Watch Your Life and Doctrine: Pastoral Reflections on 1 Timothy 4:16
The latest issue of Credo Magazine focuses on the topic of holiness. The following is an excerpt from Timothy Raymond’s article, Watch Your Life and Doctrine: Pastoral Reflections on 1 Timothy 4:16. Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.
In this essay, I intend to reflect on what Paul meant by the term doctrine in 1 Timothy 4:16, and why properly defining this single word is vital for pastoral ministry. I’ll conclude with some brief suggestions for more fully obeying this command. I write as a pastor primarily to other pastors (and prospective pastors) in the hopes of somehow preventing other ministers of the Word from disqualifying themselves.
We should begin by reflecting on what Paul means by the term “doctrine.” When most Christians today hear the term doctrine, they think of truth statements about the character of God, the nature of Scripture, the person and work of Christ, and so forth, designed to be affirmed or denied. They may think of something such as the venerable New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith of 1833. With this understanding of the term doctrine, many assume that if a man is able to heartily affirm an orthodox confession of faith, he is watching his doctrine closely. And consequently, if an otherwise orthodox pastor fails morally, it obviously had nothing to do with his doctrine.
While in no way denying the importance of formal doctrinal statements, I’m fairly convinced that Paul intends vastly more than this when he charges pastors to carefully watch their doctrine. While watching one’s doctrine cannot include less than confessing an orthodox confession, it must include far, far more than merely that.
This conclusion is obvious from how Paul uses the term “doctrine” (διδασκαλίᾳ; often translated “teaching”) throughout the Pastoral Epistles. For Paul, Christian doctrine isn’t merely to be affirmed or denied, but it somehow produces godliness (1 Tim. 6:3). Doctrine is paralleled with the “name of God” such that to revile the one is to revile the other (1 Tim. 6:1). Our flesh is naturally repelled by true doctrine and attracted to the false (2 Tim. 4:3ff.). Properly teaching and embracing Christian doctrine results in the Word of God being protected from unbelieving slander (Titus 2:5), skeptics becoming ashamed of their skepticism (Titus 2:8), and non-Christians being attracted to the gospel (Titus 2:10). Perhaps most vitally, being careless with doctrine may result in the damnation of not only the pastor’s congregation but the pastor himself (1 Tim 4:16b)! Being careless with doctrine may result in the damnation of not only the pastor’s congregation but the pastor himself (1 Tim 4:16b). Click To Tweet
When we consider the passages wherein Paul enumerates “sound doctrine” or “healthy doctrine,” we discover something surprising. Instead of listing off truth statements to be affirmed, Paul almost universally emphasizes practical godliness. Behaviors such as sexual immorality, homosexuality, and deception are all doctrinal failures (1 Tim. 1:10). When employees work with integrity and respect their bosses, they are exalting Christian doctrine (1 Tim 6:1; Titus 2:10). And immediately after commanding Titus to teach “sound doctrine,” Paul doesn’t proceed to list off anything resembling a doctrinal statement (what we would likely associate with the idea of teaching sound doctrine), but what is commonly known as a household-code, directions for how older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and servants should function within society (Titus 2:1–10). Perhaps this is why Paul warns in Titus 1:11 that bad doctrine destroys families.