The Real Living Bible (by John Frye — see here)
“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the
Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17). There can be no more instructive verse from Paul, in my opinion, that emphasizes life over doctrine than this one. There are others like it, but this is the crux. The Corinthian believers need help in living out the King Jesus Gospel. Paul cannot make it back to them as soon as he wishes so he sends Timothy to give spiritual direction. Timothy is to remind the Corinthian church of two things: 1) Paul’s way of life and, 2) Paul’s way of life agreeing with what he taught.
Because a large segment of the USAmerican evangelical church is so obsessed with correct doctrine, it is in danger of missing Paul’s emphasis. Paul does not believe doctrine is unimportant, but he believes incarnated doctrine trumps the statements of doctrine. My, how we so highly esteem right doctrine! At some point Paul must have said to Timothy, “My son, remind them of my way of life. Point out to them how my way of life agrees with everything I taught them and with what I teach everywhere.”
God, how I wish we could get back to this order in the USAmerican church. We have those who espouse “right doctrine” on almost every corner of America, but so few who will espouse, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (which being interpreted means “Read the Gospel of my life and imitate it. You’ll be living right doctrine”).
We have excised doctrine from life and made it a thing itself. The moment we do that, I believe, it doesn’t matter how pristine and precise the doctrine, it might as well be voodoo. The Jewish rabbis believed that obedience to the commands was the right teaching of the commands. Jesus and Paul picked up on the Jewish mind-set and set it into motion in the Gentile world. Only a truth lived is a truth believed.
I was recently at an Evangelical Covenant Pastors retreat and Gordon MacDonald was our speaker. Gordon emphasized the rabbinic influence on Jesus’ way with his disciples and on Paul’s teachings to the churches. The driving passion of a disciple was to live the way the master lived; not just to know what the master taught. When I heard Gordon, I recalled the verse from 1 Corinthians 4 that opened this post. It powerfully reflects that rabbinic influence. “Watch your life and doctrine closely,” Paul challenged Timothy. We probably would say, “Watch your doctrine and life closely.”
When biblical doctrine degenerates to an intellectual debate on who’s right and who’s wrong, the mind gets engaged and the heart gets hardened. The fascination and wonder of God’s revelation and acts of salvation get mired in correctness of the articulation of these things. The sheer transformative power of Gospel is dampened by our tribe’s “view” of these majestic realities. For example, we are not saved by believing in justification by faith alone; we are saved by the Living God acting in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. It seems like many evangelicals do not believe that salvation is comprehensible to the simple child even though they say that it is. What if the child gets the ordo salutis wrong?
The incarnate truth of God is the Bible the world still needs to read.