Pentecost 7 July 19, 2020
7, 412, 414, 655
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
Grace, mercy and peace be multiplied to you as heirs of everlasting life—a life that you even now enjoy as Children of God our Heavenly Father, and as joint heirs with Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians,
Directions are a good thing. They save time, make us safer, and prevent unnecessary stress and frustration. Applying this spiritually, each one of us travels day by day along our individual paths through this vale of tears enroute to an indescribably joyful gathering of all the saints on the Last Day. We have been brought to life (converted) by the Holy Spirit, and that life, by the grace of God, never be taken from us—ever. The problem for us is not destination; the problem is direction. All Christians are agreed on where we want to end up, but an ever-increasing majority seems confused about the path laid out by our God on how we get there. Only a reckless fool would refuse directions.
That is where doctrine comes into play. Doctrine, simply defined, is anything and everything the Bible teaches. Many Christians are often strong on faith and their ultimate goal, but weak on doctrine. Using the image of driving to a destination, Christians are strong on the vehicle (faith in Jesus Christ) and where they want to end up (heaven), but growing ever weaker when it comes to directions. So many Christian’s today seem to be of the opinion that any old route will get you there. Christians have obviously adopted this attitude from the unbelieving world, which believes that any old vehicle and any old route will get you to wherever it is you want to go.
But Christians aren’t lost, like the godless of the world. By definition, a Christian is someone who believes that what Jesus Christ did for us, through his perfect life and innocent death on the cross, paid the full penalty for all sins. A Christian is an heir of heaven through faith in his Savior Jesus. That being true, is doctrine really all that important? Aren’t there, in fact, different interpretations of God’s Word that make different doctrinal paths to heaven not only a reality but a necessity? Is there any real problem with that?
Our text for this morning addresses this critical question, and therefore we would all do well to read it now with great interest, thought, and prayer. That text is found in Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, the Fourth Chapter:
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things.(ESV)
These are the words of our kind and merciful God—kind, because he has here reached out to us poor, hopeless, helpless sinners, and merciful because it is we who had rebelled against him and deserved only his hatred and punishment. Our goal should therefore be to make careful use of the gift of these words and to learn the lessons our God here offers. To that end we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
Not long ago a fine man from another city (who freely confessed that he was a Christian) lamented the fact that almost none of his children attend a conservative, Christ-centered church faithfully. In fact one son is already dead, a suicide. What is more, not one of his grandchildren goes to church at all, and they seem to have quite a laundry list of serious problems in their lives. While we can certainly sympathize with the pain such a thing must bring to the man’s heart, we would all do well to examine what brought about this sad situation. What could have been done differently? How can we learn from any mistakes he might have made?
While it is most certainly true that sinful human beings can, all on their own, abandon the good path on which their parents led them, many times the seeds of the problems were sown by the parents themselves. In this case the man tipped his own hand when he admitted, “I don’t pay much attention to doctrine. I leave that up to the Pastor. I just go to church and listen to the gospel.” Does that sound so bad? How many Christians today could use those same words to describe his or her own attitude or feelings about religion? Now ask yourself if you would like to trade places with this man and carry the dread he feels concerning the family he loves? How many would do anything in their power to avoid such catastrophe?
God gave us doctrine for a reason. Even many Christians today believe that each individual could and should dictate not only right from wrong, they also believe that they should be free to pick and choose which parts of God’s Holy Word they need to follow. Returning to the comparison between doctrine and directions, while it is certainly true that faith in Jesus Christ alone saves, it is also true that the quickest and surest way to destroy saving faith (which is also a doctrine) is to abandon the other doctrines God has given us.
