I Timothy 1:3-7 “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.”
There is some urgency in the style in which this letter begins. There are no opening words of thanksgiving – which is common in Paul’s letters. There are evidently serious problems, and Paul gets down to the issues immediately. Timothy has been appointed as Paul to bring the church at Ephesus back on course. This important city was on the west coast of what we know today as Turkey, over a hundred miles across the Aegean sea from Greece, and at the same latitude as Athens. As the latter city was the capital of Greece so Ephesus was the provincial capital and the religious centre of Asia. In this city was situated one of the Seven Wonders of the world, the temple of Artemis (Diana), a prominent tourist attraction. It was a fertility cult with sensuous and orgiastic practices. Paul had travelled further north to Macedonia leaving Timothy there, and he is writing this letter to remind Timothy of his priorities in the Ephesian church. The prime focus was on the very survival of the true faith in that congregation. It was being threatened from without by false teaching, and from within by non-Christian beliefs and practices which were creeping into the church.
When Paul heard of these problems, his reaction was not just to pray for the church but to send someone there who could teach and guide the congregation. The apostle chose a man he trusted implicitly and he strengthened Timothy’s authority by writing this letter. His exhortation to Timothy was to remain there in Ephesus (v.3). There was a work he must do. Paul had told him this when he bade Timothy farewell, but at first opportunity he wrote this letter and repeated the charge, “Stay there in Ephesus.” It was his first challenge. Was Timothy going to become a rolling stone or a pillar in the church? Don’t desert your post, whatever pressures you meet. Timothy was comparatively young and inexperienced. Perhaps he was prone to discouragement. Courage, Timothy! You have a great Helper. Look to the strong for strength. Say with Nehemiah, ‘Should such a man as I flee?’ Who are you that everything should be made smooth for your feet? Be a man and play the man. Resolve that even in this great city and this Christian church you will set up the standard, and hold the fort. ‘Stay there in Ephesus!’
We live in a society whose citizens are constantly on the move. For example, there is an American politician called Bill Bradley who is currently challenging for the Democratic presidential nomination. He has written a memoir entitled “Time Present, Time Past” and its opening sentence is, “I have always preferred moving to standing still.” He seems to have lived his entire adult life on the run. This reflects the lifestyle of many of his contemporaries, a refusal to stand in one place and defend its integrity. That restlessness has become the root of the loneliness one can detect in many people today. Men who boast they are citizens of the world become citizens of no place in particular.
“Stay there in Ephesus.” It would have been the worst calamity if the man known to have been sent to the Ephesian church by the apostle had quit the work. The church would have been given a body blow, the enemies of the gospel would have gained fresh wind and the world would have rejoiced. Spurgeon speaks, ‘Against Hastening to Remove from Our Post of Duty’ and says, “It is wiser to bear the ills we have, than to fly to others that we know not of. It is probable that our present condition is the best possible for us; no other form of trial would be preferable. What right have we to suspect the wisdom and the goodness of God in placing us where we are? It will be far more prudent to mistrust our own judgment when it leads to murmuring and discontent. Occasionally it may be prudent to remove, or to change one’s form of Christian service; but this must be done thoughtfully, prayerfully, and with a supreme regard to the glory of God rather than out of respect to our own feelings…Do not, therefore, change the work, but change yourself. Attempt no other alteration till a distinct improvement in your own self has been resolutely carried out.” Timothy, be steadfast and unmovable. That is an a fundamental apostolic exhortation to us all.
