How well do you know yourself, that person you wake up to and carry around all day?
Truth be told, we may know the people around us – spouse, children, co-workers — better than we know ourselves.
We learn people by watching them, constantly and unconsciously. If we watch closely, we can learn their strengths, their gifts, their little irritating habits, their inconsistencies, their default settings, their besetting sins, their go-to themes of conversation, the triggers that set them off.
My problem, maybe yours too, is that my being “other-focused” in this way is not always a good thing because it takes my eyes off me.
Paul, writing to Timothy, gave him this instruction: “Watch your life and doctrine closely.” (I Tim 4:16, NIV) or “Pay attention to yourself and to your teaching.” (NASB)
Paul doesn’t tell the young pastor to watch the lives of people in his church. He tells Timothy to watch himself. The word for “watch” has the meaning of pay attention to, observe, apply, to check.
At street level, we’d say: watch yourself. This is not a new idea. The same instruction can be found in Deuteronomy
Paul reminded Timothy of what we so easily forget. In relationships, we naturally focus on other people’s ills: what they do wrong, where they have blind spots, where they need work. If we are leading something, whether it be a ministry, a team or a family, we can begin to view ourselves as the professional fault-finder and fixer.
Paul points Timothy to the man in the mirror. If Timothy wants to make a difference in the lives of the people around him, Paul tells him to keep a close watch on himself and the example he sets. He is to be a demonstration of the truth he teaches.
His first letter to Timothy instructs him on “how people are to conduct themselves in God’s household.” (I Timothy 3:15 NIV) Specifically: what to teach, the qualifications for a deacon or overseer, the appropriate way to related to older men, widows, young men etc. He admonishes Timothy to avoid false doctrine, reminding him of the book-ends of true Christianity: faith and love.
In the midst of this discussion, Paul tells Timothy to pay close attention to how he lives as well as what he teaches.
Paul knew the importance of both right teaching and personal discipline. He wrote to the believers in Corinth that he disciplined himself as an athlete in competition: he beat his body down and made it his slave, that after he had preached to others he himself might not be disqualified for the prize. (I Corinthians 9:27)
I know firsthand the damage so-called Christians can do when we teach one thing and live something else; fixated on straightening the crooked lives of those around us, we do more harm than good when we fail to bring our own lives under the dictates of Scripture. Our actions give God’s enemies an occasion to blaspheme.
Paul reminds us that the biblical challenge is to watch ourselves.
“You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (Roman 2:21-22)
Want to lead others to the faith? Watch yourself.