Truth for Love

What matters more: being discerning about doctrine, or being loving? What if it’s not either/or?

Chris Hutchison on September 22, 2019
Truth for Love
September 22, 2019

Truth for Love

Passage: 1 Timothy 3:-11
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Last week we began a new series called “Pillar of The Truth,” which is going to take us through three books in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. These books were written to a pair of young pastors and are full of hands-on instruction about the church. And so in this series we’re going to seek to enrich our understanding of what the church should look like, how it should operate, and what God’s vision for us as the body of Christ actually looks like.

Last week I shared how this series is really a follow-up to the “You Are Here” series we did last year. We need this follow-up because that series was missing an extended reflection on the church. And that’s not a minor point. The part that we play in the biggest story ever told is a part we play together, and that’s what we want to emphasize in this series.

And so, last week we began in 1 Timothy by considering who this letter was written by—the Apostle Paul—and who it was written to—his young protege Timothy. Paul had sent Timothy to Ephesus, which one was of the largest cities in the ancient world and had one of the most established churches in the world at that time.

And this letter is really Timothy’s mission briefing, instructing him on what his purpose and priorities should be while he was in Ephesus.

And his first priority is described in verse 3, which we’ve just read again together: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3).

The word “doctrine” really means “teaching.” Certain persons were teaching things that were different from what Paul and the apostles were teaching, and Timothy needed to put that to an end.

Not only were they teaching a different doctrines, but verse 4 tells us that some of them were also devoting themselves to “myths and endless genealogies.”

“Myths” were made-up stories, and “endless genealogies” is a reference to the elaborate family trees which were very popular in certain Jewish groups of that day. Some of them took a lot of pride in knowing who they or others had descended from, and it was all tied up with these stories and this teaching that was different from the teaching they received from the Apostles.

The Command

And Timothy’s first job was to shut these guys down. He was to “charge” them not to teach any different doctrine, as verse 3 says.

The word “charge” really means “command.” Timothy was not there just to make suggestions. He had real authority. He was there to give commands, to draw lines in the sand.

But can you imagine how hard that would have been? The difficult conversations. The awkward confrontations. The tough job of telling people that they were wrong? Or that the people they had been listening to were wrong? This would not have been easy.

And we see just how difficult it would have been when we realize that these guys Timothy needed to shut down were very likely brothers in Christ. From what we can tell, they were not like the false teachers we read about last summer in 1 John. Those teachers were saying things about Jesus that were so wrong that John basically said, “If you believe that, then you’re not even a Christian anymore.”

Some of you had guys in white shirts and ties knock on your door this week. They call themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they believe that Jesus was just the archangel Michael in bodily form. That’s 1 John level false teaching. We call it heresy. People who teach and follow that have moved completely outside of Christianity altogether.

But that doesn’t seem to be what was going on in Ephesus. These guys weren’t heretics. They weren’t corrupting the core truths about Jesus and the gospel. Timothy didn’t need to kick them out of the church. They were still Christians who believed the gospel and were brothers in Christ.

All they were doing was sprinkling in a little variety, adding in some teaching that was different, some made-up stories, some family trees.

And yet Paul insists that they need to be shut down. They need to stop this teaching.

Well, why? If it’s not heresy, if you can still believe that stuff and be a Christian, then why not just “love them in the Lord” and put up with them? If it’s not a matter of life or death, then why the big fuss?

The Purpose of the Command

This is a very important question for us to answer. And the answer comes in the second half of verse 4, which tells us that the things that were being taught “promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.”

Paul is looking to the fruit of their teaching. What does it produce? Does it promote the stewardship, the good work, the mission, that we have from God? No, it’s not helping us do God’s work. It’s simply promoting speculation. Musings. Wonderings. A waste of words about things that don’t matter.

We see this same thing in verse 6 and 7. After mentioning the real purpose of sound doctrine, Paul says that “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:6–7).

“Vain discussion” could be translated as “empty talk.” Just a waste of words and a waste of time. These guys don’t know what they are talking about, they don’t even understand what they are really saying, and so they’ve swerved off into empty words and speculation. They are wasting the church’s time and pulling their attention away from what really matters.

So they needed to be stopped so that the church could turn their attention to what really mattered. And what was that? What was the real point of Timothy’s mission?

The answer comes in verse 5: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

Don’t miss the connection with verse 3. “Charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine…the aim of our charge is love” (1 Timothy 1:3, 5). This is why Timothy had to shut down the false teachers. For the sake of love. That’s what he was after.

I think we all understand that love is really important to Christians. Love is very heart and essence of the Christian life. Jesus said that loving God and loving our neighbour is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-40). He also told us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).

Love is the defining characteristic of God’s people. It’s how people know that we are Christ’s followers.

