Originally posted in six parts over the course of a week.
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”1 Timothy 1:5-7
“The aim of our charge is love…”
I hear many believers calling for “love”, claiming to “speak the truth in love,” but it seems there may be vastly different connotations of the word.
We can’t understand this verse unless we understand how Paul defined the word. As the classic Haddaway song puts it: “What is love?”
Answering that would be too extensive for a post, but fortunately Scripture spells it out repeatedly.
We learn of the sacrificial depth of love in John 3:16, a love extended to those who didn’t deserve or earn it.
We learn of the clear characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13, and how our best efforts, without love, have an adverse effect.
We learn in 1 Peter 4:8 that love is not driven by fear, and in fact casts it out.
We learn in Romans 13:8 that if we want to “fulfill the law”, love is the way to do it.
We are told repeatedly to love God, and to love others. To love our neighbor. To love our enemy.
A simple search of “verses about love” will show the overwhelming extent to which God calls and equips us to love, and how any other approach will fall short.
But — too often — when we call for “love”, we are calling for something else.
We are trying to get rid of conflict. We are trying to stop people from impeding on our way of life. We are trying to condemn another for not “loving”. We are trying to protect ourselves. We are trying to dismiss another.
We will point out the ways others are not loving, while we ourselves fail to love as God called us.
“The aim of our charge is love”, but frequently the aim of our pursuits is winning, or defeating, or avoiding.
Church, we have to confront our connotations of “love”, and strive for God’s definition. It must be what guides our interactions in this divisive time, lest we “wander away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what we are saying or the things about which we make confident assertions.”
“…that issues from a pure heart…”
The love that guides our charge first comes from a pure heart. Our gut instinct is to say that we, surely, have a pure heart. Jeremiah 17:9 throws that assumption into question: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
In other words, we can believe our heart is pure as we engage in a certain space, but we may be deceived; we may even be causing harm. What do we do with this?
“Who can understand it?”
God, of course.
Our dependence on Him for purity of heart is the core of the plethora of “pure heart” verses:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God…”
“And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.”
1 John 3:3
“And He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.”
This dependence isn’t merely about the purifying occurring BY God, but the purifying occurring FOR God. The existence of the pure heart is not for it’s own sake, but for God’s glory.
If we want our engagement with the world to be beneficial and effective, are we willing to acknowledge that our heart can deceive us, and that a loving God can purify our hearts for His glory (and not simply for our purposes)?
If not, we won’t know how off we are. Proverbs 16:2 says “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.” We can think we are right — we can even think we are honoring God — but can be insulting God and the witness with which He has commissioned us.
“…that issues from… a good conscience…”
Our capacity to fulfill our charge comes first from a pure heart — which we depend on God to reveal and purify, as we can be deceived and driven in ways we don’t recognize — and next from a good conscience.
In college, my friend Dan would sometimes be up to something, and there were moments when he would bluntly share what he was scheming. The other person — distracted — would sometimes miss it. Recognizing that he just openly shared his plans, and it’s on them that they missed it, he would proudly say, “Well, my conscience is clear.”
He could move forward knowing he had been honest with himself and others about his intentions.
If a “pure heart” addresses what we may be powerless against, a “good conscience” is 100% in our power. Each word we utter, step we take, and action we make is guided by an internal motive that we are capable of recognizing; however, in the pursuit of our desires, we are also capable of averting our eyes.
This can be disastrous.
1 Timothy 1:9 says, “…a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.”
1 Corinthians 8:7 says, “and their conscience being weak is defiled.”
A weak or bad conscience comes when we know or sense the will of God, and allow ourselves to be driven by something else; “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14)
None of us starts by wanting to turn from God, but something entices us. Maybe it’s control, or power, or greed. Maybe it’s the fear of being wrong, or of losing rights or comfort, or of a damaged reputation. Something drags us from the will of God to our own will, and yet we still claim our actions come from seeking God’s will. Our conscience suffers, and so do those around us.
If we are willing to be humble and honest with ourselves, we can know if our intentions are to “love God and love others”, or something else. We can be transparent with our words, steps, and actions. And we can willingly allow ourselves to be driven not by our desires, but by the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 1:12 says, “the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.”
In times like these, it is vital to have a good conscience; we must be honest with ourselves and others what we are seeking and pursuing, and not attribute to God something that we have birthed from ourselves, or worse.
“…that issues from… a sincere faith…”
Our capacity to fulfill our charge comes first from a pure heart — which we depend on God to reveal and purify — next from a good conscience — where we avoid claiming certain motives while pursuing others — and then sincere faith.
“Sincere faith” comes down to a simple question:
We claim to follow Jesus; are we really His?
Jesus had many committed, well-meaning, authentic people following Him, but many were not His. When the moment arrived to prove it, they turned (Matthew 6:66).
A common comment from Jesus was, “Where is your faith?” This would happen when they thought Jesus wouldn’t come through, when they feared death, when they didn’t take action at Jesus’ invitation, and when they made destructive comments.
In each of these, Jesus had more than demonstrated his character, competency, and capacity, but His followers still doubted Him, even if sub-consciously.
The thing is, they had faith; but faith in what?
Too often, it wasn’t faith in the loving and powerful Son of God, but an idea of Him.
