As we turn back into the first Timothy this morning we finally get to the first major heading for "Church 101" It has to deal with the focus or purpose of teaching. What should be happening when I step into the pulpit? Or what should be the end goal of Sunday school, Sunday night, or anytime there is doctrine being taught? Paul answers that question in the first Chapter of Timothy verses 4-7. Since we're still close the start of the book, I'd like to read some extra for context let's read verses 1-11.
<Read 1 Timothy 1:1-11>.
Prior to this point we've built the foundation themes of the book around pastoral authority, Pastoral longevity, Pastoral correction, and good Christology as the four essentials from which everything else is derived.
The first major personal application for us to live the Christian life is answering the question,
"what is the goal of the church's teaching" or phrased from every believer's perspective: "What should I come to church expecting to take home with me?" Should the goal be a good feeling? Should the goal be good friends or great fellowship or something else? Any goal, however, which falls short of that which is in this passage, is a faulty goal.
Sometimes the goal of the teacher and the goal of the student don't exactly line up. Paul warns that in the last days people will try to find teachers who only say what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). The problem is that there are only too many ways to get just precisely that: Teachers who will tell you what you want to hear.
False teachers may have a thousand options as their goal. They may desire that people will follow them. They might desire to be well thought of. They might even have relatively pure motives of wanting to teach God's word – but they don't know it and yet think they do. I would almost dare say that this last group is among the most dangerous because pride is likely to stop them from learning.
As you look at verses 4 and 6 you quickly discover that whatever the goal of a false teacher might be invariably it results in a lack of positive Christian action even though it may generate a lot of theological speculation and lots of warm fuzzy discussions. The contrast is the goal of Godly teaching which answers the question, "What should I come to church expecting to take home with me?"
The answers are simple and they are briefly listed in the fifth verse.
1. Love from a pure heart / 2. A good conscience / 3. A sincere faith
Love from a pure heart:
There are many different types of love in this world. We use the same word to describe favorite foods (I love pizza), fancy new clothing, (I love that shirt!), vehicles, (I love that new truck) and don't forget your spouse. "I love you!"
That last phrase is easy to say but hard to do. I love you might mean anything from "you make my liver quiver" to "I've grown so used to you that I can't imagine something else." Or it could mean that "I'm willing to sacrifice everything for you." You get the point I'm sure.
"This love may be described as a personal delight in God, a grateful outgoing of the entire personality to him, a deep yearning for the prosperity of his redeemed, and an earnest desire for the temporal and eternal welfare of his creatures. Far better, however, is Paul's own description of its meaning in I Cor. 13."1
Here, however, there is a differentiation in the way that Christians are supposed to express love. Not from selfish motives or impure goals. The only love acceptable is love from a pure heart. The heart is purified when under conviction of sin; we turn to God and are cleansed by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:10).2 When once the heart is cleansed by God the automatic result is to rush headlong into loving others. 1 Peter 1:22.
When in Sunday School, or in the Sermon, or even in individual Bible study it comes time to teach – the goal of that instruction, my goal in speaking and teaching has got to include training myself and everyone here to love and for that love to generate from a pure heart. Throughout the week as I prepare the lessons I share your responsibility as students of God's word to seek to walk away from the lesson having learned how to love.
Moreover when we enter into the study of God's word be it at the desk or in the pew on Sunday Morning – we ought to eagerly expect the teaching we receive to purify our hearts, making them a suitable spring from which the love of Christ may overflow both towards God and also towards others. The Goal of our instruction is Love from a pure heart and a good conscience.
A Good Conscience
When we come to Christ for the first time, we come guilty. There is no way around it. Our guilt is as certain as the boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. But when we come to Jesus we are cleansed.
