Guard Your Head and Your Heart: Part 2
Passage: 1 Timothy 1:3-7
I’ve always thought it is interesting how strange people entertain us. When I was a kid, there were a number of popular talk shows that kept interest by dragging in a bunch of messed up people and talking about their strange lives on T.V. Jerry Springer became famous by putting real life arguments that sometimes became violent on television. Those kinds of shows don’t seem to be as popular as they once were; instead, we now have all sorts of reality T.V. shows that bring us into the lives of America’s weirdest people. There’s a show about moonshiners in WV, another about compulsive hoarders, and another about redneck alligator hunters in the Bayou. Sadly, the stranger side of life also often amuses churches. Last week we talked a lot about the false teachers at Ephesus who were creating quite a stir through their speculative teaching. Sadly, they were attracting a crowd through controversy. I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as bad, but they were using the Jerry Springer method of creating interest. And many churches continue to attract a crowd through being edgy and provocative. A few years ago a mega-church in South Carolina, gained a lot of attention by opening its Easter Service with the AC/DC song, “Highway to Hell.” Mark Driscoll was a very successful mega-church pastor in Seattle, and he was known for sparking interest during his sermons by making controversial and provocative statements and even by using foul language and curse words.
But we saw last Sunday that our primary focus must not be on having the biggest or most entertaining services but on furthering the stewardship God has given us of making disciples who love God and honor him. This is our mission, and we must be faithful to fulfill the ultimate task God gave us. Verse 5 expands on this mission as it describes what a disciple should be. Verses 6–7 conclude the paragraph by telling us how the false teachers had missed it. And so there is a powerful contrast between v. 5 and vv. 6–7. Verse 5 holds up a beautiful picture of what God wants to do in us, and vv. 6–7 give a sobering reminder of how we can so easily get off course. I’d like to break these three verses down into two simple challenges. First, I’d like to summarize v. 5 with the command to…
Pursue genuine godliness (v. 5).
This is a significant verse that deserves close attention because Paul’s is attemptiong to summarize the heart of godliness. I’d like us to see three important principles from v. 5. First…
God desires to form godliness in his people.
Again, v. 5 expands on the closing statement of v. 4. What is the stewardship God has given us? What does he desire to do in us and to use us to accomplish in others? Verse 5 answers by telling us “the purpose of the commandment.” What “command” is this? In light of the ending to v. 4, the “command” is a reference to all of Christian teaching. It is everything that God has revealed in his Word about who he is and how we should live. For us, it is the Bible. And the Bible has a “purpose” or a “goal” that it is intended to accomplish in our lives. And so Paul begins v. 5 by telling us that God put the Bible together with a specific purpose in mind. You can see in the remainder of the verse what that purpose is. God wants to form love that grows out of sincere godliness.
Before we talk about what this godliness looks like, I want to emphasize that God is very concerned about the formation of godliness in his people. In fact, we can conclude from vv. 4–5 that this is our basic mission as a church. As the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20 states, we are responsible to make disciples who observe everything God has commanded. God didn’t give us his Word simply to fill our heads with facts or to create a social club. He even wants to do something bigger than rescue people from hell. God wants to form godliness in us. Therefore, most important thing going on in your life is not your job, your finances, or even family; rather, it is God’s purpose of forming godliness in you. Does your focus reflect God’s focus? Are you pursuing godliness above all else? If other things are taking priority, then confess it to God and get focused on what is most important. But this purpose is also significant for how we think about the people we are to influence. Parents, your highest goal for your children must be that they would walk with God and obey his Word. Don’t let any other desire for them distract you from what is most important. We also must remember our priority as a church. God didn’t put us here just to get big, have a beautiful campus, or an impressive budget. We especially must guard against becoming selfishly ingrown where we all look at the church for what it can give me and for making sure we get our preferences. We are here to become disciples and to make disciples. Paul says this is the intent of God’s Word. But what does a disciple look like? The second principle I’d like us to see from v. 5 is that…
The ultimate expression of godliness is love.
The Scriptures are clear that the most important commandment and the highest expression of godliness is love. Christ’s words in Matthew 22:37–40 surely influenced Paul’s statement. A lawyer asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment, and Jesus replied that our highest responsibility is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Secondarily, we must “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus added, “on these two commandments hang all the Law and Prophets.” What is God’s purpose for you above all else? He wants to create in you an all-encompassing love for him and a selfless love for others. Of course, this kind of love was obviously lacking in the false teachers. They were not focused on glorifying God but on glorifying themselves. They were not interested in serving people but in using them to push their agenda. But Paul says that genuine godliness is not selfish and proud. Instead, it is marked by passionate love for God and for our fellow man. And so it’s not enough that we just go through the motions of spirituality, obey some commands, show up to church, and don’t hurt anyone too badly. No, God wants us to love him and love each other.
