“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5 NASB
What should sermons and seminars for Christians have as their goal? Knowledge? Truth? Action? Worship? All of the above? According to 1 Timothy 1:5 above, the goal of all Christian teaching and preaching should be love – for God and man. Jesus summed up 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” (Mk. 12:30-31). The New Testament teaches that the essence of Christian living is the same, and our text above tells us what our purpose in teaching and preaching should be.
At first reading it may appear that the goal in 1 Timothy 1:5 is threefold: love, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. But the construction of this verse in Greek leaves no doubt that there is one goal: love – that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. The New King James Version reads this way: “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.”
In The Church
First Timothy was written by Paul after his first Roman imprisonment. Upon his release, Paul continued his missionary travels and left Timothy in Ephesus to help pastor that church which was well established by this time (Acts 18-19). However, some problems concerning church order and function had arisen and the apostle instructed Timothy to help straighten things out. Most likely it was from Macedonia (1:3) that Paul wrote this letter to his “son in the faith” to encourage him and remind him of his responsibilities. Paul intended to return 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 this letter, Paul instructed Timothy on church organization: elders and deacons (ch. 3), the different roles of men and women (ch. 2), assistance for widows (ch. 5), attitudes towards money (ch. 6), and other items of church order. In addition, scattered throughout the epistle are warnings about false teachers and distorted doctrines. Teachers who had strayed from the truth were in Ephesus, and Timothy needed advice on how to handle them (1:3-7,19-20; 4:1-7; 6:3-5,20-21). These false teachers had disrupted the church. It’s interesting to note that it was in the context of concern for orthodoxy that Timothy was reminded to keep his teaching focused on the goal of love. His responsibility was to instruct the would-be teachers at Ephesus (1:7) that their focus must not be distorted, and that the teaching should not deviate from the goal of love.
The most startling aspect of 1 Timothy 1:5, quoted above, 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 love was to be a result of sincere faith. However, according to this verse the ultimate goal of Christian teaching and preaching is to be love – not truth! It almost sounds heretical, but that’s what the Holy Spirit had Paul write. He certainly could have written, “The goal of our instruction is truth with love,” but that’s not what is written.
The End Product
Well-meaning Christian leaders often 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 congregations believe than what they do with their knowledge. Theological fine points become 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 each “i” and crossing each “t” 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 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. Are we teaching, preaching, and reaching the goal of our instruction?
Ephesians 4:15-16 also speaks about the proper relationship between truth and love: “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 these verses, we might have ended verse 16 this way: “… for the building up of itself in truth.” But that’s not what the Holy Spirit had Paul write. Truth is essential for nourishing the body of Christ, but proper growth of the body must be in the context of love, which includes confrontation as well as compassion. Thus the goal of truth, 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 itself, rather than correct doctrine as 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 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” (6:4-5). If any of these 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 lost sight of the goal were emphasizing extra-biblical material – “myths” and “genealogies” (1:4) – as well as nitpicking over things unessential to the faith – “controversial questions and disputes about words” (6:4). We can make the same mistake today. To spend a lot of time preaching and teaching outside the Bible about apocryphal and ancient extra-biblical writings is a departure from the goal of sound doctrine. Spicing up a sermon with such topics as “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, a good conscience and a sincere faith. Constant lectures on side issues such as rock music or the date of the second coming may draw larger crowds, but will fall short of the goal of biblical instruction. This kind of preaching and teaching leads to mere speculation (1:4), fruitless discussion (1:6), envy, quarreling, malicious talk, evil suspicions and friction (6:4-5).
The love which is the goal of sound teaching and preaching is love from a pure heart, a good conscience and 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?” Love from a pure heart comes from teaching which continually lifts up Jesus Christ as our Savior and the Model we should follow.
Love from a good conscience is love that practices Christ-like living. Christians with a good conscience pay their debts on time and don’t cheat on their tests and taxes. Preaching that includes the practical application of Scripture 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” nor give mere lip service to God nor make only weak attempts at living a biblical lifestyle. It is characterized by whole-hearted trust. Consistent ministry on God’s character and purpose 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 growing? Remember the goal of biblical preaching and teaching is more than correct doctrine! It is love from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org