Watch Your Life and Doctrine

Just spit-ballin’, here…

I’m working on a chapter for the book that I’d like to finish in 2014. Yesterday I was working through a section and sharing some thoughts about 1 Timothy 4:16, “watch your life and your doctrine.” The result of such watching helps one save themselves and their hearers.

As I have examined the ways I’ve seen us a Christians watch our life and doctrine, I find some to be healthier than others.

Church Nursery
Some watch their life/doctrine like a volunteer in the nursery at church on a busy day and the other helper is “not feeling well” (“it’s going around these days, ya know”) and the children’s pastor forgot to find a replacement. They watch the clock move slowly to the time when church gets out, making sure chaos does not completely reign in the room, and model perfect supervision skills when parents are in eye sight.

Some watch their lives and doctrine in this way. They are waiting for their time (life) to run out, to keep themselves busy, to make sure nothing traumatic happens, and to perform their best when the score keepers are around. This type of life is stressful, right? But we have to admit that some of our church structures promote this type of anxiety.

Happy Meal Toys
So, we have two kids in our house. Our oldest is quite possessive of her stuff. At times, our youngest will find a random, happy meal toy that the older one got 2 years ago and had completely forgotten about until that moment. Instead of moving on with life, the older will demand the retrieval of that random-used-to-be-non-existent-toy-and-now-object-of-sibling-jealousy even though all of life was fine without any knowledge that the toy existed, 2 minutes ago. But since someone else had possession of it, the toy morphs into a icon of rivalry, envy, and division.

I’ve seen some Christians live life this way, as if their beliefs are things that they pack away and play with occasionally, but separately from other areas of their lives. But, if someone posts an article on Facebook or a conversation about “that” issue comes up at the block party, watch out! The gloves come off and a bear that has been hibernating deep within instantly wakes up and is looking to make its presence known.

After the room settles down or the news feed pushes the situation out of sight, the bear goes back to its basement and life resumes as normal.

Solitary Confinement
Others watch their life and doctrine by putting them into a secure, offsite location, fit with security cameras and motion detection. “Sit there and don’t move, doctrines,” these folks say. “Don’t change. Don’t move a muscle. Don’t make a mess on my floor.”

These doctrines function as insurance policies. In times of distress, doubt, or confrontation, they will open up the app on their phone that syncs with a camera that gives them a good view of those beliefs in order to find peace in the moment.

We should examine whether we use doctrine any of these interesting personifications. If we use doctrine in any of these ways (or something in the orbit of these examples) we have to ask can such mentalities save us?

What if the “watching” could be more like a parent watching their children grow? As a dad, I am drawn to watching my kids more closely each year. They are growing up so fast. On the one hand, they resemble who I’ve always known them to be. On the other, they are taking on new identities that I didn’t expect. At times, I have anxiety of these surprises… but then I am energized with a wave of gratitude because they are becoming healthy, beautiful kids. They never cease to be “them” and because of that, I watch with a full heart.

I see this opportunity as a “people-watcher” in the Christian faith. Nearly half of the people that I went to youth group with moved away to different cities or have visited foreign countries. They met new people in those places. They lived new, different experiences. They’ve returned with different perspectives.

Some have suggested that this process is unhelpful, or some have worried that these folks have left the faith.There are certainly occasions that warrant this worry or anxiety. In other cases, however, they haven’t left the Christian faith, just the observer’s preference of the Christian faith.

Some of these folks have phased out of the specific forms and symbols and seasons and “god-talk” that was employed in their native contexts and have moved into a new space. These former elements are important, sacred, because their employment has allowed them to grow and develop from point A to point B.

The new space, however, has allowed them to (from my observations) embrace a faithfulness to the same Jesus with different forms, symbols, seasons, and “god-talk” than they had before. For some/many this is powerful for they’ve been able to embrace an appropriate order of faithfulness:



… the way people from all of church history have employed tradition, signs, symbols, seasons, metrics, liturgies, etc… to help folks rehearse the ramifications of the empty tomb.

In the spirit of what Jesus said to his audience, we must ask, “Is doctrine made for humanity, or humanity made for doctrine?”

May we find ourselves faithfully, prayerfully, and carefully employing doctrine and not being employed by it.


Published by joeskillen

I'm a husband, dad of 2, Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS.

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