“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).
These words are important, and it matters that we understand why they were penned.
We can read in Acts 20 (particularly verses 29-35) that pretty much from the beginning of his work in Ephesus, Paul was aware that the people there would experience and be tempted by false teachings, and that these teachings would be birthed from their own church– from them. He made sure to spend a good amount of time (three whole years) with them, teaching them that the truth and reality of grace had to be the source of their work and the way they treated each other, because from it they would be built up and brought into their inheritance.
About a decade after Paul left Ephesus, he sent this letter to Timothy, whom he had commissioned to oversee churches that were having trouble, including the one in Ephesus. Paul knew the false teachings he’d predicted had indeed come into the church. And he told Timothy:
“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 speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1:3-4)
Speculation rather than stewardship. That is where the false teachings came from.
In their attempt to sharpen their minds, the Ephesians lost their focus. They forgot that the goal of everything they were called to was love; that instead of having to spend their energy discussing what-ifs and finer details, they had been given something substantial, something they were supposed to take care of and use: they carried grace in their chests. And that grace, even with unanswered questions, was enough to live a full life.
They didn’t need to speculate anymore– they already had something to steward.
It was neglecting that stewardship that brought about the issues the church was facing. After Paul reminded Timothy of their mission of love and what it’s fueled by, he said: “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.” (1:6-7)
These false teachers were not necessarily menacing. They sought to be knowledgeable and to share what they found; they probably believed what they were saying. But they left out the true goal of the church: using love to spread the reality grace. They weren’t pursuing the mission. They lacked love’s pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith, so regardless of how many sources they searched and how many discussions they had, they could not reach understanding; they could only make assertions about the things they found in the endless process (things Paul recognized as myths and loose interpretations). These people were not rooted in love’s pursuits, so they could not find the answers, because love was what held them. What they needed was already in their possession– but they deemed their pursuit of finer theology more important.
We are so much like them.
We can have our questions and curiosities, and we can and should grow in our theology. But we cannot forget what our constant and consuming mission is, what demands our attention and our energy. When our focus shifts from pursuing love to pursuing ideas, we trade in stewardship for speculation; we lose something. With a focus of love, fueled by a pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith, we have what we need; we have the reality of grace, and it builds us up and brings us into our inheritance. Everything we need comes from grace, from Him. We are not lacking.
We cannot be so enamored by speculation that we forsake our stewardship. We have been charged with the spread of love and grace; neglecting that charge is not only foolish and disobedient, but it is destructive for us and for all who cross our path, because our theology always becomes our actions. We teach our ideas, with our words and by our example, every single day, even if we don’t intend to. And if our ideas are untrue, we become false teachers, instead of stewards of God’s deepest truth– the truth that He loves and has grace for us. If our theology isn’t rooted in love, our actions aren’t either.
And we must never forget what He calls pure and undefiled religion: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). To Jesus, if we are seeking to be close to Him and to love others they way He does, we have the truest theology. When love is our theology and when we live it, it proves and grows itself.
May we participate in the dispersion of love instead of in useless discussions. And may we be so engulfed in love and grace and the spreading of it that we have no room left to speculate.
The way Paul ended his letter is a suitable ending for us, too:
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain.
Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
(1 Timothy 6:3-6, 11, & 20-21, emphasis added)