Recently, my wife and I have recently been walking through 1 Timothy and one particular passage sticks out
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the doctrine. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:16
This is a passage that I’ve heard numerous sermons over throughout my life and it is usually within the context of the ordination of a minister. However, as my wife and I were thinking through this passage, we came to see the importance of this passage in the life of everyday Christians. There are numerous warnings throughout the Scripture about the influence of false teachers with their false doctrine and we ignore those warnings to our own peril. However, it’s my observation that most people believe that clinging to bad doctrine only affects their inner spiritual life (if that isn’t bad enough). I don’t get the impression that many Christians understand the far-reaching and profound impacts of false doctrine; it not only affects our inner life, but it affects our entire person and can have indirect, unintended consequences that reach to several generations. [As an aside, I am not speaking here of the spurious doctrine of “generational curses”, but I’m speaking simply of the direct and indirect consequences of sin].
I want to give an example of this point based on the life of a married couple that my wife and I know. For the sake of privacy, I will call the husband John and the wife Mary. When John and Mary got married, they entered marriage with about $50,000 of personal debt due to their college education. Both John and Mary had the conviction that it was necessary to pay off their debt as quickly as possible based off of Romans 13:8. Therefore, they both applied their heart to live as simply as they could with the belief that God would honor their discipline and enable them to pay off their debt. However, as all married couples know, when two individuals get married, you also bring your immediate family into the mix. Mary’s mother took out approximately $100,000 in order for Mary to attend college and Mary gave the verbal agreement that she would pay back the original loan amount. However, Mary’s mother insisted that she should not worry about it because Mary’s mother believed that it was her responsibility to pay for college. Moreover, Mary’s mother told Mary that “God will make you [Mary] a rich businesswoman”.
As time went along, Mary’s mother began to cling to the prosperity gospel and her disposition towards money and finances began to dramatically change. First, Mary’s mother began to develop a desire towards being rich, believing that “this is her season”. This caused Mary’s mother to enter numerous risky and unwise business ventures, believing that God would make her a millionaire as a result. When Mary questioned those business ventures, she was accused by her mother of “speaking death over her life” and “being a tool of the devil”. As the years went by, her mother’s business ventures failed to prosper, but she continued to cling to the promise that this year was “her season of prosperity”. Second, Mary’s mother began to avoid her creditors. Eventually, Mary’s mother moved from the position that God would cause her businesses to prosper to the position that God would miraculously give her a check in the mail. All she would have to do is “declare and decree” the blessing over her life. Moreover, Mary’s mother became more secretive about the true state of the loan when John and Mary asked. As the years went by, it turned out that she could not create wealth ex nihilo, which meant that she couldn’t pay back the student loans.
When Tom and Mary got married, they were aware of the false doctrine that her mother believed, but it didn’t dawn upon them that her false doctrine would have far reaching implications towards their own family. It turns out that after all of the claims of God’s alleged promises of prosperity, Mary’s mother never made one payment on the student loan. Consequently, after ten years of avoiding creditors, the interest on the loan has capitalized to the point where the loan has ballooned to over $175,000. Now John and Mary have a dilemma: how should they honor Mary’s mother? Would honoring her mother mean paying off this debt?
Despite the numerous warnings and conversations that were given to Mary’s mother, the situation has only worsened in time. Now, John and Mary potentially have over $1500 of loan payment to make each month on this particular loan and will most likely have to care for her in the future. Essentially, this has meant that John and Mary’s life as a family is severely limited based upon her mother’s decisions. In other words, her mother’s false doctrine was not just limited to her “inner life” – it affected her whole person as well as her children. John and Mary’s lives have been radically transformed as a result of these decisions.
This story is meant to simply drive home a very basic point – keep watch on yourself and your doctrine. Your spiritual life does not exist in a vacuum; it affects numerous people around you along with your life.