In last week’s post, I highlighted and stressed the absolute necessity of doctrine in relation to the Christian faith and life. Every Christian has a responsibility to study the deep things of God in order to gain a more solid foundation for his faith. The reason many Christians are so shallow and unstable is because they have not taken the time to sink their spiritual roots deep into the Word of God and all that He has revealed to us through His Son Jesus Christ. It is thus not surprising that many of such Christians are easily carried away by every wind of doctrine. This is a great tragedy that has plagued many churches across the country. We need to pray for the awakening of holy desires for the deep things of God in our churches by the work of the His Holy Spirit.
This week, I would like to address the need for pastors to diligently study the Scriptures and Christian doctrine in order to feed their own souls and the souls of the people whom God has put under their charge. Every pastor must discipline himself to diligently study Christian doctrine not only for academic purposes but rather for ministerial purposes – in other words for the sake of his own soul and the souls of those entrusted to him. The best thing that any pastor can do for himself and his congregation is to diligently pursue and strive for purity of doctrine and purity of conduct (character). These two things are absolutely indispensable and inseparable in a faithful pastoral ministry. Purity of doctrine (doctrinal purity) is the basis for purity of conduct (moral purity). Moral purity flows from doctrinal purity. If you believe the right things you (by way of consequence) will do the right thing. We must always start with doctrine. Doctrinal soundness always precedes moral uprightness.
The apostle Paul, admonished Timothy his young protégé with these words, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching (doctrine). Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16 – the words in parenthesis mine). That’s how important purity of doctrine and purity of life are! Paul says to Timothy, “…by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” This does not mean that pastors or preachers have the power to save anyone in and of themselves. Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). Rather, it means that the Lord God has chosen to use preachers to save His people because “faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). God is pleased to save the lost through what the Bible calls “the foolishness of what is preached” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
God has appointed pastors to serve as instruments in His hands for the salvation of sinners and for the sanctification of the saints. This is surely a very high calling. No wonder James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). God has entrusted to pastors His Word which is a means of condemnation to some and a means of salvation to others. What an awesome responsibility! The Apostle Paul reflecting on this very thing writes in 2 Corinthians 2, “For we are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life…” (vv. 15-16a). Then he asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (verse 16b). And of course the answer is “No one! Except of course, by the grace of God!” However, the Apostle Paul goes on to say in verse 17, “…We are not, like so many peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”
Tragically, there are many pastors today who are peddling and trifling with the Word of God to their own and their congregation’s loss and detriment. These pastors have not cultivated the discipline of prayerful, careful and diligent study of God’s Word for the growth and nourishment of their own souls and for the benefit of the people to whom they preach week after week. What a tragedy!
To my fellow pastors, I would like to offer this humble exhortation from the Apostle Paul, “Study to show yourself approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Do your best and depend on the grace of God to help you in this area.
In closing, I would like to offer three suggestions of where you can begin to cultivate the discipline of prayerful, careful and diligence study of Christian doctrine in your own life and ministry:
1. Begin with a prayerful and careful study of the Bible – saturate your heart and mind with the Word of God and go deep with Him.
2. Study Systematic Theology – you can find a lot of helpful resources online for free. You can start with this website: http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Systematic-Theology/
3. Listen to doctrinally sound preachers and learn from them – I recommend the following:
a. John Piper: www.desiringgod.org
b. R. C. Sproul: www.ligonier.org
c. Alistair Begg: www.truthforlife.org
If you are not a pastor, I encourage you to share this with your pastor(s) and pray for them as they carry out the formidable task of preaching God’s Word in your congregation. Do not despise them – empathize with them and pray for God’s grace to help them grow and develop a strong appetite for doctrinal faithfulness to the glory of God, the honor of His Word and the good of His Church.
“Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q & A 35).
“And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:11-14).