As you’re being seated, if you would take a copy of God’s Word and turn to Paul’s first letter to Timothy; you’ll find it on page 991 if you’re using a pew Bible. And as you’re turning there, if you would indulge me for just a moment, I want to say publicly thank you for all of the text messages, the cards, the phone calls, the visits. It’s been nothing short of overwhelming as we prepare to go back home to South Carolina. I want to thank the staff here. It’s been a joy to serve with you men and women. I want to thank the Session for giving me the privilege of being called to be one of your pastors. I want to thank all the officers for the way they have taken in our family and loved us. I also want to say thank you Gary, and the Day School board, and the teachers who are here. Your impact on our lives is incalculable. When we told Anna we were moving, she did what I’m going to try not to do, and that’s burst into tears and said, “I don’t want to leave the Day School.” And we know why she said that. It’s a special place. Thank you.
Now, let us turn our attention to God’s Word. 1 Timothy. We’ll be studying verse 5; I’ll read verses 1 through 6. Before we hear God’s Word, let’s pray together.
We have called You, Abba Father, our great God, and now we call upon You again to do that wonderful work only the Spirit can do, which is to take words on a page and make them living words, enduring words, words written on our heart. Help us to know the aim of our charge, our great God, tonight, for the glory of King Jesus, risen, reigning, and returning. We pray in His name, amen.
1 Timothy chapter 1, beginning at verse 1. This is God’s Word:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,
To Timothy, my true child in the faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
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 speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 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.”
The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the living God shall stand forever and ever.
1994, Jeff Bezos started a company, and in that opening year, he started thinking about long-term goals. And so when it was publicly offered in 1997, he outlined nine points for Amazon that would keep it on top of the corporate world. And the thing that stood out from that original letter in 1997 to all the shareholders were these nine points. And one of which was these: We will continue “to make investment decisions in light of long-term market leadership considerations rather than short-term profitability considerations or short-term Wall Street reactions.” And every year since then, if you’re an Amazon shareholder – I’m not – if you are, you get this letter in the annual report. Every year he sends out that letter that he wrote in 1997 to keep his shareholders reminded of the long-term goal.
That’s what Paul is up to tonight. He is writing to his young charge, Timothy. And this is kind of the guy Paul has mentored in ministry. And isn’t it interesting, here at the end of his life, these are the last letters that he wrote – 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus – Paul, who taught us about spiritual gifts – speaking in tongues, resurrections, all of that – he doesn't mention those things. The thing that he is concerned about as he is writing, basically his last will and testament to his young charge, Timothy, is what? Church government and doctrine. Not the things we generally think about the most when we're talking about a man's last will and testament. But he is passionately concerned that Timothy has elders in place to take care of God's people and that they are warned against, as he opened up and told us here, the danger of false teaching. So he says, "Find elders who can teach, who are men of good character, who will love the people well, and oh, by the way, Timothy, here's the goal. Here's what it's all about. Here's my mission statement. Here's the apostolic mission statement for the church" – there in verse 5.
And what I want us to see from this verse is that Paul teaches us what the Gospel produces and where it is taking us. And those will be our heads tonight. What the Gospel produces and where it is taking us.
What the Gospel Produces
Look with me there again at verse 5. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” We’re going to do this in reverse. What does the Gospel produce? Paul says there’s a goal, an aim, and there’s a charge; something that’s been entrusted to him, to the other apostles. And it’s this charge that he’s concerned to tell us about. And the aim of that charge is where we’ll end up, but it’s the summary of apostolic teaching; it’s the Gospel. And Paul says if we’ve become Christians by listening to this Gospel and putting our faith in Jesus, then it’s going to produce these character traits in us.
A Pure Heart
And the first thing he says that it will produce is a pure heart. And why do we need that pure heart? Because if you need a pure heart produced, it presupposes that there’s something wrong with that pure heart in the first place. Paul’s the one who told us what was wrong with our hearts in Romans chapter 3. He says there’s none of us who seek after God, no one is righteous; not one of us at all. Our hearts are impure naturally. They wander from God.