Paul then proceeds to write to Timothy about the nature of the Christian faith, and he points out to him three things:
1. TRUE FAITH IS DESTROYED BY ERROR (vv.3,4,6 & 7).
“Stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” The implication of those words is unchallengeable: there are true doctrines in existence which Paul, Timothy and the New Testament church knew to be the teaching of Christianity. From the day of Pentecost there existed something in words and propositions called “the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The Corinthian church across in Europe could soon be addressed and the apostle could remind them of the basics of the good news which he had ‘received’ from Christ, that the Lord Jesus had died according to the Scriptures and had been buried and had risen again the third day according to the Scriptures (I Cor. 15:1-3). This was something Paul ‘delivered’ to the church. Paul sometimes refers to it as “that form of doctrine” (Rom. 6:17) or in 2 Tim. 1:13 he speaks of “the form of sound words.” Behind these phrases there lies a constant idea, that there was a given core of apostolic proclamation and teaching which defined Christianity. It was full of such propositions as these: “He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (I Tim. 3:16). When these Ephesians were first confronted with Christianity it was in the context of this message coming to them. The first response of their faith was in accepting such statements. To delete any of them was to fatally impoverish the Good News.
When Paul commissioned Timothy to do his work in Ephesus he was told to “command and teach these things” (I Tim. 4:11). “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care” (I Tim. 6:20). “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim.1:13). “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you” (2 Tim.1:14). “The things you have heard me say on the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men” (2 Tim.2:2). Paul reminds Timothy of ‘faithful sayings, worthy of being received.’ Those great commonalities define the message concerning the death and resurrection of the Lord, and they must be received whether you are Jew or Gentile, and live in Jerusalem, Ephesus or Athens. If your continent is Asia or Europe, and your millennium the first or the third there is this one great pattern of sound teaching, and every congregation and each individual believer must follow the pattern. This teaching has been summarised in the church’s great Christian creeds. What delight to read them! What conciseness, instead of wordiness! What clear delimitation of truth from error instead of an unwillingness to offend! What clearness instead of obscurity! The utmost definiteness and precision instead of vagueness!
It was a matter of Christian honesty and integrity for Timothy to do that. In order that the essential nature of the faith be maintained Timothy had to ensure that what the apostles had received from God the Son he handed over to the people of Ephesus. Only that could be called Christianity. We have the same responsibility today. We all know something about handing over an object of great importance to someone else. Preachers exchange homes and pulpits for a month. A single mother will hand over her newborn child to an adoption agency who will hand it to childless parents. A legacy is deposited in a bank. A secret is shared with a friend.
What allows us to hand over a valuable person or object in this way? It is because we trust the people to whom we are giving it. Why do we trust them? Because we’ve got to know them. An adoption agency interviews the prospective parents of a child. A householder knows the people to whom he is giving his home for a month’s vacation. A teenager would know from experience his friend with whom he shares a confidence. Without knowledge and trust human life would be terrifying.
The most valuable thing ever handed over in trust to the world is the knowledge of Jesus Christ and salvation. Without this knowledge men cannot understand what they must do to be saved. Who is God? Who am I? Is there life after death? What is the good life acceptable to God? Men don’t know the answers to those questions, and they are like a ship without compass and steering wheel. They are like sheep without anyone to protect them. They are reflectors lacking any source of light to shine on them. The most precious reality in the universe is the Christian faith. It is, in fact, a trust. God entrusts this faith to the church. He must give people the Holy Spirit before he can entrust them with the gospel. There is no way they could cope with that message without the indwelling God. The apostle Paul entrusts the faith to Timothy. “Entrust it to others who will pass it on to yet others,” he says. I am entrusting this same message to you week by week.
Five years before Timothy went to Ephesus Paul had completed his church-founding ministry there. He could say to the elders as he bade them farewell, “For three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears,” and he cautions them, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock” (Acts 20:31 & 29). It is as though Paul could see the wolves lurking in the shadowy doorways waiting for their opportunity to attack. This prediction had been fulfilled all too quickly, and now Timothy was confronted with these mischief-makers teaching false doctrines to the church.
Of what these teachings actually consisted we are given the barest hint, “myths and endless genealogies” (v.4). We are evidently in the realm of religious folk lore where rabbis are spinning their yarns about the ancients on the basis of some hint about them in the Old Testament. A name might be taken from a list of pedigrees and expanded into a fascinating story. These cautionary tales were subsequently deposited in written form in that part of the Talmud which is known as Haggadah. Two other examples of this genre of mythological teaching from this period are called The Book of Jubilees and The Biblical Antiquities of Philo. The authors were allegorizers and speculators who treated the Word of God as a happy hunting-ground for their imaginations.