And love is super important to the church. It’s the glue that holds us together and the fuel that makes us grow. In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul urged the church to bear “with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). Later on in that chapter he described the church as a place where we speak “the truth in love” to one another, and finally tells us that the church grows as it “builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Love is at the very core of who we are as the people of God. It’s what brings us together and it’s what moves us forward. In more ways than one, if we don’t have love, we are nothing.

And the false teaching at Ephesus was threatening the church’s love. And so it had to be stopped.

Why Not Both?

But now we need to ask another really important question. How did this actually work? What was it about this false teaching that made it so damaging to the church’s love?

Another way we could ask this question is, why couldn’t you have false teaching and love at the same time? Why not both?

There are two main ways that we can answer these questions. The first answer comes from what we’ve seen already. What was the fruit of this false teaching? What did it produce? Speculation (v. 4) and empty talk (v. 6). And so it’s very simple to see that if you’re just going around wasting people’s time on worthless conversation, you’re not showing them love. You’re not building them up in love, like Ephesians 4 describes.

So that’s our first answer. Why couldn’t you have love and false teaching in the church at the same time? Because the false teaching was doing little more than wasting people’s time and distracting from the real work of love.

But there’s a second important answer in the text. And we see it when we read all of verse 5. “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).

This verse tells us that when Paul says “love,” he is not describing a mere human emotion. The “love” that he is after is not just a happy feeling that we get from being around people who like us. We can get that all sorts of places.

Timothy’s goal is love that comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

And where do those come from? They come from the power of the gospel. You want a pure heart? It comes from Jesus, who died to “purify for Himself a people” like Titus 2:14 says. Do you want a good conscience? It comes from the same place: trusting that Jesus really did die to forgive all of your sins (Hebrews 9:14). And we experience both of these things through our sincere faith in Jesus.

So that’s how someone gets a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Through believing in the person and work of Jesus. Through the gospel.

And what does someone with a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith do? They love. They love God, the God who rescued them and saved them. And they love other people. The more they understand the love that God showed to them, the more they will show that same love to others. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” 1 John 4:11 says.

The bigger you understand God’s love to be, the more you’re going to love others.

Now follow closely here. Genuine love comes from a heart that has been transformed by the gospel. So, if you want to see love in a church, what do you need? You need the gospel. You need to tell people again and again that their sins have been forgiven completely in the death of Jesus. You need to remind people over and over again how much God loves them and how he demonstrated that love in the death of Jesus.

And as our hearts understand that message more and more, we will show more and more love to one another.

I’ll say it again: if you want love in a church, feast on the gospel of grace through faith.

And now we can see the heart of Timothy’s mission. Because what happens if a church starts obscuring the gospel? What if they stop talking so much about the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and they start talking more about rules and regulations? What if they start burdening people with human expectations and opinions? What if they take their eyes off of the cross and cause people to think more about themselves?

If you do that to a church, then love will slowly start to shrivel up and disappear.

The Law and Love

And this is exactly what was beginning to happen in Ephesus. The different doctrine, the myths and the genealogies were taking people’s eyes off of the gospel. And we see specifically in verse 7 that these false teachers were all into the law of Moses. But that verse also says that they didn’t really understand what they were talking about. They didn’t understand that the death and resurrection of Jesus has majorly changed our relationship with the law.

They maybe understood the law itself alright, but didn’t understand what Romans chapter 7 says, when it tells us, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God… But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:4, 6)

These teachers didn’t understand that here in the New Covenant, the main purpose of the law is not to help the righteous be more righteous. We can certainly learn wisdom from the law. But we’re not under the law the same way we were before Jesus died.

And that’s basically what Paul is saying in verses 8 and following. In the New Covenant, the main purpose of the law is not to help Christians become more righteous. The job of the law is to show sinners how sinful they really are, so that they call out to Jesus to save them and gain true righteousness by faith in Christ.

And the Ephesian teachers didn’t understand this. They weren’t using the law lawfully, like verse 8 says. They were going around slapping people with the law and taking their eyes off the truth of the gospel. And this was causing their love to shrivel up.

So do you see how this all fits together now? Timothy had to shut down these false teachers so that the church could focus on the truth of the gospel so that love could flourish.

Timothy’s mission was to uphold the truth for the sake of love.

Application #1: Be Discerning

Now for you and I today, that specific false teaching they experienced in Ephesus may not be as common. But I hope you know that there are all kinds of false teachings kicking around today.

They might not be heresy. You might be able to believe them and still be a Christian. But any doctrine, any teaching that is different from the Apostle’s teaching in Scripture will end up shrivelling up our love. It will end up taking our eyes off of the cross. It will end up distracting us by wasting our time on pointless discussions. It will not produce love that comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

So as we think about what this passage means for us, I want to suggest two broad ways we should apply these verses. The first is this: we need to be discerning.

Now you might think, “I’m not Timothy and I haven’t been given authority over the Ephesian church.” True enough. But you do have authority over your phone or your computer or your library. Here in the 21st century we have all kinds of podcasts and videos and resources available to us at all times, way more than any previous generation. And not all of it is good. Not all of it is edifying. Not all of it is healthy.