When we’re left to ourselves and we daydream, we don’t daydream about serving others and loving them sacrificially and doing good to the poor. We daydream about people never saying “No” to us because our hearts are impure. And Paul says because of the Gospel, there’s been a pure heart once for all produced in us in union with Christ. He gives us that pure heart we desperately need, but He also has an ongoing action in our lives. When we sin and we confess to God that we are not pure in heart, that we fail constantly, that we sin against Him all the time, He says, “I’ll be at work to continually purify your hearts.” That’s part of what the Gospel produces in us – that pure heart that we so desperately need.
A Good Conscience
And then he says it also produces in us a good conscience. And what is a conscience, a good conscience? Here’s what one commentator put. A very simple definition. “A good conscience is an honest evaluation of ourselves.” Isn’t that hard? Let’s be honest, isn’t it hard to have an honest evaluation of ourselves? Because most of the time, when anybody levels the slightest bit of criticism against us, we all become Johnnie Cochran defense attorneys about how awesome we are. Isn’t that true? All of us, immediately when we receive any bit of criticism, are going, “No, I’m awesome! All the time! I don’t know where this is coming from.” And what a good conscience is, according to Paul, is one that is deeply saturated and informed by the Word of God and can look at itself and say, “I’m bad. And generally speaking, any criticism that comes my way, no matter how far off base, probably has a grain of truth in it.” And this good conscience that the Gospel produces in us begins to make us people who are much more willing and able to see the best in others and the worst in ourselves. Because that’s our problem. We usually do just the opposite, right? We see the best in ourselves and the worst in others. And a conscience that can have an honest evaluation of itself begins to see itself in the light of God’s Word. It begins to say, “I am that bad.” As Jack Miller, PCA pastor and professor at Westminster Seminary put it once, “Cheer up. You’re worse than you think you are.” That’s what a good conscience will remind us is – we’re worse than we think we are, but Jesus is better than we ever hoped.
A Sincere Faith
And the third thing Paul says it produces is a sincere faith. And that word for “sincere” means “without hypocrisy.” And here’s the thing. I get asked this question a lot and you’ve probably heard it too. And if you’re a non-Christian here tonight and you’ve said this, welcome. I said it before I was a Christian. Now I understand why I was – really I’m going to just put it this way – proud of me to say it this way. If you share the Gospel with somebody and they say, “I don’t want to go to church because there’s nothing but a bunch of hypocrites there,” and you know, what I learned to say to that, because I used to say the same thing, is, “Well come on. We need one more!” You see, that’s our problem, isn’t it? All of us are hypocrites. Hypocrite means a false face. We all put on a false face. That is how we do life in the south. We are awesome, whenever you ask us. “We’re great. We’re fine. Things are great. Kids have been better. Life is great. Job is good. Health is fine. Y’all have a blessed day!” When inside, we’re falling apart.
Faith Without Hypocrisy
And here's what the Gospel produces. It produces a faith without hypocrisy. Isn't that what we want? Let's put it this way. Have you ever been afraid you'd be found out? Like, there are mornings you get up and you're confident that if you see somebody from church and they saw the real you, they would go, "That person has no business calling himself or herself a Christian." And here's the good news. God is at work in us to produce a faith that is tested and rests solely on Christ. It's tested by God's wonderful providences and hard providences. And it rests solely on Jesus to get us through. And the kind of faith that the Gospel produces is one which gradually begins to get rid of hypocrisy; that opens itself up to empathy, transparency, and vulnerability so that we become the kind of people where others can look at us and say, "That is a safe person to share my struggles with. That is somebody I can be honest and raw with because I know where they stand with Jesus. And that in the midst of all their sin and all their brokenness and all their shame, they’ve got a great Savior.” That’s the kind of faith God is going to produce in us.
Where the Gospel Takes Us
But Paul says that these three things lead to something, like streams into the ocean. And that’s the center of what he’s saying there. Look there again at verse 5. “The aim of our charge is love.” That’s where the Gospel is taking us; that’s the goal. If you were to ask Paul, “Why were you shipwrecked a day and a night at sea? Why did you three times receive the forty lashes minus one from the hands of the Jewish authorities? Why were you lowered out of the city wall? Why were you stoned to the point of death? Why did you go to the furthest reaches of the known world at the time to be beaten and persecuted and hated and scorned and brought before judges and juries who hated you? Why, Paul, did you do it?” And he would say, “The aim of my charge is love. I did it because of love.”