Myths are extraordinarily influential today. Think of the myths of Hinduism, and Buddhism, and Islam. Think of the myths about UFO’s and angels which the Western world swallows. Anyone who has any acquaintance with the American cult known as Mormonism will be struck by our text’s phraseology about “myths and genealogies.” Mormonism claims to be the fastest growing religion in the world today. In the Pacific islands it has become the largest denomination. In 1823 Joseph Smith Jr. made the claim that an angel named Moroni had appeared at his bedside. The visitor said he was the son of Mormon, the departed leader of an American race known as Nephites. Two Middle Eastern peoples had emigrated to the Americas between 600 B.C. and 400 A.D. The story of these tribes and the eventual battle in New York state in A.D. 423 between the Nephites and the Lamanites had been written down, it was claimed, on tablets of gold and these were discovered by Joseph Smith who copied them down, the originals conveniently disappearing when he had finished. The account of these myths in wearying detail now appears in the Book of Mormon. It is this same cult which is also obsessed with the genealogies of its members because of proxy baptisms for dead relatives. Millions of people believe all this and spread it all over the world. “Myths and endless genealogies” are still a potent and destructive mix.
What were the consequences of this false teaching entering the congregation?
i] They promoted controversies (v.4). There is no way that the “myths and genealogies” evangelists could be invited to speak from the pulpit of the Ephesian church. It was bad enough to be buffeted by the tailwinds blown by these men. What of sitting before the rostrum and experiencing the full gale of their rhetoric? Once the sermon was over the fighting would break out! The congregation would have heard another religion, another way of salvation, and another god. Let those men come to church and hear the gospel, but not to preach. There was no way that there could be a joint mission to Ephesus. No one in the congregation would bemoan the division between these groups but rather rejoice that the issue had been made clear, and the lines drawn for all of Ephesus to know. Either you followed Jesus Christ or you followed “myths and genealogies.” You could not follow both. But they were not just a muddled group, they were dangerous:-
ii] They captured some who had professed to be Christians – “some have wandered away from these [Christian ways] and turned to meaningless talk” (v.7). There were some who professed faith in the Lord, and seemed to be going on in the Christian way. Then one day some contact was made with them by proponents of “myths and genealogies” and very quickly they got sucked into that movement. Today the sort of thing they get excited about about is angels coming down from heaven who marry mortals and give birth to supermen who fight with flying dragons and conquer continents and discover worlds under the sea – “meaningless talk.” So it was with Joseph Smith Jr. and thousands like him. They have missed the whole purpose of living. But more than that, these men encouraged new proselytes to be teach these errors to others.
iii] They hurried them into becoming “teachers of the law” (v.7). People who once were sitting with you in the congregation are now out knocking on doors talking with your neighbours about these false doctrines. They have been sent out by their teachers, and have advanced so speedily in their new beliefs that they are soon to be made bishops and superintendents. “I wasn’t given a chance with them,” they say about you, “but with this group my gifts have been recognised.” Alas, “they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (v.7). Their assurance is totally misguided: they are the blind leading the blind, and soon both leader and led will fall into the ditch.
Timothy is to do all he can to put a stop to the spread of this teaching. “Command certain men not to teach” (v.3), Paul tells him. Make it clear to them that this is dishonouring to Jesus Christ. Take away every opportunity they might have for speaking. Preach a series of sermons on the errors of this false doctrine. Meet with the leaders and explain that they must change their beliefs in repentance or they have to go. Timothy will be accused of being a heavy shepherd. His opponents will say that the fuss is all about power, and that the young man is on an ego-trip. “Search your own heart Timothy, but don’t give up.” Remember the warnings of the Lord Jesus about wolves coming to destroy the flock of God, but these wolves will be dressed in sheep’s clothing. Command these men to stop their activities. That is Timothy’s first duty. True faith is destroyed by error.
