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The Goal of Love

1 Timothy 1:5 - But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

What should sermons and seminars which are addressed to Christians have as their goal? Knowledge? Truth? Action? Worship? All of the above? According to First Timothy 1:5, the goal of all Christian teaching and preaching should be love--love for God and love for man. Jesus summed up the essence of the Old Testament Law as follows: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30­31). The New Testament teaches that the essence of Christian living is the same, and our text above informs us that our purpose in teaching and preaching should be to reach that end.

At first reading it may appear that the goal in First Timothy 1:5 is a threefold goal: 1) love, 2) a good conscience, and 3) a sincere faith. However, the construction of this sentence in the Greek language leaves no doubt that there is one goal: love--the kind of love that comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. In other words, a good paraphrase of this verse would be, "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, love from a good conscience and love from a sincere faith." The New International Version translates the verse in the following way. "The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." The New King James Version reads, "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith."

First Timothy is a letter which was written by the apostle Paul to Timothy after Paul's first Roman imprisonment. Upon his release, Paul had continued his missionary travels and had left Timothy in Ephesus to help pastor the church there. The church at Ephesus was a well established church by this time. (See Acts 18­19 for its founding which was about 10 years before the writing of this epistle.) However, some problems concerning church order and function had arisen and Timothy was instructed by the apostle to help straighten things out at Ephesus. Most likely it was from Macedonia (1:3) that Paul wrote this letter to his "son in the faith" to encourage Timothy and remind him of his responsibilities. Paul intended to get back to Ephesus (3:14 and 4:13), but in the meantime Timothy was to "know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth" (3:15).

In the letter, Paul gave instructions to Timothy on church organization: elders and deacons (chapter 3), the different roles of men and women in the church (chapter 2), the question of the church assistance for widows (chapter 5), how to advise Christians about their attitudes towards money (chapter 6), and many other items of church order. In addition, scattered throughout the epistle are warnings about the danger of false teachers and their distorted doctrines. Teachers who had strayed from the truth had surfaced at Ephesus and Timothy needed advice on how to handle this situation. (See 1:3­7, 19­20; 4:1­7; 6:3­5, 20­21.) It was probably these false teachers who had disrupted the proper organization and functioning of the church at Ephesus. It is interesting to notice that it was in the context of concern for orthodoxy that Timothy was reminded to keep the focus of his teaching on the ultimate goal of love. His responsibility was to instruct (and even command) the would-be teachers at Ephesus (1:7) that their focus must not be distorted, and that the teaching of doctrine should not deviate from the ultimate goal of love.

The most startling aspect of this verse is the emphasis on love, rather than truth--particularly in view of the context concerning distorted teaching! Truth was not to be pushed aside, because their love was to be a result of their sincere faith. However, according to this Scripture, the ultimate goal of Christian teaching and preaching is to be love--not truth! It almost sounds heretical, but that is what the Holy Spirit had Paul write! He certainly could have written, "The goal of our instruction is truth along with love," or something like that, but that is not what is written.

Often well-meaning Christian leaders become so concerned for the truth, that orthodox belief becomes the bottom line of all their teaching and preaching. They seem to be more concerned about the details of what their students and congregations believe than what they do with their knowledge. The crossing of theological t's becomes more important than living out the faith! According to our text, these well-meaning Christians have missed the goal.

While this verse does not teach that dotting the i's and crossing the t's in our theology is trivial or unimportant, it does teach that correct doctrine is not the end product of good preaching and teaching. Love is! Again the idea is not that orthodoxy is the wrong goal, but that orthodoxy alone is short of the goal. The end product of all our Christian teaching and preaching should be love for God and mankind. Love for God is shown in a life which is characterized by worship and reverent obedience to His commands and desires. As we obey God, His love will increasingly fill our lives so that we will reach out to others with compassion and care. How are wedoing? Are we teaching, preaching, and reaching the goal of our instruction?

Ephesians 4:15­16 also speaks about the proper relationship between truth and love. "But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." If we were writing this Scripture, chances are that we would have concluded verse 16 as follows, "...for the building up of itself intruth." But that is not what the Holy Spirit had Paul write. Truth is essential for the nourishment of the body of Christ, but proper growth of the body must be in the context of love--love which includes confrontation as well as compassion. Thus the goal of the truth as preached and taught lies beyond the understanding, belief, and adherence to that truth. Limited and unbalanced spiritual growth is the result in churches where the goal is correct doctrine, rather than correct doctrine being the means to attaining the goal. believing the right things is great, but if the proper beliefs don't result in an active love for the Lord and His people, the teaching has fallen short of the goal.

Doctrine which is really orthodox is going to result in an active love! In contrast to teaching which is unorthodox or unbalanced, right-on teaching will produce love--not mere speculation (1:4) or fruitless discussion (1:6). This same point is made in 1 Timothy 6:3-5. "Sound words" (6:3) means doctrine which is healthful and wholesome for the body of Christ. Sound words result in godliness--not only godly belief, but godly living. When God's people are characterized by godliness, the goal of love has been reached. Doctrine which is not sound does not contribute to the health and wholeness of the body, but results in "envy, quarreling, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction" (1:4-5). If any of these sad problems are apparent in your church or fellowship group--or in your own life!--this strongly indicates that the goal of sound doctrine is yet to be attained.

In Timothy's day, the teachers who had lost sight of the goal were emphasizing extra-biblical material (myths and genealogies in 1:4), as well as nitpicking over things which were minor and unessential to the faith (the controversial questions and disputes about words in 6:4). We can make the same mistake today. To spend a lot of preaching and teaching time "outside the Bible" in apocryphal and pseud-epigraphal literature (ancient extra-biblical writings) or in contemporary best-selling Christian books may be impressive or interesting, but it is a departure from the goal of sound doctrine. Spicing up a sermon or seminar with such topics as "Are there moral beings on other planets?" or "Could Jesus have made a wrong measurement in the carpenter shop?" may keep the congregation from falling asleep, but it certainly doesn't focus on the goal of love from a pure heart, love from a good conscience and love from a sincere faith. Constant lectures on side issues such as "The pros and cons of rock music" or "The date of the second coming of Christ" will draw larger crowds, but will fall far short of the goal of biblical instruction. Even a steady diet of correct doctrinal teaching with no practical application to our day-to-day lives may ultimately fall short of the goal! These kinds of preaching and teaching will only lead to mere speculation (1:4), fruitless discussion (1:6), envy, quarreling, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction (6:4­5).

The kind of love which is the goal of sound teaching and preaching is love from a pure heart, love from a good conscience and love from a sincere faith. Love from a pure heart is love that is free from hidden impure motives. Love from a pure heart does not ask, "What's in it for me?" or "How can I avoid this responsibility?" Love from a pure heart results from teaching which continually lifts up the Person of Jesus Christ as our Savior and the Model we should follow.

Love from a good conscience is love that practices righteous and Christ-like living. Christians with a good conscience pay back their loans on time and don't cheat on their tests and income taxes. Practical application of the moral standards of Scripture is the kind of preaching that will bring conviction and correction and ultimately love from a good conscience.

Love from a sincere faith is love that does not wear masks. It does not "play church" or give mere hypocritical lip service to God or make only sporadic and ineffective attempts at living a biblical lifestyle. It is characterized by genuine and whole-hearted trust. Consistent ministry on the character of God and His purpose and program for man will result in love from a sincere faith.

Growing Christians have a responsibility to both teach and be taught sound doctrine. Are you a growing Christian? Remember--the goal of biblical preaching and teaching is more than correct doctrine and right thinking! It is love from a pure heart, love from a good conscience and love from a sincere faith.
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