More Than Feelings
And we need to know what kind of love he’s talking about. And we can just put it in the simplest of terms. It’s almost the exact opposite of what we think about love today. And in our modern society, beginning really in the 17th century onwards, love has been primarily defined as a feeling. And let’s be clear, feelings of love are indispensable. It’s part of what makes us human. When I look at my wife, even now in the midst of a sea of boxes, I am overwhelmed with love again and again and again. Those are good feelings; necessary. But, if that’s all love is, our feelings can change, they will change, and what the Biblical definition of love is, is action. It’s movement towards another. It is self-sacrificial, others-centered, cross-shaped and God-glorifying for Paul. It’s a very specific kind of love. It’s not just the love language of feelings and Paul’s kind of this guy who just gets butterflies in his stomach when he thinks about Jesus. It’s more than that. It’s deeper than that. The kind of love Paul is talking about is the only kind of love that will sustain you when you’re persecuted, when you’re stoned to the point of death, when you’re taken before the authorities – this kind of love.
Two Competing Stories
And when you read the Bible, and the love Paul talks about here goes back before we were made. That is so vital for us to grasp today because right now, whether we know it or not, we are in the middle of two competing stories for our attention. One story goes like this. At root, before there were human beings, before there were black holes, before there were quarks, before there were galaxies that the Hubble Space Telescope could pick up, there was matter and there was energy at a point of singularity; which we'll affectionately call "The Big Bang." That's fundamentally, at root, what the universe is. Energy and matter. And all we are, are particles, atoms, molecules kicked up from the primordial slime, evolved from apes to become human beings who somehow try to carve out a little niche of existence with our pitiful lives before we go back to oblivion and until the point of the whole universe going up into oblivion. Have a nice day! That's story one.
Story two says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And story two also says, “Glorify me. Glorify me, Father, with the glory I had with you before the world was made.” Story two says, “God is love. And this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for us.” Story number two says the fundamental reality of the universe is not matter and energy. It’s love between the persons of the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit loving each other before He made the world, before He made matter and energy, before He made all of us. So the reason that all of us love to be loved and have a desire to love others and experience that love, is because we’re made in the image of God who is love. That’s fundamental reality and that’s the only true story. It’s the only story you can live with. It’s the only story that can make sense of why all of us in here tonight want to be loved. Matter and energy don’t love; they just – matter and energy! They just do their thing! Image bearers of this God love and want to be loved.
Knowing and Showing
Therefore, knowing and showing this love is the aim of the Christian life. That’s why Paul wrote that great love chapter in Corinthians. Right? You hear it read at every wedding. That is an astonishing chapter. “If I give my body to be burned but I don’t love, I’m nothing,” he says. He says that for him, this divine love flowing from God to him, out from him to others, is what makes the whole thing tick. And we’ve got to be careful here, because the Bible tells us that truth and love are necessary. And today, we do not like the truth part of that equation. In fact, if we say there’s absolute truth we’re immediately called unloving. If we say there’s an absolute standard in the Bible, you’re said to be unloving, uncaring, uncharitable, bigoted, homophobic, outsider, whatever. The Bible says only the Spirit can make us both truth people and love people. And we have to have both if we’re going to be Gospel people. And Paul says that’s where he wants us to be going to have this love and truth and all of it deeply informing us so that we are God-glorifying love people. That’s where we move. That’s where we go. That’s our objective. That’s our aim according to Paul.
And he says primarily we know God’s love for us in the Gospel. Stop and think for just a minute. Everybody here – me, you, everybody here – deserves one thing and one thing only. We don’t deserve to have our food taste good. We don’t deserve to have sunshine and beautiful days. We don’t deserve to have kids or grandkids or relationships or good grades or the Grove or the Junction or Starkville or Oxford or Columbia or any of that. We don’t deserve any of it. The one thing all of us in here deserve tonight is the everlasting wrath of God; endless punishment in hell, forever. Not an absence of God’s presence, but the presence of God’s presence of justice and wrath and holiness forever! That’s what we all deserve! And the good news is, the people who deserve that, namely you and me, He loves! Stop! It’s counterintuitive! We deserve this. He gives us love! He sends His Son to come and live and die in our place because He loves us. And that’s how we know His love. That’s how we know it’s real because there’s no other God who loves His enemies. Because that’s what we are apart from Him. And He does it, He does it because He loves us. And if we know that love, He says we will begin to show that love. That’s the goal. Knowing and showing this love.
