Sound Doctrine Or Felt Needs?
Rev. Bryn MacPhail
There is a basic question that we should all ask ourselves from time to time: Why do we go to church? Do we go to church for Christian fellowship? Do we go because we like the music? Do we go because of our children? Do we go to improve ourselves as human beings? Why do we go to church?
The apostle Paul predicts our flawed motives in chapter 2, when he says that “in the last days dangerous seasons will come ” and people will become “lovers of self “, loving pleasure rather than loving God(2:1, 2, 4). Paul also predicts in chapter 3, verses 3 and 4 that, “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn aside to myths “. Paul predicts there will be a time when people go to church , not to glorify God, but rather, they will go to church to satisfy themselves.
The “dangerous seasons ” Paul predicted is, unfortunately, the reality we live in. The focus, unfortunately, has shifted away from God’s glory and God’s kingdom to the ‘felt needs’ of the individual church members. People come to church in 1999 armed with the question, ‘What’s in it for me ?’. And when people stop attending a church, the answer often given is, ‘I wasn’t getting anything out of it’. How is it that, over the last 2000 years, church has become about us rather than about God?
The primary reason we gather at church on Sunday is to learn about God and to grow closer to Him . Everything else is secondary. Knowing Christ, becoming like Christ, is what we are here for. These are the goals of sound doctrine . Sound doctrine aims to correct our faulty beliefs about God, and it aims to shape our character to be like Christ. If sound doctrine is so vital to the life of a church, what is it that produces sound doctrine?
Faithfulness to God’s Word produces sound doctrine. Sound doctrine produces mature Christians. Mature Christians fulfill the ministry God has called us to . This is what we learn from Paul’s final set of exhortations to Timothy in the first 5 verses of chapter 4.
Paul begins this section with a “solemn charge ” to Timothy. Your pew Bibles render the Greek to read “solemnly urge “, but this does not effectively communicate the forcefulness of the original Greek. The instruction Paul gives Timothy here is, by no means, optional. Paul is issuing a forceful directive to Timothy, and also to us: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word “(v.1, 2a).
In previous chapters, Paul exhorted Timothy to become one who could “handle accurately ” God’s Word(2:15). Paul also sought to inspire confidence in Timothy by reminding him that “All Scripture is God-breathed “(3:16). And now, Paul concludes his exhortation with the simple command: “preach the Word “. This is to say that sermons must be expositions of the Bible, not expressions of the preacher’s opinions. This is to say that when you share your faith with non-Christians, your witness should be grounded in what the Bible says, and should not be grounded in your personal experiences.
Why should we share our faith in Christ with others? Isn’t it politically incorrect to share my beliefs with others? It may indeed be politically incorrect to share your faith, yet Paul, with the authority of an apostle, commands us: “preach the Word “. All Christians, not simply all ministers, are commanded in Scripture to share their faith.
Since Christians are commanded to “preach the Word “, it follows that Christians should be familiar with God’s Word . Knowing God’s Word and sharing It go hand-in-hand. Charles Spurgeon once said of John Bunyan, ‘Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God’. Ours should be too. If we are to be effective in communicating the Gospel to others, we must become committed to filling our soul with the Word of God.
Some of you, no doubt, will procrastinate sharing the Gospel with others, desiring to wait until you feel that you adequately understand Scripture. For the procrastinators among us, let me remind you that our adequacy comes from God, and not from ourselves . We preach and serve Christ with the strength He provides (1Peter 4:11). Sharing with others your sophisticated theology is not necessarily more effective than sharing a simple biblical truth. A simple truth from Scripture, powered by the Spirit of God, is all that is required to change a person’s heart.
Let me give you an example from the life of Karl Barth. For those of you who have never heard of Karl Barth, he was the most prolific theologian of this century. He is the Wayne Gretzky, the Babe Ruth, of 20th century Christian theology. Karl Barth’s theology was as complex as it was profound. When Barth visited the University of Chicago, students and scholars crowded around him. At a press conference, someone asked, ‘Dr. Barth, what is the most profound truth you have learned in your studies?’. Without hesitation he replied, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so’. Karl Barth, perhaps the greatest mind of the 20th century, was impacted most, not be reading theological treatises, but by the simple truth, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so’. Surely this demonstrates to us that we need not wait until we are Bible scholars before we begin obeying the command: “preach the Word “.
What else, besides fear, prevents us from sharing our faith with others? The apostle Paul frames his command to “preach the Word ” by reminding Timothy, and by reminding us, that Christ is coming again “to judge the living and the dead “. The imminence of Christ’s kingdom should give us a sense of urgency for sharing the Gospel. Well known theologian, Jonathan Edwards, was motivated in this way, writing that he always endeavoured to preach and act ‘as if (he) had already seen the happiness of heaven and the torments of hell’. Without the reminder that Jesus is coming again “to judge the living and the dead “, we will lack the necessary motivation to obey the command to “preach the Word “.
