Persevere with Sound Doctrine

Chris King

Bible Covenants

I arrived early as the guest preacher at a church. A kind and gracious woman engaged me with some small talk. She told me about their church and then added, “We don’t get into the doctrine here.” The immediate question that came to mind was, “Then what do you get into?” R. C. Sproul says it well, “Countless times I have heard Christians say, ‘Why do I need to study doctrine or theology when all I need to know is Jesus?’ My immediate reply is this: ‘Who is Jesus?’ As soon as we begin to answer that question, we are involved in doctrine and theology. No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian. . . . The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones.”1Sproul, R. C. Knowing Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1977, 22. 

The Apostle Paul knows more about the church than anyone alive today. He wrote three inspired letters to church leaders about their responsibilities to the body of Christ. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are called, “The Pastoral Epistles.” In these letters, Paul delineates what church leaders should value and prioritize. He repeatedly highlights the centrality of sound doctrine in the life of the church, and in pastoral ministry. Following the Apostle’s pen, this blog post will highlight the emphasis on sound doctrine in the church, and then discuss how to employ sound doctrine for the spiritual health of the body. 

Sound doctrine is essential to the continued faithfulness of pastors. This is part of a series of blog posts to encourage pastors to persevere in their service. Emphasizing the importance of sound doctrine and knowing how to employ it will help pastors “continue in what you have learned” (2 Tim 3:14).  

Emphasize Sound Doctrine in the Church 

What does it mean for doctrine to be “sound?”

Paul laces the importance of sound doctrine throughout the Pastoral Epistles. In 1 Timothy 1:10, he repudiates, “whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.” The word “sound” translates the Greek word hygiaino (ὑγιαίνω). We derive our English word “hygiene” from this term. Paul understands doctrine as healthy and life-giving for the church.  

What is this “doctrine” Paul repeatedly references?

He sent Timothy to Ephesus to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3). This stands as the burden and occasion of 1 Timothy. The “different doctrine” of the false teachers contrasts the “sound doctrine” Timothy received from Paul. This “doctrine” consists of the body of teaching Timothy had received from his mentor—the core teachings of the Christian faith contained in the Scriptures. In 1 Timothy 1:10–11, Paul describes sound doctrine as “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God which I have been entrusted.” Paul later charges Timothy “to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach” (1 Tim 6:14). The final impassioned command in 1 Timothy is “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim 6:20). This final command underscores the importance of sound doctrine in the life of the church. The “sound doctrine,” “the commandment,” and “the deposit” all refer to this body of teaching Timothy had received from Paul. 

In 1 Timothy 1:13–14 Paul continues this emphasis by writing, “Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me . . . guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” Here the Apostle calls it a “pattern of sound words.” Paul taught and transferred a body of teaching to Timothy to be protected. In this way Timothy and other pastors are doctrine defenders—we keep these healthy words from being corrupted.  

Where do we find this sound doctrine?

The sound doctrine we must guard is found in the Scripture. As you follow Paul’s appeals in 2 Timothy 3:10–4:4, multiple references to God’s Word emerge as the source of this sound doctrine. As you examine the progression of this text, you find several synonymous statements referencing the “doctrine” discussed above. Here we clearly find this “sound doctrine” originates from the Scriptures. Consider this sequence of thought (I’ve emphasized the words related to sound doctrine):

  • “You, however, have followed my teaching” (2 Tim 3:10)
  • “But as for you, continue in what you have learned” (2 Tim 3:14)  
  • “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15)
  • “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16)
  • “Preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2)
  • “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching” (2 Tim 4:3)
  • “And will turn away from listening to the truth” (2 Tim 4:4)

All of these refer to this corpus of doctrine, handed down from Paul to Timothy, found within Scripture. 

Why is this important?

Paul’s letters to Timothy provide an inspired paradigm for ministry. We should follow the instructions of the inspired Apostle. Pastors today should emphasize sound doctrine in the church. Confusion abounds about the function, focus, and features of pastoral ministry. Promoting sound doctrine from the Word provides a healthy remedy to all the confusion infecting the church. Paul shows us that pastors should be men committed to sound doctrine—we should be men of the Word (2 Tim 2:15). 

Steven Lawson offers this sad commentary on the reality of many churches:

Sad to say, pressure to produce bottom-line results has led many ministries to sacrifice the centrality of biblical preaching on the altar of man-centered pragmatism. A new way of ‘doing’ church is emerging. In this radical paradigm shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics. The pulpit, once the focal point of the church, is now being overshadowed by a variety of church-growth techniques, everything from trendy worship styles to glitzy presentations and vaudeville-like pageantries. In seeking to capture the upper hand in church growth, a new wave of pastors is reinventing church and repackaging the gospel into a product to be sold to ‘consumers.2Lawson, Steven. Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching. Chicago: Moody, 2003, 25. 

