“Doctrine” is a dirty word to many people today. Many think we don’t need it. Some go further and see it as a negative influence upon personal spirituality, evangelistic witness, and souls being saved. The Apostle Paul did not see it that way.
Quite the reverse. He saw doctrine as inseparably connected with life. In the fourth chapter of his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle demonstrated how doctrine was essential for life. In verse after verse he warns against the baleful effects of false doctrine and the life-giving power of true doctrine (1 Timothy 4: 1-2, 3, 6, 7, 11, 13, 16).
Doctrine Is Vital For Spirituality
In the context of these wider calls to doctrinal fidelity, Paul calls Timothy to be an example, a pattern, to other believers (v. 12). He clearly sees that the one leads to the other; doctrine leads to exemplary spirituality and maturity.
He lists three areas of outward spirituality (word, conduct, and love) and three of inward spirituality (spirit, faith, and purity), none of which can be accomplished without doctrinal input. For example, how can you be an example in word, if you don’t first take in God’s Word? How can you be an example in faith, if you don’t know what to believe, and so on.
Doctrine is Vital For Witness
In verses 13-15, Paul urges Timothy to give consant attention to the reading of Scripture, the practical application of Scripture, and the catechetical teaching of Scripture (v. 13). Timothy is to be totally Word-centered, meditating on it and giving himself completely to it.
Why? Why such a focus on the truth?
“That your progress may be evident to all” (v. 15).
Again Paul twins doctrine with life, especially with the power of Timothy’s witness. The word for “progress” here describes a pioneer cutting a swathe through a forest to allow an army to advance behind him. By faithful study and teaching of Christian doctrine, Timothy would blaze a trail for others to follow.
Doctrine Is Vital For Salvation
If you thought the Apostle was overstating his case for doctrine by seeing it as indispensable to spirituality and evangelistic effectiveness, he now goes even further and says to Timothy that if he pays careful and constant attention to doctrine “you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (v. 16).
Timothy will save himself and others?
Has Paul forgotten he’s a Calvinist?
Not at all. Listen to Calvin on this passage:
It is indeed true that it is God alone who saves and not even the smallest part of His glory can rightly be transferred to men. But God’s glory is in no way diminished by His using the labor of men in bestowing salvation. This our salvation is the gift of God, since it comes from Him alone and is effected only by His power, so that He alone is its Author. But that does not exclude the ministry of men, nor does it deny that ministry may be the means of salvation, for it is that ministry that the welfare of the church depends…. As the unfaithfulness of the careless pastor is ruinous to the church, so the cause of salvation is justly ascribed to his faithfulness and diligence
To put it briefly and bluntly, the salvation of men and women (from sin, error, ignorance, and fads) depends on the faithful devotion of Christian ministers.
Although it’s tempting to think that there are quicker and easier ways to spirituality, effective witnessing, and even the saving of souls, the Apostle here erects a large warning sign, “No Shortcuts.” Doctrine doesn’t kill; it gives life.
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.