Truth and Love

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1 Timothy 1:1-11

 

Promoting Love?

Saying you want to promote a loving community is a safe thing to say isn’t it. You’re on to a winner! No one’s going to disagree. But what’s the best way to actually promotelove in a community? What’s going to foster attitudes and actions that are loving, kind and respectful amongst us?

The answer our culture would give to this is ‘acceptance’. The key to promoting love is acceptance. Or to state it negatively, we need to get rid of all discrimination if we want to love people and promote love amongst the community.

Of course the pressing and most obvious context for this message in recent years has been the call to validate homosexuality and to celebrate freedom of sexual expression. Any person or organisation that has been or is seen to be questioning same sex marriage or homosexuality in any sense is targeted by a ferocious army of social media warriors, who denounce them as hateful. In the eyes of our culture it is impossible to love someone and promote a loving community if you question their sexual identity and expression.

But it’s more than just about sexuality. The mantra of acceptance as the key to love is pervasive. We love people by accepting them for who they are, no matter what. Judgements, evaluations, discrimination… these things are the enemy! They are the product of ignorance and small-mindedness, and they lead to fear, division, hatred and hurt. We shouldn’t question people’s religious beliefs, because what’s true for them is true for them and you have no right to question it. What people like to do in their spare time is their choice. Each of us determines our own purpose and goals in life, and they’re all equally ‘valid’. What we need to do is celebrate diversity and learn to accept each other.

When I was at the gym the other morning thinking about this bible passage, I noticed this ‘philosophy of Crunch’ on the wall. “There are no judgments here – no too much or not enough, no glares of disapproval. Here we keep open minds. We are nurturers. We seek only to encourage, empower and entertain. There is no one type. There is no one reason. There is no one way. What we are is a diverse community; what we have is a culture of fun; what there is, is room for everyone: all kinds of people with all kinds of goals who’ve chosen to reach them with us. CRUNCH. NO JUDGMENTS.”

It could be the value statement of any local community organisation couldn’t it? It totally reflects this basic mantra of acceptance as the key to love and health. And there’s a lot of truth in all this isn’t there? Hatred isfuelled by bigotry and rejection of people who ‘aren’t like us’. Discrimination of people in a way that denies our common humanity iscruel and unloving. Acceptance isa fundamental aspect of loving each other.

But the problem with the ‘crunch philosophy’ – the philosophy of our culture really – is that it is ultimately a shallow form of love that doesn’t really do anyone any good. It’s shallow acceptance because it’s blind acceptance. It’s not really loving tolerance of people who are ‘different’ to us, because we declare that everyone is ‘good and right’ and there’s nothing to tolerate!

And in fact, there’s a deep hypocrisy that lies underneath this cultural mandate for acceptance. Because whilst there is the constant language of acceptance of all people, you still have to sign up to the new moral values that come along with it. So if you want to maintain a biblical view of marriage and sexuality, you’re notpart of the diversity we are celebrating and accepting. Underneath all the talk of acceptance and diversity, there is always a whole bunch of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours you have to adhere to if you really want to be accepted.

So at my gym, the matra is ‘diversity and acceptance and room for everyone!’, unless of course you’re one of those people who don’t wipe down the equipment and just leave your gross sweat on it for other people. And they’re accepting of all goals; but what if your goal was to hang out and constantly ask people out on dates? What if you really felt to be authentic to who you are, you needed to exercise like the ancient Greeks – in the nude? There are always rules and there’s always points of discrimination. It’s just that the boundaries of moral behaviour have shifted, and we cover it over by declaring that the key is to accept everyone. We don’t really promote love through this blind and inconsistent mantra of acceptance. All we do is either pat each other on the back, regardless of how unhealthy our attitudes and behaviours might be, or we just end up excluding people anyway, because they don’t share the ‘really important’ beliefs.

 

Promoting Love through the truth of the gospel

So in contrast to our culture’s answer to the question of how to promote love, what we see in our passage today is that the key is to know, protect and live out the truth of the gospel. In the main part of our passage, Paul charges Timothy to command certain people to stop what they are doing – to tell them that they are wrong, and that they’re engaging in meaningless and even destructive behaviour. Wouldn’t go down well in Crunch Gym would it? Doesn’t fit well with the ‘no judgment’ philosophy of our culture. But Paul argues that the goal of this command islove. He’s urging Timothy to correct people, to rebuke them and point out the folly of their ways, out of love, because doing so actually leads to love. You see blind acceptance doesn’t promote love, it promotes superficial smiles. Helping people know the truth and live in light of the truth is what actually promotes love.

 

Myths, Faith and Love

We’re starting a new series today in the book of 1 Timothy. This is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to his younger co-worker Timothy, whom Paul had mentored as they worked alongside each other as missionaries and church planters. The book of Acts reveals how Timothy and Paul first crossed paths, and how Timothy then joined Paul in his journeys as one of his helpers. Paul developed a very high opinion of Timothy, and at times relied on him to provide leadership, teaching and direction in his place. As we read in our passage today Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to continue the work of establishing the church in the truth of the gospel. And this letter is first of all a personal letter from Paul to Timothy, encouraging and directing him how best to exercise his authority for the good of the church in Ephesus. But it’s also intended as a public letter to the church, through Timothy, calling them to faithfulness to the gospel and to wise and godly living.

