Imagine a parent telling their child what they are required to do on a particular occasion. It could be what time they are to be home that evening or instructions on mowing the grass or cleaning the gutters. Imagine as the parent lays our the demand, the child looks up with a quizzical look to ask, why you are telling me to do these things. What would you give as your reasons? We might say because I’m interested in your safety or in your learning responsibility. We might even say, it is because I have responsibility for your training in life and your growing up to be a good citizen so I’m giving you some things to do that move toward that goal. One thing stands out and that is we do have a reason or goal in mind for our instructions.
God is like us in that regard that every time he gives us a charge, instruction or command there is a goal or aim involved in what it will produce in us. When the apostle Paul wrote his young friend, Timothy to give him clear guidance on how he can be a good minister of Christ and how he could solve the problems facing the church in Ephesus, he laid out for him the goal or aim for his commands. In I Timothy 1:3-5 he said, “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, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Most likely there were many teachers in the church in Ephesus who were heading in a very different direction than the one Paul had taught them. We don’t know all the kinds of things that were being taught in the church there. Many are described in the book but overall he declared that these wrong teachings and different doctrines had to do with myths and endless genealogies, “which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Some of these strange teaches were tied to making laws where God had made any laws such as forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from particular kinds of foods. Some of the teachings were tied to emphasis on the body and exercise to the degree that it became too important. Some were tied to money, covetousness and love of things. There must have been some wrong teaching and ideas around the whole leadership in the church. Paul responded by laying out the qualities that one should have to serve as either an elder or deacon in the church.
But it is worth keeping in view that the aim of any teaching is vitally important. The goal of the teachings of these false teachers was speculation rather than a stewardship from God that is by faith. When the goal is speculation about what I think, I feel or I believe the church becomes centered on itself and its own will rather than on God and being true and faithful to him. When we see ourselves as stewards of God and our work for him as a stewardship then the real question becomes what does God want me to do and to teach instead of what do I think or feel.
Paul said the goal or aim of God’s command was love issuing from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith. In reality this should serve as a good test for everyone who is a teacher. What are you trying to produce in the students you are teaching? What is your aim or goal? Wouldn’t it great if we kept clearly before us at all times that our efforts to teach aren’t just about presenting a lesson or covering some material. It is to change the lives of those who are part of the study in a powerful way for good. If our teaching doesn’t have the right aim or goal then it can’t possibly produce the benefits God is looking for.
Look closely at the aim of God’s commands and instruction for us in the world. It is love from a pure heart. The word for love here is “Agape” which is “An unconditional good will or good actions” toward another person or thing. So God’s commands are to lead us to that kind of unconditional love for others. Look back even on the Ten Commandments and think of how many of them relate to our actions toward God and how many toward each other. We are to have God in awe and have no other gods before him. We aren’t to misuse his name and to keep his sabbath. When it comes to other people we are to honor parents, not kill, steal, commit adultery, covet or lie. What is amazing is that Jesus would look at all such commands and say that they were fulfilled in the two commands to Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. For one to read God’s word and come away from it with hatred, revenge and meanness is obviously to miss what God is trying to produce in us.
Notice the things he tied with the love from a pure heart or unmixed heart. A good conscience was part of the mix. Our conscience is the sense of right and wrong that God placed in each of us. But if we misuse the conscience it can become too sensitive so that everything feels wrong to us or we can abuse it by not paying any attention when we are bothered by some action in our life to the degree it becomes hardened or even becomes an evil conscience that makes us feel good when we do absolutely wrong. A good conscience is one that is sensitive to God’s will and feels bad when we violate it and feels good when we are doing what we believe to be right. Every conscience must be adjusted all along to make certain that it is set right. Just as a clock that is set wrong always gives the wrong time a conscience that is set wrong is always leading us in the wrong way. The one standard to use in setting the conscience is the word of God.
Finally, he said the love is to be tied to a sincere faith. In that time for a thing to be sincere was that it didn’t have any hidden parts. When a vendor was selling a piece of cloth he called it sincere when he would hold it up to the light to demonstrate that it had no spots or blemishes and the dye was even and matched. So a sincere faith is one that you can hold up to the light. It is the real thing through and through. It is a faith that not only believes in God but believes God and trust him in everything.
So we can rightly judge any teaching to see if it is the kind God longs for us to have by the standard of its aim or goal. If the goal of the command isn’t right the teaching can’t be right.