Monday, July 30, 2012

Heart, Conscience and Faith...and Food

Heart, Conscience and Faith...and Food

Paul wrote to Timothy, expressing confidence in the young man's genuine faith, urging him to care for the church in Ephesus. Timothy's specific mission would be to oppose some who taught doctrine that was unfaithful to that taught by Jesus, including an unhealthy devotion to mythology and endless genealogies. Paul warned that the heretical teaching would result in an eroding of the church's strong foundation of truth.

Paul saw love as the ultimate goal, for his own ministry as well as for that of Timothy. But he carefully described the quality of that love:

"The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." 1 Timothy 1:5 (ESV)

LOVE: agape (love, affection or benevolence, specially a love-feast); from agapao (to love in a social or moral sense); from agan (much)

PURE HEART: katharos (clean) and kardia (the heart, the thoughts and feelings of the mind)

GOOD CONSCIENCE: agathos (good) and syneidesis (moral consciousness); from syneidon (to see completely, to understand or become aware, to be conscious or informed of); from syn (with or together) and eido (to see, to know)

SINCERE FAITH: anypokritos (undissembled, sincere) and pistis (persuasion, credence, conviction, reliance upon); from a (not) and hypokronomai (to speak or act under a false part, to pretend); from hypo (under) and krino (to distinguish or decide)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What defines a "pure" or "clean" thought? How does a conscience become "good" or "bad"? What outward behavior would be evidence of "pretend faith" in Christ?

Here Paul describes one's conscience as "good". Elsewhere he describes it as "clear":

"I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man." Acts 24:14-16 (ESV)

CLEAR: aproskopos (inoffensive, not leading into sin, faultless); from a (not) and proskopto (to strike at or surge against, to stub on or trip up); from pros (forward to, toward) and kopto (to "chop", to beat the breast in grief)

Paul defines further what makes a conscience "clear":

"It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV)

"Blameless" is translated from the same word as "clear".

Finally, Paul also describes one's conscience as "pure", using the same word used earlier to describe one's heart:

"I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day." 2 Timothy 1:3 (ESV)

CLEAR: katharos (clean)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Referring to the passages cited from Acts 24 and Philippians 1, what produces a "clear" or "blameless" conscience? Is a "clear" conscience the same as a "good" conscience, yet different than a "clean" conscience?

Paul saw love as a generous, benevolent action that results from three interwoven moral elements:

  • Heart: Clean thoughts and feelings
  • Conscience: Good self-awareness
  • Faith: Genuine trust in Christ Jesus, our Hope

Paul expected Timothy's ministry, his preaching, to absolutely affect the heart, conscience, and faith of people who were currently sinners, people who were...

  • Cultivating unhealthy, harmful thoughts and feelings
  • Living blindly, ignorant of their moral and spiritual condition
  • Pretending to trust Christ as Lord and Savior

These three moral elements seem universal in application. Even secular, non-religious, humanistic science and social researchers and specialists will focus on these three areas of human life:

  • Thoughts and feelings
  • Self-awareness
  • Trust

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What modern-day syndromes, disorders, diseases and paranoias stem from any or all of these three moral elements?

The result of clean thoughts and feelings, guided by good self-awareness and genuine trust in Jesus, is love, which literally means a love-feast.

A wonderful comparison between sharing food with others and enjoying God is seen in Psalms 36:

"How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart!" Psalms 36:7-10 (ESV)

Three major feasts were mandated by God Himself:

"Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor." Exocus 23:14-16 (ESV)

Jesus compared God's love for us as a feast:

"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, - Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast." Matthew 22:2-4 (ESV)

Specifically, the image of a feast represents the Holy Spirit of God, filling and fulfilling those who believe in Jesus:

"On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, - If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, - Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. - Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." John 7:37-39 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Does sharing food and drink amongst ourselves deserve special emphasis? What aspects of our potlucks and backyard barbecues lend themselves especially toward enjoying God and loving people? What aspects tend to hinder or distract from the greater purpose of loving others? What new ways of sharing food and drink can we try as a church?

Image provided by Rich Moffitt,, Creative Commons License