Thursday, April 30, 2015

Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely

1 Timothy 4
12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

Geesh. Talk about a serious charge. The more I familiarize myself with Paul, the more I can understand his heart. I've been reading Philemon over and over this month and I'm just blown away by it. It's only 1 chapter but it's profoundly moving. I encourage you to read it a few times and really study each word. Paul is just pouring his heart out to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. My eyes water up when I read it because I can just feel Paul's passionate pleas to Philemon. 
18 But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account;19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it...
Ugghh. How can you read that and not be moved? Can you imagine reading that if you're Onesimus and Paul is saying this on behalf of you? Yet we all have a letter like that written about us, don't we? Is that not the very good news of Jesus Christ? Is He not offering to have our sins put onto His account? Is there any doubt in your mind that Paul has the gospel in mind when he wrote this? Incredible. 

I said all that just to establish that Paul is always pouring his heart out. He loves his recipients. He labors for them. So it would be wise for us to take seriously everything he says because we know how much he cares. 

The specific verse from 1 Timothy I really want to hone in on is the last one. I want to pay particular attention to the order in which the exhortations are listed. Pay close attention to yourself/your life and then he says your teaching/doctrine. 

Why is that significant? Because an unholy teacher of God's holy word is going to really, really struggle to be effective. We'll first struggle to be effective because the more sin we have in our lives the harder it is for us to want to dig deeply into the word and the harder it is for us to rightly divide it. Sin is the greatest barrier between right understanding and wrong understanding. Sin influences how we think so much that it can and does change how we interpret the Bible. That's why we must be diligent to eradicate sin from our lives.

The second reason we will struggle to be effective teachers if we don't watch our lives closely is because other people will be watching our lives closely. 

Ain't that the truth?
Just the other day at work I had a guy tell me he had no interest in religion. He took into account the way I was acting that day (I was grumpy and complaining) and then looked at what I profess to believe (I'm open about my faith) and said that since my religion and dogma couldn't help me not be grumpy that it wasn't useful to him. 

Now I realize he was being unrealistic and reaching for an excuse (I discussed that with him) but it made me realize instantaneously that I need to watch my life closely. I can have the purest doctrine imaginable but if my life isn't matching up? I'll lose credibility. 

That's just the reality of the situation. I understand people aren't saved by watching me. But are we so naive as to think that carefully watching our behavior won't help in keeping someone's attention? Don't we stand a better chance at being effective to other believers (who are presumably more gracious and patient) if we are as passionate about pure living as we are pure doctrine? 

Do you know how hard it is for me to not emphasize sound doctrine??? This post is beating me up. 

1 Peter 3
13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

That's what I want. I want someone to revile me for doing good. I want someone to dislike me for doing a good work. I don't want someone to dislike me for being a grumpy coworker. Why? Because that's a legit reason to not like someone! 
The Bible itself is, as my father has put it, a learn and then live book. We are to learn what it says about God, man and sin and then live it out. We aren't to live life and then learn what the Bible says or then trust what it says. (This is the heart of presuppositional apologetics by the way.) In this way we apply that concept to what Paul told Timothy to do:

  • The Bible is the authority on morality
  • Timothy would therefore consult the Bible to make certain he was living as a Christian should
  • The primary application of the Bible in Timothy's life would be to how he lives
  • The secondary application of the Bible in Timothy's life would be what he teaches 

Are both extremely important for a teacher? Absolutely.
The qualification for elder isn't that a man only be a good teacher but that a man MUST be above reproach. If you're morally disqualified from teaching, then you cannot teach. If you are not allowed to teach then you have squandered the gift you've been given. That's why watching our life comes before watching our doctrine.

If you're not constantly examining yourself, then you may end up disqualified or so morally bankrupt that no one will listen to you even though you're saying true things. No one wants to listen to a hypocrite. Are you going to willingly be lectured about the environment by someone who flies around on private jets? No. Are you going to listen to someone tell you about Christ who lives nothing like Christ? No.

The Bible is the authority both on how we live and on how we teach. We need a right understanding of Scripture to live rightly. And we need to live rightly if we want to teach. A right understanding of Scripture is essential to Godly living and Godly teaching. There's no separating the two for a teacher. He must live right in order to teach. Why? Because that's what a proper understanding of Scripture teaches! Is that circular reasoning or profoundly simplistic? 

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