The Source of Sound Doctrine

How do we get sound doctrine from the Scriptures?

Sound Doctrine (2)

All Scripture
isgiven by inspiration of God, and isprofitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3.16, 17

Systematic instruction
We’ve seen how urgent Paul was, with all his churches and pastors, that they hew to sound doctrine in their teaching and preaching. Sound doctrine is the fuel of the divine economy, and a key to knowing the joy and rejoicing that come from rightly dividing the Word of truth. We can only wonder what those believers and their pastors are thinking today who hold sound doctrine in low regard.

They may think they’re teaching the Bible in the way God intends, but without a proper regard for sound doctrine, we can have no profit from the Word of God. All Scripture, inspired by God, is given to us, in the first instance, for doctrine. “Doctrine” simply means the systematic teaching of God’s revelation in the Bible concerning all matters relevant to faith and life. Since the Scriptures are sufficient to equip us for “every good work,” we must assume that all the doctrine we need to prepare for and execute those good works can be gleaned from the Scriptures.

In short, if our teaching of Scripture is not, in the first place, doctrinal – and grounded in sound doctrine – then it’s difficult to see how it can be of any profitable or practical use in our everyday lives.

Ask questions
How do we ferret out the doctrines of Scripture that can help us in making disciples, building the Church, and advancing the Kingdom of Christ?

Deriving sound doctrine from the Word of God grows out of our daily discipline of feeding on the Scriptures, seeking Christ and His Kingdom, that we may increase in righteousness, peace, and joy in Him. Understanding sound doctrine involves a process of asking questions, searching the Scriptures, and putting our findings together in an orderly and consistent manner, making sure to check our conclusions against the best teaching of the Christian tradition.

Suppose, for example, we want to learn what the Bible teaches about, let’s say, work – what it’s for, how we should approach it, what ways we should conduct our work, and to what ends. Is work to be received as a gift and calling, or is it a drudgery to be endured for the time being? Is our work an arena for seeking the Kingdom, or does it exist apart from such spiritual interests?

Search the Scriptures
Whatever questions we have about work, we bring to the pages of Scripture, knowing that the Holy Spirit, Who is our primary Teacher, will guide us to passages in both the Old and New Testaments where the Lord speaks about work in one way or another (1 Cor. 2.12, 13).Using a concordance, Bible dictionary, and other resources – including those available from our Christian forebears – we discover as many as we can of the passages in Scripture that have something to say about work. Jot them down and determine to make a careful study of each.

Then, carefully examine each of these passages in its own context, using the approach to reading and study we have discussed in previous installments of this series. The goal is to make sure we understand what the writer is saying. For example, if we take Ecclesiastes 2.22, 23 simply at face value, without an understanding of the context in which this passage occurs, we’re likely to get a wrong idea about Solomon’s view of work. Here he writes, “For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity.” Sounds like work is a drudgery, a necessary evil.

But, in the context, Solomon is commenting on work undertaken as an end in itself, a means to self-fulfillment or material success, apart from any notion of serving God with our work. In such a case work can be meaningless, but we need the larger context to help us understand. In the context of the entire book of Ecclesiastes, where we learn the importance of living under the heavens and not merely under the sun, work takes on a much more important purpose.

Order your findings
Continuing in our example, after you’ve studied each passage relating to work, you’ll want to put them together in a logical arrangement. You’ll want to order your study of various passages, to combine their individual meanings into a larger whole.

Imagine yourself in a conversation with the Bible, and you’re asking questions in the order that would make sense to you. That will probably provide a good outline for how to arrange the various texts you’ve studied for constructing a larger, coherent explanation of the teaching of Scripture on your subject. Relate the passages to one another so that the thought of Scripture unfolds easily and logically, and you’ll begin to see the pattern of God’s thinking about the topic of work emerge before your very eyes.

Check your conclusions
Next, consult other sources to check your conclusions. Look to see what other Christians have written about a Biblical view of work, and correct or illuminate your teaching with what you find among the writings of the great teachers of the Church.

Finally, pray and reflect further to find personal applications for yourself, and general applications for the times in which we live.

As you approach Scripture in this way, on a wide range of topics and questions, you will be using the practices of rightly dividing the Word of truth for deriving sound doctrine from the Word of God. And this will not only further equip you for a life of good works, but will cause your joy and rejoicing to increase.

For reflection
1.  How much of this kind of study – studying for sound doctrine – is part of your discipline of the Word of God?

2.  What are some questions you might like to ask of Scripture?

3.  How can you incorporate more study of sound doctrine into your walk with and work for the Lord?

Next steps – Preparation: Choose a question you would like to pursue as a topic of study. Begin approaching this question as outlined in this article. Take your time, keep notes, and make your study a matter of earnest prayer.

T. M. Moore

To learn more about understanding and using the Bible, enroll in the course, Introduction to Biblical Theology. It’s free and online, and you can study at your own pace or with friends. To learn more and to register, click here. This week’s study is Part 8 of a series on The Word of God, and is available as a free download by clicking here.

The key to understanding the Bible is to see Jesus in all its parts, as centerpiece and fulfillment of God’s covenant and promises. Our workbook,
God’s Covenant, takes you through the entire Bible, following the development of themes related to God’s covenant, and consummated in Jesus Christ. Here’s an effective tool for helping you read the Bible through God’s eyes. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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