As I’ve been studying the pastoral epistles, I keep being impressed with just how often Paul stresses the importance of doctrine to the two young men that he is mentoring. In an age where so many preachers want to give inspirational sermons, I feel like the emphasis on doctrine in these books is extremely relevant for us today.
In the New Testament the most common Greek word for doctrine is διδασκαλία (didaskalia), which means teaching. As preachers, we need to understand that the biggest part of our ministry will be teaching God’s people. Jesus was described as a Teacher and frequently spoke doctrine/teaching (e.g., Mark 4:2). One of the five-fold ministries is “teaching” (Eph4:11, 1Cor12:28). The church at Antioch, one of the strongest evangelistic centers of early Christianity, was known for having “certain prophets and teachers.” Teaching is a vital part of apostolic ministry, and Paul told Timothy twice that a preacher must be “apt to teach” (1Tim3:2, 2Tim2:24).
I will take solid teaching and doctrinal preaching over inspirational fluff 100% of the time. As preachers, if we can’t inspire the saints by preaching doctrine and teaching the word—we don’t dare try to inspire them without it!
When we are tempted to be (only) inspirational instead of doctrinal, we should remember that inspiration might make us feel good but doctrine can save our lives! Paul told Timothy
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.
Paul told Timothy to attend to (to pay careful attention to) himself and to the doctrine. As a preacher, I must pay attention to my own life when I try to teach others. Good doctrine can lead people out of a life of sin. But when I do that, I must consider myself, lest I also be tempted (Gal6:1). “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1Cor10:12). When I teach people about the doctrine of prayer, have I been praying like I ought? When I teach people about the importance of reading their Bible, have I been studying and memorizing like I ought? Before we think about doctrine—before we think about teaching anyone else—we should “take heed” to ourselves.
But we must also pay careful attention to the doctrine. Not every doctrine comes from God. Paul told Timothy “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1Tim4:1). We are filled with the Holy Spirit, but not every spirit is holy. We must test the spirits to see whether or not they are from God (1John4:1). Some spirits are not pure, but are diabolically seductive, like the spirit of Jezebel (Rev2:18-20ff). When we begin to teach, it is IMPERATIVE that the Spirit motivate our teaching. If our teaching is not motivated by the Spirit of God, it is motivated by a devil. No questions asked.
As a side note, I find it interesting that Paul warned Timothy about “seducing spirits and doctrines of devils;” because Paul also warned the Ephesian church—the church that Timothy pastored—to “henceforth be no more children…carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (4:14). There are many winds of doctrines, unstable and changing teachings, in our Christian world today. As Christians, and especially as ministers, we must have the spiritual maturity (“be no more children”) to recognize which doctrines/teachings come from God and which ones come from deceiving spirits and deceiving men.
If we will “take heed,” or pay careful attention, to Bible doctrine, we have the potential to save ourselves and others. We can lift them out of sin and false doctrine alike, and establish them in the truth. I want to challenge my fellow ministers. Our passion should be saving souls, not pulpiteering. If we really want to save souls and not just tickle ears, we should be speaking doctrine every time we stand to preach. Tell them about repentance. Tell them about water and Spirit baptism. Tell them about the soon return of Christ. Tell them about faith and sanctification and the oneness of the Godhead.
Those doctrines are not old hat. That gospel saved us, and it will continue to save others until Jesus comes back. If teaching about the Godhead, or teaching about the blood of Jesus doesn’t excite you, you need to get to an altar and pray! Paul’s words to these two young ministers has challenged me, and I hope it has challenged you. As ministers, let’s preach doctrine every chance we get. As listeners, let’s be glad to hear foundational teaching, no matter how many times we have heard it before. If we will pay attention to those teachings, they will save us and anyone else who listens.