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Do you spend much time in the kitchen? I don’t. I tend to avoid the kitchen if at all possible. In fact the wise cook makes sure that I never darken their kitchen door.
You see, I have this problem with recipes. I have a tendency to leave ingredients out. And leaving just one ingredient out of a recipe can have interesting results. The absence of a particular herb or spice, for example, can result in a dish that is still edible, but flavorless. Alternatively, the absence of a key ingredient can result in catastrophe!
When it comes to preparing a joyful, victorious, and faithful Christian life, there is one essential ingredient that is often overlooked. It’s called doctrine.
What? Doctrine? How can you say that doctrine is essential, except perhaps to a handful of antiquated theologians?
It seems that, for Christians, the word “doctrine” often evokes this kind of response. To many, doctrine has no connection to real life. It is a word belonging to humorless, black-robed preachers, or to dusty old scholars laboring in dusty old libraries.
If Christians would take the time to consider what God has to say, “doctrine” might very well become one of their favorite words!
But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
The word “doctrine” simply means teaching. Obviously, there are a great variety of teachings in the world: God’s Word speaks of the doctrine of the Pharisees, the doctrines of men, and even the doctrines of devils. Obviously, not all doctrines are to be obeyed! (See Romans 16:17; I Timothy 6:3–5)
However, the doctrine which was delivered to the believers at Rome was of a different sort. It was the doctrine, the teaching, regarding what God has done for man through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Thus, it is referred to as the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, and often simply “the doctrine”.
Where is this doctrine found? In the Scriptures.
II Timothy 3:16, 17
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
The words “perfect” and “throughly furnished” in verse seventeen are forms of the same Greek word meaning to be prepared, equipped, or supplied. Herein lies the great, neglected truth regarding doctrine: if we, as Christians are to do works, live lives, and bear fruit which God deems “good,” doctrine is a prerequisite.
What a vital revelation! This explains, among other things, why the essential, foundational epistles of Romans and Ephesians begin not with a list of activities, but rather with a detailed examination of what God has done in Christ. Then, and only then, does God say “therefore [consequently, in light of this, these things being so] … present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) and “… walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Ephesians 4:1).
The reason doctrine must precede practice should be obvious. Until we know who God now is to us, who we now are in Christ, and what He has called us to be in the world, how can we possibly live a life that is pleasing to Him?
Thus, doctrine is primary. This has been true since the earliest days of the church.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
As many have noted, the church of the First Century was commonly engaged in many activities which are far from common in today’s church. Today, many reverent Christians admire and endeavor to emulate the splendid example of these early believers, and so should we all. However, we must not fail to recognize that this list of exploits is initiated by one simple fact: “they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.” For some, learning doctrine, let alone continuing steadfastly in it, seems unnecessary, or at best inconvenient. We want to get busy.
We want to get busy praising and worshipping God. But without doctrine, do we know the One whom we are praising?
We want to get busy producing miracles and healings. But without doctrine, to whose glory and to what outcome will all this power lead?
We want to get busy building our churches. But without doctrine, how can we possibly know where, how, or with what tools we are to build?
Doctrine roots us in what God has done, thus our subsequent works spring from His supply, bear His fruit, and point to His glory. This is essential, and continues to be essential, not simply for the “novice,” but for all Christians who aspire to lives that reflect Christ in this world.
And yes, doctrine is not only necessary for the elders in the church, but if anything, it’s even more necessary!
I Timothy 4:16
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.
In other places, Timothy is referred to as faithful (I Corinthians 4:17), as a man of God (I Timothy 6:11), and as likeminded with the Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:20). One would think that Timothy, by now, had “graduated” from doctrine. Or perhaps that, since he was engaged in such a vital work, he had little time for doctrine.
On the contrary, Timothy needed to have a living, growing relationship with doctrine because of his great responsibilities. Indeed, when the riches of this doctrine truly live in a man or woman, it is these very riches which enable us to not only “save ourselves” but have plenty left over for “them that hear thee.”
If this was vital for Timothy, it is no less vital for us. If we are to live in Christ and for Christ, shouldn’t we pay at least as much attention to learning from God as we do to running for Him? Perhaps we would all be well served by taking heed to ourselves, and to the doctrine.
TO BE CONTINUED…
For Part II, click here.