Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)
We need to stop studying theology.
Of course I don’t really mean that, but in a way, I do.
Paul told Timothy to ‘watch’ two things: his life and doctrine (or “the teaching”, ESV). Many of us heed the former command; we are rightly pursuing our spiritual health, guarding our relationships, putting to death our indwelling sin and most importantly, crying out to the LORD for a closer walk with Him and the strength to live lives that are pleasing to Him. However, according to Paul, we are still in danger if we do not watch our doctrine. For the Christian, right living and right knowing walk hand in hand. Doctrine matters. Which God are we pursuing? What is He like? What does He care about? If we don’t pursue His Word, then we will supply our own baseless answers to those questions. Our areas of ignorance or misapplied doctrine could even damage the faith of those with whom we interact. That was the problem with Job’s friends; much of their doctrine wasn’t incorrect, just wrongly applied. We must study the Word!
Since you’re here on this blog, I imagine you may be nodding your head up to this point. You don’t need to be convinced to study. My intention for this post is not to call us to study theology and doctrine. My intention here is to tell us that we need to stop.
In the past few weeks I’ve been shaken up. The LORD has gently reminded me that I need to not pursue theology. I need to pursue Him. That’s obvious, right? The aim and end of our study needs to be the LORD. If Jesus isn’t the goal, then our study of doctrine and theology is in danger of becoming uninspired at best, and at worst could become an idol.
As Carl Trueman puts it in a highly recommended Themelios article:
“Has the study of theology become so central to my identity that the whole of my being is focused on it and seeks to derive things from it in a way which is simply unhealthy and distorts both its purpose and the person who I am?”
Are we studying because it’s become merely a hobby, or because knowing theology has become part of our of identity? Or are we studying theology because it brings us to a deeper knowledge of and love for the glory and name of the living Triune God? It is here that we are reminded by Paul to guard our lives. Even if it seems impossible, right theology can exist along with areas of deep idolatry. We can know but not do (James 1:22). We need to be putting sin to death, and also avoid making our study of God an idol instead of worshipping God Himself. So, we find that our lives and those of our ‘hearers’ are in danger if we neglect our own spiritual health as well as our doctrine. John Frame’s advice to young theologians is relevant:
“You will influence more people by your life than by your theology. And deficiencies in your life will negate the influence of your ideas, even if those ideas are true.”
We must guard both our doctrine and our lives. It’s through pursuing both that we will save ourselves and our hearers, and bring glory to the LORD whom we study and worship.