Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 1:3-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/14/2016 in Novato, CA.
Audio recording not available for this sermon due to technical difficulties.
1 Timothy 1:3-7
Doctrine and Love
When I was in college I remembering hearing a Christian describe a recent visit to an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This was a Christian who didn’t have a Presbyterian or Reformed background. At any rate, the brother said, “The people at that church were really concerned about doctrine, but where’s the love?” What I heard in that brother’s question is something I’ve heard many times in many different ways. Too often certain Christians will assume that doctrine and love are two disconnected things. Too often we hear slogans like “doctrine divides” and instead we just need to focus on love. But as we head into this passage we see that this is a false dichotomy. Doctrine and love are not at odds. It’s not that you can only have one or the other. Rather, we see quite the opposite here in this passage. Paul’s view, the Bible’s view, is that doctrine and love are intimately connected. Paul explains to Timothy that the whole reason he wants him to combat the false doctrine in the church and emphasize the right doctrine is so that love would come forth. Doctrine and love are not enemies. They are the closest of allies. True love flows in part from sound doctrine. By the way, remember that the word “doctrine” simply refers to the teachings that we believe to be true.
So let’s begin then today by thinking first about Paul’s call to Timothy to combat false doctrine. And so if you recall from last week’s introductory message, we talked a little bit about this. We said it was a major theme in this letter from the Apostle Paul to Timothy as he pastors in Ephesus. We looked primarily at verse 3 and saw that Paul told Timothy he had to speak against “other” doctrine. We learn more in verse 4 about some of this other doctrine that Timothy had to fight against. There it describes it as fables and endless genealogies. I mentioned last week that this probably has in mind Jewish source material. Titus 1:14 also mentions concerns about fables and specifically refers to them as Jewish fables. It’s probably the same sorts of fables that were being dealt with here. For example, there was a Jewish book at that time known as the Book of Jubilees that was full of legends about various Old Testament saints and advocated a number of doctrines that contradicted both the Old Testament and also the theology later revealed by Jesus and the apostles. So it is apocryphal material like that which likely made up a lot of the false teaching going on at Ephesus. As a related side note, I might note that the word for fable here is literally the word myth; mythos, in the Greek. Unlike some so-called pastors today who want to say that the Bible itself is the genre of myth, it’s passages like this that explicitly deny that the Bible can be described as myth. Paul is saying that one reason these other teachers are to be denied is because they are teaching myths! The implication is that what Paul and Timothy teach are not myths!
Notice at the end of verse 4 that Paul also describes another reason why these other doctrines should be rejected. Our translations say that such myths and legend cause disputes. Other translations translate the word to say that they promote speculations. I prefer the “speculation” translation, but of course both are true. Allowing such other doctrines in the church breeds controversy and argument. That’s certainly something against love, by the way. There is no need to waste time arguing about false doctrines that are either spurious at best or blatantly contradicting at worst. Similarly, to allow such myths and other teachings in the church causes unprofitable speculation. Too often controversies or confusion start when someone’s teaching goes from exegeting a Bible passage to speculating on things that we are not told. This is particularly bad when the speculation isn’t even related to the Bible but about some other extra-biblical material. We can sum up the concern here with what Paul says at the end of verse 4. All these myths and legends: not only do they breed controversy and speculation, but they just don’t edify. We want to have our doctrine bring godly edification in the faith. We want to be built up and grown in our Christian faith and hope. That’s what takes place when right doctrine is taught and promoted. But that is not what is advanced when other doctrines are taught, whether spurious ones or blatantly contradictory ones.
There is much application to draw from this today. There have been all sorts of myths and speculations and other teachings that Christianity has had to address. Put aside the teachings of other false religions. I think of all the “other” teachings that seem to try to attract the attention of Christians. Let me give you some examples. The Bible Code and The Da Vinci Code come to mind. I also think of some of the end times speculation that some Christians spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find some code in Revelation that somehow describes some random current event; usually from a pre-mil dispensationalist perspective. I think that can have the danger into falling into this same trap. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to looking for how the Scriptures are being fulfilled but there gets a point when it clearly moves beyond interpretation into blatant speculation. Yet often such people run with those speculations and push those speculations so much that it becomes one of these “other” teachings that is no longer teaching the Bible. Harold Camping’s speculative theology and allegorical methods also resulted in something similar. And then you have the continued string of spurious claims in books like Heaven is for Real; that’s the story of that boy’s claim to have gone to heaven and come back in a near death experience. Some Christians will essentially demonize you if you look at the facts of that or similar stories and question its legitimacy. And similarly, so many evangelicals have taken the apocryphal story of this boy’s claims to have gone to heaven and used it some great evangelistic effort. But the problem is you are not actually evangelizing when you do that. What I mean is you are not proclaiming the gospel but you are proclaiming these unverifiable claims of some boy’s random claims. But the Bible says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not some apocryphal stories. So all these examples I just gave, these are just a few I could have given. But what all of these examples have in common is that I’ve had various Christians come to me about these, having given them serious consideration. In other words, these are all real examples of “other” doctrines, “other” teachings, that have gotten an audience in churches and have caused disputes and speculations and have not edified Christians.
