1 Timothy 1:5: The Goal of Instruction

The Goal of Instruction
 “The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” -1 Timothy 1:5

Timothy the Instructor
Paul left Timothy to deal with the church at Ephesus. Apparently, the teaching in the church had devolved into discussions about myths, genealogies, speculative theology, and meaningless talk.

I’ve been a part of those conversations before. Just this morning my seven-year-old was very intrigued by the genealogies in Genesis 11 and about how people and places could have the same name (e.g. Cush, Havilah, Tarshish—she’s trying the read the Bible straight through, and can do it on her own, thank you, even if her Dad is a pastor and might have some pointers). This was not a conversation I wanted to have at 6:30 in the morning, but I did my best. I feel vindicated after reading that Paul didn’t like these discussions either.

As far as myths and speculations are concerned, we can get wrapped up in hypotheticals and made-up stories for hours without accomplishing any discipleship. My personal favorite rabbit hole is discussing theology around the possible existence of the multiverse or aliens. You can get me sidetracked, but I don’t think focusing on that is going to help me much in the present.

Instead, teaching should lead to love, to agape in Greek: a self-sacrificing commitment to God that surrenders all things to him and a committed love to others that seeks their good, forgives them, and serves them.

And he gives Timothy three places that love should come from. Aliens and genealogies don’t make the list. They are a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith. I’ll reinterpret these (feel free to argue, my daughter will) to be Motives, Action, and Direction.

Pure Heart-Good Motives
“The last temptation is the greatest treason / To do the right deed for the wrong reason” -T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

If you’ve been around spiritual people enough, you’ll know that we can find spiritual reasons to justify anything, especially if feels good, has the veneer of godliness, or is really cool.

I’ve seen parts of the church fall into this temptation when it’s focused solely on production value, reach, relevance, and ability. None of these things are bad in themselves, but it’s easy to see that if we don’t search our hearts in community with other believers, the Word, and the Spirit, we can make a cool Jesus show with little underneath.

Good Conscience-Right Action
We are saved by grace through faith. We don’t earn our salvation (paraphrasing Eph 2:8-9). But Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are brought into new life to do good things. In other words, there is a new way for us to live—things that we should do, and things that we shouldn’t do. Paul gives us a list in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 that cuts through the middle of all of our contemporary debates: take care of your parents, don’t be violent, have restrictive sexual ethics (even in consensual situations), don’t oppress people, don’t lie. All of these things keep us from being able to love God and others, and of course Paul has plenty to say about what we should do as well in order to show love.

Different voices in the world and the church try to pick and choose from these lists to emphasize particular agendas. That’s why, again, we seek instruction from the Word, the Spirit, and a community of believers that will point out our blind spots.

Sincere Faith-Right Direction
Finally, having good motives and good actions are not enough to live the full life in Christ if we don’t why we’re doing any of it. We must have faith—faith that Jesus saves us, faith that Jesus is king and is restoring the world, faith that he’s calling us to participate in this kingdom work. It’s from a knowledge and belief of what God is doing so that we can jump on board, avoiding sin and showing love with pure motives. Therefore, we need instruction to teach us who this Jesus is, what he’s done, and what he calls us to.

Change the Worlds
So our preaching, our bible study, our conversations, the books we read for spiritual guidance should have this goal in mind: to show love by what we say and don’t say, do and don’t do, always checking that our motives are coming from a pure heart, and allowing the foundation of what Jesus has done to be the force behind that.

Then we’ll be ready to minister to aliens, other dimensions, and precocious seven-year-olds.

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