Isaiah 28:9-10, "Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:"
This morning, our mind inclines once again to the wonderful topic of the doctrine and bedrock principles of God's Holy Book. Considering the modern religious world at large, it is readily apparent that fundamental truths of the Bible get pushed aside to "make room" for enticements by many flavours of churches nowadays. Recently, I had opportunity to chat briefly with a co-worker who attends a mega-church in town. He recounted how their church was either stagnant or dying until about three years ago when their new, young pastor came in. My co-worker continued to declare in grand fashion how this new, young man brought the church out of the doldrums it was in. With his energy and fire, he ignited an interest in a lot of youth and young families in that area. However, to do it, his energy was spent arranging for the church to be everyone's "self-help" on topics such as marriage, finance, etc. While my co-worker did not use the word doctrine in his declaration, it was obvious while listening to him that the new, young pastor completely neglected the bedrock areas of the Bible to cater to the interests of those he sought to bring into the church rolls.
While every word, principle, and lesson in the Bible is important, Scripture shows – by its own commentary – a certain structure of teaching. What is the foundation? What is the building? Paul teaches Timothy that doctrine sets the foundation, reproof builds on it, correction builds off that, and instruction in righteousness completes the structure. (II Timothy 3:16-17) What happens without the first point of doctrine in the foundation? The entire structure has no solid footing upon which to rest. Without that, the best instructions in life will come to no long-term fruition as the heart will grow faint and the soul become weary.
In the conversation with my co-worker, his subject shifted slightly from talks about the church he attended to his personal walk and discipleship. Even though he belongs to a "lively" church full of young people with plenty of opportunity to learn from Bible studies and seminars about marriage, finances, etc., his entire tone of personal discipleship was despondent. He could not figure out how he was supposed to study his Bible. Large portions of epistles (that are heavy on the doctrine – such as the first half of Romans) were so foreign to him that he could not begin to put the puzzle pieces together. That anxiety in study led to anxiety in prayer, and anxiety built upon anxiety to the point where he questioned a lot of things that he tried to do in life.
In our study verses, we see the paramount need for fundamental doctrine and the way that this knowledge comes. When considering the best practical – duty – sermons that could be preached, the structure will not last long in our lives unless we see the sure foundation that such teachings are built upon. Why is it that reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness are important for us to do? How do they prove successful in the long haul for us? To apply them correctly, we have to live them with the understanding and correct focus of why it is that we do them. We do them out of love and devotion for One that loved us beyond compare. Any other reason is feigned, and eventually the efforts will droop away in the face of life's heat and trial.
Doctrine does not come in one big wallop. As much as we would like to hear something one time and understand it completely, that is not the way that such vast and rich subjects like election, predestination, justification, sanctification, redemption, and many others come. Notice in verse 10 above that "precept upon precept" and "line upon line" is repeated. The repetition is neither redundant nor a clerical error. Rather, the repetition shows and teaches us that these subjects not only come piece by piece and bit by bit, but they come piece by repeated piece and bit by repeated bit. The repetition is necessary as the understanding comes to full bloom here a little and there a little.
Most modern day Christians fit within the scope of the prophet's language of those that have not been weaned away from milk. Failing to understand the doctrine and move out from that is like the starting gun going off in our life's race with us still planted in the "ready" position but never taking off. So many people feel to have answers today only to lose them tomorrow. Happiness presently, yet leading to anxiety in the future. True hope and assurance for life's race can only come with a developed knowledge and understanding of fundamental Bible truths. Those truths can only be developed and maintained through regular, consistent declaration of them.
Even as a young boy, I heard some of the complaints by some that they heard too much doctrine preached in the Old Baptist pulpits. While I do allow that ministers can lean on certain subjects to the neglect of others, I will always try to remember hearing a repeated sentiment from my natural father for years on this question. His sentiment is summarized in the next paragraph.
People who think too much doctrine is being preached should be able to prove it by being able to expound and declare it at length. If one is incapable of declaring at length what they believe about rich truths like redemption, atonement, and eternal security, then they could stand to hear those things one more time. Furthermore, most of the best practical sermons come without people really realizing that duty is being fed to them. Much like the Apostle Paul in his epistles, the doctrine flowed to duty so freely that at times the transition was hard to spot exactly when it happened. If that foundation is laid correctly, it will connect beautifully to the building so that one may not easily detect the start of one and the end of the other. So should good preaching flow. Doctrine flowing sweetly to our responsibility with the order of the structure intact.
When I was involved in organized sports, I had a coach that would always use a term when we were down. If we came into the locker room at halftime in the hole and needing to climb out, he would say, "This is what separates the men from the boys. How are you going to answer that bell?" What separates the men from the boys in our race of life and walk of faith is a grounded understanding of the doctrine of our Lord and Master. (I Corinthians 14:20) How we answer the bell when life gets us down and we find ourselves in a hole depends on how firmly we see the beautiful grace of God, finished work of Jesus Christ, security forever in His hand, and knowledge of the better world to come. Knowing those things, and knowing that shortly this our body must also be put off to one day be fashioned like unto His body, we are better equipped to fulfill the injunction of being steadfast, unmoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord. (I Corinthians 15:58)
The church of Christ should be a help to us in this old world. We should learn within her halls the right course of life. But, what separates the church from all the glorified helps of man is that her instructions in righteousness are but the roof of our building that rests upon the solidity of God's doctrine and fundamental truths. We can get good practical teaching in many places, but the practical teaching that will provide long-term success is the teaching that keeps the cross and God's work firmly in view. Therefore, let us not be weary in well doing but always abound in the work of the Lord. Knowing His doctrine, we know that our labour and struggles are not in vain. Because of His work, we shall shortly be with Him, and that makes the journey sweeter and the race lighter.