We are living in a period where convictions which state that contrary religious beliefs are wrong are thought to be extreme and sub-Christian. “Let us sink our differences and get back to a few bare essentials,” men say. That sentiment cannot live in the light of this passage. Let us open our Bibles and seek to unfold the full richness of truth that the Scripture contains and in its light save men from error. “Let us be careful,” say men today, “not to discourage any of the various tendencies of thought that can influence the church.” I say no. Let us give all diligence to exclude deadly error from the pulpits of the church in order that we may be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God.
What hope is there for the unity of God’s people if error is allowed to go on unchecked? How can there be peace in a church – unless it be the terrible peace of the graveyard – if proponents of myths and genealogies be given the same status as those who cleave to the apostolic tradition? How can we ask God to revive his church when that church has undisciplined heresy which is taking millions to hell? True faith is destroyed by error.
2. TRUE FAITH PROMOTES GOD’S WORK. (v.4)
Paul has dealt with the negatives of false doctrines destroying faith, and now he turns to the positive. He talks about what promotes God’s work, and he says it is by faith. God has a ‘work’ (v.4). It is his in its origin, design and accomplishment. It is not man’s – though they are the beneficiaries. It is God’s alone. This word ‘work’ is a fascinating term. You can understand the word to mean literally the management of a household or business. So it is God’s administration of his own work. God is a faithful steward in his own enterprise. He has a plan and he sets to, and he has never started something without completing it. He never gets involved in a business which gets out of hand, or runs into bankruptcy, and ends disastrously. His plans are accomplished. He has the most perfect skills for the work he is doing. He can call upon his omniscience, his powers of creation, his sense of beauty and righteousness, his providential control over the sparrow and the winds, the gene and the Milky Way. God’s work must be a mighty work.
Now we know what the objectives of God’s work are. We can break it down thus:-
i] To conform people to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:28). That is the perhaps the most immediate controlling objective. God has planned to make Christlike the entire church of the Lord Jesus. His plan does not stop at justifying them, pardoning them for their sins and clothing them in the righteousness of Christ. It is more than that. He is not content merely to adopt them into his family and make them sons and heirs. He has planned to make them like God, to sanctify them completely and release them from all sin. God is not going to rest until every single one of them are a transcript – morally and spiritually – of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He has committed himself and all his resources to this tremendous enterprise.
Think of the numbers involved. In Revelation 7:9 they are described as “a great multitude that no one could count.” When the Lord enters into a covenant of grace with Abraham he tells him, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen.22:17). What a hyperbole! A university lecturer whose name is Dr Malcolm Cornwell, who teaches physics at the University of Sussex, has just completed a 35-year project to calculate the number of pebbles on Brighton beach. He has used a mathematical theory called Order of Magnitude to work out that there are 100 billion stones on the beach between Brighton and Hove. He is confident that no one could prove him wrong. “It would take one man counting at a rate of one pebble per second about 2,500 years to add them all up by hand.” That is one single beach, and it is pebbles that are being counted, not grains of sand. When God wants to describe for us the numbers who will be in heaven he points us to the innumerable stars and the sands on the shore. He loves his Son so much that he saves all these and changes every one of these people making them like Christ.
He will present the church to himself “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph.5:25). That is the terminus of God’s plan, that we shall all be presented to God spotless. Jude has a great benediction: “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless” to himself (Jude 24). That is God’s plan and he is using everything at his disposal to do that for the whole church. His plan encompasses the total transformation of every Christian. ii] God’s plan has a wider goal, and that is to make his Son the firstborn among many brethren. God has in mind the constituency of the redeemed and amongst them the Lord Christ is to be pre-eminent. Everyone in this community have been carried to this glorious destination of transfigured lives. They are to be a community of praise, adoration and worship because God has planned in heaven that an eternal choral symphony will erupt into the Song of Moses and the Lamb. Their voices will be ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, all of them brethren in harmony singing a single theme of praise to Jesus Christ. “Unto him that hath loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (Rev.1:7). That is where this world will end. That is God’s plan for it.