Does God have all of you? Does he have all of your heart, soul, and mind? Of course, as long as we have a sin nature, we can never answer with a perfect “yes.” But we ought to be striving to move in this direction. We ought to pray every day, “Lord, show me more and more of your glory, and remove more and more of my pride and selfishness so that I will love you supremely and serve you with everything I have.” And we also ought to pray that that God would produce in us a sincere love for others that leads us to serve them and show Christ to them. Love is the ultimate expression of godliness. The third principle from v. 5 is that…
Genuine love must be a holy love.
Verse 5 concludes by listing three internal qualities that must provide the foundation for the kind of love God desires. God is not interested in a merely external show of love; love must spring from a pure heart. Paul gives us three characteristics of such a heart.
I believe that Paul’s uses this phrase with the same idea in mind that Jesus had in Matthew 5:8 where he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The phrase speaks of pure motives and desires. We’ve already talked about this idea a good amount. The false teachers were driven by a lust for power and prestige. But genuine love must spring from selfless, godly compassion. God is not just concerned with what we do but with why we do it. Now, for the very introspective among us this doesn’t mean that you should sit around and do nothing until you feel like your motives are perfect because God is also concerned for your actions. As well, one of the best ways to purify your heart is to get busy doing the right thing. But don’t stay content with doing right because the purpose of the commandment is to change your heart.
When Paul talks about the conscience, he consistently means our internal sense of right and wrong. Unfortunately our conscience can be corrupted (1 Tim 1:19; 4:1–2). Paul says that the false teachers’ evil actions have warped their sense of right and wrong. They have rejected God’s commands so many times that it no longer bothers them. I think we’ve all seen this play out in our own lives and in others. The first time you commit a particular sin, your conscience goes nuts, but every time you do it, your conscience is less and less affected as the deceitfulness of sin takes over. I’ve seen people’s conscience become so seared that they sincerely think God wants them in an adulterous relationship or to continue in some other pattern that is clearly rebellious. Sin is incredibly deceitful. So what does it mean to have a good conscience? First, it means that my internal sense of right and wrong reflects the truth of Scripture. This only happens as Scripture trains my conscience, and I strive to obey it. But second, a good conscience also means that I have no unresolved before or another individual (Acts 24:16). When Paul says his conscience is void of offense, he clearly means that he is not aware of any sin that he has committed against God or another individual that he has not made right. Returning to our text, a good conscience is one that is trained according to Scripture and that is free of guilt. There is nothing under the surface this person is trying to hide.
This phrase indicates that a key aspect of godliness is that we are sensitive to sin. We are searching our hearts for sin and confess it to God. When we sin against another person, we make it right. It also indicates that we must push hard to live clean, pure lives. And so are you striving to live with a conscience void of offense, or do you consistently disobey God’s Word and pretend like it never happened? If you are searing your conscience, you can say all you want that you love God and love people, but 1 Timothy 1:5 would say that your claims are hollow. Godliness requires driving out sin.
This phrase must be understood in light of 1:19. Paul says that the false teachers had rejected the faith, meaning that they did not believe or submit to the true gospel. They could put on a good show of faith, and they probably claimed to have faith. But they rejected the gospel. They did not believe what God has said. Therefore a sincere faith is simply a genuine faith that the message of Scripture and especially the gospel are true. It’s also a genuine commitment to that truth, which isn’t just a show; rather, it comes from sincere effort to live out that faith. And so Paul says that genuine faith is foundational to love and to godliness. If we don’t believe what God has said and live it, everything else is hollow and worthless.
Sadly, it’s very possible that someone among us lacks this kind of sincere faith. It might be that you are going through the motions of godliness, but your heart has never truly been changed through faith in the gospel. If that’s you, I hope you will see that you may be able to fool me, but you cannot fool God. He sees your heart, and he will judge. I pray that you will acknowledge your hypocrisy, repent before him today and be saved. If you do, God will forgive. If you have questions about how you can know Christ, don’t just hope that you make it Get help from one of the godly people in this room and find out how you can know that your sins are forgiven and how God can change your heart.
Application: Again, the purpose of v. 5 is to describe the core of what God desires to produce in his people. These last three phrases are very clear that God intends to produce holiness in his people and not just a surface holiness but a holiness that penetrates to the depths of our hearts. What is in your heart? You can fool us, but you can’t fool God. If you are coasting along with a hypocritical heart, then make it right and pursue genuine holiness. And then notice as well the connection between holiness and love. Paul is very clear that genuine love must issue from a holy heart. The Scriptures tell us over and over that what the world calls love oftentimes doesn’t qualify as godly love. You don’t actually love someone if you desire them in a way that is against Scripture. And you cannot say that you love God if you are not committed to obeying him. Genuine love must be holiness and obedient. It must issue from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith. And so my first challenge today is to pursue genuine godliness. The second challenge is…
Guard your path (vv. 6–7).
