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Monday, August 13, 2012

Three Pillars of Love

Three Pillars of Love

Paul urged Timothy to preach against three harmful pursuits:

  • Different doctrine
  • Myths
  • Endless genealogies

He gave two immediate reasons for the warning:

  • They promote speculations
  • They erode faithful stewardship from God

Beyond the immediate harmful effects of heretical, manipulative myths and endless genealogies is the ultimate goal of love, expressed in three ways:

  • From a pure heart
  • From a good conscience
  • From a sincere faith

What happens when Christians lose sight of love?

"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." 1 Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV)

SWERVING: astocheo (to miss the mark, to deviate from truth); from a (not) and stoichos (an aim)

There is another Greek word Paul could have used that appears to have the same meaning:

SIN: hamartia (sin); from a (not) and meros (a division or share); from meiromai (to get as a section or allotment)

The difference is in the implied intention. "Astocheo", or swerving, implies a deliberate choice to mis-aim. If truth were the target, "astocheo" means to aim at something other than the center of truth.

"Hamartia", or sinning, implies a failure to win a prize. If truth were the target, and eternal life were the prize, "hamartia" means to aim at, but miss, truth, and lose the prize. "Hamartia implies inadequate skill or equipment.

"Astocheo" occurs only three times in The Bible, all of the instances being found in Paul's letters to Timothy. Paul will end this first letter with a concluding charge to Timothy:

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What part of your daily life is ruined by missing the mark, and is it the result of swerving or sinning?

"O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called - knowledge, - for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you." 1 Timothy 6:20-21 (ESV)

Exchanging love for "irreverent babble and contradictions" inevitably results in missing the mark of faith.

The third instance of "astocheo" is in Paul's second letter to Timothy:

"Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some." 2 Timothy 2:16-18 (ESV)

Love rests upon three pillars:

  • a pure heart
  • a good conscience
  • a sincere faith

Paul points directly to two men in the church who have eroded at least one of those pillars by swerving from the truth of the resurrection.

Hymenaeus and Philetus directly contradicted the teaching of Jesus, saying that the resurrection of the dead in Christ has come and gone.

"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." John 11:25-26 (ESV)

Jesus emphasized "everyone" who lives and believes in Him shall never die.

Paul remained firm in his faith in a future resurrection of all who believe:

"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." Acts 24:14-15 (ESV)

Paul makes a strong connection between love and faith in the resurrection of all who are in Christ.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How is love connected to faith? In what way does false teaching erode love? Can only Christians truly love? Is love demonstrated by people who are truly Christians?

Paul saw "vain discussion" as the first indication of a Christian who is swerving away from love.

VAIN DISCUSSION: mataiologia (random talk or babble); from mataiologos (an idle talker, talking out our idleness or mischievousness; a wrangler); from mataios (empty, profitless) and lego (to "lay" forth, to relate); from maten (folly, to no purpose); from masaomai (to chew); from masso (to handle or squeeze)

"Wrangle" is from a word meaning to struggle, related to "wring".

Paul clearly defines "vain discussion" in his letter to Titus:

"Avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless." Titus 3:9 (ESV)

Paul is not condemning talkative people. We all have different capacities for conversation. Some of us are reticent, requiring much thought and consideration before committing ourselves to spoken words. Others of us are effusive, able to rapidly connect speech with thought, flowing effortlessly with verbal communication. Few words does not always mean profound wisdom, nor does a fountain of words always mean foolish babbling.

Paul is taking aim at the intent or consequence of our words. If we intend our conversation to gain supremacy over others, or create division and discontent, or to allow us to feel busy or worthwhile, we are eroding the essence of genuine love.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can you share with the group how you think of yourself in terms of "talkative"? What helpful tips have you experienced that assist you in avoiding "vain discussion"? In what situations or circumstances do you find it most difficult to stay "on target" in your conversations?

Paul describes the inner desire that drives "certain persons" to use spoken words as a tool for gaining supremacy over others and elevating themselves:

The desire to be "teachers of the law", without the desire to understand the law, is the root cause of swerving away from love and rejecting the importance of having a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith.

TEACHERS OF THE LAW: nomodidaskalos (an expounder of the law, a Rabbi); from nomos (law, regulation or principle) and didaskalos (an instructor); from nemo (to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals) and didasko (to teach); from dao (to learn)

It requires four words of English to adequately translate one word of Greek. "Nomodidaskalos" was the Greek term for a teacher of the law, literally "one who distributed laws and regulations as if parceling out food and water".

Desiring to be a teacher is a noble goal. Paul described teaching as a gift of God, a ministry that equips and builds up Christians. Paul himself believed God had appointed him specifically to be a teacher. The writer of Hebrews rebukes the church for failing to grow as teachers. (see 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11-12, 1 Timothy 2:7, and Hebrews 5:12)

However, James recognized the great responsibility laid upon teachers:

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways." James 3:1-2 (ESV)

The spiritual hazard of being a teacher is the temptation to seek the power, influence and wealth that rewards a popular teacher. The root meaning of "teachers of the law" is that of power and authority. Only the powerful have the privilege of parceling out food and grazing to animals. Only the ones in authority have the privilege of dispensing rules and regulations.

And there lies the danger.

A teacher may easily become successful and popular by conforming the rules and regulations to benefit the rich and powerful. Popular teaching is often without threats or demands. Successful teachers often entertain and tantalize the masses, rather than edify and train.

Paul will later caution Timothy to remain patient and faithful in the face of popular rejection:

"The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV)

How can a teacher hope to avoid falling into the temptation of pleasing the public rather than preaching the gospel?

The faithful teacher must always understand what they are teaching.

UNDERSTANDING: noeo (to exercise the mind, to observe, comprehend or heed); from nous (the intellect or mind); from ginosko (to "know")

Understanding requires a soft heart:

"Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?" Mark 8:17-18 (ESV)

Along with a soft heart, understanding requires alert eyes and open ears. Understanding requires memory, connecting the past with the present and considering the future.

Understanding requires the strength of God, given as a gift to those who desire to know Him as He truly is:

"I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:14-19 (ESV)

Finally, understanding requires faith in a Creator with power that is beyond what we can see or imagine:

"By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." Hebrews 11:3 (ESV)

It is possible, even probable, that a person can be known as a great teacher yet have little understanding of what they teach and how it should affect their heart, mind and body.

A teacher without understanding will swerve inevitably away from a desire for a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith. Their lives will become empty of love and they will become devoted to heresy, mythology and endless genealogies. They will promote controversy and reject faith in God, striving to do all they can to elevate themselves and gain supremacy over others.

Their lives will become worthless.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Who, in your opinion, is a currently popular teacher or leader? What evidence have you seen that presents their lives as worthwhile? What evidence leads you to see their lives as empty? On a scale of zero to 100, how would you rank your own personal desire and ability as a teacher? Can you share with the group what needs to change in your own life?

Image provided by JD Lafontaine, Creative Commons License.

Temple d'Aphrodite, Delphe (JD Lafontaine) / CC BY-SA 2.0