iii] God’s plan can be expanded even further. He is going to regenerate the whole heavens and the earth. Not merely these transfigured souls in vast numbers, not merely binding them together into a new humanity where Christ is firstborn but he has planned a new universe. Almighty God is going to call into being a new cosmos which shall be in all its glory and beauty, the inheritance of the Son of Man and all the children that God has given to him. The apostle Peter writes about this divine plan, “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
Those are the plans which God has made, which no power in earth or hell can thwart. Every single Christian must make that plan his own. “This is why I live,” he says. This is what gives our existence its structure and meaning. It keeps us sane. It gives us criteria to evaluate our lives. It gives us hope. Often the church has lost sight of that plan. That was the case during the Medieval Period and for much of Europe during this hideous twentieth century. The plan for living was lost and life had no meaning, so people have turned to chemical dependence, and materialism, and entertainment, and sensual indulgence to oil the wheels of their empty lives. Then there has come a rediscovery of the plan of God in a congregation, and a community is transformed, sometimes a vast area.. The plan of God is always there, if only men will turn to it. Whatever the age it will produce this glorious end.
Think of great artist like Leonardo Da Vinci. Five hundred years ago he planned to cast a great statue of a horse which he had taken years to design. He had been commissioned to do so in the year 1482 by the Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan. Over 17 years the artist made numerous sketches in the Duke’s stables, and actually completed a clay model. But in 1499 the French army attacked Milan and they used the clay model for target practice and the bronze which had been set aside to make the statue was taken to make cannons. But Leonardo Da Vinci’s designs and plans for this statue have been preserved and during the last few years in a foundry in Beacon, New York state, the statue has been made, and brought across the Atlantic and set up in Milan. It is 23 feet high and it weighs 13 tons, and it was in fact this very week (Friday September 190. 1999), the great statue planned by Leonardo Da Vinci, was unveiled and pictures of this pawing stallion appeared in many newspapers all round the world. The plans were intact and perfect, and so men could go to them and use them to make this beautiful statue. The church must do that with the redemptive plan of God.
Most of the professing churches are in terminal decline. For example, the Church of Scotland is losing members at an average of 400 each week. That is the equivalent of closing down four large congregations each month. In the past five years the number of candidates for their ministry has fallen by 60 per cent. In forty years the membership of this particular denomination has shrunk by half. What must it do? Go back to God’s plan and reject the modern substitutes. Work to further that plan alone. So must every congregation. There is no other way to true ‘Church Growth’ but that.
How is that done? The last words of verse 4 supply the answer: by faith alone! Myths and genealogies promote controversies, but God’s work is promoted by faith. Disbelieve the myths. Unbelief can be valuable. It can save you from being fooled, or ripped off. The brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God are myths. Disbelieving is a safeguard against the smooth-talk of a con man, or a false prophet. But don’t disbelieve what is true. When Columbus told people that the world was round they mocked. When the Wright brothers told people that soon men would be able to take off into the air like birds, but in a flying machine they were judged to be foolhardy dreamers.
The Lord Jesus Christ made great claims – to be the judge of all mankind: to be pre-existent – “before Abraham was I am:” to be equal with God – “I and my Father are one.” But men told him he was a liar and blasphemer. They expressed their unbelief with gobs of spit and repeated blows to his head. They were actually standing in the presence of the incarnate God but in their unbelief they thought they knew better.
This God tells us of the blueprint to which he is working, where he is taking the world and how we can benefit from his plans. The divine blessings can only become ours if we trust him. We have to trust what he says about transforming this great number of people into the image of Jesus Christ, and gathering them into a vast brotherhood of the redeemed where the Lord has centre place, and making a new heavens and earth as their eternal habitation. Believing that gives us hope and a joyful purpose in life. We work to further that message – let all the world know about it! And we prepare ourselves for that great event. “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (I Jn.3:3).