Once we find ourselves motivated to “preach the Word “, we may find ourselves asking the question, ‘When is it a good time to share the Gospel with others?’. Paul gives us the answer to this question in verse 2, “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction “. What does that mean, “in season and out of season “? We don’t need to examine the nuances of the Greek to realize what Paul is saying here. You are either “in season ” or “out of season “–there is nothing in between. Paul is clearly exhorting us to be ready to share the gospel on any occasion or circumstance. The Greek word translated “be persistent ” in your pew Bible, and “be ready ” in my NASB, is a common military metaphor which means to “always be on duty “. Those who act one way at work, another way at home, and yet another way at church betray the command of Scripture to be on duty as a Christian at all times.
The command to “preach the Word ” is expanded on in verse 2. The first word, translated “convince ” or “reprove ” refers to how the Bible is meant to correct our behaviour. The second word, translated “rebuke ” refers to how the Bible is meant to correct our beliefs. The third word, translated “encourage ” or “exhort ” refers to the positive work of the Bible. The Bible doesn’t simply correct error, it also instructs us in righteousness to help us to avoid all forms of ungodliness.
The qualification, “with great patience and instruction ” describes the manner in which we are to “convince, rebuke, and encourage “. This makes perfect sense. The call for “patience ” recognizes that change and maturation do not happen overnight. And the call for “instruction ” recognizes that maturation is not simply about outward conformity, but about the inward renewal of the mind.
In verses 3 and 4, we are reminded why persistence in proclaiming the Word of God is so important, “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn aside to myths “. Surely, Paul is accurately describing our present context. The prominence of television in the life of the average North American is evidence of this.
The average American household has the television on more than 7 hours a day(Boice, Here We Stand , 185). Television is programming us to think that the chief end of man is to be entertained. It is no surprise to me, that individuals whose minds are filled with the brainless content of daytime talk shows, daytime soap operas, and evening sitcoms, have little interest in what Paul describes as “sound doctrine “.
Sound doctrine calls us out of our comfort zone. Sound doctrine challenges our sinful desires and behaviours. Sound doctrine calls us to shift our focus away from ourselves, and calls us to focus on God. Paul predicts that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine “. I am afraid that “the time ” Paul predicted has arrived. And because we are living in “the dangerous times “(3:1) Paul predicted, we, more than ever, need to heed Paul’s counsel to Timothy.
We truly do need to “be sober in all things “(v.5). This is a call for moral alertness–the ability to discern right from wrong, and to have the presence of mind to avoid the wrong. We truly do need to be ready to “endure hardship “(v.5). When you share the Gospel with people who would prefer to have “their ears tickled “, it follows that you may be rejected along with the message.
Nonetheless–hardship or no hardship–Paul calls Timothy, and he calls us to “do the work of an evangelist “(v.5). What is the “work of an evangelist “? The work is to “preach the Word “(v.2).
We call ourselves Christians and, for the most part, we act like Christians, but Paul calls for more: “carry out your ministry fully “(v.5). As Christians, we don’t pick and choose what we want to do and what we don’t want to do. We are called to do our ministry “fully “. Sharing your faith is a part of being a Christian as much as running is a part of playing soccer. We cannot opt out of sharing our faith–it is what we are called to do.
Sharing your faith begins by letting others know you are a Christian and what that means. Your testimony can be as simple as Karl Barth’s: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so’.
And remember, the results of evangelism are not up to us. Nowhere in Scripture can you find a conversion quota that Christians are expected to meet. Our call is simply to “preach the Word “. If we are to “preach the Word “, it follows that we would feed on the Word. This is why we come each Sunday–we come hungering for the food of God’s Word. Attending church is not about getting one’s needs met. Attending church is about obtaining fuel for the journey–not our personal journey, but the journey that God has called us to.
Come to church then, prepared to feast on sound doctrine. Sound doctrine, combined with the work of God’s Spirit, will not only transform you, but it will transform others as you seek to become one who faithfully preaches the Word of God. Amen.
Lloyd George, British prime minister during World War I, said, “When the chariot of humanity gets stuck … nothing will lift it out except great preaching that goes straight to the mind and heart. There is nothing in this case that will save the world but what was once called, the foolishness of preaching.” Men may not appreciate the ministry of the preacher and his divine imperative to preach the Word, but it is a high calling, one of the world’s most needed occupations.