And so we need to be discerning. Now as I say that, I understand that discernment doesn’t come naturally to everybody. Some of us are not wired to pick things apart. Some of us are naturally more trusting and we have a harder time sorting out whether something is true or false, and why.

But if that’s you, I hope you can see how helpful our passage is today. Because it gives us several important questions which we should use to evaluate a book or a sermon or a podcast or a teacher. We should ask: is this producing love? Is love for God and love for others it’s aim and goal? And is it producing that love by cultivating a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith? Is it pointing me to the gospel of a crucified and risen Jesus who has forgiven all of my sins and freed me to love others the way He has loved me?

Or, is this distracting me? Is it pulling me off into the weeds of speculation and vain words? Is it wasting my time on things which don’t edify? Is it taking my eyes off the cross and making me think more about myself? Is is replacing grace with works?

And the more basic, most important question we should ask is this: is this teaching “different”? Is it different from what the Bible teaches? And of course the only way to answer that question is to know the Bible. To spot a counterfeit you have to study the real thing.

So let’s do that. Let’s be discerning together. Let’s choose to feed our souls with sound doctrine that accords with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, like verse 10 and 11 describe.

Application #2: Be Discerning… for the Right Reasons

But let’s make sure that, as we are discerning, we are discerning for the right reasons. And this is the second main way we need to apply this truth to ourselves. We need to be discerning for the right reasons. We must remember what discernment is for.

And I stress this, because I know there are other people who are more naturally inclined to be discerning. They are naturally more suspicious and seem to be wired to pick things apart and sniff out error and false teaching.

People like this can be a real gift to the church if they remember what discernment is all about. It’s not about being right for the sake of bring right. It’s about love.

If they forget that, if they start using their discernment as a weapon to bludgeon other people, then they can end up causing a lot of damage to the church.

I know this because I am one of these people. And it seems to be just a part of the way that God wired me. I’ve had a passion for the truth for as long as I can remember. My mind is just naturally inclined to try to discern between truth and error.

But this inclination can be a double-edged sword. When I was in my early 20’s, there were people and even whole churches that I hurt because I didn’t understand what our passage today teaches us. I didn’t understand that truth matters because people matter. That discernment is important because love is important.

But beginning in my mid-20’s the Lord began to teach me these things. He used some people in my life and he used this part of His word. 1 Timothy had a major role in realigning my heart and teaching me to care about the truth for the right reasons.

I remember knowing that something big had changed when when one day I drove by a church that I had formerly been involved with, and they had a big billboard out front advertising a series of special meetings with some guest speaker. And I know what that person was in there teaching. And I knew it was false. It was “different doctrine” from what we read in Scripture.

But as I looked at the parking lot full of cars and thought of all the people in there, for the first time I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t feel haughty. I didn’t make some sarcastic quip about how foolish those people were. Instead, I just felt sad. I felt really sad for all those people in there being taught things which were going to stunt their spiritual growth and shrivel up their love for one another and cause them to focus on empty speculations instead of the gospel.

My heart had started to understand that truth matters because people matter. Truth matters because God matters! It’s not about being right for the sake of being right. It’s about healthy churches that bring glory to God as they love one another. “The aim of our charge is love.”

And this morning, I’m being a little bit vulnerable here because I want you to hear my heart. I’ve been here a couple of years, and some of you have started to figure out that I’m careful when it comes to these things. I’m careful about the kinds of teaching that we allow in our church. The kinds of ministries that we’ll support. The kinds of songs that we’ll sing or the events that we’ll advertise for or the speakers or books we’ll promote.

And I want you to know that I make no apology for this. Paul told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Emmanuel Baptist Church, do you know how precious you are? The Lord Jesus Christ bought you at the price of his own blood. And the Holy Spirit has made me an overseer here, and told me in His word to pay careful attention to this flock. Being careful is literally in my God-given job description.

But I also want you to hear this morning that by the grace of God, because of His work in my heart, I can genuinely say that I love the truth because I love the church. And I don’t want to see us get sidetracked by speculation. I want us to be a church where healthy doctrine is taught, where the gospel is purifying our hearts and giving us good consciences and sincere faith, and as a result, love is flourishing.

So those of you who are more naturally discerning, would you join me by asking God to keep working in your heart? To keep purifying your motives? To help you never forget why this all matters and what it’s all for?

The Final Question

Let me wrap things up for us by asking one final set of questions. As we look to our future, will Emmanuel Baptist Church be known in our community as a discerning church? A church that places a high value on the truth and having sound doctrine? Or will Emmanuel Baptist Church be known in our community as a loving church? A church that plays a high value on people and making sure that people are loved?

What should our answer to that question be? Yes. We have to be both. We must be a church of truth and a church of love, because we can’t be one without the other.

So this week, let’s pursue discernment, and let’s do that for the right reasons. “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).

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