We carry the name “Christian”, but functionally the “Christ” is often replaced by something else. The Pharisees had faith in the law, and couldn’t see the fullness of the law standing in their midst. Some have faith in their knowledge, and miss the unknowable realities of Jesus. Some have faith in power, authority, or control, and miss the meekness and compassion of Christ. Some have faith in a Jesus that looks like them, and miss that Jesus actually looks like His Father.
But we still carry the name “Christian” and claim that our actions and motives follow suit. When an insincere faith takes root, it shifts our heart and conscience, and the love becomes directed internally instead of externally.
We must be willing to accept the question from Jesus, “Where is your faith?” If we are operating in fear, our faith may be in someone other than the man who slept as the boat was tossed by the waves; if in anger or ambition, we may be following someone other than the man who ate with sinners, touched the lepers, and spoke hope and life to those who had been abandoned.
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
1 Timothy 1:5-7
At this point, I’ve spent a week breaking this verse down. I don’t know why exactly, I just felt a nudge and followed it; maybe that nudge was God, maybe it was me.
It’s that latter part I must be willing to confront. By default, we tend to be confident in ourselves, our opinions, our stances, our intentions; it is difficult for us to be humble enough to say we could be wrong, whether in what we know, or what we sought to accomplish.
Perhaps I posted these in the hopes of living into “a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith”; but it’s possible that I may be engaging in vain discussion, desiring to teach and engage with things I don’t actually understand. It is my responsibility as an Ambassador of Christ — as one representing Him to the world — to stand in the humility and readiness that I may have missed the mark.
My goal can’t be to look good or be right — though it may be a hope — but to try to have my “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:9-10) This must be an act of love for God, not for self.
And as I “discern what is best” — again, through abounding love — I may be led to speak what is True, so that I may love and honor others, not so that I can be right or praised.
The charge we have been given is to do each, even if we receive no acclaim, or even affirmations; or, if we receive opposition or attack. The aim of our charge is love, and we are wildly incapable of fulfilling it.
Thanks be to God, who can work and speak through whatever we willingly put at the altar.
“Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
1 Timothy 1:6-7
Over the last week, as I’ve sat with this passage, I’ve reflected on our capacity to use scripture for either introspection, or for accusation. We often veer near the latter.
It is easy to take a verse like the one above, and immediately think of others who are the “certain persons”; we may even find ways to plant the verse on their wall to confront them.
What we don’t often do is ask, “I know my gut reaction is to point to others, but how might this verse actually be meant for me?”
Let’s go to the source. The Apostle Paul wrote this to Timothy. How was he using it?
Initially, it can seem like he was pointing fingers, not at himself or Timothy, but trouble-makers in the church, these “certain persons.”
But then we hit verse 19, where Paul is directly charging Timothy with “holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith.” Even Timothy is at risk of becoming a “certain person.”
You could point out, though, that Paul quickly shifts back to focusing on others: “…among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.“
It got intense fast. What’s happening here? “Handing over to Satan” seems needlessly condemning and unloving.
We already know that the “aim of [Paul’s] charge is love”, so this act is also out of love. Books have been written to break this down, but at it’s core, Paul has realized that these two men are no longer responding to or respecting his authority, so he is simply freeing them from that authority.
Put another way, it’s like he’s saying, “I’ve been sent by God to teach you; if you don’t want to line up with that authority, there’s another who will gladly control you.”
So is this condemnation? Has he given up on them?
No. We see two important things:
1) “…that they may learn not to blaspheme.” His desire is for them to learn, and I would say, return. They haven’t been able to learn not to blaspheme through normal methods, so Paul is letting them go off and do things their way, knowing that it won’t lead them where they think it will, and they may just get it then. But how can we know Paul hoped they would learn and return?
2) Because of where else we hear about “blasphemers” in this chapter: v. 13 says, “…though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” Paul knew well the road they were on, and knew what it took for him to learn what was true. He goes on to credit God’s mercy, as well as His creativity in using Paul’s story to impact others. Perhaps Paul hopes for the same restorative arc for these two men. He knew personally Christ’s “perfect patience” to deal with him.
This brings us back to the start. When Paul wrote verse 6 and 7, was he pointing the finger and accusing? No. Paul was always aware of who He was before Christ — “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” — and as a result could not see “sinners” as he once did as a Pharisee.
He once knew what it was to “desire to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what [he was] saying or the things about which [he made] confident assertions.” This road led him to not just oversee the murder of innocent people, but to lead Christ to say, “Why are you persecuting me?“
He knew what it was like to receive the grace, mercy, and love of God when he didn’t deserve it.
And he had come to recognize how easy it is to slip into destructive ways.
In writing these words, he is simultaneously being introspective, and discipling those he loved into avoiding the traps he knew well and accessing the power at work within them.
Do we use our words simply to accuse those we disagree with? How easily we forget the grace, mercy, and love God has shown us. How easily we fail to be an ambassador for God to extend that “perfect patience” to those He has given us access to in His wisdom. How often we forget that we are “prone to wander”, and can easily operate in the spirit of verses 6 and 7 rather than verse 5.
There are dangers to be avoided for sure, but too often our efforts to “avoid” those dangers perpetuate them.
Will you, today, remember “the aim of your charge”?
Will you step back and ensure that you are engaging your charge with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith?
If you aren’t… are you willing to stay a few steps back to get things right? The road to becoming one of those “certain persons” is too easy to stumble upon; the narrow road of being led by the Spirit, though, is worth the challenging pursuit.
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