doctrine

1 Timothy 1

Today’s devotional reading is 1 Timothy 1.

When we read Acts 19, way back on May 24, I noted that Ephesus was an important place in the story of the New Testament. Paul spent two years there on his third missionary journey. Then, toward the end of that journey (Acts 20), he stopped nearby and called the elders of the Ephesian church so that he could speak with them and pray with them. Of course, he also wrote the New Testament book we call “Ephesians” to that church as well.

Things were not well in the church at Ephesus when Paul wrote this letter we call 1 Timothy. Paul had been released from the house arrest we read about in Acts 28 and was out planting churches again when he heard reports of false doctrine in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). He sent Timothy there to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer.” In verse 5, he said, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” These verses indicate how important good doctrine--pure doctrine--is to the health of the church. Good doctrine creates “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” which produces love in God’s people which makes the church a loving, Christ-like place. Bad doctrine, then, corrupts one’s faith and one’s “good conscience” (v. 19) which inevitably leads to problems in the church--both problems between people and moral problems within people.

Doctrine is not a popular subject in the church. Instead, churches today run on emotionalism, entertainment, and self-help. Emotions have an important place and making disciples involves helping believers deal with their problems but if that plus entertaining services is what a church is about, that church will not be able to withstand the winds of false doctrine. False doctrine hollows out a church, corrupting the pure hearts, good consciences, and sincere faith (v. 5) God called us to have as followers of Christ. So, never denigrate doctrine or underestimate its importance in your life or in the church. Instead, learn the great doctrines of our faith and let them purify your heart and strengthen your conscience. Then, as we learn and grow together in the truth, we will become a loving place.

Romans 16

Today we’re reading Romans 16.

This closing chapter of the book of Romans was quite personal. It began with Paul’s personal recommendation of Phoebe (vv. 1-2), then a long list of personal greetings (vv. 3-16). Just before his closing remarks, Paul warned the believers about “those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way” (v. 17b). The word “heretic” actually means “one who is divisive.” It has become a specialized term reserved for false teachers, but that is because of passages like this one. In verse 17c, we learn that the “divisions and obstacles” were “contrary to the teaching you have learned.” It was false doctrine that Paul was concerned about because that false doctrine would divide the body of Christ. Verse 18 told us that these false teachers would divide the church because of “their own appetites.” In other words, their doctrine was deliberately chosen and differentiated from the truth in order “to deceive the minds of naive people” for the personal profit of the teachers.

Think about that long list of personal greetings in verses 3-16 and this warning in verses 17-19. Paul had seen many churches where there was once warm fellowship and strong friendships torn apart by these false teachers. This entire letter was written to establish a doctrinal base, to teach the gospel Christ gave him to this church that had formed apart from Paul’s direct ministry. Paul wanted each person mentioned in this letter to fully understand the gospel, to believe it themselves and to welcome all--Jews and Gentiles alike--who believe it. It would be a bad, sad thing if “Ampliatus” (v. 8) pulled away from and stopped talking to “Rufus” (v. 13) because Ampliatus had departed from the gospel or because he had stopped accepting Jewish beliers as genuine Christians or because he broke fellowship over which day was the Sabbath and how that Sabbath was to be observed. A proper understanding and acceptance of the gospel, a commitment to serve rather than be served, and an understanding that Christ has accepted many who don’t hold all the same convictions about everything should unify believers, not divide them.

For us, we should recognize that truth is something to be explored and that exploration involves questions and sometimes debate. But when God’s people know what they believe and why, it should unify us rather than divide us. When others come in with different teaching, we should examine their teaching carefully but also be suspicious about their motives. Too many believers uncritically accept different teachings from some bestselling Christian author or TV personality or webpage they read. False teachers can be very persuasive; hold on to the gospel and reject everything that departs from it. The unity of Christ’s body is at stake.

2 Thessalonians 2

Today the NT17 schedule calls for us to read 2 Thessalonians 2.

Paul continued to discuss end time events in this chapter, telling the Thessalonians (and us) that “the day of the Lord” will not come until the “man of lawlessness” comes first, proclaiming himself to be God (v. 4), displaying great powers that will deceive many people into following him (vv. 9-12). Those who believe him will face God’s judgment because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10). By contrast, those who trust in Christ do so because we have been set apart by the Holy Spirit and “through belief in the truth” (v. 13). These statements remind us again how important truth is to the Christian life. While faith in Christ is a supernatural gift of God’s grace given to us when we hear the gospel through the new birth, part of that conversion process is a desire to receive the truth. This means receiving the truth about ourselves--that we are sinners deserving God’s punishment and the truth about God--that he is just and will punish sinners but also loving so that he came in the person of Christ to take away our sins.

These truths were the means God used to save us; in addition to these truths, however, God gave us a love for all of his truth. That “love” breaks down our hostility toward believing in the supernatural or in doctrines that we find difficult to accept. Since God has removed our hostility to the truth, then, Paul commands believers to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (v. 15). Doctrine is important and those who love Jesus love doctrine, too. While there are some disagreements among believers about how to interpret the scriptures in some areas, we should keep looking together at the scriptures and seeking to find the correct interpretation because we are people who love truth.

