If you could write a letter to someone before you died, what would you say? Many of us would write to our spouses, children, or close friends to remind them how much we love them. Or perhaps some of us would write to that person who we had withheld forgiveness from for so long to try to make amends before our passing. Death has a way of shedding off the insignificant matters of life and highlighting what is most important.
This perspective from death is seen in the life of the Apostle Paul. Thirty years prior to his death, he had an experience that changed his life forever: He met the Risen Lord Jesus (see Acts 9:1-22, 22:3-16, 26:9-18). This encounter opened his eyes, literally and figuratively, and he finally understood the truth of God’s Word revealed and fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He understood that God had made a way of salvation for all peoples through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
What good news!
With this good news, Paul spent his life traveling the world to tell as many people as he could of the salvation that is found only in Jesus Christ. He founded many churches. He led many to faith in Jesus. He spoke before the political, religious, and philosophical elites of his day, and he spoke to the down-and-out everyday people. Paul accomplished much for Christ, and His life is an excellent model of faithful living and witness for Jesus.
Yet, like all men, Paul soon found himself face to face with death. Near the end of his life, Paul decided to write letters to two of his dear disciples (Timothy and Titus) to encourage them as he prepared to depart from this world. Remember the question: What would you say? Notice Paul’s main themes in some of his final letters: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus:
1 Timothy 4:6: “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.”
1 Timothy 4:16: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching…”
1 Timothy 6:3: “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing…”
2 Timothy 1:13: “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me…”
2 Timothy 2:2: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many faithful witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
2 Timothy 3:14-17: “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word…”
Titus 1:9: “An elder must be…able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.”
Titus 1:13: “For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.”
Titus 2:1: “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.”
Titus 2:7: “…in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine…”
Do you see the recurring thought throughout these letters? Sound teaching. Sound faith. Sound doctrine. Of course, this list is not exhaustive what Paul says on this topic in these letters, but the point is clear: Paul, more than anything else, wanted ministers to be faithful to the word of God amid a world that would be unaccepting of it. Sound doctrine was the primary focus of his last words. More than anything else, our churches need to heed this plea today, and the responsibility lies with the ministers.
At this point, two reminders are helpful as we reflect on Paul’s plea for sound doctrine from the pastorals.
First, as ministers, we teach sound doctrine because that is God’s will for our ministry. We often fail to grasp the fact that refusal to do so is disobedience to God. God has given the church His word so they may know Him, and ministers who shy away from the word for a more attractive method of ministry deprive their people of God.
Second, although a commitment to sound doctrine may be difficult and discouraging when so many are unwillingly to hear, we must remember that there are those who will hear, and it is what they need most. I am only a young man in ministry with much to learn on how to be faithful to Paul’s plea, but that should be an encouragement. I am representative of many young men and women in the church who truly hunger for deep truths. Who long to know God deeply.
With these two exhortations in mind, may we hear the plea for sound doctrine, and press onward to answer the call!