“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
2 Timothy 1:13
I read once that the creator of the classic Peanuts cartoons, Charles Shultz, once painted a little picture of Lucy and Linus in their home looking out a window at a thunderstorm. Lucy said, “I hope it doesn’t rain and rain until the whole world is flooded.” Linus came back with, “Don’t worry. In Genesis 9:13-14 God promised Noah that he would never again send a flood that would cover the whole earth and he put the rainbow in the sky as a promise that this would be true.” Lucy sighed and said, “That sure makes me feel a whole lot better.” Linus replied, “Sound doctrine has a way of doing that.”
He’s right. Sound doctrine gives us steady assurance of continuity in a world filled with change. It helps us to make sure of what we are to believe and how we are to behave. Along that line, we need to make sure of these things:
First, we mustn’t mistake man-made traditions for the true doctrine of God. Jesus condemned those who hypocritically “made void the Word of God” for “the sake of (their) tradition” and taught “the commandments of men” as the doctrine of God (Matthew 15:6-9). If the doctrine we are teaching is not the doctrine taught in the Bible then it is man-made.
The intended biblical patterns of the New Testament are for the church to follow for all time. The invented patterns of many churchgoers today are nothing more than Scripture taken out of context and forced into supporting some pet belief. The Bible warned of them in Paul’s letter to Timothy when he wrote, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
We must make sure we understand a distinction here. Simply because we are able to fashion a doctrine from a compilation of Bible verses doesn’t make it Bible doctrine. Scripture says, “The entirety of Your Word is truth…” (Psalm 119:160a). One must take into account all of what the Bible says on a matter in order to know the whole truth of it.
Secondly, we mustn’t mistake something that sounds really good for the true doctrine of God. The Bible warns Christians, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve” (Romans 16:17-18).
Sadly, many people can be persuaded of just about anything depending on the communication skills of the communicator. We need to be a discerning people who “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Thirdly, we must understand that sound doctrine is not just about baptism, communion, how Revelation is interpreted, etc. It is also about how we live our lives. Paul told Timothy that the law is good if one uses it lawfully and then lists behavioral sins such as profanity, fornication, and lying to be “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:8-10). In all we do we should be “showing all good faith, so that in everything (we) may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10).
Only when God’s people are consistently fed a steady diet of sound doctrine can they grow into mature Christian men and women (1 Timothy 4:6-7; Titus 1:9). That they hear it is no guarantee that they will grow (James 1:22-25), but not hearing it is a guarantee that they won’t. Like Linus said, sound doctrine has a way of making you feel a whole lot better. It gives us an objective standard by which to measure ourselves and a promise of steadiness in a world filled with change.