 

The call to rebuke the troublemakers

And it’s clear right from the outset that one of the major motivations for Paul writing this letter (and the second letter to Timothy as well as a similar letter to another co-worker named Titus), is that Paul is very aware that there are people in the church community promoting false and destructive teaching, attitudes and behaviours.

In chapter 1, verse 3, Paul explains, “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.”

Timothy’s job (whether he likes the sound of it or not!) is to command certain men to stop what they’re doing – to tell them they’re wrong, they don’t understand what they’re talking about, and they’re hurting the church. Down in verses 6 and 7, Paul further explains that these men have wandered away from what is really important and turned to ‘meaningless talk.’ They want to be teachers of the law, says Paul, ‘but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.’

How’s that for a report card? Imagine receiving that evaluation of your work or your efforts at school? “I thought John had potential, but all he ever engages in is meaningless talk – honestly, he has no ideawhat he’s talking about.”

 

What are they teaching?

So what are these guys teaching? Why is Paul so down on their ideas? Well it’s hard to put together a clear and comprehensive account of a distinct set of ideas. Commentators often talk about the ‘Ephesian heresy’ that Paul is combating in these letters, but we can’t say if it’s a distinct heretical teaching such as ‘you need to be circumcised and obey the Jewish law to be saved.’ Rather what we have is a bunch of hints scattered throughout these letters that paint a few broad brushstrokes of a picture.

It’s clear for example from verse 7 that they were concerned with the Jewish Law. In Titus chapter 1, Paul also talks about ‘empty talkers’ from the circumcision party, which is a way of talking about Jewish Christians who want to promote a Jewish version of Christianity. In the same chapter he also about people devoted to ‘Jewish myths’.

Perhaps in connection with a certain interpretation of the Law, they seem to promote a strict lifestyle and avoidance of things considered ‘unspiritual’, like certain foods and even marriage (1 Tim 4:1-5).

And a final key characteristic of these men is an obsession with debating words, genealogies and controversial ideas. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6 that they have an ‘unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words’. They love debating for debating’s sake and filling their minds with esoteric knowledge that has no real value or connection with God’s word. These are the kind of people who present themselves as wise and learned – who thinkof themselves as wise and learned. They want to be teachers of the law, says Paul, but they don’t really know what they’re talking about.

Overall we get the picture of restrictive and speculative teaching, based on debates over what may or may not be ‘secretly’ communicated through the lists of names in the Old Testament and on other random parts of the Law. It’s the kind of teaching that isn’t obvious, and so it creates an exclusive ‘in crowd’ of those who debate it. But Paul says it isn’t obvious because it’s based on nothing and it’s all a load of misguided rubbish!

Now we may or may not ever come across the particular false and pointless teaching that plagued the Ephesian church at this time – it would be hard to know either way! But we can still hear the general warning not to get swept up in endless debates about words and speculative ideas based on ‘reading between the lines of Scripture’. There’s plenty of current examples of this kind of thing… obsessions with the ‘Daniel Diet’ or ‘cracking the secret code’ of the Bible with software to unlock the secrets of prophecy. You also see it in Christians who devote their whole life and ministry to proving how a literal reading of creation in Genesis matches up with scientific findings. It’s all speculative teaching that doesn’t do anyone any good.

 

What’s wrong with that?

And that’s the real problem isn’t it. You see this kind of teaching isn’t just a bit of fun for people who have too much time on their hands. In verse 4, Paul explains, it promotes ‘controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith.’ Paul is urging Timothy to weed out this teaching – to take people aside and to tell them to stop what they’re doing – because it is actually opposed to the work of God in people. It distracts us from the truth of God’s word and so it gets in the way of actual repentance and faith, which is how God works in us to produce a life of love.

These guys were using the law of God improperly – manipulating it according to their own ideas to produce teaching that hindered God’s work in their lives and distracted them from the gospel. Now Paul is not anti-Law, but he is anti-‘misuse of the law’. He points out from verse 8 that ‘we know that the law is good if one uses it properly.’ And he explains that the proper or lawful use of the law is not to apply it to the righteous, but the lawbreakers and rebels. By ‘the righteous’, Paul is most likely referring to Christians – to those who’ve been declared righteous through faith and whom God is transforming with his Holy Spirit. And Paul’s saying, the Law is not ‘for them’ – it’s not designed to govern their life. It won’t produce righteousness and love in them. No, it’s for the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious – those who do the very things God’s law condemns! It’s to expose their sinfulness – to name it as sin – and to prompt them to cry out to God for mercy.

