Recently, I wrote that one of the key functions of doctrine is that it divides. Because Jesus himself is the most divisive person ever to live, all doctrine that aligns with him will necessarily cause division. But that’s not all that doctrine does. Consider Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:6-16:
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching [or doctrine]. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Paul points to four truths about sound doctrine in this passage:
Sound doctrine prevents us from falling into irreverent and silly myths.
Man-centered, pop-psychology preaching that has little or nothing to do with the cross of Christ, and in fact makes a mockery of it, leads us to error. It makes us the Bible about us, which is always going to end badly. Sound doctrine will always point us back to Jesus. He is the point of Scripture. He is the Redeemer. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. If what we teach, whether in sermons, books, blogs, lectures or films, doesn’t make Him the point, then we’ve completely and utterly failed in our task.
Sound doctrine trains us in godliness.
Godliness holds promise for the present life and the life to come, says Paul. Good doctrine allows us to better understand who Jesus, and live out our lives in loving grateful response to Him as He truly is.
Sound doctrine will save you.
“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,” says Paul. The doctrine we proclaim tells others what we believe about Jesus, and if our proclamation is antithetical to Scripture, we have cause for concern. Therefore, we must keep a close watch on ourselves that we not fall into error.
Sound doctrine prevents confusion.
We are not ashamed of the hope that we have in Jesus. We need not fear that teaching sound doctrine—teaching the Scriptures—will return void. Isaiah 55:11 says, “O shall my word be that goes out from my mouth it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (emphasis added). God’s word always accomplishes God’s purposes. We need to stand in that confidence and not be afraid to proclaim the word of God!
When we fail to stress the importance of sound doctrine, when we fail to teach it, when we treat everything as “caught,” but not “taught,” where do we find ourselves?
Confusion. We find for ourselves teachers whose words are clever and sound nice, but they teach a different doctrine that does not agree with the sound words of Jesus. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).
“Preach the word,” says Paul in 2 Tim 4:2. “Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” At all times, in all places, patiently, lovingly, confidently teach sound doctrine. Remind people that doctrine matters because what we teach about Jesus makes all the difference.