January 18, 2018 Chapel Service — Dr. John Tweeddale
Posted On January 29, 2018
Dr. John Tweeddale is academic dean and professor of Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla.
Would you turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Timothy, and; we’ll be looking at one verse, but for context, we’ll pick up reading in 1 Timothy 4:6. When I was asked to preach today, it did not take me long to decide on what text I wanted to reflect with you about. One of my burdens as an academic dean is to help us think about the theological life together, to reflect on what it means to be a theological student here at RBC. So when I’m given the opportunity to preach, I want to speak directly into our life together as a college community. I want to speak directly to what it means to be a theological student, and in many ways, I can think of no better text than the one that is before us here this morning. And so, I would ask you to turn your attention now to 1 Timothy chapter 4, beginning in verse 6, hear now the word of the Lord:
If you put these things before the brothers, (and we might add brothers and sisters) you’ll be a good servant of Jesus Christ. Being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths, rather train yourself for godliness. For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. [And, here’s the verse for today] Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Amen, and may God bless to us this reading of His holy, inspired, and inerrant word. Well as theological students, we are given two fundamental tasks. We are called to watch ourselves and our doctrine. And so, the great reformer, John Calvin, in commenting on this passage says of pastors the following, “There are two things of which a good pastor should be careful: to be diligent in teaching and to keep himself pure.” To be diligent in teaching and to keep himself pure. Well I would submit to you today that what is said of pastors can also be said of us as a theological college; that we are to be diligent in watching our teaching and in keeping ourselves pure. We have a twofold task: we are to watch ourselves, watch our lives, and watch our doctrine. And so in the first place here in verse 16, the Apostle Paul gives a command telling us to keep a close watch on ourselves. We are to watch our lives.
Now to watch means to give attention to, to hold fast, to take heed, to grapple with, to pay attention to, to orient our lives on. And so the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:16 that we are to hold fast to the words of life. We are not simply to know them, we are to hold on to them. We are not simply to understand them, we are to keep watch over them. To watch our lives, we are to examine our lives. Well, how do we do so? What does it mean here to keep close attention to our lives? Well the Apostle Paul gives us some indication here in verse 6 when he tells the apostle-when he tells young Timothy he is to be a good servant of Jesus Christ. That is in order for us to keep close watch of our lives we are to know the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a simple thing, isn’t it? But in order to serve Christ, dear friends, you must know Him. In order to know something about your own life you need to know Christ yourself. In other words, you must possess what you commend to others. That you can be a student at RBC and know everything there is to know about Christ and yet yourself not know Him. You see, in order to watch yourself you must be a good servant of Jesus Christ and in order to be a good servant of Jesus Christ you must know Him. Indeed you must possess what you commend to others.
I love how Owen states that, “A man preaches that sermon only well unto others, who preaches itself in his own soul. If the word of God does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.” In other words, we must know Christ first before we commend Christ to others. We must know Him. We must know Him personally. We must know Him savingly. We must know Him experientially. We must say with the Apostle Paul that my single desire is to know Him more. Extraordinary. The Apostle Paul, the one who received a personal commission by Christ on the road to Damascus longed to know Him more. The greatest theologian who has ever lived, apart from Christ, was not satisfied with his present knowledge of Christ but longed to know Him more. It’s not just simply knowing Him intellectually, it’s knowing Him as your Lord as your savior as your king as your prophet as your priest. Don’t you love how Luther says that the gospel is very much about personal pronouns. That Christianity is not simply recognizing that Jesus is the king, the prophet, and the priest, Christianity is very much recognizing the fact that Jesus is my king, my prophet, and my priest. It’s all about a personal relationship with Christ. And yes, we very much can say that as reformed Christians. The gospel calls you to know Christ as he’s offered to you in the gospel. It makes a direct appeal to you to repent of your sin and trust in Christ as he’s offered to you. The gospel is about something personal. It’s about knowing Christ as your shepherd so that Jesus says, “my sheep hear my voice.”