The Law doesn’t produce righteousness or love, as Paul points out elsewhere. No, it exposes sin and highlights our need for healing and mercy. The Law might be fulfilledthrough love for God and your neighbour – and that’s why Paul says in verse 11 that those who are lawbreakers are living contrary to the gospel; but studying it in detail, and debating over the meaning of words and genealogies in it, and even imposing it on people as lawis not going to produce love for God and neighbour. The law is fulfilledby love, but it doesn’t producelove.

The Law is like an X-ray machine, penetrating through layers and exposing the corruption and sickness within. But it’s important to use an X-ray machine properly isn’t it? In the early days of X-ray technology, they got a little over excited and used it in all sorts of creative ways. So when you went to buy a new pair of shoes, you could step up to this handy machine which would shoot some friendly x-rays through the shoes you were trying on, and your feet, (and that pregnant mother standing a few feet away), to see if it was the perfect fit! But then we realised that was not such a great idea… (x-rays have some down sides!)

Applying the OT Law to Christians, or using it to ‘discover’ the secret to the ‘really spiritual life’ is like using an x-ray to fit your shoes. It’s like trying to use an x-ray machine to actually healsomeone from a broken bone or a growth in their body. That’s not what it’s for! It’s to expose the problem, not fix it! To highlight sin and our need for redemption! It’s meant to point us to Jesus and lead us to throw ourselves on him and embrace his gospel. Because as Paul explains, it’s faith that will produce love.

 

Faith and Love

Paul states in verse 5 that love comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Love doesn’t come from imposing rules onto a sinful heart, or by enlightening our hearts and minds with secret knowledge hidden in the Bible. It comes from a pure heart – a heart washed clean by the sacrifice of Jesus, declared innocent through the gospel, and purified through the Holy Spirit. Love comes from a conscience that is good– a conscience that is informed by God’s word and captured by a desire to please and honour God as our saviour and Lord. And so love ultimately comes from faith. Faith in the promises of God in the gospel and faith in the wisdom and goodness of God. And that’s why it’s so important to know and protect the truth of God’s word! So that by faith in this truth, we can live it out in a life of love.

 

The call to challenge distracting and destructive attitudes and ideas

So we come back to the basic point of this passage. If we want to promote love – if increasing love amongst people in the community is our goal – we will want to promote the truth of the gospel. Which means we will want to challenge false ideology that denies God’s truth and warn people away from foolish and distracting debates that get in the way of hearing, repenting and trusting in God’s word.

Of course, we don’t want to degenerate into the kinds of people who are constantly critiquing each other for not expressing our theology ‘perfectly’. But that’s not what Paul’s talking about. He’s calling on Timothy, and really encouraging all Christian communities, to make sure nothing gets in the way of people knowing and responding to the truth of the gospel. He’s reminding and encouraging Timothy to embrace the difficult and painful task of challenging people over teaching and expressions of Christian life and ministry that are getting in the way of people responding in repentance and faith to the gospel, leading to a life of godliness and love.

So, if you moved cities for work and you settled into a new church and you discovered that the ‘youth ministry’ was basically just a hangout to eat food, play video games and talk about ‘what’s important to you’… what would you do? I think Paul would encourage you to challenge the leaders (with humility and love!) to find a way to get the youth hearing and responding to God’s word, so that God might work in them through faith, ultimately producing love.

If your Christian friend at work is always talking about how the prophecies of the old testament are actually talking about Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, and that if you work through all the numbers carefully you can see that big things are just around the corner… find a way to lovingly point out that such fascination is actually a distraction from the plain and simple truth of the gospel. God calls us to faith in the gospel of the crucified and risen Jesus – not the writings of fringe American evangelicals.

If you find yourselves in Bible study or discussions with friends debating theology and biblical interpretation for the sake of debate rather than seeking clarity so that you might repent and obey in faith… stop, and suggest to your friends that they stop. Because such behaviour promotes controversy rather than God’s work, which is by faith. Perhaps you’re even aware of a sense of arrogance over God’s word developing within yourself or others, where you decide what you will and wont submit to; where the Bible becomes a tool or a resource for developing your own philosophy of life. Heed the warning in this passage to stop. Have the courage and the love to call others to pull back from such attitudes and behaviour, and together to come humbly to God’s word in faith.

Perhaps someone earnestly encourages you to read a book that promotes the importance of all sorts of rituals, behaviours or spiritual experiences as the key to Christianity or ‘true spirituality’… step back and reflect on whether it’s helping you hear, know and respond to the gospel that’s revealed in the Bible, or whether it’s promoting controversy and speculation – whether it’s getting in the way of God’s work in your life.

Whatever it might be, we’re being called to love God’s church enough – to embrace the goal of seeing his people grow in love and godliness enough – that we take the difficult steps when necessary to challenge behaviour, attitudes and beliefs that are getting in the way of hearing and responding to the gospel. It doesn’t mean we don’t accept people who are different. It doesn’t mean thinking that you’re better than others, or demanding that everyone be like you. But it will involve sometimes saying, “Actually that’s not ok.” If we really want to promote love amongst this community, we will do what it takes to make sure people have every opportunity to know the true gospel and to respond to it in faith.