The connection between v. 5 and vv. 6–7 is pretty important. Verse 5 holds up a standard that God wants us to pursue, but then vv. 6–7 describe how the false teachers had missed it. They paint a sad and sobering picture that we all need to heed. I see two significant warnings for us in Paul’s description of how these men had wandered off the right path. First…
Don’t be distracted from godliness by worthless pursuits (v. 6).
The kind of scenario in v. 6 is one that we see all of the time on varying levels because we all have the tendency to get distracted from what really matters. Sometimes it is very innocent. We accidentally go off on a rabbit trail during a conversation. But in this instance it was very significant. Paul mentions the distraction of “idle talk.” I said last week that this idle talk was speculation over Jewish myths. This speculative discussion had no basis in Scripture, and it didn’t contribute anything to the mission God has given us of growing disciples. Since it was reading things into Scripture that are not there and promoting a legalistic lifestyle that was not rooted in the gospel, this discussion was not innocent. It was evil. But the verb Paul uses indicates that these people didn’t begin with the intent of walking away from God. The verb translated “strayed” describes a careless or neglectful wandering, rather than a willful, intentional choice. I think we can all imagine how this probably worked. This speculation probably started out as a curiosity, but over time it became more and more of an obsession. And rather than pursuing hard after God, holiness, and love for their fellow man, they instead obsessed over needless and unknowable questions. Because they were neglecting their hearts, they became more and more cold and hard until as v. 19–20 will say, at least some of them rejected the faith all together.
Application: Their example serves an important warning for us all, first, regarding how we approach the Scriptures. We always need to be very careful to make sure that when we come to God’s Word, we come first and foremost to meet with God, to hear his voice, and to become like him. That doesn’t mean that we don’t study hard. The only way we can really meet with God in his Word is if we interpret it correctly. We need to do the hard work of researching what God has said and how the parts of Scripture fit together. But we have to be careful that his difficult study never becomes an end in itself. We should never approach the Scriptures merely to satisfy our curiosities or fill our brains with facts. All of our study must have as its end the goal of v. 5. Keep that focus as you listen to sermons, read books, and read the Bible. God gave us this book to transform us, and we better not dishonor it by using it for anything less. But the example of these false teachers is also a good reminder that there are plenty of other things that can distract us and cause us to wander into a place where we never intended to go. An innocent hobby can turn into an obsession. The pursuit of wealth, success, or pleasure can become more important than walking with God. There are countless stories of people who became curious and dabbled with seemingly minor sins, but as their conscience became seared, minor things grew into big things until they wandered down a terrible path. I don’t think we can be reminded too often that our hearts are deceitful and that we need to be watchful. Of course, the best defense is typically a good offense. And so keep your eyes on the goal of v. 5 and don’t let them wander. The second warning is…
Don’t let arrogant ambition blind you to reality (v. 7).
Paul notes that these men wanted to be “teachers of the law.” We can assume that they thought they really understood the Law and had the credentials to teach it. I’m sure that they were not quite about it. They propped themselves up as wise and understanding. Imagine how Paul must have felt listening to them spout off. Not only was Paul an apostle who had seen the Lord and was commissioned by him to help lay the foundation of the church, but he was also an expert on the OT. He dedicated his younger life to studying the law, and he was a disciple of Gamaliel, the preeminent OT scholar of his day. Paul could see right through their arrogant façade, and so notice what he says about their actual understanding of the law. Essentially, they don’t have any clue what they are talking about. Paul paints a sad picture. These people’s arrogance blinded them to reality about how little they actually knew.
Unfortunately, I’ve been there. I remember being a 19 year old college student and thinking at times that I knew better than Ph.D.’s who had studied the Bible for years. I remember being a teenager and thinking I understood the world better than my parents. You’ve probably been there as well or seen it in your kids or someone else’s kids. Arrogance has an incredible ability to blind us. That’s just another reason that significant relationships in the church are so valuable. When pride begins to ruin our self-awareness, wise people who love us can help us see our blind spots. Listen to them. Proverbs says that there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. Be very careful not to allow your pride or the lusts of your heart blind you to your sin or your weakness. I should also add that you ought to be very leery of anyone who proudly props himself up as a Bible scholar and a teacher but lacks reasonable credentials and the affirmation of godly counselors in the church. Red flags ought to go off in your mind when someone talks all of the time about how much they know or finds ways to make sure you really understand how smart they are. Because that’s certainly not how Paul was. Read 2 Corinthians, and see how different Paul’s attitude was from these false teachers. Paul hated talking about himself and only did so because he had to. Humility is one of the first things we ought to look for in a teacher.
The central message of vv. 3–7 is pretty clear in v. 5. The mission God has given the church and the purpose we should pursue for ourselves is to grow a genuine love for God and for mankind that results from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Let’s go after that goal. Purse godliness with all of your strength because a healthy pursuit is the best defense and sin and deception. And let’s work as a church to replicate this godliness in each other and in new disciples all over our community. May God protect us from ever losing sight of the mission Jesus gave us.