To watch your life means knowing Christ, being a good servant of christ, it’s responding to Christ. That’s why Paul says here in verse 10 that in order to be a good servant, in order to watch your life, you must set your hope on the living God. That we do not rest our confidence in our own laurels, in our own education, in our own background, and in our own families, but we set our hope on the living God. It’s why the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 1:3 that as Christians we have been, “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” You know, so often when we talk about theology it’s as though we serve a dead God who has no relevance or bearing upon our lives. But theology is done coram Deo it’s done before His face not behind His back. Theology is done with a living hope relating to a living God through a living savior. We know Him, we don’t simply know about Him, we know this God as He’s offered to us in Christ by the Spirit through His word we come to know Him.
So we have to watch our life, we have to watch it closely, we have to examine whether we are a good servant of Jesus Christ, whether we set our hope on the living God. Because it’s very easy, dear friends, to come right into RBC to attend every Ligonier conference to be a part of an RBC chapel and not know Christ. You can ascend to the fact that He is shepherd, king prophet, priest, and still not know Him. And, you can know Him savingly and still not know Him more. To watch your life means to orient your life on Christ in all that you feel, think, say, and do. Do you say that with Paul, “I long to know Him more?”
So to watch your life means knowing Christ. But, to watch your life also means exemplifying Christ. Isn’t that interesting. Look at what the Apostle Paul tells Timothy here in verses 11 and 12, he says, “command and teach these things, let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech in conduct in love in faith in purity.” In other words Timothy, if you are to watch your life, if you are to be a good servant, you don’t simply need to know Christ, you need to exemplify Christ in your life and in your ministry. You see dear friends, it’s a temptation for you, to think just because you’re a student you’re irrelevant to the kingdom. It’s a temptation to you to think just because you’re a student, ministry begins in the future. Just because I’m a student, I don’t have to worry about my life right now, all I have to do is just passively receive and not actively pursue. And yet Paul wouldn’t let Timothy off the hook. He says, Timothy, Timothy, it’s not simply enough to be a good servant, it’s not simply enough to know Christ, but Timothy, you are called to exemplify the Lord Jesus Christ, that as His servants we must exemplify what we expect from others so that we can say, “follow me as I follow Christ.” That that character component very much is part of the life of a theological student. And so often we focus so much on being right regarding the contours and content of our theology that we very often neglect the character of the theologian.
Do you understand as Christians, our calling is to reflect the character of Christ in our lives? In our speech, do our words reflect the beauty of Jesus? Do our words reflect the splendor of God’s holiness? Are we seeking to build up others in truth by what we say, are we seasoning our words with grace as Paul says in Ephesians 4? But not only our speech, but he also focuses on our conduct, that is our behaviour, our relationship with others must exhibit the forbearance and mercy and patience, and kindness of Christ. Indeed Peter uses this same word in 1 Peter 1:15 when he says, “As He who called you as holy, you also be holy in your conduct.” Holiness is a non-negotiable, even the writer to the Hebrews will say, “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” You see those who know Christ long to be like Him. They long to know Him more and they want others who see themselves to see Christ. That’s why Robert Murray McShane said in his ministry, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” They need me giving my life to Christ that I can give Christ to them in what I say and do for them. We pay attention to our speech and to our conduct, we are also to reflect the character of Christ in our love. That is in our love for God our love for the church, our love for neighbors our love for the lost our lives are to be characterized by love and by faith. That is increasing dependence on Christ. The Christian life, very much, is a statement of progress where we more and more put to death the deeds of the flesh and more and more exhibit faith in Christ by His spirit. Because, every time the gospel takes route in the lives of the people of God it always manifests itself in increasing faith in Christ. Dear friends, you understand, you will never see Christ by sight in heaven unless you first see Him by faith here on earth. There must be the character of Christ in our lives and we exhibit faith in Him here on Earth.
