BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES/J. Ligon Duncan III
Please turn to 1 Timothy 1:3-5. In the pastoral epistles of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, Paul gives us a description and a prescription for church and ministry in a local Christian congregation.
In other words, we see Paul's instructions for how these Christians were to live and serve God together in these letters. Not only do we find instructions for how they were to serve God together, we find here instructions for how we are to live and serve God together because Paul is not simply writing these words to one particular local church, but he is writing these words knowing that God intends them for every local church. And in verses 3-5, Paul gives Timothy two exhortations that summarize his whole approach to Gospel ministry. First, in verses 3-4, Paul exhorts Timothy to oppose false teaching. Then, in verse 5, he tells Timothy that the goal of the ministry of truth is to produce love in the believer that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
I. Actively Oppose False Teaching in Christian Ministry.
In verses 3-4, Paul begins by calling on Timothy to actively oppose false teaching as a regular part of his ministry. Paul knows that false teaching ruins lives because false doctrine always leads to errors in living. In contrast, the truth of God's Word is designed to flower forth in the life of the Christian and in the congregation with a rich, biblical experience of God's grace and walk with God. Thus, Paul is saying to Timothy, "The very reason I left you in Ephesus is so you could keep men from teaching falsely and so that you could persuade them not to listen to the false teachers from whom they have gotten these ideas." Then, Paul says, "Let me tell you what false teaching does. It leads to idle speculation. It leads to endless disputes about myths and genealogies." Paul is saying that false teachers first and foremost are about getting people to follow them, and getting people to agree with their bizarre, speculative ideas. This shows us how important the truth is to Paul in ministry. The disaster of false teaching is that it always sidetracks people from the central elements of Christian discipleship. Paul knows that it is vital to a minister to distinguish truth from falsehood and to protect his people from falsehood. So the first thing Paul encourages this young minister to do is to instruct the congregation not to teach falsely or to listen to those who do.
II. Minister With a View to the Apostolic Goal of Ministry.
In verse 5, Paul gives us a glorious summary of the goal of his discipleship program.
Specifically, he tells Timothy that the goal of our instruction is love. Furthermore, he says that love can only come from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Paul is pointing to something that Jesus said earlier in His ministry. When asked "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?", Jesus responded "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:35-40). The way we are saved in not by loving God or neighbor. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith. But having been saved by grace through faith, the goal of God's grace at work in us is to cause us to love God and neighbor. And so the whole of the law and the prophets hang on this. The proof of God's grace at work in us is this love to God and neighbor.
Furthermore, Paul teaches here that there are three interior realities which resource this kind of love. If the goal of the apostolic preaching is to see us transformed and living a life of love, then what are the things that produce the circumstance that enables us to love that way? In verse 5, Paul says that this love is from "a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." First, Paul is teaching that we preach, minister, teach, and speak the truth to the heart. Specifically, we preach to the whole person including the mind, the conscience, the will, the desires, all with a view to cultivating Gospel love. In other words, for Paul the heart is the very center of the person. Why would we need a pure heart before we could love? Because we are sinners. Our hearts are deceitfully wicked, corrupted, and depraved. Remember when King David was convicted of sin, he prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me" (Psalm 51:10-11). David prayed for a clean heart because he knew that you cannot love, unless God, by the grace of His Spirit, has given you a new heart and a new spirit.
Secondly, Paul says that love comes from a good conscience. Uniformly in the New Testament this refers to an awareness of rightness and wrongness according to God's standards, and along with that a self-awareness of where we are right or wrong in relation to God's standards. Paul reminds us there is no such thing as love apart from truth because love knows that there is a right and there is a wrong. So a good conscience is necessary for us to love because love is not just doing whatever you feel like doing in the spur of the moment. Instead, love is expressing the standards of God in our treatment of one another. And so you need a good conscience to love.
Thirdly, Paul says that love comes from a sincere faith. This is not a lazy assent to the doctrines of the Gospel or a merely formal profession of faith, but a whole-hearted embrace of the promises of God in the Word of God. These three things are necessary for love. And so Paul says the goal of our discipleship is to see Christians loving God and loving their neighbor from the deep center of the human person. That is the supreme goal of preaching with regard to the transformation of human behavior. We always aim for the glory of God. We always aim for the conversion of the sinner. We aim for the sinner to come to trust in Jesus Christ alone. But what is our desire in preaching to the Christian? It is to see the believer become like the heavenly Father. The Apostle John reminds us that "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:8). May God cause love for Him and our neighbor to abound in our lives by His grace and for His glory.