Let me illustrate this: in the story of “The Wizard of Oz” at the end of the Yellow Brick Road Dorothy and her friends are awestruck by encountering ‘the great and terrible Oz.’ They have never seen him, but his awesome voice echoes through the castle. But finally they discover who he is. His stage props are removed, and Oz turns out to be a short bald man in a costume. The only help he can offer them is human help. Appearances were deceiving.
The promises of the gospel go the other way. The gospel is Oz in reverse. The gospel tells us that the scorned crucified carpenter from Nazareth, seemingly so helpless against the Roman thugs who pin him to a cross, is actually God veiled in human flesh. Behind this appearance of weakness, behind the humiliating nakedness and torture, behind the death and burial, the plan of God is being accomplished to redeem and transform countless numbers of people and make a new world. Appearances are deceiving. You have to believe it to see it. You have to believe it to benefit from it. You have to believe it to promote that work in your life.
This is the football season and the fans are debating who will be promoted and who will be demoted at the end. Which manager has the best plan to gain promotion and avoid demotion? There is animated discussion. Men want their teams to go up: they want to be on the winning side. How sad to be supporting a loser! Myths and genealogies are losers. The most important question is how can God’s work be promoted by my life? The New Testament tell us by faith! Trust the Lord Jesus, and trust in him! Think of the great galaxy of heroes mentioned in Hebrews 11. How did they obtain promises and subdue kingdoms and live such righteous lives? They trusted in God to vindicate his name and spread his kingdom through them. It was all by the power of faith that God’s work was promoted in them.
3. THE GOAL OF TRUE FAITH IS LOVE. (v. 5)
“The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (v.5). This command (to Timothy, to stay in Ephesus and urge certain men not to teach false doctrines nor devote themselves to myths) had as its goal love. If love is to be known and experienced more and more in the Ephesian church that command has to be obeyed. Some people have set up a dichotomy between love and law. “What we need,” they say, “is not commands but love.” But the New Testament does not know of any such tension. There is no contradiction between doing things in love and doing them by the law for it is the very substance of the law that every command shall be fulfilled in love. The command says, love God. The command says, love God’s Word. The command says, love God’s people. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of Christian morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbour. Love needs commandments for its eyes, for love is blind without them. We love people by keeping God’s commands. We are always honest to them, never violent, never stealing what is theirs, never even coveting what they have for ourselves.
Timothy must show his love for the church at Ephesus by staying there, silencing the heretics and commanding them to stop their teaching. If Timothy fails in his task and chooses to leave the church then it will not only be an example of obedience, it will be a failure in love. So many of our failures are failures in keeping the two great commandments, loving God with all our hearts and loving our neighbours as ourselves. Our greatest need is costly Christian love. The world is crying out for love. Its songs are all about the quest for love. Its soap operas are all about the trials of love. Someone could protest, “You say we need love, but where can we find it?” This Scripture is supplying the answer. There are three sources. All three are indispensable and conjoined (there is only one preposition ‘from’ which governs all three): “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (v.5).
i] Love “comes from a pure heart.” The problem of lovelessness is not answered with reference to changes in the outward appearance, the stature, the face, the dress-sense. It is not answered even by enhancing confidence and taking ‘control’ of your life. The problem of lovelessness finds its focus in the human heart, that is, the complex of dispositions, affections and thought which makes up the real person. Out of what reservoir is the love of I Corinthians 13 going to burst forth and flow? A proverb says that you can’t get blood out of a stone. The hearts of men by nature are hearts of stone. Consider what has happened this decade in very different parts of the world, the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Yugoslavia and in East Timor. Remember one atrocity much nearer home, the Omagh bomb. Merciless indiscriminate murders of men, women and children by apparently ordinary people. Some who were killed were their very neighbours, amongst whom the victims had lived for decades. How can people behave like that? Why cant they love those of a different race or religion? It is the depravity of the human heart that causes hatred, not disparities in wealth. That is the bleak and uncompromising Christian indictment. Every heart is so desperately wicked that a new heart is essential. No patched-up heart will do. The Bible insists that we need to be transformed and empowered at the very centre of our beings. Divine regeneration is the fountainhead; sanctification is the flowing river. The old impure heart needs to be taken away and a new heart given by the grace of God. Then the hard-hearted can begin to truly love. Listen to this great promise which God makes: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez. 36:26). What a sincere offer God makes to men and women. Will you not take Him at his Word? Will you not say, “Why not me? Give me such a heart! I must have it. My heart is deceitful and impure. Cleanse me Saviour, or I die!”
