A sense of urgency is immediately evident at the beginning of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. After his standard greeting he gets right to the point: don’t leave Ephesus because you need to tell people not to teach whacked-out doctrines. Throughout his writing Paul warns against false teachers, but even in Galatians, written when Judaizers threatened to steal the excitement of grace from new believers, Paul waited at least a few more verses to introduce his concern. But in 1 Timothy he’s just bursting to make the main point the main point.
And what is that? One word: grace.
It dominates virtually every page of the Bible in innumerable forms. It’s God’s gift that we could never deserve, Christ’s payment for our sins and the invitation to an eternal relationship with Him. And it’s exactly what was threatened when these navel-gazing teachers began flapping jaws filled with falsehood, deception, and legalism. They indulged in hair-splitting speculation instead of spreading the news of salvation by faith alone. And Paul was pissed.
Timothy, on the other hand, was timid. That’s probably why Paul had to tell him to stay put and deal with this festering sore, which could easily infect and wipe out the church at Ephesus. So he reminded Timothy what it was all about:
“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
The point of all our efforts in ministry is love, whether we’re planning, teaching, relating, or doing other various and sundry tasks. And this love is not the polite fakery of office-manners or Sunday church decorum. It’s from a heart purified by Christ’s blood, which makes it possible for us to forgive and earnestly care for other sinners. This love comes from a generous conscience which not only wishes others well, but actively seeks to provide good in their lives. It issues forth from a sincere faith, without hypocrisy because we realize we are utterly depraved and unable to love without Christ.
As Paul continues he points out that the Law was made to be broken. The point isn’t for us to earn God’s approval by keeping it, but for us to realize we can’t do it and accept grace instead. In Xenos we know this, but we’re still in danger of becoming teachers of the Law if we don’t emphasize the preeminence of love in response to grace. We must teach people that we are under grace! We don’t want to teach or allow people to teach the Xenos Law:
1. Go to every CT, home church, and cell group meeting.
2. Pray and share at these meetings.
3. Try to get other people, especially non-believers, to come to said meetings.
4. Read Walking in Victory, The Scarlet Thread, and the NeoZine.
5. Check Basecamp often, and post frequently.
6. Hang out with people a lot in order to build “spiritual relationships that last.” (another required reading)
These are all very good steps to take if you wish to grow as a Christian. If not, following them will probably make you miserable. But the point is, we don’t want to follow the Law. We want to fall in love with Jesus and be motivated by His grace and a dynamic, exciting love relationship with our loving God.
But how? Remember the goal: Love that is pure as it’s motivated by grace, not guilt; that is from a good conscience, not selfish, gotta-grow-my-cell-group motives; and that is from a sincere faith that God is good, the gospel is true, and Christ is the only one worth living for.
How does that work out practically? Take one example. When your disciple or roommate skips out on CT, don’t make that the issue. Instead ask, “Why did you pass up this opportunity to love others?” or “Why are you being so selfish, autonomous, and distrustful?” (Love Ethics notes, week 1). Get to the heart of the issue: “Why aren’t you excited by God’s grace?” Find out where the faith-hope-love train has broken down (see Hebrews CT series) and help them repair it, rather than just addressing the external behavior. Remember the purpose of discipleship teaching the person to love others, God’s way.
I’m certainly no expert at keeping the goal of love in sight, as I’m far too functional in my leadership and relationships. But I desperately want to turn to grace to fight legalism and learn love instead. Who’s with me?