We’d like to think that love is the goal of many things. And yet, one of the words being overused and misused these days is “hate”. If you disagree with someone it’s often assumed you “hate” them.
Christians in particular are often accused of “hate” because we often disagree with things that people hold dear.
1 Timothy has a number of themes that cut right across our modern culture. The most fundamental theme is simply that God has stated his order for the world. But people want to go their own way – we live in a ‘postmodern’ society which is summed up well by the phrase “everyone does what is right in their own eyes.”
But what we see in these opening verses is that although God’s word cuts through what the world stands for, love is the goal.
The goal of instruction is love (1-7)
Read 1 Timothy 1:1-2.
It all seems straightforward enough. It’s a standard opening. But 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus are different from Paul’s other letters. So some people wonder if Paul even wrote them. The thing is, they’re written to individuals so they’re bound to be different in style and tone.
And because they’re written to church leaders, there’s quite a bit of content about how to “do church”.
So, this is a letter from the apostle Paul to Timothy, pastor at Ephesus. It’s not clear when it was written (we can’t place it in the timeline of Acts) but it doesn’t really matter.
What is clear is that there were some people in the church at Ephesus who were going a bit off course in their teaching. Read 1 Timothy 1:3-4.
There were some people who were “teaching” but what they were teaching wasn’t what Paul had taught. It was (lit.) “different-teaching” and because Paul was an apostle appointed by God, their teaching can’t have been from God. In fact, they were going down rabbit-holes and side issues
- Myths – fables, half-truths, nice stories. But why bother, when there’s a whole Bible full of amazing truth?
- Spiritual pedigrees – lit. “endless genealogies” – a major preoccupation with Jews, to demonstrate that you are a “child of Abraham”.
But when Paul preached at Corinth, what did he preach? “…we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23.)
So if you spend all your time teaching about endless side issues, you’ve taken your eye off the ball, haven’t you? Timothy was to instruct those teachers not to teach differently, and not to get drawn on endless side issues.
Why? Read 1 Timothy 1:5.
That’s what the teaching and application of Christ does to you – it is transformative. And it is worked out in love. Years ago I used to hear a preacher fairly often and I always said he only had two sermons: “The state of the world today” and “The state of the church today” – both were miserable sermons!
It’s easy to teach in a way that puts up an “us” and a “them.”
- The goal of instruction is not separation. It’s not to draw a distinction with that church down the road about church structures, or their position on the millennium.
- The goal of instruction is not condemnation. Whether we condemn other Christians for this or that, or the world for opening shops on Sunday.
- The goal of instruction is not Bible brains, where someone can quote passages from Obadiah and Ezekiel, knows all the ins and outs of doctrine, but loves no-one.
- The goal of instruction is not speculation. It is not a guidebook on how God created everything, nor a calendar on when Christ will return.
The goal of instruction is love. If you are not exhibiting love for others, you’ve learned nothing.
Because God is love, and if you’re a Christian you’re his child. You have union with him in Christ.
- You have been crucified with Christ, and the life you now live is Christ living in you by the Holy Spirit.
- You’re a new creature; your desires have been fundamentally changed; your spiritual DNA is altered!
You’re not perfect, but God has given you his word of instruction to help you grow in Christ-likeness.
What kind of love?
The the goal of instruction is love. Love that comes from:
- A pure heart – your motives are good. You want to do the right thing because it’s right, not because you seek reward or to escape punishment.
- A clear conscience – knowing that the Lord will be pleased with what you do because you know your actions are clearly in accordance with his word.
- A genuine faith – completely without hypocrisy. 100% true.
That’s what this preaching is about; it’s why we spend so much time in the Bible, and why Christ is the focus of our thoughts.
Read 1 Timothy 1:6-7.
If you want to write a Christian book that sells in the millions, write about something that’s off the beaten track. Something edgy, provocative, speculative. You’ll be lauded as a brilliant teacher, but in truth you’re probably not. Timothy was under instruction to tell you to calm down, focus on Christ, and make sure love is the goal of your instruction.
And yet, some people still feel that God’s laws aren’t very loving. Some accuse the Bible as hideous, twisted, and hate-filled. Why?
The law is for law-breakers (8-10)
Read 1 Timothy 1:8-11.
There’s a loose ordering to what Paul has written, in that there’s an echo of the 10 Commandments.
Clearly, those “who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy” aren’t going to be concerned about idolatry or Sabbath keeping. Their lives are filled with gods and idols – all in their own image for their own pleasure. The Sabbath was about time with God; they don’t care.