The blood of Christ, how sweet it sounds,
To cleanse and heal the sinner’s wounds!
The streams thereof are rich and free;
And why, my soul, why not for thee?
(Charles Cole, 1733-1813)
That is the beginnings of real love, when God gives you a pure heart. Then it is possible to have the next source of love which Paul mentions:-
ii] Love comes from “a good conscience.” You cannot love people when your conscience is convicting you of your sin against them. There is a famous incident in Ulster Christian history when W.P.Nicholson had been preaching across the province in the early 1920’s and many thousands of people in Belfast turned from sin to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Workers returned stolen property to their employers. Debtors paid outstanding bills long overdue. At Harland and Wolff’s shipyard it became necessary to erect a large shed to house the stolen property being returned. Those converts stood the test of time. They became the backbone of hundreds of churches. There was nothing superficial about their discipleship, no easy-believe-ism, no mere emotional response in their turning to Christ.
Here were people who had had a bad conscience: they were in debt and doing nothing about it. They had lied and stolen. That was not the way of love. Then they were given new hearts and they followed the dictates of their conscience making restitution and reconciliation ending alienation. Love for your neighbour is seen in following your conscience. There can be no real love for someone while at the same time your conscience is condemning your behaviour towards that person. Love requires a good conscience. All the world wants love without the pain of a bad conscience, so they call right what God declares is wrong. Most people follow their conscience as a gardener follows a wheelbarrow – they push it in front of them in the direction they want to go. A good conscience is a divine discharge that your debt to God’s law has been fully paid and you are loving your neighbour as yourself. You keep your marriage vows, and you forgive your neighbour for hurting you, and you don’t retaliate when insulted, and you turn the other cheek when you are hit, and your conscience commends you. It declares that you are truly loving people as you should. How sensitive are we to always maintaining a good conscience ? There can be no true love without it. Isaac Watts taught children to sing:
Order my footsteps by the Word,
And make my heart sincere;
Let sin have no dominion, Lord
But keep my conscience clear.
iii] Love comes from “a sincere faith.” Sincere faith follows the Lord Jesus Christ. It is walking with Christ by faith that produces love, like a fire produces heat. You may as well separate weight from lead, or heat from flames as love from faith. Faith without love is no living grace, and love without faith is no saving faith. By faith invisible things become visible, absent things are present, and things that are very far off become near to the soul. We see that great day when we shall be glorified, and all the constituency of the redeemed are there too about us, and there are the new heavens and the new earth. By faith we see it all just around the bend in the road. Because we trust what God has said about his great plan we love him more and more. “Think what blessings lie before me! It seems unbelievable, but God has said it.” How good is the God we adore!
Paul is talking about genuine trust in the Lord, but also in the Lord’s people. How do we show we love someone? When we trust them implicitly and absolutely. Does someone love you when they are ever questioning your behaviour and motives? Timothy was to stand before these Ephesian Christians, and he was to say, “Don’t listen to those men who speak of myths and genealogies.” If they loved Timothy, and knew that he was merely bringing the Christian message to them, they would trust him and do what he said. It would be the devil that would make them say, “Timothy is jealous of these men. He just wants power. He envies these men’s gifts and their following.” Love would not let them think like that. Love always trusts. Love shows itself in sincere faith in other Christians.
Timothy was sent to Ephesus to save the church from being destroyed. His mission was one of love. That was the reason for silencing the mouths of false teachers. The whole enterprise was done in love and to further love. That love is not secret nor illusive. It comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith.
12th September 1999 GEOFF THOMAS