Does your doctrine show love?
Our doctrine, our set of operating beliefs, is important, but even more important is making sure those beliefs express the all-encompassing love of God that flows through us.
Last week at The Well, we talked about the importance of sound doctrine– doctrine being the set of beliefs by which we live our lives. For Christian leaders (which are all Christians, in one way or another), we must first have good doctrine, and then we must apply it. That first step begins by reading and believing the Bible, which is the Word of God. If we do that in totality, without justifications or interpretations that favor our selfish desires, we’re on the right track. The second step, however, is where I’m going to focus.
In my more adolescent years, I used to spend time on a certain online forum. The members of this forum would discuss all sorts of things, usually pertaining to entertainment but often crossing into life situations and more serious topics. It was fun to be a member of the community, but I discovered very quickly that about 98% of these people did not share my more fundamental views on politics and especially spirituality. It became a common pasttime of mine to get involved in arguments and debates relating to these subjects. I like to think that I did some good by exposing my views of the truth among people who probably had no other outlet for hearing it, but although my approach improved over time, my motives were not always as pure as I wanted them to be. The thrill of the argument was often a pursuit in its own right. The anonymity afforded by the Internet provided a safety net for confrontationalism, and the message board structure allowed for careful, measured, and meticulous composition of each response. I got angry, and I got frustrated, but a part of me reveled in it. I eventually came to realize, however, that– perhaps with only a few exceptions– it would produce only rancor. In a few instances, the discussion seemed fruitful, but in most, it devolved into anger, condescension, and offense. I was clearly missing something.
In 1 Timothy, Paul reminds his protege about getting off-track. After all, it’s really easy to do, and many succumb to it– not just by having bad doctrine, but by misapplying good doctrine, or not applying it at all. So how do we apply it correctly? Paul gave the answer in verse 5: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” He points out three things that we must have in order to do what we are supposed to do with our doctrine (that is, to show love): purity, conviction, and faith. As always, we have to check our hearts to make sure we are motivated by what is right.
When I would choose to respond to a spiritual discussion on that forum (or start one), I believed I was doing the right thing. And I usually was. But I wasn’t always doing it the right way. Was my heart pure, seeking God’s glory with no ulterior motivation (like the thrill of winning an argument or making myself look smart)? The things I said came from a place of both conviction and faith, but without a pure heart, what I did was not done out of love. Without love, the effort was pointless– maybe even harmful to the spread of the Gospel.
It was the love of God that sent Jesus to die for us. It was the love of God that changed our hearts and saved us from ourselves. It was the love of God that convinced us to love Him back, and it’s the love of God that empowers us to love others. Our doctrine, our set of operating beliefs, is important, but even more important is making sure those beliefs express the all-encompassing love of God that flows through us.
“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2