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SOUND DOCTRINE (2): What Makes for Healthy Teaching?


Healthy teaching is more than true teaching. It is teaching Truth in a way that produces spiritual health. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul called it “speaking the Truth in love.”

When we leave the revelation of God to teach mere speculation, human opinion, and tradition we leave healthy teaching for something else.

The church in Corinth, Paul said, had many who “are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30). Their problem was mostly lack of love for one another, although this church certainly had moral and doctrinal (as we usually understand the word) issues as well.

The Ephesian church had correct doctrine, but it was not a healthy congregation. In fact, Jesus threatened to remove their candlestick if they did not repent:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. – Revelation 2:1-7

True Teaching…

In the books to Timothy and Titus, Paul tells those preachers how to provide healthy teaching, or “sound doctrine.” Healthy teaching is grounded in the truth of God’s Word as revealed in His Son and the apostles and prophets chosen by the Messiah. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul wrote:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

What Paul taught about God’s grace and mercy together with what he says about man’s response of faith and faithfulness is the heart of healthy teaching.

There are warnings about false doctrines devoted to myths and endless genealogies (1Ti 1:3), things taught by demons (1Ti 4:1), and false doctrine not in agreement with the “sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and godly teaching” (1Ti 6:3).

False (pseudo) doctrines are teachings that causes strife and contention instead of God’s work that springs from faith (1Ti 1:4). The doctrines of demons come through hypocritical men who forbid that which God created for us to receive with gratitude (1Ti 4:2-5). The false doctrines of 1Ti 6:3 are from those who “have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind” (1Ti 6:4-5, Emphasis added).

These are things that distract us from the healthy teaching to corrupt teaching that is ungodly and spreads like gangrene (2Ti 2:16-18).

… With a Healthy Attitude…

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:22-26

How many times have we taken “the evil desires of youth” in the first line of this paragraph as being the sexual thoughts that seem to consume young men? While this may certainly include those, the rest of the paragraph (context, anyone?) suggests that these “evil desires” just might be a desire to “light into” anyone who crosses you and to enter with gusto into every “foolish and stupid” argument that comes along!

The main thrust of the paragraph speaks to how we approach disagreements. We are not to be quarrelsome, but kind and gentle. We are to look to win the heart of the one who opposes us rather than to win an argument with him.

One of the key ingredients of healthy teaching is the attitude with which we teach, even though Tit 1:9 says that sometimes rebuke must be sharp. At least it must be clear enough and sharp enough to get the attention of the person who needs the rebuke. Nevertheless, we are at all times to speak truth in love.

…And a Godly Objective

Another key ingredient of healthy teaching is its objective. Already noted above is that the objective of Paul’s command to some not to continue with pseudo teaching (the literal of “false doctrines” – 1Ti 1:3) was not just pure doctrine for the sake of pure doctrine. His desire was for purity of doctrine that there might be purity of life.

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. – 1Timothy 1:5

When men leave these things, “they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1Ti 1:7). Thayer defines the single word translated confidently affirm as “to affirm strongly, assert confidently.” There is at least a hint of “chip on the shoulder” belligerence in this word. My Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary says affirm is simply declarative (though Thayer modifies it as affirm strongly), but assert is controversial.

1 Timothy 1:7 is a picture of men who have no humility in what they pronounce. They admit no mistakes, but in reality do not know what they are talking about. They claim to be teachers of the law, but do not understand the very purpose of the law. Paul goes on to tell us what the law is meant to be.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. – 1 Timothy 1:8-11 (Emphasis added, JS)

Sound doctrine, then, is for the purpose of promoting right living. A classic example of this is Titus 2:1ff.

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.

Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

All segments of society are to receive teaching in sound doctrine that will promote sound, healthy living. It is this teaching that causes the change Paul spoke of in Titus 3:3.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

That was then. There is, though a “now” where things are different because of the teaching in the sound doctrine.

Does the doctrine have anything to do with the worship, organization and membership of the church? Yes, it does, at least in a marginal way. It has much more, however, to do with our relationship to God, with one another, and the fallen culture in which we live.

Healthy teaching produces healthy people who shine as lights in the darkness that surrounds them.

NEXT SOUND DOCTRINE (3) – Conforms to the Gospel

PREVIOUS (1) – What Is Sound Doctrine?

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