I Timothy 4: 16
Take Heed to Yourself and to the Doctrine

January 10, 1999

Here is a verse that has great relevance to all of us. At the outset you will have to understand that the NIV that many of you are carrying is a paraphrase that falls flat on its face even though it includes all the material in the verse. Here and in other places it reminds one of classic English prose translated in the vernacular of corporate inter-office memos. Very memorably the text tersely and beautifully says "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine." The RSV which I earlier read for you changes the time honored translation of the word as "doctrine" to "teaching" and adds gratuitously, "YOUR teaching," but it hurts the broader meaning. It is "THE doctrine," or "THE teaching" -- if you will, the truth of the Christian Faith. I prefer doctrine to teaching, for it probably is not necessarily Timothy's Bible study for next Sunday -- telling him to spend a lot of time on it -- but it is about the truth he had received from the Apostles (which, of course included attention to his next Sunday's sermon). 

In short, it is only 5 words in the Greek text (and two of them are a conjunction and an article). It is an aphorism of great profundity. I commend it to you: "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine." As such, it has relevance not only to people who teach but to every person in the Christian community. 


    1. It has often been used as an exhortation to ministers or a sermon text at ordination ceremonies. It has special relevance to the teachers of this church-- who teach classes on Sunday morning and the elders who are in charge of its teaching. It has special relevance to those who bring the sermons. 

    2. One of the great vices in Christianity has always been a carelessness about either half of this aphorism --the person or the doctrine. Teachers, and what we call ministers --who are really teaching elders, often are drawn into that calling because they are intellectually stimulated by the delights of academic theology and by the delights of serious Bible study. The woods are full of ministers who really wish they could have been academic scholars. They are people who want to make the church into a theological seminary. They are the people who want to make the church into a theological seminary and they forget that their own Christian lives are an equally important matter for attention. . 

    3. But there is need in Biblical Christianity for emphasis on the practical life of the individual: Personal godliness, prayer, growth in grace, fellowship with other Christians, personal witness, service to people in need. It is an area that has equal demand on the person who would do the work of God along with the doctrinal and Biblical-knowledge aspects of Christianity. You may know of some glaring examples of the violation of this principle: ministers who presume to teach but need to be taught; Teachers in the church who violate Gregory's first of the 7 laws of teaching ("The teacher must know that which he would teach."); Ministers who live an inconsistent or even an ungodly lifestyle; Ministers and church teachers who are not growing in their discipline and walk with the Lord but who are philosophers who epitomize "Do as I say; not as I do." The ministry is a very peculiar occupation where one has to know how to do the job AND maintain a blameless lifestyle and where both are equally important and demanding. 

    If we have any here who would go into the ministry as dozens of our former congregations have done, I urge you to look at your motives and at the evidence of your calling of God into this profession and to consider that your life as well as your theology is going to be a major responsibility. 

    And I urge the elders of this church and the long time members who intend to be here for a long time to give thought to this in regard to future teacher, elders and preachers. Take heed to their lives AND to their doctrine! I regret to say that in the past we have not always done this. 

    4. The curious phrase that follows in the last half of v. 16 shows the outcome of this twofold taking-heed on the part of those who would preach and teach the truth of God: "Remain in them", the text says. Persevere in this two-fold "taking heed" is the thought. "For by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." It has been thought to be an embarrassment to those of us on this side of the Reformation who understand the Book of Romans and its definitive treatment of regeneration as an absolute, accomplished fact when a person truly trusts Christ. This use of "save" "You shall save both yourself and your hearers," is an example of the non-technical use of the term to describe any work of God in the believer ranging from regeneration to sanctification, to glorification. 

    This conflicts with the simplistic American custom of referring to regeneration and justification exclusively as "being saved," presumably what is intended by all the home-made signs nailed on old country barns and painted on rocks in public parks. The Bible uses the term in a much more general way. Here its use amounts to sanctification and in some instances regeneration. Certainly in Timothy's case Paul was referring to sanctification: "You will save yourself", and in his audience's case he may be referring mostly to sanctification but in many cases, especially of outsiders coming under the sound of his ministry, it might have implied regeneration. 

    The point is this: If you want to be effective as a teacher in God's church, give attention to your own Christian life as well as to the doctrine--the content of what you teach and preach. And in any form of Christian service or even Christian witness it is true! The true truth that you teach, the true Gospel that you share and the godliness of your Christian life will be used by God to be effective in his kingdom work. Let us regularly pray for one another in this. 

    1. It is a significant Biblical principle that doctrine and the godly life; truth and behavior are equally important in the context of the Christian life. The Pharisees of the N.T. were the objects of the Lord's scorn because they were so inconsistent in what they said with what they actually did (although it must be noted that their doctrine was pretty messed up too even though, on the surface, it purported to be Biblical). You cannot isolate either one of these: Truth or Personal behavior as being exclusively important: "Take heed to yourself AND to the doctrine." While one cannot be enthused about the high quality of Christian behavior in present-day believing-Christianity, he is even less impressed with the quality and depth of the truth, knowledge of the Bible and theology of the average Joe Christian in the average evangelical church. They aren't as bad as the medieval people with their paganized religion and superstitious practice and naive Biblical understanding, but how sad is their example in the light of the people we meet in the book of Acts and see glimpses of in the letters. 

    2. In some few ways our little church is an alternative church to the average evangelical church. Would to God that it might be an alternative in these two ways: personal godliness and the doctrine. How wonderful it would be if our people would crowd into classes where they could learn more about the faith and ask for personal instruction for the gaps in their knowledge of the truth. How wonderful it would be if all of us more and more sought after what Paul means here when he talks about "saved," -- seeking after a godly life that seeks to do God's bidding in service, in giving, in witness, in helping the brotherhood, in being "Christ" in other people's lives. 

    3. This is not a matter of humans bringing about sanctification by their own efforts. This twofold emphasis "yourself and the doctrine" will be a catalyst to God the Holy Spirit's bringing about his saving (to use Paul's word) sanctification in our lives that have been previously regenerated. None of these people in N.T. times had a personal Bible. What we call a "book" - a "codex"- had not even been invented yet. Almost no private person had a scroll. That's why in v.13 Paul tells Timothy to give attention to public reading. And those poor people mentally devoured those public readings and throughout the next 6 days would meditate upon them and discuss them and apply them to their lives. 

    Do you, who are so much less burdened down with duties than they were and who have the Word in a convenient form, give attention to the doctrine? And is improving your knowledge of God's truth a serious aim in your life? Do you care about truth, what Fran Schaeffer used to call "true truth"? Do you pause before the Lord in your day to "Take heed to yourself?" Do your examine your life and then follow that up, not with apathy or utter discouragement but, with an earnest prayer that God would help you to remedy your failings and revitalize your pursuance of the Christian life? Let us all seek to take advantage of God's means of grace in this matter and let us pray that beginning in our individual cases and going throughout all our church we will increasingly "Take heed to ourselves and to the doctrine." 

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