Listen again to what Paul told Timothy in our text: “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” Note the two things Paul emphasized here to the young pastor, Timothy. He spoke of being “trained in the words of faith,” (remember we are saved by grace through faith alone) but he also added, “and of the good doctrine which you have followed.” (More literally, “carefully or closely followed.”) Note two things about these word: not just any doctrine would do, nor would just any old haphazard following do. Timothy was to hold to and instruct the “good doctrine.” It is good because God made it good by causing it to be recorded in his Word. Bad doctrine is the nonsense manufactured by men. Paul dismisses that sort of thing with these words: “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.” Jesus also condemned and dismissed such nonsensical fluff in Matthew 15:8-9: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
Just as not any old directions will do, neither will just any old doctrine do. Nor is it true that any old interpretation is fine with God. There are directions that will get us lost; directions that will guide us where our Lord does not want us to go. It is for good reason that God in his Word continually stresses fully and carefully following the right doctrine. Why? Why is it important to God that we fully and carefully follow everything that he taught us in the Bible? It is important because he loves us with a pure and holy love that we can hardly even comprehend here in time. Sinners though we are, God’s desire is that we spend eternity with him in heaven. God in his wisdom knows that the best and safest route to an eternity with him is the path he has outlined in his Word. That is what doctrine is all about. It is never supposed to be an end in itself. It is a loving means to a most blessed end.
What are we talking about here in practical terms? What do we mean by doctrine? We already defined doctrine as anything the Bible teaches, but how does that really affect us day by day here in time? Pick a doctrine at random—Holy Communion comes to mind. The Bible teaches that only those who can properly examine themselves should come to Communion. Why? Because we are running some sort of exclusive club? Hardly. God has given us this doctrine because communing in an unworthy manner causes spiritual harm to those who do not understand what they are there receiving. A loving God does not give us doctrine to harm us. He gives us doctrine because he loves us and wants to protect us, because he wants to guide us.
Take a moment and pick a doctrine—any teaching found in the Bible. You will find that it was given out of love and compassion, never anything else. Why do we baptize infants? Because infants are sinners and need forgiveness, and the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit works saving faith through the Word and water of Baptism. Why keep this great gift from the youngest of sinners? Or take the Doctrine of Fellowship. God knows that error leads us away from faith in Jesus Christ. All error erodes saving faith, and the only way to deal with error is to separate from it. Man sees this as cold and exclusive. God sees it as loving and tragically necessary. What about the Doctrine of the Last Things? Why does it matter what we believe about how the world will end and whether or not there will be a rapture and a one thousand-year rule of Christ here on earth? God loves us too much to allow us to imagine that there will be an obvious time to repent after the so-called rapture and before our time of grace has ended. He knows how tempted mankind will be to reject the Holy Spirit until that time, and that the only solution is to be ready at all times. Pick any teaching that God revealed to us in his Word. Every single one represents loving direction for our lives.
God our Father not only demonstrates his love in the gospel message of Jesus Christ, he also demonstrates his love for us in every Biblical doctrine. Again, what child of God would want to reject that love and choose another path?
God in our text tells us, “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” There is an important fact here that we regularly over look. Following God’s directions (his doctrine) throughout our earthly lives is not just about the life that will follow. While saving faith is certainly preserved by following God’s directions, it also greatly enhances our time on earth, every single day. Humbly following his directions protects and preserves us from untold hardship and stress. It strengthens families and family ties. It removes the need for the hard lessons our Lord brings into our lives when we wander. It allows us to walk through life without guilt and apprehension.
In our text, Paul concluded with these words: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things.” The Christian faith is the positive, up-beat, glorious message that we all share the same Savior, Jesus Christ. He died for all sins, those who know what he did and those who do not. However, what he did is of no value to those who don’t know him. That’s why Paul said “especially of those who believe.” Earlier in this same Letter to Timothy, God the Holy Spirit revealed to us that he “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That’s exactly why he gave us directions or doctrine and why he hates all that is false. His directions lead to a blessed life here and eternity in heaven. False directions, false doctrine, leads always and only away from Jesus Christ and the heaven he has won for us. It therefore holds the potential to rob souls of the fullness of life here, and any share in the life that our Savior has prepared for his children in heaven.
Thank your God for the vehicle of faith by which we are saved, and for every direction that he has provided to get you to that glorious destination that is now certainly yours—the loving path he has laid out for you to follow. God is good. Make sure your neighbor know just how good. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.