It’s easy for us to get distracted by “side issues.” Paul reminds us in today’s passage: Don’t miss the point!
2 Kings, chapters 1-3; Psalm 82; 1 Timothy, chapter 1
1 Timothy 1:3-11 (NLT):
When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussions of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God.
The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently.
We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.
Paul begins this letter by reminding Timothy of the reason that they are apart. I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. Timothy had a job to do, and Paul wanted to encourage him to do it. Of course, Paul didn’t realize when he wrote this letter that we would still be reading it almost 2,000 years later! Nevertheless, his instructions to Timothy are also helpful for our spiritual journey.
Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussions of myths and spiritual pedigrees. I’m not sure what “myths” Paul refers to, but the subject of spiritual pedigrees is familiar. As I’ve noted in my recent posts, I attended our General Assembly earlier this month. Thousands of folks from the tribe called “Nazarenes” gathered for worship, business sessions, and a “family reunion.” It’s common for people to talk about being “third-generation Nazarenes,” or even fourth- or fifth-generation! (The Church of the Nazarene began in the late 1800s, and was established as a denomination in 1908 with the merger of three holiness groups from around the United States.)
I’m not sure what Paul would think about that, but I suspect he might consider this to be a waste of time. Our generational ties to our church might lead us to be loyal to the church, but that doesn’t necessarily make them spiritually relevant. Does the fact that our parents, or grandparents, were part of this tribe improve our spiritual health and maturity?
Don’t Miss the Point!
In verse 5, Paul tells us what is really important: The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. He then states in verse 6: But some people have missed this whole point.
The point, to put it simply, is a life transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we’re not careful, we can get caught up in meaningless discussions that don’t help anyone in their journey with Jesus. Paul reminds Timothy – and us – that the goal is that we love one another. Filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. That doesn’t come from simply “following the rules,” nor does it come from our ancestors. It comes from Jesus.
“When Used Correctly”
In verse 8, Paul says: “We know that the law is good when used correctly.” The correct use is not to beat people over the head with “the law.” Rather, the correct use is to explain what it means to live a God-centered life, to give a framework for the transformed lives that we live. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. If we’re living in a right relationship with God, the Holy Spirit guides us in the way of truth. Scripture illustrates for us how we live in that relationship, but “the law” is no longer primary in our minds. Jesus is.
But the law does still have a purpose. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious. Paul goes on to give several examples of those who are lawless and rebellious. They
- are ungodly and sinful
- consider nothing sacred
- defile what is holy
- kill father or mother, or commit other murders
- are sexually immoral
- practice homosexuality
- are slave traders
- are liars and promise breakers
- do things that contradict the wholesome teaching that comes from the Good News (verses 9-11).
“The law” presents the “bad news” – that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Good News is just that – good news! It tells us about the possibility of forgiveness, transformation, and life in Jesus Christ!
Don’t Miss the Point!
Paul’s instruction to Timothy was to stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. It may seem harmless to engage in speculation, or to talk about our spiritual pedigree. However, if those discussions lead us away from the truth, they are dangerous! The danger is spiritual pride – we think we’re better than others because of our “pedigree,” or because of our imaginations. “Endless discussions” of other matters distract our attention from the truth.
Paul is laser-focused on what is truly important: that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. We cannot separate these things from each other. Our culture wants us to believe that “love” means sitting by while people destroy themselves – or even encourage them to do so! That is not love. Love means that we want what is best for those whom we love, even when that’s not what they want.
“Tolerance” is a cheap substitute for real love. Tolerance costs nothing. Real love, however, is willing to suffer for the benefit of the beloved. That’s what Jesus did for all of us, and that’s what he calls us to do for each other.
Father, we confess that there are times when we just want to “love people from a distance.” In the abstract, we want what’s best for them, but we are unwilling to pay the price of real love. Thank you for reminding us that Jesus was willing to pay that price. The one who loves us calls us to love one another; help us to do that today. Thank you for reminding us again, “Don’t miss the point!” Amen.