comforting sight of the crucified Savior each and every time you preach. They should anticipate the sight of Calvary in every sermon and rejoice when it comes into view, and all the more when the cross is not immediately obvious in the text. "Where is the hill?" they should be asking. "Where is that blessed hill on which our precious Savior died?"[1]

 

I hope you will be asking that question: where is the hill? Keeping watch over doctrine will always mean looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2).

 

IV.              The promise of persistence: salvation

 

There is a promise at the end of this command: if we persist in watching these things we will save both...Not that anyone can save themselves let alone save anyone else. 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. If Christ be lifted up He will draw all men unto Himself. We are to lift Christ up - point people's eyes to that hill. With our doctrine, but also with our lives. We are to be His witnesses.

 

I'll close with quote I came upon last night - it summed up the promise in this verse well. JI Packer is addressing the movement away from the old gospel truths to new, watered down versions of the gospel - we are not going to get into that issue this morning. But what he says is helpful to us:

 

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. [2]

 

Let's pray.

 

Application questions

 

  1. What are you devoted to? Is your heart in the things of God? Ask God to stir up your heart and devote yourself with renewed devotion to the Lord.
  2. Is there something you need to plan to neglect in order to pay attention to important things of your life and doctrine? It might well be the same thing the Lord spoke to heart last week and wants to reinforce that commitment - it's not as though it's going to be a new thing every week.
  3. And to borrow from last week: Just do it.

 


[1] Preaching The Cross, Chapter 6, pg. 133

[2] JI Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood, pg 139

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