But not only do we exhibit speech and conduct and love and faith, we exhibit purity. The word for purity here is “chastity.” It refers to sexual purity. Calling us to be free from defilement, beckoning us to conform to God’s law as opposed to our base sexual desires. That we’re chaste. It raises the prospect of chastity even when no-one is watching. You know that great question, what are you doing when you’re doing nothing else at all, when no-one is looking, are you pursuing holiness, even in private as you do so in public? It’s convicting isn’t it? And yet Paul is saying that we have to pay attention to our lives. Pay attention to our relationship with Christ. Pay attention to the way our lives reflect His character. That it’s not an excuse to say, “well I’m studying theology, I’m an RBC student, I’m confessional in what I believe, so I don’t have to pay attention to my life.” That is unbiblical. Dear friends, it is so easy, it is so easy when you’re a theological student to neglect the things that matter most. To neglect your life of knowing God in Christ, to neglect the character of a Christian in the way you relate to God and to others. And so, dear friends, today watch your life, and do so by knowing Christ and exemplifying Him in your life.
But next, we are called to watch our doctrine. Paul says here, “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Isn’t it interesting that there is a definitive article here? It’s not simply, paying attention to the teaching of every theologian that comes by, it’s not simply paying attention to the teaching of your professors, it’s paying attention to the teaching. That is, the teaching of the word of God. This phrase here is important to the apostle Paul over and over throughout the pastoral epistles, Paul calls Timothy to conform his life to the teaching. That is, to sound doctrine. To teaching and doctrine that is in accord with the glorious gospel of God in Christ. That our teaching must reflect the teaching of God, it must reflect healthy doctrine that is given to us in the deposit of His word. That as Christians, we have no right placing ourselves above God’s word but we place ourselves under the authority of Scripture and whatever it teaches it shapes our thinking and our living. I would encourage you to read through the pastoral epistles and mark down every time the Apostle Paul mentions either the word: teaching or doctrine. It’s the same word, but sometimes translators will vary it. But you’ll see here in 1 Timothy 4 that Paul encourages Timothy to watch his doctrine in several ways. In verse 6, Paul encourages Timothy to watch his doctrine by being trained, or by being educated in God’s word. Paul says in verse 6 of chapter 4, “but if you put these things before the brothers you’ll be a good servant of Jesus Christ being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. In order to watch your doctrine, you must be constantly nourished by the words of faith, that is the word of God. There is a direct correlation between what you put in and what goes out. Right, we pay attention to our diets, but do we pay attention to our intake of the word of God. And so, we train ourselves in the study of God’s word.
But next, Paul says in verse 13 that we watch our doctrine by placing ourselves under the ministry of the word of God. He says in verse 13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching.” That is, to doctrine. In other words, Timothy is to pursue doctrine in the context of the local church. That doctrine is not to be removed from the context of worship. That the primary place to learn doctrine is not RBC, but your local church. That the primary outlet for doctrine is not the lecture hall, but the sanctuary. We understand that the Christian life is communion with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit, through His word, in the company of the saints. See the temptation is, as theological students, to study theology apart from the context of God’s people. We oftentimes remove ourselves from the accountability of the saints. We oftentimes remove ourselves from the ministry of the word, and yet Paul says to Timothy that doctrine must be pursued and cultivated within the context of a believing, worshipping community. Isn’t it interesting that immediately following his exhortation to keep watch of doctrine, he exhorts Timothy in chapter 5 not to rebuke his elders. Look at chapter 5 verse 1, he says, “do not rebuke an older man, but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older men as mothers, younger men as sisters, in all purity.” It’s why we encourage you as students to be members of a local church. It’s actually a requirement to be a student here at RBC. Because we think it’s important for you to learn theology in a place where you can look down your pew and see everyone from 9 weeks old to 99 years old and everyone in between. Because as members of the body of Christ, we have something to learn from the entirety of the people of God and we can not pursue doctrine apart from the context of His people. Doctrine is something that has to be pursued within the church and it must be pursued within the context of worship. That’s why Paul always ends his theological reflections with doxology. Right? It’s why you get to the end of his reflections on divine sovereignty and election and reprobation in Romans 9, 10, and 11 and he gets to the very end after the scaling the heights of God’s sovereignty and all he can say is, “oh the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” That worship is the only proper response to the study of doctrine. Dear friends, doctrine is not for the purpose of growing your own personal knowledge but the pursuit of doctrine is for the purpose of the triune and living God.
