In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes with a concern that surfaces right from the start of the letter and continues to the end: the preservation of sound doctrine. Paul’s instruction to Timothy concerning sound doctrine is incisive and pervasive: Refute those who teach unsound doctrine (1 Tim 1:3; 5:17; 6:3–5), raise up leaders who are able to teach sound doctrine (3:2), command sound doctrine (4:11, 13, 16), and guard sound doctrine (6:20). Why? Because it’s a gospel issue (1:11).
My concern is that the spirit of the age doesn’t jibe well with what Paul tells Timothy. And too many churches and individuals are happy to make peace with the spirit of the age rather than obey the Scriptures. As a result, defining orthodoxy too often focuses on how mere our doctrine can be instead of how sound our doctrine must be.
But Paul makes clear not only that sound doctrine is essential to the right passing-on of the faith (Jude 3), but he even names some names, as it were, as to the content of what sound doctrine must look like.
Right out of the gate, Paul writes to Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3). He then goes on to warn Timothy about these persons who apparently were setting themselves up as the doctrinaires du jour. Paul excoriates these false teachers, describing them as those who make confident assertions that they do not understand about things they know nothing about (3:7).
In this context, Paul mentions a right and a wrong use of the law, presumably tackling those things that the false teachers were either failing to teach or were contradicting with their lives:
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (1 Tim 1:8–11).
What is fascinating about this particular vice list—a point that should have our attention as the church in the 21st century—is the equation tacked on at the end that could easily be overlooked in a hurried reading. According to Paul, this enumerated list of sins—a list that includes murder, homosexuality, enslavement, and lying—is set alongside “whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.” The implication is that the things Paul lists here are contrary to sound doctrine. Now, this observation may seem pedantic to some—yes, of course these are contrary to “sound doctrine,” however one chooses to define it.
But the second equivalence Paul draws in 1 Timothy 1:11 is most fascinating and should most have our attention. Paul’s definition of “sound doctrine,” which, again, is opposed to the vice list of 1 Timothy 1:8–10, is such that is “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”
What does this imply? The gospel entails sound doctrine. To whiff on sound doctrine is to whiff on the gospel. And, in turn, sound doctrine entails sound ethics in accordance with God’s will. To compromise on Christian ethics—same-sex marriage, abortion, etc.—is to compromise sound doctrine, which, according to 1 Timothy 1:11, is to compromise the gospel.
This is why Christian sexual ethics is not an “agree-to-disagree” issue, a commitment that undergirds Article X of the Nashville Statement:
“WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”
“WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”
Anything less than this fails to take seriously Paul’s admonition to Timothy to contradict false teaching that is not in accord with the “gospel of the glory of the blessed God” with which we have been entrusted.
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