If you choose to do something other than worship God, then you have an idol. That might show in what you prioritise over church. Is your family’s short-term happiness more important than their eternal soul, or more important than your praise of God?
Paul goes on. He says that the law is for people “who kill their father or mother or commit other murders”.
- Literally, “father-hitters and mother-hitters, murderers”
- Clearly, we’re talking the lowest of the low aren’t we?
- Or are we talking about those who put their parents in a home when, perhaps, that’s not entirely necessary?
- Or are we talking about euthanasia, ending the lives of the elderly “burdens”?
- What seems a fairly extreme list of sinful types is, in fact, increasingly normalised in western culture.
He goes on: “The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality.”
- The Bible only has a handful of verses on same-sex relationships and they all say the same thing: Practicing homosexuality is a sin.
- It’s not a sin to be gay; it’s not a sin to be lesbian. Your desires don’t define you; your actions do.
- And the Bible has more to say about sexual immorality – condemning prostitution, divorce, adultery, porn, etc.
- If you’re the kind of Christian who condemns same-sex relationships and yet also indulges in porn, you’re a hypocrite. Repent of your sin, and your judging heart.
The list goes on: “slave traders [human traffickers], liars, promise breakers [perjurers]”
- When MPs in Westminster are known for lying as normal, and business practice is often not entirely honest, we get used to lies. We lie ourselves.
- Social media is packed with lies about how great everyone’s lives are. And we continue to believe them.
The point is, the kind of behaviour in this list is normalised in our society.
But, says Paul, “We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious…” etc.
Correct use of the law
So how can we use the law “correctly”?
- If you’re a pedestrian and you’re hit by a car doing 40mph there’s a 90% chance you’ll be killed.
- If the car was doing 30mph, the chance of death is 20%.
- A driver concerned about other people will drive at 30mph in a 30-zone; a driver more concerned about themselves will drive at 40mph unless there’s a speed camera.
- Who is the speed camera for? For the law-breaker.
- Either to curb his behaviour, or to punish his law-breaking.
Either way, the law identifies the one who wishes to operate outside the law. The law of God doesn’t change: In matters of greed, stealing, murder, sexual ethics, or anything else. So, if you find yourself on the wrong side of the list in these verses it’s because you’re an offence to God. You are outside his law, outside his will, outside his pleasure – firmly inside his wrath.
The correct use of the law of God is to point out to you your sin. In doing so, you are called to come to God himself for forgiveness! He loves you; Jesus left heaven to be human to die in your place, taking the punishment you deserve. Repent. Turn from your sin. Call out to God for forgiveness, turn to God and live for him in his pleasure.
It’s clear now why Paul instructed Timothy to warn those teachers to make the main thing the main thing!
- Endless sideshows and rabbit holes leave people in sin.
- They put up barriers to co-operation between Christians.
In the end, the Bible itself loses its central place and authority in discussion, and even Christians begin twisting the Bible to justify sinful trends and behaviours (euthanasia, sexual ethics).
Keep the goal in mind (v11)
So read 1 Timothy 1:11 again.
The Bible’s “Good News” (gospel) is Jesus. He is the news you need to hear; he is the news you need to tell. Christians can (should) spend time on all sorts of matters of belief and doctrine.
- It’s good to remember that God is our Creator – he has the might and right to rule, which makes us accountable to him.
- It’s good to ponder Christ’s return – that’s our hope for eternity, and a spur to evangelism.
- And it’s good to reflect on the godlessness of the world around – and then to weep, as Christ did, and pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on us and on our friends and neighbours.
- The goal of instruction isn’t condemnation, separation, or speculation – it’s love. Love the sinner in a way that doesn’t condone sin.
- Love the unholy, the liar, the sexually immoral – it doesn’t mean you approve. No more than God approves of your sin.
The Good News is Christ and it is the glory of God: His astonishing love, that he should send his Son for us. His powerful execution of his plans and purposes for us.
God has provided clarity in his word. He has revealed his heart by sending his Son as revealed to you in the Bible.
So don’t twist the words of the Bible to suit your own plan. Don’t get sidetracked into side issues that don’t result in love. Rather, focus on Christlikeness in love.
- Love with a pure heart – good motives
- With a clean conscience – knowing what God wants of you and doing it
- And with sincere faith – being the same at home as you are at church as you are at work, 100% authentic