Sound Doctrine

In the second chapter of Paul’s letter to Titus, he begins to offer practical advice on teaching for this young preacher. In these instructions, he makes an important point about the need for “sound doctrine.”

First, he tells Titus that his teaching needed to be sound. “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (2:1). We understand the use of the term doctrine, but perhaps we would do well to examine the biblical usage of the term sound. It is essentially a kind of “country doctor” medical term, and Jesus uses it in this manner in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, as the servant explains to the oldest son, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound” (Lk. 15:27). The idea is one of health, that is, the prodigal had come home healthy.

How then, does this idea of health translate to doctrine? For a body to be pronounced “sound” requires it to be complete, as well as free of disease. For teaching to be “sound” it too, must be complete (no leaving passages out because they don’t suit our preconceptions, misconceptions or long held beliefs), and it must be pure (no adding our own ideas because, “after all, it’s a good work”).

Paul tells Titus his doctrine needs to be sound, and as he gives further teaching as to what Titus needed to doing in his work in Crete, sound doctrine becomes a theme which runs through Paul’s writing on older men, older women, young women and young men. Instructions to each of these groups includes some variation on this theme.

“Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance” (v. 2). Here, Paul shows the importance of sound doctrine as it produces the kind of faith, love and perseverance which will sustain the older Christian as he strives to please God and help those who are younger and seek his wisdom and guidance. The unspoken, but obvious, message is that as a leader in the church, the older man’s doctrine can have tremendous influence, but a tainted, “unsound” doctrine will cause that influence to be for evil and not for good.

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good” (v. 3). Again, emphasis is placed first on behavior, and then on what they were teaching. Paul’s goal is in having these older women as anchors in the church, tied to what is right, whether in their actions or in their doctrine. Paul is convinced that older women can have an even greater influence than their husbands, because as he continues, he speaks of the many people who may be touched by the lives of these great women of God.

“That they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored” (vv. 4-5). The influence of older women on these younger women is felt by their husbands, by their children, by a church which benefits from good-hearted young women like these, and by the word of God. Paul says young women have a great opportunity to show God’s word in their lives, showing that sound doctrine must be lived as well as taught. The purity of God’s word shines in their lives.

“Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (vv. 6-8). Paul instructs Titus along with the young men, and he cautions him on the need for behavior that will cause others to see God’s word at work. This cannot be accomplished with impure doctrine.

Titus, through Paul’s letter, was given a tremendous opportunity to build a great church. It would be a church built on God’s word, and it would stand by the strength of Jesus and His teachings, but it would also have pillars, young and old, which reflected the great truths of God in their lives. It would stand because of the desire of those people to practice sound doctrine.Are you a faithful, active member?