Deuteronomy 13–14, Psalms 99–101, Isaiah 41, Revelation 11

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 13–14, Psalms 99–101, Isaiah 41, Revelation 11. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Deuteronomy 13.

There was no freedom of speech in ancient Israel; however, the only banned speech was blasphemy and false doctrine. Deuteronomy 13 sets forth the regulations against false doctrine. Verses 1-5 told God’s people not to believe a false prophet, even if he performed some kind of miraculous sign (vv. 1-2a). Miraculous signs were used by God to authenticate his messengers, especially Christ himself, but they were not the measuring stick for what was true or false. Just as Pharoah’s magicians were able to do some miracles (see Ex 7:11-12 for one example), Satan can sometimes do impressive things with his supernatural powers. But God taught here in Exodus 13 that He sometimes would allow false teachers with supernatural signs and wonders to come to Israel. His purpose for allowing them was to test “you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and all your soul” (v. 3). No matter how impressive a supernatural demonstration was, God’s people were to remain obedient to his written word (v. 4). False teachers, on the other hand, were a threat to God’s people because they incited “rebellion against the Lord your God” (v. 5a). Given all that God had done delivering his people from Egypt and protecting and guiding them through the desert to the promised land, Israel should have had no problem with restricted theological speech. If you know the true God, there is no reason to dabble in false doctrine; only danger can come from that. God’s prescription, then, for false teachers was the death penalty (v. 5a). 

Not only were false prophets with impressive supernatural powers to be refused and punished in Israel, but verses 6-11 tell us that even if you have a personal connection to someone who tries to turn your heart to another god,  you should still see that they are punished (vv. 6-11). “Show them no pity,” God’s word said. “Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (v. 10). Verses 12-18 describe how to handle false teachers once Israel has been established in the land. After investigating charges of heresy in a nearby town fully (v. 14a), God’s people were to publicly and completely purge the town of it’s false doctrine, then permanently destroy that town itself for not obeying God’s commands about false doctrine (vv. 15-18).

These sections remind us how seriously God takes his word and how destructive false doctrine is to true worship. While we live in a free society and do not impose such serious penalties on false teachers as Moses commanded in this passage, we should not toy with or tolerate deviations from God’s written word. It provides the standard for what is true or false; to entertain false doctrine just because there were signs and wonders involved or loved ones involved is to tolerate that which God says is destructive. Watch carefully where you turn for spiritual information; your spiritual life (not to mention anyone living in your home under your authority) depends on holding fast to the purity of God’s word.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Leviticus 26, Psalm 33, Ecclesiastes 9, Titus 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 26, Psalm 33, Ecclesiastes 9, Titus 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Titus 1.

So much has changed in American church ministry since I began preparing for it when I was in high school. Back then, pastors were guys who wore dark suits, white shirts and ties all the time, even when going down a waterslide. While that may still be the image some people carry of a pastor today, it is by no means the only picture that comes to mind when people think of church leaders. These days a pastor might be a guy who seems a bit too stuffy or someone who seems like he’s trying too hard to be cool. 

As Paul explained to Titus what to look for in an elder, he carefully avoids a description of the man’s appearance. It is not his taste in clothes, his ability to appear somber or cool that matters to God. What matters is a man’s character; the description Paul gave in verses 5-9 focuses on the outward characteristics of a man’s life as evidence of God’s work in his life. People might be able to develop a few of these characteristics on their own but apart from the grace of God in his life, no one could consistently demonstrate these characteristics. Verse 9 of this chapter focuses on the most important aspect of a godly man’s life, the one that leads to all the character qualities that are required of him: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught….” Sometimes pastors are criticized for being too rigid, too hard-nosed about orthodoxy. We are told to be tolerant of other viewpoints and not so dogmatic about everything. While this passage cautions us about not being “overbearing,” it also says that we should “hold firmly to the trustworthy message…” That is, we do not act as if our faith and its doctrines are negotiable, fuzzy, or unclear. Instead, God calls church leaders to have a certainty about them, one that comes from deep conviction about the truthfulness of these things and their importance for the Christian life. Why is this important? “…so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Doctrine matters because it is the content of faith; it is what encourages the faithful and provides us with what we need to grow and faithfully hold on to the Lord. Conversely, there is an abundance of false doctrine and false teachers in the world. A godly, capable elder can “refute those who oppose it.” This means that the truth can be defended, when necessary. This protects the growth of God’s people from the withering damage done by falsehoods. If you’re a man and aspire to serve the Lord, look at the words of this passage often. Think about them; consider what obedience and growth in these areas should look for in you life. Then become someone who serves the Lord with deep conviction for his truth and consistent personal integrity. If you’re not interested in becoming an elder, pray for the men who lead our church that these verses will be a fairly adequate picture of our lives as we walk with the Lord daily.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.