“Distinguishing Between Sound Doctrine & Idle Talk”
Categories: The King's Way at Queen Way
Have you ever been in a Bible class or even an informal Bible discussion where brethren began arguing over something that you didn’t feel was worth arguing about? Or have you ever heard a preacher or Bible class teacher say something that you disagreed with and wondered to yourself, “Should I say something, or just let it go?”
If you’ve been in the church for any length of time, you probably answered both questions in the affirmative. This is a common struggle.
In 1 Timothy 1:3-11, Paul helps us to distinguish between what he calls “sound doctrine” and “idle talk” – what is worth arguing about, and what isn’t worth arguing about.
Paul opens this passage with a warning to Timothy, “Remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (vs. 3). The implication is that there are doctrines (teachings) that, together, constitute God’s standard of truth. This would be the Word of God (John 17:17; 1 Cor. 4:17; 14:37; 2 Thess. 2:15, et al). Any doctrine that is not firmly rooted in God’s word is not to be taught, according to Paul.
But Paul is even more specific in verse 10 when he speaks of “sound doctrine.” The word sound literally means, “to have sound health…figuratively to be uncorrupt.” Of course, for a doctrine to be considered sound, it must be rooted in Scripture, but it’s important to understand that even scriptural doctrines can be misrepresented, twisted or muddied. In 2 Peter 3:16, we learn that “some things [are] hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” So when assessing a doctrine, we have to not only ask, “is it rooted in Scripture?” but also, “is it the intent of Scripture?” Does it fit the immediate context? Does it harmonize with the overall teachings of Scripture?
Paul doesn’t stop here in his description of “sound doctrine.” In verses 4-5, he gives us two additional qualifications.
In verse four, Paul writes that any teaching needs to promote “godly edification.” To edify is to build up. There are many details in Scripture that may be true, but are they edifying? Do they encourage us in our faith? Do they draw us closer to God? If we are rambling on about something that has no practical value whatsoever – and especially if we’re arguing about it – we need to stop and refocus our discourse on that which edifies.
Then he adds in verse five, “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” The purpose (goal) of any teaching should be to enrich our capacity to love. Even Jesus affirmed that the entire law hinges on the two commands to love the Lord and to love your neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40). Any doctrine that does not deepen and enrich our love for God and our fellow man in some way is not a doctrine worth arguing about.
By way of contrast, Paul discourages discussions that “cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (vs. 4). He calls this “idle talk” (vs. 6) and alludes to teachers who “[understand] neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (vs. 7). Is Paul speaking here of pointless rambling? Is he speaking of esoteric dialogue that cannot be grasped by the common man? Or is he speaking of the tendency some have to try to explain the unexplainable (Deut. 29:29; Psalm 131:1)? Yes, yes, and yes!
Finally, I’d like to direct your attention to the transition in verse eight. Paul writes, “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate…” and then goes on to list the characteristics of such people. This is in contrast with verse five which says that “the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart.” Honest, God-fearing people will receive and apply God’s truth eagerly! Those who stubbornly resist the truth, pervert it and diminish it are a real danger. Not only must we not waste our time arguing with such people; we must not give them the floor (vs. 3).
If a doctrine is rooted in Scripture, intended by Scripture, edifying and a means to deeper love, then it is worth discussing and even debating. When other motives and doctrines enter the picture, we must not “give heed” (vs. 4) lest the unity of the church be compromised.