In season and out of season – expository readiness (part 4)
Persist in This
The third imperative in 1 Timothy 4:16 is “persist in this.” What is “this?” “This” is paying attention to your life and doctrine. When Paul departed from the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he told them through tears to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock.” The way to protect the flock is to pay attention to doctrine, lest they be led astray by false teaching. He said the same thing to Titus in the exhortation to “show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity” (Titus 2:7). That is just another way of saying pay attention to your life and to your doctrine. He said it over and over. That is your ongoing preparation as a minister in God’s church.
How do we make sure we “show integrity” in our teaching, that we have purity of doctrine? At the very least, we must keep studying it and persisting in it. A few years ago I was preaching at a pastor’s conference about the importance of doctrine and a pastor told me that when he reached the age of 40 he assumed he wouldn’t need to learn anymore, he just needed to apply what he learned. That is not persevering in doctrine. That is not being like Paul.
The last chapter Paul ever wrote includes an instruction for Timothy to “bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Tim 4:13). He was about to die and he wanted books. He wanted to study doctrine. If there is one man in history who didn’t need to study doctrine, wouldn’t it be Paul, the man who wrote the doctrine we study? And if he needed to study, wouldn’t you think he’d at least loosen up a bit as he is about to die? At this point, Paul is probably the most mature Christian who has ever lived. He knows more doctrine than any of us. He has been inspired to write it. He has been taken to heaven to see the culmination of all theology (2 Cor 12:1-10). Paul knows doctrine. But he wanted his last thoughts to be his best thoughts, directed toward the pure and inerrant Word of God. He was a man who persevered and grew in doctrine until his last day.
A friend of mine once told me a story about his seminary graduation rehearsal. If you’ve ever been to one, you know they tend to last awhile, so my friend decided to use the time to read a new book about sanctification that had been making a lot of noise. So he brought the book and a couple of systematic theology books to read during the rehearsal. As he read, the guy on his right looked at him and said, “Do you still have a paper you have to finish?” Before he could answer, the guy on the other side jumped in and said, “Do you still have a final to take before you can graduate tomorrow?” And to both of them he answered, “No.” They sat there bewildered: “Then why are you reading that?”
And my friend said, “Because I want to understand better the doctrine of sanctification.” And this newly-minted pastor on his right says, “Not me. I’m never reading another theology book again.” And the preacher on his left added, “I’m not going to waste my time on that stuff anymore. I’m just going to go out and preach Jesus.”
So there sat my friend, ridiculed for studying theology at his very graduation from a theological seminary. How would you like to sit under a pastor who had that kind of attitude toward the things of God? How would you like to have a surgeon who had that kind of attitude toward learning after medical school? Pastors are physicians of souls, which means we should at least take as much care in the knowledge and doctrines of our calling as physicians do in the latest medical advances. We need to persevere both in devotion and doctrine.
Donald S. Whitney serves as associate professor of biblical spirituality and also as senior associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary. He is the author of six books, including Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. You can connect with Whitney on Twitter, Facebook and through his website The Center for Biblical Spirituality. This post originally appeared in Don Whitney’s chapter in A Guide to Expository Ministry.