Doctrine is vital to individual and collective testimony. Doctrine effects behavior in every aspect. Our brother accurately delineates how critical this is.
Reading: 1 Timothy 1-5
In a previous article in this series we considered the importance of hedges that God has placed around assemblies for the preservation of each assembly. In this article the importance of maintaining doctrinal hedges will be considered in more detail. Those who carry out the work of shepherds or pastors in an assembly have a particular responsibility for maintaining these doctrinal hedges. Every assembly needs men who will keep these hedges in good repair. Without them an assembly will lose its distinctive character and its value as a garden for the Lord. These doctrinal hedges are needed to ensure that we remain separated to the Lord Jesus Christ alone from the world and the religious Systems of men.
Paul wrote the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) to help Timothy and Titus and other younger men who had a burden about maintaining the early assemblies for the glory of God. These books are very important for those who seek to do the work of pastors or elders. It should be noted in connection with the term “pastoral epistles” that the word “pastors” is always used in the plural in Scripture indicating that the Lord raises up a plurality of men in each local assembly to carry out the work of shepherding the flock. Although Paul did not use the word “hedge” in these epistles, he encouraged elders or pastors to take on the responsibility of maintaining and building up the hedges around the Lord’s people. He advised Timothy and Titus about assembly difficulties that could arise and how to deal with them. Adherence to the doctrines laid out in the New Testament is essential for the preservation of an assembly. Paul desired that New Testament doctrines alone would be taught in the early assemblies, for he wrote, “I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3).
Hedge 1: Hedge of Teaching and an Exercise in the Gospel (1 Tim 1)
The hedge of teaching has made very important contributions to the preservation of assemblies through many generations. We are thankful for men who, through the years, have been exercised about teaching the saints, often filling the gaps that had developed in the hedges around various assemblies. In addition to instruction in the basic doctrines, teaching also involves showing believers how to apply these doctrines in their lives. Further, only teaching based on the Word of God can build up the saints.
Paul wrote of some teachers who didn’t help the saints because they desired “to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm” (1 Tim 1:7). Paul understood that the basis for teaching was the Gospel message. He recognized that his ministry was, “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (1 Tim 1:11,12). The teaching of the simple gospel message is one of the greatest preservatives for assemblies today We need to keep the grace and love of God always before us. When believers rejoice in the gospel message, it introduces a thankful and happy spirit into the assembly. The fervent, sincere preaching of the gospel will keep out false doc trines such as those associated with law-keeping that mix ideas about what God has done with what men think they can do to please God.
The gospel’s simplicity is a preservative. Even though it may not produce immediate results, regular gospel preaching in an assembly will keep the saints happy in the Lord. Our enjoyment of the gospel message will keep us free from entanglement with legality both in our daily lives and in our gospel preaching. Furthermore, experience has shown that often the preaching of the gospel leaves seeds in the hearts of the hearers that may bear fruit unto salvation many years later. Results from gospel preaching do not come through modernizing or altering the simple message but through close dependence on God, who will use the message to bring life to sinners.
Hedge 2: Hedge of Prayer (1 Tim 2)
Another important hedge around a local assembly is assembly prayer when it is carried out in a way that will bring God’s blessing. Paul wrote, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” (1 Tim 2:1). There are certain principles to be maintained in the conduct of public prayer. For example, Paul wrote, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim 2:8). While assemblies are to engage in prayer on a regular basis there are certain conditions which must be met if they are to be blessed. Believers should hold up holy hands in the presence of God. We should not have anger toward our brethren or our sisters nor should we have doubts in our own hearts. If there are gaps in our prayer lives we need to fill those gaps by confessing our sin to the Lord and, where necessary, to one another.
Although sisters do not pray publicly in assembly gatherings, their silent prayers are also needed. Paul outlined the role of the sisters in assembly gatherings when he wrote, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim 2:11,12). In some places this hedge has been allowed to come down and sisters are allowed to take part in public prayer. When sisters step out of their divinely appointed place, God can have no pleasure in the company. Although sisters are to be silent relative to public part, they are not to be silent in their hearts. Hannah prayed in silence in the temple in her soul without sound when only her lips moved. When sisters accept their role and fill their place in the assembly it is a preservative both for them and for the assembly as a whole. Sisters who see and keep their place are keeping up the hedge for God by their godly example and are filling gaps which might otherwise develop.
Hedge 3: Hedge of Godly Example (1 Tim 3)
The third chapter of 1 Timothy provides details about the standards for deacons in an assembly. Paul was writing to those he wanted to encourage in the work of feeding the flock of God. God sets high standards for those who teach and who lead the people of God. He raises up holy men with an exercise for the Lord’s people. These elders or bishops should meet the standards listed in 1 Tim 3: 2-7. They must be blameless. If not, problems in their past may be brought up and cause them to be ineffective in leading the people Of God. Men who have been preserved by God’s mercy and grace and who have never fallen in grievous sin can walk before the people of God because they are examples to the believers. It is important to seek the Lord’s preservation so that we will be kept from evil and be ready to serve whenever the opportunity or the need arises. Although we all have faults, the Lord wants those who take leadership roles to be blameless before Him. In the Old Testament, God chose men such as Moses and Joshua, who were blameless, to lead his people.
The Lord also requires those who go before the flock to be effective parents, by demonstrating an ability to look after their own families. Paul raised the question, “If a man knows not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim 3:5). We need to be exercised about looking after those things God has committed to us in every sphere of life, so that we will be a good testimony before the unsaved. Furthermore, it is very important for those who lead in an assembly to have the respect of the people of God, and that they put into practice the principles they teach in the assembly of God.
Godliness is not just for elders and deacons. Every believer’s behavior in the assembly is important, for Paul wrote, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim 3:15). Paul’s words indicate that all believers are expected to behave themselves in accordance with the standard given in the Word of God, particularly when assemblies are gathered together.