We Must Study the Bible
by Dr. Rod Rogers
I am absolutely convinced from Scripture that in-depth, life-related Bible teaching is the single most important ministry a spiritual leader can offer his people.
Paul's instructions in 1 Timothy 4:16 serve as my foundational text for this conviction:
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you (All Scripture references are from the revised NASB).
The early church was constantly assaulted by false teaching and the church today faces the same danger. Even Christian bookstores occasionally sell books with false teaching. Everything Paul tells Timothy and Titus in the Pastoral Epistles about the purpose and priorities of an effective pastor is summed up in this verse. The last part of the text reveals the ultimate purpose of a pastor—to save himself and his hearers. By "save" we know Paul is not referring to salvation from hell because Timothy and his congregation were believers (by and large) and had already experienced salvation from the penalty of sin.
The context of the book tells us that they needed to be saved from the power of sin. Throughout 1 Timothy Paul repeatedly names two great dangers that every church faces: (1) sick doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1; 6:3,4a) and (2) sinful living (1 Timothy 1:9, 10, 19; 2:8-15; 4:12; 5:1-16, 20; 6:1-5,11, 17, 20).
The early church was constantly assaulted by false teaching and the church today faces the same danger. Even Christian bookstores occasionally sell books with false teaching. Several years ago I bought a book in which a man who taught at a major evangelical seminary promoted the heresy that Christ's resurrection body is immaterial and invisible. He actually taught the logical nonsense of an "immaterial" body. But sick doctrine isn’t limited to the printed page. Today false teaching can be found on the Internet, radio, and TV. This is alarming because sick doctrine always leads to a sick life.
Word of GodUnder the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God Paul commanded pastors to focus on the teaching of the word of God!
This is the second great danger every church faces. In his letters, Paul exhorted Timothy and Titus to protect their flocks from sins such as drunkenness, gossip, sensuality, wrath and greed. Of course, our churches today have saints who struggle with these same sins.
According to 1Timothy 4:16, the ultimate purpose of a pastor is to save himself and his hearers from sick doctrine and sinful living. And to do so, Paul says, he must "persevere in these things" (that is, in paying close attention to himself and to his teaching).
God says to spiritual leaders, “If you are going to be used by me to save your people from sick doctrine and sinful living you must pay close attention to…your teaching." That is, "focus on your Bible teaching.” This has several implications for pastoral ministry.
Feeding PeoplePastors feed people spiritually by teaching them the Bible. Pastors guide them by teaching the word. They guard their flocks from doctrinal and spiritual danger by preaching the word of God. And they heal their people's wounds by applying the healing truths of the Bible. First, a pastor must make sure Bible teaching is at the heart of his ministry. I'm glad Paul spoke so clearly about this priority because there are many different priorities urged upon pastors as the best way to help their people. And there were many other priorities Paul could have urged upon Timothy.
He could have commanded Timothy to focus on counseling, or on visiting people in their homes, or on starting and leading small groups, or on being a great administrator, or on evangelism, or on leading the fight against social sins such as abortion, homosexuality or violence, or on one-to-one discipleship. All of these ministries are vital and all of them need to be carried out. But Paul did not emphasize any of these things. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God Paul commanded pastors to focus on the teaching of the word of God!
Over and over again in the pastoral letters Paul commanded Timothy to teach the Bible (see 1 Timothy 4:11-13, and 2 Timothy 4:2 for just a few examples). It is clear that he thought Bible teaching was to be at the heart of every pastor's ministry. Of course, there are always those, even among the people of God, who ask with much skepticism, "Does Bible teaching meet the real pastoral needs of people?"
I believe the answer is, "Yes!" So does Dr. John Stott. In his excellent book, I Believe in Preaching, he wrote:
A good shepherd's care of his sheep is fourfold –feeding, guiding (because sheep easily go astray), guarding (against predatory wolves) and healing (binding up the wounds of the injured). And all four of these activities are aspects of the ministry of the Word” (emphasis added, p. 120).
Pastors feed people spiritually by teaching them the Bible. Pastors guide them by teaching the word. They guard their flocks from doctrinal and spiritual danger by preaching the word of God. And they heal their people's wounds by applying the healing truths of the Bible. If pastors really want to help their people, the best thing they can do for them is to focus on in-depth, life-related teaching of the word of God.
God led Paul to strongly emphasize the importance of systematic, doctrinal Bible teaching to Timothy because only God's word has the power to save the pastor and his people from sick doctrine and sinful living. Second, to "pay close attention to your teaching" means that a pastor must make sure his Bible teaching is accurate. In 2 Timothy 2:15 God tells pastors to work hard to interpret His precious word accurately: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." Sadly, there are pulpits occupied by pastors who are careless in their handling of God's word. And God is not pleased.
Third, to "pay close attention to your teaching" means that pastors must make sure their Bible teaching is rich in doctrine.
"In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following" (1 Timothy 4:6).
Paul teaches that a pastor provides people with spiritual nourishment when he feeds them on "the words of the faith and of sound doctrine." The source of true spiritual nourishment is verse by verse, life-related, Bible teaching.
God led Paul to strongly emphasize the importance of systematic, doctrinal Bible teaching to Timothy because only God's word has the power to save the pastor and his people from sick doctrine and sinful living. I quote from John Stott again:
If today's pastors were to take seriously the New Testament emphasis on the priority of preaching and teaching, not only would they find it extremely fulfilling themselves, but also it would undoubtedly have a very wholesome effect on the Church. Instead, tragic to relate, many are essentially administrators, whose symbols of ministry are the office rather than the study, and the telephone rather than the Bible (I Believe in Preaching, p. 124).
May the enduring symbol of every church leader's ministry be the living, the powerful, and the life-changing word of God.
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