We should not give a venue for these teachings. We must not stand by idly when such “other” teachings get a foothold in the church. We must be on guard for this. This means we must keep a watch on others who come into the church. But it also means you should also keep a watch on yourself too. Keep a close watch on yourself lest you unwittingly bring in some “other” doctrine. These “other” doctrines can seem harmless and can appeal to us for various reasons. Keep alert and on the watch. We want to be growing together in truth not dividing and splintering over speculations and myths that have no power to build up.
So that’s our first main point for today. The other main point I wanted to bring today is to then see Paul’s purpose in this instruction. I draw your attention to verse 5. There Paul explicitly tells Timothy why he is telling Timothy to oppose this other doctrine. Paul says the reason why we need to oppose false doctrine and promote sound doctrine is for love. Verse 5, “the purpose of this commandment is love.” When it talks about purpose here, it has in mind the goal. What is the goal for combatting heterodoxy and promoting orthodoxy? It’s love. Again, this is why I said that doctrine and love are not at odds with each other. Here Paul says it explicitly.
Notice how verse 5 describes the connection between doctrine and love. Verse 5, “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” So, Paul doesn’t say that love flows from doctrine. He says that love flows from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. But the context shows that its doctrine that is connected with our heart, and our conscience, and our faith. In other words, the way in which sound doctrine is connected with our heart and our conscience and our faith will determine if we have true love flowing from us or not. So let’s think about those three things in terms of sound doctrine. That will help us to think about how Paul is making the connection here between love and doctrine.
So first, let’s think about the pure heart. Paul wants love that flows from a pure heart. In the Bible, the heart doesn’t usually refer to that organ within us that pumps blood. It also doesn’t tend to refer to our emotions as we might sometimes use that like on Valentine’s day with all those hearts. But in the Bible, the heart refers to the inner self. It’s about who you are at your core. Who you really are is who you are in your heart, in your core, in your soul. That’s why Jesus could say that it’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, it’s what comes out of a man. For he said that its from within, from our heart, that either good or evil will come forth. If our hearts our evil and dirty with sin and depravity, we should expect to see evil things come forth. If instead our hearts are pure and clean and good, we should expect to see good things like love come forth.
Here’s where right doctrine comes into play for the heart. Right doctrine declares that man in his natural state is now fallen in sin, unable to truly love, let alone save himself. It’s like in Jeremiah 17:9, it says the heart is deceitfully wicked. Yet we know in Psalm 24 that it is only the pure in heart who can stand before God. So it’s right doctrine that declares that Jesus Christ is the only one who came into this world with a pure heart. And it is only through the salvation he offers that our hearts can be cleansed. Right doctrine declares that we experience a cleansing when we first believe in Jesus. That’s what our baptism signifies. We are cleansed from all the guilt of sin. And right doctrine declares that we still for now struggle with the pollution of sin in our hearts. But it’s this right doctrine that declares that right now Christians are undergoing a cleansing from that pollution. Though it will not be complete in this life, there is a real cleansing going on. It is this cleansing of our heart that enables us to have a real hope of love coming forth even now from our hearts. So right doctrine here is essential for us to have hearts that are being purified. And this right doctrine is instrumental in the ongoing cleansing of our hearts. And so this means right doctrine is essential for true love to be coming from our hearts. Other doctrine does not have this ability to change our hearts.
