Have you ever been in a church where a leader quoted 2 Timothy 4:3-4, and then proceeded to show why most other churches are heretical or spiritually immature because they cannot endure sound doctrine, but instead, heap up for themselves teachers who give them what their itching ears want to hear?
Usually, something like this is said:
Here at our church, we provide sound doctrine. But look at those immature Christians over at the other church. They cannot endure sound doctrine like we can. They listen to stories, and fables, and don’t teach the Scriptures like we do. And so if you want to learn what sound doctrine is, and if you want to hear what the Scriptures really teach, you need to attend church every Sunday morning and Sunday night, and get plugged in to one of our mid-week Bible studies, and study the Scriptures every day on your own.
Have you ever heard a similar message in church? I have. I’ve preached sermons like that.
However, it is this teaching itself which is the unsound doctrine, or the unhealthy teaching that Paul is warning Timothy against.
In the previous few posts, we have seen that in 2 Timothy 4:1-4, Paul is not so concerned with what type of preaching is done, or how long a person preaches, or who does the preaching, or even what the theology is of the preaching. No, Paul’s concern in 2 Timothy 4:1-4 seems to be with “healthy teaching” versus unhealthy teaching.
Unhealthy teaching is that which leads to nothing but more teaching. It is heaping up for yourself more and more teachers, more and more sermons, more and more Bible studies, more and more conferences. It is being so excited about what you heard, that you cannot wait to hear more. And after you hear more, your primary response is an excited expectation to hear even more.
Unhealthy teaching is the teaching that only results in more teaching. As great as Scripture study can be, it is can also become addictive. Bible Study is like a drug that pulls us away from the God of the Bible. The more we study the Bible, and the more we learn about God, the less we end up obeying the Bible and following God. Sometimes you have to give up your commentaries and word studies so that you can actually hear what God is saying and follow him, not deeper into the text, but deeper into the sin and darkness of this world.
Healthy teaching does provide teaching from Scripture, but then, is followed up by leading people into the world to put what was learned into practice. Healthy preaching does not simply invite people to more preaching and teaching, thus pulling people away from the world where they are to apply what they have learned, but pushes people back out into the world to face the issues, problems, and questions of life.
Healthy teaching does not deal with the lofty ideas, theoretical explanations, or the speculative theology which so many pastors and Christians are fond of providing. No, healthy teaching takes seriously the gospel announcement that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Healthy teaching gets our noses out of the Bible and into the streets and stores of our cities. Healthy teaching is the teaching that results in loving and serving others.
The world is not renewed and the gospel is not spread through ideas and preaching, but through deeds and action.
Listening to “sound doctrine” is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, but rather, who puts into practice what they have heard. Sound doctrine is not about hearing more truth, but living the truth we already have.
While the ears of some people do itch for funny stories, jokes, and encouraging insights based on psychology and current events, the ears of other people itch to hear the latest insight on a difficult Bible passage, or the newest scholarly explanation of a particular word in Scripture. This second group attends Bible studies, listens to expositional preaching, buys commentaries, does word studies, learns Greek and Hebrew, and all the while, looks down their noses at people who don’t listen to such things.
According to Paul, neither group is better than the other.
What God wants is that we go and make disciples, which does not mean teaching people everything there is to know about Bible and theology, but leading people to live like Jesus within the world. Making disciples means way more than filling people’s heads with expert knowledge of Scripture. It means way more than teaching, preaching, and Bible Study. Making disciples means making people self-feeders of Scripture, encouraging them to practice what they learn, and giving them the freedom to follow Jesus into the world.
In future posts we will look at some specific examples of how churches and church leaders can free their people to live the truth within the world.