“Devoted to the Teaching of the Apostles”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

As hopefully everybody is aware by now, our theme for the year is “Devoted”, and we will spend the year in extended contemplation of Acts 2:42.  The first topic of the four in the verse is “devoted to the apostles’ teaching”, and over the past couple of weeks Clay has done a fine job of highlighting examples of apostolic teaching.

This morning, though, I wanted to return to our keynote verse in an attempt to broaden our understanding of our subject.  “Devoted”, “teaching”, and “apostles” all have dictionary definitions, but all three concepts appear frequently in Scripture, and a study of these Scriptural uses will help us with everything else we study for the rest of the quarter.

It's not enough for the Jackson Heights church to have the theme of “Devoted”.  I applaud the elders’ decision in selecting that theme, but that decision pales in comparison with the decision to be devoted that each of us must make.  Devotion is personal, and if you personally are not devoted, the devotion of the congregation will not help you at all.  Let’s consider, then, what devotion to the teaching of the apostles means.

Naturally, the first idea we examine will be DEVOTION.  Let’s start with Acts 18:1-5.  Here, we learn that when Paul first came to Corinth, he met up with Aquila and Priscilla and started making tents with them.  This wasn’t because Paul wanted to make a fortune with his tentmaking; instead, he was out of money and needed a job to keep body and soul together.  This affected his preaching and teaching.  He was limited to proclaiming the gospel on Saturdays because he was working the rest of the time.

However, in v. 5, Silas and Timothy show up.  We know from Philippians 4 that they brought money with them from the church in Philippi.  Because of this gift, Paul was able to devote himself to preaching.   He was out there preaching that Jesus was the Christ seven days a week.

From this, there’s a simple conclusion that we can draw about the nature of devotion.  If you aren’t devoted to something, you only will do it part of the time.  If you are devoted to it, you will do it all the time.

At this point, brethren, it’s time for me to bring up a sensitive subject.  Let’s talk about how the attendance patterns of this church have changed since COVID.  Sunday morning numbers are closer to where they used to be.  Sunday and Wednesday evening numbers are not.

If devoted is full-time and not-devoted is part-time, what does the record of your attendance say about you?  If you’re not sure about how you’ve attended, talk to Dave Ledford.  He keeps records for every member here, and he would be happy to show you yours.  Can you personally look down at your sheet and say, “This is the way a devoted Christian would have attended?”

I don’t say these things to shame you.  I say them because I love you and believe in you, and I think that for many of you, those numbers are not who you want to be.  I think you want to be devoted because you know this is most important, but since the pandemic, it’s been easy to lose the habit.  It’s time to go back to that habit.  I’m not going to lie to you.  A positive change is going to take a lot of time and effort, but isn’t God worth it?

Next, let’s explore the concept of TEACHING.  Our text this time will be 1 Timothy 4:13-16.  Note that other translations here will say “doctrine”, and both “doctrine” and “teaching” come from the same Greek word.  For some reason, doctrine has gotten a bad rap among many Christians today.  They’ll try to make a distinction between gospel and doctrine, or they’ll say that they care about Jesus, not doctrine.

Frankly, this baffles me.  I don’t know where they’re getting it, but they’re not getting it from the Bible.  The Scriptures do distinguish between sound and unsound doctrine, but they don’t distinguish between gospel and doctrine.  Everything we know about Jesus or the gospel is doctrine.

Look at what Paul says about the importance of teaching here.  Timothy is supposed to give his attention to teaching.  He’s supposed to practice it, be committed to it, and progress in it.  He’s supposed to persevere in it.  Though the text doesn’t use the word, it’s entirely justified to say that Timothy is to be devoted to doctrine.

Paul justifies this emphasis at the end of v. 16.  This devotion to doctrine will save Timothy and those who listen to him.  This is how important teaching is.  It’s life-and-death important.  It’s heaven-and-hell important.  Devotion to teaching will save us.  Indifference to teaching will cost us our souls.

All other things being equal, then, the more doctrine we have in our lives, the better off we will be.  What kind of doctrine?  Any kind, as long as it’s sound.  It’s possible to emphasize one part of sound teaching to the detriment of other parts, but the more teaching we consume, the more we protect ourselves from this problem.  Our assemblies are a great place to hear teaching, but for the rest of the time, all of us have Bibles and Internet connections at home.  “Too much doctrine” simply is not intelligible as a spiritual problem.

Finally, let’s ponder what it means that this teaching is from the APOSTLES.  As a starting point, let’s read 2 Thessalonians 2:13-16.  This passage begins by describing what God has done for Christians.  He has chosen us for salvation through the Spirit and the word.  He has called us to glory through the gospel.  However, if we want to receive these blessings, we must do two things.  We must stand firm and hold fast to the traditions.

“Traditions” here is interesting.  Usually in Scripture, traditions are negative.  Jesus frequently warned against exalting human tradition.  Here, though, “traditions” is positive.  Paul is talking about the traditions handed down by the apostles and their closest followers through the Spirit, the things they said and wrote.

Today, everything we know about apostolic tradition is contained in the word of God.  We know what Paul said to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem because of the Bible.  We know what Peter wrote to Christians in the Diaspora because of the Bible.  At this point, 2000 years later, there is no other reliable record of apostolic teaching.

This answers a question some of you may have noticed in the last point.  Sound doctrine is vital, but how do we know whether doctrine is sound or not?  Simple.  Doctrine is sound if it’s apostolic and unsound if it isn’t.  If we are holding fast to apostolic tradition, we are holding fast to the things in the Bible and only those things.

Why does this matter so much?  Why are we such sticklers for following the Scriptural pattern?  Why are we devoted to the doctrine of the apostles?  The answer is in the text.  Holding firm to the traditions is the only way to ensure that we hold fast to the salvation to which God called and chose us.  If we let go, we’re letting go of God too.