And so Paul says here, that we are to watch our doctrine by being trained or nourished in the word of God. We are to watch our doctrine by placing ourselves under the ministry of the word. And, we are to watch our doctrine by growing in our understanding of the truth. Look at what he says in verse 15. He says to Timothy, “practice these things. Immerse yourself in them so that all may see your progress.” Do you know that was such a revolutionary discovery for me when I was a student? That the expectation is, you are going to grow in your grasp of God’s word. In other words, you’re going to graduate from RBC and not have it all figured out, and that’s okay. Maturity is a good thing, growth is a good thing. It’s actually one of the best things you can do when serving the people of God and serving your family and friends is that let them see your progress. So often times theological students feel the pressure to have everything figured out. Nobody is expecting you too, you understand that? You are juveniles in the faith, you are students. You’re young men and women, you’re on fire, you love the Lord, but, don’t lie to yourself that you’re going to have all of this figured out today, tomorrow, or by the time you graduate, because you’re not. You serve an infinite God and even all of eternity is going to be enough time for you to figure it all out. You never exhaust the majesty of God, you will never outgrow your love for Him. You’ll be pursuing Him the rest of your life and into eternity. And, therefore, let others see your progress. Be free not to know something. Allow sanctification to find its way in your growth and development as theologians. Dear friends, let them see your progress. Learn to say, “that’s a great question, I don’t know.” Learn not to beat yourself up when you fail your midterm. Recognize it’s not a loss when you fail a class. Because, you’re called to a life of progress. You’re called to a life of sanctification. You’re called to a life with God who is Himself the subject and object of theology and you will never exhaust knowing Him who is the object of all doctrine.
So Paul says, keep watch of yourself, keep watch of doctrine, and then finally, he says, persist in these things; persist in life and doctrine. We are to continue in these things, remain in these things, persist in these things, it’s a call to perseverance. You’re always going to be watching yourself, you’re always going to be watching your doctrine. This is going to characterize the entirety of your life, not just as a student here at RBC; for the remainder of your life in ministry. You see, Christianity is practiced at the intersection of life and doctrine. So often times people are going to say, “well, you need balance in your life.” You do not need balance in your life. Balance suggests compromise. That is not what Paul is saying here, he’s saying, pursue with vigilance your life, and pursue with vigilance doctrine and there at the intersection of those two things is where Christianity is lived. Both are vital. You cannot say that life is enough, life needs doctrine to ground it. And you cannot say that doctrine is enough, doctrine needs life to make it live and sing and come alive. You understand that a life without doctrine is like a house without a foundation and doctrine without life is like a body without a soul. They’re inextricably linked, you cannot have one without the other. Doctrine governs our lives and life is grounded by doctrine. We need both and in all things we persist in these things. From now and even unto glory. And in doing so you will save yourself and your hearers.
Oh I wish we could unpack this. But you understand, dear friends, that carelessness and faithlessness in theology is ruinous to yourself and to the church. I have known too many friends and I have known too many mentors that thought it was just enough to check the boxes and not know God and forfeit their lives and their ministries. Faithlessness, carelessness in life and doctrine is ruinous. It is possible to get a degree at RBC and forfeit your soul. Dear friends, do not lie to yourself by saying it is enough simply to know the right answers at RBC. You must watch your life and you must watch your doctrine. You see, you can know your Nicene Trinitarianism and your Chalcedonian Christology, and your Westminster Calvinism and not know God.
So dear friends, do not be so careful about doctrine that you neglect your life and do not be so pious about your life that you neglect your doctrine. And dear friends, I’m not here to beat you up, I’m here to join you in a life where we together pursue life and doctrine under the mercy and care of our good shepherd. I’m here today to remind you that there’s something more than life here at RBC. I’m here to remind all of us of the most glorious thing about this world is knowing God in Christ. You have a distinct privilege here at RBC to consecrate your life to the devotion of almighty God and so in all of your studies and all of your conversations and all of your exams and all of your papers, I plead to you today, watch your life and watch your doctrine.
Transcripts are lightly edited.