To Know Jesus is to Know Love
What does this do for Monday morning? This is not a verse that’s just about, “Be a loving person,” because there was somebody else who talked about pure in heart. Matthew 5 verse 3, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And the only reason He could say that is because He was the only one who was pure in heart. He was the only one whose conscience always had an honest evaluation of itself, who always thought the best of others. He’s the only one whose faith was without hypocrisy. Can you see Him there in the garden? “Father, if it be Your will, let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, Your will be done.” And it was that prayer of God’s will being done by the perfect faith of the Savior that took Him to the cross for hypocrites like us. And if you want to see the definition of love, it’s not a song, it’s not a painting, it’s not a poem. It’s a person. The sum of the Biblical teaching on love finds its apex, its mountaintop, its fullness in Jesus. If we want to know the love of God, we need to know Him. We need to know His love for us, His cruciform love, His cross-shaped love for us. If we want to have this produced in us, we have to look to Him because people like us with impure hearts and bad consciences and hypocritical faith need a perfect Savior to save us from ourselves. And what God’s justice demands, His love has provided – in the cross.
And knowing, knowing that love, the choice then before us is, "Are we going to be self-lovers or Jesus-lovers?" What has self-love ever done for us but made us cold, irritable, stingy people? Isn't that what self-love does when we're always focused on us? What Jesus does is reorients us to Himself to make us sacrificial and others-centered like He is. And if we know that love, then the church, gathered around the one who loved us, will be a community of love, will be a community that loves the unlovely, that loves the other, that loves those who are not like us. We have that here, friends. Because I know it. As I stand here, one last time, the thing that rings in my ears, the takeaway from that little line for 2015 and 2017 in our story is the love of God's people for us. It's electrifying. It will change this city. Let everyone who walks through these doors feel what this broken sinner and his family have felt from the moment we stepped foot in this church. "These three endure: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love." And that's why, because we're all going to die, but we're all going to be reunited at the resurrection when love finds its perfection. And until that time, the greatest gift we can give each other and the broken, hurting, sinful world around us is the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Never lose sight of the goal. That's what Paul is saying.
Into Thin Air, 1996 book by Jon Krakauer, details the ill-fated expedition of Everest. And Krakauer tells in there of a story of Yasuko Namba, a forty-six-year-old FedEx employee from Japan. And she was single-minded. Great rock climber; great mountain climber. Climbed seven of the tallest mountains in the world. Made it her goal to be the oldest person to ever do Everest. And as they were climbing up the mountain, here's what Krakauer remembers. "Yasuko was totally focused on the top. It was almost as if she was in a trance. She pushed extremely hard, jostling her way past everyone to the front of the line. She wanted to get to the top of Everest." Later that day as they were climbing, she made it. She became the oldest person to ever climb Everest and was celebrated by her country. But later that afternoon, a blizzard overtook the group as they were making their way down. Exhausted from the climb, she succumbed and died, not far from her greatest triumph. And here's what Krakauer said. He said the fatal flaw for Yasuko Namba and others who have attempted Everest, is that they have the wrong goal. He says the ultimate goal of a truly good mountain climber is not to make it to the top; it’s to make it back to the bottom.
And Paul says for us tonight, don’t lose sight of the goal. Our ultimate goal is simple. It’s to know the God-glorifying, others-centered, cross-shaped, Christ-honoring, sin-defeating, hell-defying, heaven-opening love of God. Thank you for showing me and my family the goal. Thank you for helping us press on towards it. We love you. Let’s pray.
Father, we are so needy tonight, Lord. We're scared. We're covering things up, and we need a love that is bigger than all our sin. Thank You for that love on the cross. Thank You for this congregation. May we continue to know Your love and show it all the days of our lives. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.
© 2017 First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.