Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Goal of Christian Discipleship

"The aim of our charge is love that issues from 
a pure heart and a good conscience 
and a sincere faith." 
(1 Timothy 1:5)

In this verse, the apostle Paul succinctly summarizes the goal of Christian instruction. It is easy to get sidetracked. It is easy to drift from the mission. We should regularly come back to the goal. What are we seeking? Our goal is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 

In 1 Timothy 1:3-7, instruction that aims for this goal is contrasted with unprofitable instruction. Not only is Timothy told to charge people to not teach any "different doctrine" - that is, false doctrine - but also to not devote themselves to "myths and endless genealogies." Why? Because they "promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith." There is some debate about what myths and endless genealogies were in view when Paul wrote this letter, but we do not need to know the exact identity. The point is that there are some extra-biblical teachings which are dangerous not because they are heretical, but because they are distracting. They promote speculation rather than godliness. When we loose sight of our aim, we are in danger of wandering away into vain discussion. We must be careful to not devote ourselves to such things. Beware of teachers who focus on speculations, theories, rumors, and indifferent things. Look for edifying instruction. 

This point is useful in two ways. First, this aim described in 1 Timothy 1:5 should be the goal of Christian instruction. This should be the goal of pastors. It should be the goal of parents as they train their children. It should be the goal of all Christians as they seek to edify their brothers and speak the truth in love. Do you speak and share things which promote this aim? Second, this should be the instruction that we seek. We should look to fill our minds with teaching that promotes this aim. Examine what you listen to and what you read - how much of it is edifying? How much of it fulfills this aim? 

Biblical doctrine is not the only edifying thing to study - we must also study this world to fulfill our callings in it - but it is the most edifying thing to study and it is infallibly edifying. Biblical doctrine accords with godliness (2 Tim. 6:3, Titus 1:1). It is through biblical doctrine that we are saved (Rom. 1:16, 2 Tim. 3:15), and it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). It is designed to achieve this end. 

"Our charge" in 1 Timothy 1:5 refers to the gospel which Paul and Timothy and other teachers of the church have been charged to preach and defend. Indeed, the whole church is to be a "pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:16), the revealed truth of Scripture. The aim of this ministry is "love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." We have been given a mission and we have been given the proper tool which is designed for this mission, which is the word of God.

Consider what is involved in this goal. "Love" includes both love for God and for neighbor, and as such it fulfills the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:29-31). It is an inner affection and devotion which results in action. It expresses itself in mercy, kindness, faithfulness, and righteousness. This godly love is defined in part by its source. A "pure heart" is one that is devoted to God, having been cleansed by Christ and released from bondage to sin (for more on a pure heart see this post on the corresponding beatitude and this post on 1 Peter 1:22). A "good conscience" is in contrast to a seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2) and a defiled conscience (Titus 1:15). It is a clear conscience with respect to the sincerity of one's profession of the faith and service of God (1 Tim. 3:9, 2 Tim. 1:3). A "sincere faith" is a genuine and unfeigned trust in God and his word (Rom. 4). By this faith, a person beholds, receives, and rests upon the mercy of God in Christ. This true faith results in action (Heb. 11) and works through love (Gal. 5:6). Paul spoke of "sincere faith" again when he wrote to Timothy the second time: "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well" (2 Tim. 1:5). May it dwell in the hearts of many, being planted and nourished by sound doctrine, bringing forth love as its fruit. 

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