“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 Tim 4:16).
How important is doctrine in the life of a Christian? What is doctrine, really? Google defines doctrine as a “belief or set of beliefs”.
As a Believer, it seems it is very important what it is you believe, and if you believe the right things or not. And as a teacher, there is a greater need to guard your doctrine, because you can only give what you have…and if what you have are lies or half-truths, you are a hindrance and a danger to those who listen to you, trusting you to guide them right. So, this exhortation from Paul to Timothy was very important for him and all of us to heed.
Our doctrine can limit our spiritual experience or open it up. Jesus said “all things are possible to him who believes!“(Mark 9:23) and “according to your faith will it be done to you” (Matt 9:29). James also concurred this when he said that anyone who asks of God “must ask in faith, without doubting” (Jam 1:6). Why, because God chooses to operate by the faith we place in His ability and His benevolence. And we know that “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6).
Our doctrine defines what we believe and what we have faith in God concerning. It is a powerful tool for spiritual warfare. We see that the shield of faith is needed to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). Our faith guards the door to our hearts, so that the devil’s lies cannot penetrate and deceive us. Without this shield, we are an easy target for deception, because we will fall for anything. And what is more, if we are in a position of leadership and are not careful, we can be used by the devil to propagate his lies!
It is especially important for leaders to watch, not only their doctrine but, their lives. The two should agree, because they are continually ministering to the people who are observing and listening to them to emulate. While we all need discernment, so that we do not emulate anything that is contrary to Christ, simply because someone we know and trust endorses such, leaders have a huge responsibility not to lay a stumbling block of error in the path of those who may follow them. So, Paul said “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Paul is recognising here that he too is capable of error, and only Christ is the standard for all to emulate.
Our doctrine and our lives are so important for us to watch and to check against error, because it can be very easy to go a mile the wrong way, without realising, if we are not constantly checking ourselves. It is so easy to do, yet so dangerous, which is why Jesus also warned His disciples to “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). Hypocrites are known for their incongruence, as their lives and doctrine do not agree.
Many people demonise the Pharisees, but they didn’t always start out that way. They were sincerely zealous at one point in time…but along the way, they lost their connection to God and religious pride took over their worship of God, and made it worthless. Sure they knew the Book of the Law inside out, and they could teach a great sermon, but Jesus said of them that they were as “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity” (Matt 23:27). What a judgment!
Today, I am sober as I reflect on these things, knowing the weight of responsibility that is upon me as a teacher, to be careful of every word I utter, and to ensure that I teach the true doctrine. I pray for God’s grace to always be humble to check myself, and to repent of error, so that after preaching, I will not find myself cast out (1 Cor 9:27). May God’s grace be with us all.
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