Not long ago, I began reading Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
I’d estimate that I have read through I Timothy between 25 and 30 times over the past 35 years or so. (Interestingly, I’ve never based a sermon series on it.)
But in spite of all that reading, I’d never seen what I saw on this particular re-read.
Here’s what happened. Midway through what we know today as chapter one, Paul begins one of his “vice lists.” These lists are essentially epistolary pile ons: sin on top of sin on top of sin on top of sin, and the temptation is to skim through the list to get to the end.
Here’s how he begins:
8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful,
get ready for the pile on to begin!
the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers,
Ok, murder is sin; patricide even moreso.
10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality,
What we do with our bodies mentioned in the same breath as murder?
for slave traders and liars and perjurers —
“Slave traders”? Really? Haven’t we been hearing that the New Testament doesn’t speak against slavery?
and for whatever else is contrary to the . . .
At last! The Vice List is over, Paul is getting off his ViceMobile and getting ready to wrap this conversation up. And what’s coming next? “Contrary to the . . .” The way of life? The commandments? The seven habits of highly effective people? Nope. Instead, it’s contrary to the . . .
sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
Do you see that? Sin is contrary not to holiness and not to obedience but to sound doctrine. When I read Paul’s concluding thought there, it left me stunned. I was skimming along, bored with yet another vice list, and then the Lord jolted me upright in my seat.
Because the opposite of sin is not obedience. It is solid, biblical, thorough, ancient TEACHING.
Sound doctrine prevents sin.
Poor doctrine propels it.
Are you listening, UMC? In an era in which we blithely assent to the notion that doctrine and ethics are somehow disconnected, are you listening?
And notice how Paul describes the origin of sound doctrine: “which he (God) entrusted to me.”
Meaning: sound doctrine is not something Paul invents. It’s something he inherits.
May that be true of us as well.