In a day when doctrine is too often underappreciated it is exciting to see to a renewed concern about its importance in the Christian life. Scripture puts a premium on the necessity of sound doctrine. Repeatedly Paul counsels Timothy and Titus, as pastors, to give careful attention to their teaching. In Titus 3:1 he introduces extended practical instructions by writing, 'But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.' Sound doctrine leads to healthy Christian living. That is, when doctrine is rightly applied, spiritual vitality results.
Sometimes, however, people who make much over doctrinal precision are not living lives that can be characterized as spiritually vibrant. They love the doctrinal foundations, but they do not build devotional houses on them.
It is one thing to know doctrine and another to hold it rightly. In fact, Scripture gives us repeated warnings about mishandling truth. One way this is too often done is to use 'truth' as a justification for a lack of love. Where this is allowed to go on uncorrected, sound doctrine suffers more at the hands of its friends than at the hands of its foes.
Paul warns against improperly held truth when he instructs the Corinthians in 'a more excellent way.' He writes, 'though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and knowledge . . . and have not love, I am nothing' (1 Cor. 13:2). What he describes in this hypothetical possession of exceptional mental gifts is, in one sense, every doctrine-lover's dream!
Who that loves the deep doctrines of God's Word would not want to 'understand all mysteries and knowledge?' Imagine if you were so gifted you could be Wayne Grudem's and D. A. Carson's tutor. Finally, you could sort out the details of eschatology and settle the lapsarian question. Think of the books that could be written and the help that could be given to others who have an inferior grasp on the Scriptures.
Yet, as valuable as such doctrinal insight might be, Paul says that there is something greater — love. In fact, it is possible to be the greatest theologian in the world and still be 'nothing.' That's a humbling thought for one who loves doctrine.
A person who has a great grasp of the great doctrines of the Bible and yet is unloving toward people is in reality a spiritual freak and does not know what he thinks he knows. Here is the way that it works: the truths taught in Scripture are designed to reveal God to us. Genuine knowledge of God — the kind that is not merely speculative — necessarily humbles a person. Anyone who is truly humbled before God cannot help but love Jesus Christ who is God incarnate. And Jesus said, 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments' (John 14:15).
This is why Paul writes that the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' (Gal. 5:14, Rom. 13:10). Without this, whatever doctrine you might know is not being rightly held.
Taken with permission from The Founders Journal, Issue 79 (Winter 2009) with the permission of its editor, Thomas K. Ascol.