Sound Doctrine (3)
Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart… 1 Timothy 1.5
Knowing and loving
I’m sure that one reason why there is so much antipathy to sound doctrine in the contemporary Church is that people have misunderstood doctrine’s purpose and proper use.
Those who advocate for sound doctrine sometimes give the impression that knowing doctrine and believing it are the proper ends of doctrine. The more doctrine you know, and the more convincing you can be in explaining it, the stronger must be your faith.
In this case, doctrine becomes a kind of spiritual trump card: If I know the right doctrine and hold firmly to it, then I enjoy a kind of spiritual superiority over those with whom I might be engaged in discussion or debate. Doctrine is for knowing and believing; the more you know and the more firmly you believe it, the more your faith will be what it ought to be.
But simply knowing doctrine is never enough. The devil knows the doctrines of Scripture as well as the best theologians in the Church, but they don’t do him any good.
Paul says the aim of teaching sound doctrine is love. In fact, he would say that we don’t really know doctrine – no matter how well versed in it we may be – until it issues in love for God and love for others in the way we live. “The purpose of the commandment is love,” Paul wrote, and the commandment he had in mind was sound doctrine (cf. vv. 3, 10, 11). When doctrine is having its proper effect on us, love is the result. And getting to love involves more than just what we know – or, think we know. Love is a matter of mind and heart.
The role of the heart
Knowing doctrine is important, of course. The more we study the Scriptures, asking questions about this, that, and the other, searching and studying the Scriptures, organizing our thoughts, and comparing our conclusions with the best teachers in the Christian tradition, the more we will be able to build up our store of doctrinal knowledge concerning all the Bible teaches. Every believer in Christ should be working hard to improve his stock of knowledge about the sound doctrines of the faith.
But if love is going to ensue from our study of sound doctrine, two other aspects of the soul must be engaged, and not only engaged, dramatically transformed. The first of these is the heart.
Paul writes that the aim of sound doctrine is love, that issues “from a pure heart…” (v. 5). Now the heart is the seat of affections – our attitudes, feelings, hopes, and aspirations. We all have such affections – love, hate, fear, disgust, anger, longing, compassion, zeal, and so forth. Studies in the field of neuroscience are beginning to confirm what Scripture has taught all along, that the emotions are an important component in a life of wisdom. We need to make sure our affections are pure, and this means that they must be focused on the right objects, and developed to the proper degree of intensity.
Two sorts of affections
Affections are of two sorts: those that incline us toward something – such as compassion, love, joy, hope, and desire – and those that repel us from something – disgust, anger, hatred, and so forth. All these affections matter and have their place in our lives, but they must be properly focused and developed to the right intensity if they are to do the work of bringing sound doctrine to expression in love.
For example, we need to make sure that we love God, but hate sin; have compassion for the lost, but avoid those who are in rebellion against God; rejoice in the blessings of others and weep with their sorrows. The sound doctrines we are learning will help us to identify and focus on proper affections. From there we can work to make sure our affections are developed to the proper level of intensity – loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, for example, and not just a little.
Engaging right affections with what we are coming to know about sound doctrine is an important step in making sure the doctrine we learn and profess will be put to use in loving God and our neighbors.
So while it’s important to get the right knowledge about sound doctrine, we also have to wrap our hearts around the teaching of Scripture as well. Because sound doctrine won’t issue in genuine love until it captures our imaginations and engages our hearts in ways consistent with the teaching of Scripture and the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. What is the difference between the role of the heart and the role of the mind in the life of faith?
2. Why can we not be satisfied with a merely intellectual grasp of sound doctrine?
3. Would affections and the role of the heart be a proper subject for doctrinal study? Explain.
Next steps – Preparation: In what ways are your affections currently involved in your reading and study of God’s Word? Can you think of any ways of engaging your heart more completely?
T. M. Moore
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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.