Do you remember Isaiah's encounter with God? He spends the first five chapters proclaiming "Woe to those people, woe to the other people, and woe to them people!" Suddenly when he's confronted with the very presence of God he comes completely unglued and cries, "Woe is me! I have unclean lips and I live among people of unclean lips!" For Isaiah – the realization of his own guilt is overwhelming. But God dispatches the angel to heal Isaiah's confessed sin; and taking a live coal from the altar touches it to Isaiah's lips and God pronounces him clean. The immediate action for Isaiah is to volunteer to serve the very God who had cleansed him. When we come to God in Christ, he cleanses us from all sin and we receive a good conscience.
I drove into a gas station and began filling up the tank and depleting my life savings at the same time. While I was standing there (in warmer weather) my eyes wandered over to the little squeegee. So I began to clean the windows. It wasn't long before I started seeing fingers pointed on the inside of the glass to some spot on the windshield declaring "You missed a spot." So I'd run over and get that one. Immediately a new spot would be located with a pointed finger and "You missed a spot," would be repeated. So I'd run and get that one too. It started out with one or two real spots that needed cleansed and then turned into a game that could have continued for a long time if I hadn't recognized the joke and gone on doing what I came in for.
Listen, Satan is a master at "You missed a spot" accusations. When we come to Christ our lives are cleansed – there are of course going to be legitimate spots which God will lovingly point to and cleanse in us. But Satan is a master at twisting the truth and using it – not to facilitate cleansing but to tie us up in knots over real or imagined imperfections; and the tool he often uses is the very church which is supposed to be confounding his work!
Too much teaching and leeway is given to the development of guilt. Despite the fact that guilt is a notoriously terrible motivator it's the easiest motivation to create. I think one of the reasons that guilt is so easy to generate is that we all too often walk around with the uneasy feeling that we somehow have to earn God's favor – and yet we're always mindful somehow that we're not quite perfect. It's a disturbing thought to us and we walk around with guilty consciences. The result is that we're too often hamstrung by our own falsely guilty conscience.
But there's a decidedly unchristian element to a guilty conscience. If I recall correctly Jesus died for our sin and eliminated it's consequence by paying the consequence on behalf of all who would believe in the Son-Of-God. So our consciences are supposed to be clear. Fostering guilt in the church is like bringing a case of booze to an A.A. meeting.
Of course the other element of that is that Christian instruction out of the Bible is intended to direct us towards right living so that our consciences are not soiled along the way. Past cleansing and good living are inseparable. John tells us "no one who is born of God sins" but then he also tells us that "when we do sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ." 1 John 3:6; 5:18/ 1 John 2:1
Finally a good conscience is best described in terms of a working conscience. Elsewhere Paul writes about false teachers who have had their consciences seared so that they don't tell the truth to their owners anymore. We've all known people who seemed to have no conscience or whose conscience was so warped that they saw no wrong in what they were doing even when what they were doing was a direct and obvious violation of scripture.
The goal of quality Christian learning and teaching is to train your conscience into being a good conscience; properly recognizing both sin and righteousness and pursuing that righteousness. A good conscience isn't going to jump on whatever bandwagon of the soul happens to be passing through but it will make right judgments about everything in your life including your wavering emotions. A good conscience, Like Pinocchio's Jiminy Cricket, has the capacity to guide you correctly.
That is the goal of Biblical teaching. That is what you should expect when you come to church.
A Sincere Faith
A sincere faith is best described in James' terms as faith that works. A sincere faith is a faith that isn't disguised. The Greek word here for "sincere" is avnupokri,tou "unhypocritical". What's in mind here is authentic change-the-way-you-live-faith.
True Christian teaching doesn't focus on mere knowledge. Knowledge is the fuel of faith. The teaching of the church, my teaching – Sunday school teaching, personal Bible study and the teaching of children by their parents must bend itself towards establishing a sincere faith.
That's the goal of good Biblical instruction. Anything less is from the evil one. Anything less is unworthy of our attention. Love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere life-transforming faith.
1 Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. Vol. 4, New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles. Accompanying biblical text is author's translation. New Testament Commentary, Page 61. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001.
2 Hendriksen ibid.