One of the catch phrases that we often hear today is that doctrine divides, but love unites. This idea is most often used as the justification for minimizing the differences that exist between various religious bodies. The premise is that we should not be concerned about our doctrinal differences, but should instead emphasize our shared beliefs. In this way it is asserted that we can enjoy fellowship and harmony with one another, and thus fulfill the Lord’s desire that all believers should be “one”. The result of this kind of attitude is that “doctrine” becomes something bad.
While this attitude fits well in the politically correct world in which we now live, it is so obviously contrary to what the scriptures teach that one wonders how it survives. The letters of Paul to Timothy and to Titus are generally referred to as the Pastoral Epistles. This means that they are intended to guide the church in its beliefs and practices. Yet, the one thing they emphasize more than anything else is the need to preach doctrine. In particular, Paul spoke to Timothy and Titus about what he called “sound” doctrine.
This term appears some ten times in these three small letters. In Tit. 1:9 Paul told Titus that overseers must be able to exhort in sound doctrine, and to refute those who contradict. In 1 Tim. 4:6 Paul reminded Timothy that he was constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine that he had been following. In 2 Tim. 4:3, 4 Paul warned Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine, but would turn away from the truth. According to the apostle Paul, doctrine is neither bad nor unimportant. It is absolutely necessary in order to be right with God.
The Greek word that is translated “sound” in these passages may also be translated “healthy”. When we consider Paul’s comments on this subject from this perspective, we begin to see why it is so important. We are spiritually fed and nourished by the words of scripture. These teachings or doctrines are designed to make us spiritually healthy. When we preach the whole purpose of God as Paul did in Ephesus (Acts 20:27), we are providing well-balanced spiritual food. This “healthy” food is intended to make us spiritually strong enough to live righteously in the world.
We may compare the preaching of sound doctrine to a mother who prepares healthy food for her family. That food will include some things that don’t taste as good as donuts or cotton candy, but which are more beneficial for our bodies than sweets. It isn’t that she doesn’t want her family to ever enjoy the sweets, but rather that she knows they cannot survive on these things. A mother who only served junk food to her family would be considered negligent, but how many preachers are doing this very thing each Sunday? They are feeding their churches spiritual cotton candy instead of the healthy doctrine of scripture.
Does doctrine divide? Yes, it does, but this is exactly what it is supposed to do. It divides those who love the Lord and keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15) from those who do not love Him. It divides the sheep from the goats, as the Lord Himself will do at judgment (Mt. 25:31-46). At the same time, however, sound doctrine makes us spiritually healthy and prepares us to live with God in heaven for eternity.
Paul made it clear that a faithful preacher must teach sound doctrine. If we truly love the Lord, and if we love one another, we will not substitute spiritual cotton candy for the healthy spiritual food of scripture.