“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:16

I would love to have a dollar for every time I heard my Mom say, “Joe, pay attention to what you’re doing!” As I was growing up, there was always something more fun to distract me from the task at hand.

To be honest, I still need reminders like that, particularly in my desire to become more like Jesus. I suspect that all of us do. We want to follow and serve Him more effectively, but there are so many distractions along the way: A little pursuit of materialism here, a little power trip there. And ooh, there’s an opportunity to chase pleasure for a little while. Before long, we’re spiritually disoriented, frustrated, and perplexed about how to get back on track in our pursuit of Jesus.

We need to take Paul’s instruction to Timothy to heart. He says, in essence, “Timothy, pay attention!” He tells Timothy where his attention should be: “Watch your life and doctrine closely”
(1 Timothy 4:16). Let’s talk about those two words “life” and “doctrine.”

By God’s grace, I have had the opportunity to invest a major part of my life in preaching. A lot of my ministry has been sharing God’s Word in a variety of contexts. But, for a long time now, I have been keenly aware that those moments in the pulpit are only the tip of the iceberg. Scripture reminds me over and over that my life has to match up with what I am preaching. If I am proclaiming the joy of freedom in Christ, then my life needs to show that I am walking in the freedom that He offers. If I am calling God’s people to greater levels of commitment and sacrifice for kingdom causes, then I need to be stepping out in faith, seeking to grow in my commitment and willingness to sacrifice. Timothy is reminded of this when Paul tells him to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Nothing hinders our witness for Jesus more than a lack of authenticity. We need to pay attention to the way we live.

Paul also tells Timothy to pay attention to his doctrine. He starts chapter 4 with the warning that “in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). Since the early days of the church, the enemy has been consistently attempting to distract God’s people by leading them away from the core truths of Scripture. A key responsibility of Timothy, the young pastor, was to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” (1 Timothy 1:3).

Satan continues to sow seeds of doubt in our minds about the authenticity and authority of Scripture—one of our bedrock doctrines. Some well-meaning but misguided churches promote the notion that other religions and belief systems, if sincerely held and practiced, may offer an alternative means of reconciliation with God. This flies in the face of Jesus’ words when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Teaching which tells us that we need to do good works to be saved is a frontal attack on the grace of the gospel.

So, what’s in it for us?

Paul assures us that the payoff in paying attention to our life and doctrines is huge. “If you do,” he writes, “you will save both yourself and your hearers.” So take my Mom’s advice: Pay attention to what really matters!


  • What pursuits have recently distracted you from following Jesus wholeheartedly?
  • What areas of your life might need a little more attention today? What has God spotlighted, even as you’ve been reading?
  • What about paying attention to your doctrine? How is your time in God’s Word shaping your ability to think biblically and to differentiate between truth and error?