So that’s the pure heart. Next Paul says he wants our love to come from a good conscience. A conscience according to the Bible is what works inside us to make moral judgments. We see this in Romans 2 for example. It’s our conscience which looks at what we do or do not do and decides if its good or bad. But realize that for a conscience to do this, it needs to have a standard to use to make this moral judgment. That’s why when Romans 2 talks about our conscience it does so in the context of the moral law that is written on every man’s hearts. The problem is that in our sin we have turned our eyes away from that law written on our hearts. We like to suppress this law written on our hearts. But that is where right doctrine comes into play. As we see later in this passage one aspect of sound doctrine is the law of God. And so we are reminded that not only is God’s law written on human hearts. But it has also been written on stone tablets and on scrolls of papyri. And so part of the church’s ministry is to be teaching this sound doctrine, even the law of God, so that our consciences can be informed with the standard given in God’s Word. Other doctrine does not give God’s standard, but a different standard. If your conscience is using the wrong standard for judging your moral actions, then you will not have a good conscience but a bad conscience. And so Paul knows that if we are to have the kind of love God wants coming from us, it will need to come from a good conscience; one that evaluates what to love and how to love from the right standard; from God’s standard. Right doctrine is essential in that.
So that’s about a good conscience. Third, we see Paul wants love that comes from a sincere faith. In other words, he wants the love that comes from someone who is real genuine believer. Again, sound doctrine is essential here. In order to be a true believer, you have to believe in the right thing. An essential component of faith is knowledge. Knowledge is taught and learned. Knowledge is essentially the doctrine. Your faith will either believe in sound doctrine or will believe in false doctrine. Our faith struggles when there is a mixture of the two in our faith; that our faith holds to certain true doctrines but also has tried to hold to other doctrines too. That’s a struggle. But the point is simply that Paul knows we need to have truly believed and known the doctrine of Jesus and the gospel if we are going to have God’s love flow from us.
So I hope you are beginning to see how doctrine and love relate. Let me give you a further example. I recently had the opportunity to listen to several speeches from both the recent Republican and Democratic National Conventions. If you heard many of those speeches, one thing was very clear. The Republicans and Democrats love and hate different things. The things each party focused on and proposed to do for the country also were very different. But the reason why what they love and what they want to do is so very different is because they each have a different doctrine. Now I’m talking here about political doctrine. The Republicans’ doctrine, their beliefs and core convictions, is very different than the Democrats’ doctrine. And it’s their different doctrine that affects what they each do and do not love and what they do or do not try to do. In the same way, for a Christian to have the kind of love that the Bible wants us to have, it is going to have be rooted in biblical doctrine. Otherwise, different doctrine will result in something else.
And so let me sum up this point like this. There’s the verse in 1 John 4:19 that says “We love because he first loved us.” That’s doctrine. That’s gospel doctrine that explicitly says that we are to love because of God’s love to us in Jesus Christ. God so loved us that he sent his only begotten son to die on the cross for our sins, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. That’s why we then love others. Because we’ve known that love. It’s this doctrine of “we love because he first love us” that spurs us on in love and good deeds. That is what we have known in Jesus Christ. Let us praise God again for his great love. And let us look to love others in light of it. Let us share in Paul’s same goal for the Ephesians. Let us look to see that our doctrine yields this wonderful fruit of love.
And so brothers and sisters, doctrine and love should not be pitted against each other. In fact, sound doctrine should result in great love. And yet in closing, I return then to my introduction. Why is that so many Christians have falsely pitted doctrine against love as if doctrine was the problem? Well, interestingly, I think it’s the church at Ephesus that gives us more insight into that question. In the book of Revelation, in the letter that Jesus writes to the church at Ephesus, he commends them for how they had successfully stood against false doctrine. But then Jesus goes on to tell them that their love had grown cold. That letter speaks of something we call “dead orthodoxy”. It’s the problem of knowing all the right doctrine in our minds but not seeing it bear the kind of fruit of love that it should. Realize that doctrine is not the problem in that situation. The problem is a matter of the heart.
Our passage today in light of that letter to the Ephesians in the book of Revelation reminds us that this too is a threat to our spiritual wellbeing. We would be fools to think that we are immune to this threat in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It is not enough to just cultivate our minds with sound doctrine. Of course we must not throw away sound doctrine either. But we must seek to take what we learn in our minds and apply it to our hearts. Our doctrine is not meant as merely an academic exercise. It’s not just to affect our minds. It needs to touch our hearts, and inform our consciences, and be the foundation for how we live out a lively faith in Jesus. Let us then examine ourselves again today. Let us see that our study of doctrine has this goal for us to grow in love. Set that as your goal again today as you digest today’s message. And as we come in a moment to the Communion table, let us confess any ways that our love has grown cold. And as we feast upon Christ and all his benefits, let us ask him to grow us both in love and doctrine again today. Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.