During the hundreds of years in which the notorious Spanish Inquisition was in force to root out and destroy “heresy,” there was a “ceremony” called an auto da fe, which is Portuguese for “act of faith.” In Spain, Portugal, and their New World colonies, Protestants, Jews, and other non-conformists were frequently burned at the stake-often with massed choirs, clergy, “religious” processions, and incense to make it an impressive warning to others.
As one evangelical man, soon to be a martyr, was tied to the stake, a monk read aloud to him these words from his Latin Testament:
Now the spirit manifestly saith that in the last times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy and having their conscience seared (1 Timothy 4:1-2, Douay Version).1
The monk paused, looking ahead at the next verse…
“Read on, Brother, read on!” shouted the Christian, who knew his NT very well.
Furious, the monk tossed his Testament into the flames! Verse three described two of the practices of his and of all monasteries:
“Forbidding to marry, to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving by the faithful and by them that have known the truth” (italics supplied).
First Timothy 4 goes on to show how any of us can be rescued from the evil lifestyles and false teachings associated with the last times.
After mentioning giving “attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (v. 13) and not neglecting one’s spiritual gift, Paul ends his exhortation to young Timothy by urging him to meditate and give himself to these things, so that everyone will notice how he is progressing. It’s not enough to reach a comfortable plateau and then rest on our oars. We must keep moving ahead (v. 15)!
Then, he adds the two-fold formula for spiritual success: Take heed (1) to yourself and (2) to the doctrine (v. 16a).
Take Heed to Yourself
Personal Christianity is first. Being doctrinally correct is excellent (and unusual nowadays!) but it’s inadequate if the teacher of Christianity isn’t carefully cultivating his or her spiritual life.
Arthur Pink put it this way:
Service becomes a snare and an evil if it be allowed to crowd out worship and the cultivation of one’s own spiritual life.2
Sadly, recent church history gives ample illustrations of church leaders who came from doctrinally sound homes, churches, and schools, and made shipwreck of their testimony through careless living, ending up in financial, moral, or some other type of disaster.
Take Heed to the Doctrine
The second thing is extremely important in this day of compromise. Many Christians seem willing to soft pedal even such basic doctrines as justification by faith alone in order to get along with the “mainstream” of Christendom. Even some churches specifically founded to teach the Bible as the only reliable source of Christian faith and practice have compromised on increasingly important issues for the sake of (it would seem) prestige, money, acceptance, and “peace.”
There are some Christians who apparently lead commendably honest and decent lives who nevertheless don’t give much attention to Bible doctrine. Some even treat doctrine as a dirty word. “Doctrine divides” they say. “Devotion unites.” Sooner or later, if you continue in God’s Word, you will find you cannot worship with people who teach, for example, some sort of works-oriented way of salvation. Whether Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant, if they don’t teach the clear Gospel of Grace that Paul taught Timothy-and all his hearers and readers, they are in danger of ruin.
The last sentence tells that if you take heed to yourself and your doctrine “you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” Here save has the meaning “rescue”; no one can save himself or others eternally. Rescue from what? Probably, in this context, the evil lifestyles and false doctrines condemned at the start of the chapter.
So, to be balanced Christians it’s crucial to pay close attention not only to how we live—to ourselves; but also to what we believe and teach—to the doctrine.
As someone has well said, Christianity is the only religion that is so concerned about believing the right thing. Rightly so! Each false doctrine you embrace will somehow, somewhere, sometime, mar your spiritual life.
So it’s you and the doctrine. Pay attention to both!
1The Douay Version (NT by Jesuit scholars 1582, OT 1609) was translated, not from the original Greek, but from the Latin Vulgate, the official version of the Roman Catholic Church.
2Quoted in MacDonald’s Believers Bible Commentary, New Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990), 2:910.