How this helps pastors persevere.

This clear emphasis gives pastors direction and focus for their ministries. It also gives us clarity about our function in the church. We have a paradigm to follow—like a workout program that keeps us and the church healthy. The good servant of Christ Jesus is, “being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine” (1 Tim 4:6). People in churches often pressure their pastors to preach about what they want to hear (2 Tim 4:3–4). The winds of new doctrine constantly attempt to blow us off course (Eph 4:14). This emphasis reinforces God’s will for us and the church and helps us maintain a steady course.     

Employ Sound Doctrine in the Church

Having traced Paul’s emphasis on sound doctrine, we now turn to practically implementing it in the body of Christ.  

Live out godliness.

Not only does Paul highlight the necessity of sound doctrine, he also points out the necessity of living it out. Doctrine is for duty and learning is for living. Paul repeatedly stresses this with his use of the word, “godliness” (1 Tim 2:20; 3:16; 4:7–8; 5:4; 6:3–6, 11). Godliness refers to how one demonstrates faithfulness and allegiance to God—the living out of good works. In 1 Timothy 5:4, the widows should, “show godliness.” The unhealthy doctrines of the false teachers lead merely to an “appearance of godliness” (2 Tim 3:5). Pastors must be especially concerned with their lives. We not only teach the flock, but we also set them an example of faithful living (1 Tim 4:12). Paul warns Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (1 Tim 4:16). While rightly championing and emphasizing sound doctrine, we must always strive to live out the commands of Scripture. Spurgeon begins his classic Lectures to my Students with “The Minister’s Self-watch.”   

Defend sound doctrine.

Paul passionately calls Timothy to “Guard the deposit” (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14). We must not only teach sound doctrine; we must also defend and protect it. Paul requires elders to be men who, “Must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). 

Train other men to be elders in the church.

After discussing the deposit entrusted to Timothy, Paul writes, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). Follow Paul’s example and make sure you’re handing these doctrines down to other men and equip them to teach it to others. This likely refers to the preparation of other pastors/elders in the church (this is why “men” are singled out). Paul did this exact thing for Timothy. What men are you training and preparing for pastoral ministry? 

Practice expository preaching.

Expository preaching stands as the primary and best method for delivering sound doctrine to the church. The arguments for the superiority and necessity of expository preaching are legion. It stands as the best way to obey Paul’s command to “preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2). If you would like help with expository preaching, you should attend one of G3’s expository workshops or reach out to this ministry for more resources.   

How this helps you persevere.

The Pastoral Epistles present a paradigm for ministry in the church. By studying them, one learns what a pastor should do and how he should do it. For those of us serving as pastors or elders, we are reminded of the emphasis we should place on sound doctrine, and the responsibility God gives us to guard it. This kind of clarity about our task encourages us as we carry out the hard work of making disciples and preaching the Word. We may not see the fruit we desire from our labors, but we can know we’re following the pattern of sound words Paul wrote to Timothy, Titus, and all the churches. We need to be regularly reminded to “preach the word, in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). Whether it’s a fruitful time or an unfruitful time, we hear Paul’s appeal to “continue in what you have learned” (2 Tim 3:14). The passion we observe in Paul’s commands and appeals should fill us with zeal for our Lord’s work. Healthy doctrine leads to healthy churches. Far better to feed the Lord’s sheep healthy food rather than the latest pragmatic and philosophical dribble.    

The Pastoral Epistles help church leaders keep their focus on what should be important in the church. They help pastors understand and define their service to God’s people. These letters help church members understand the role and responsibilities of pastors (this is one reason to preach through these letters for the good of the church). They provide an inspired and timeless paradigm for shepherding God’s flock. Look to them to shape your view of pastoral ministry. Use them to help others see the emphasis on sound doctrine and how to employ it for the health of the body.  

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1 Sproul, R. C. Knowing Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1977, 22.
2 Lawson, Steven. Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching. Chicago: Moody, 2003, 25.
Author Bible Covenants

Chris King

Senior Pastor Bayou View Baptist Church

Chris King serves as the Senior Pastor of Bayou View Baptist Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. He taught preaching for Boyce College Online from 2013-2020. Dr. King is a graduate of West Virginia University and earned his Ph. D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.