Where should we look to see if we are actually loving?
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
Love, of course, is what should come from true Gospel teaching. We love because God first loved us. This is my commandment, that you love one another. The two great commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
Nobody should have a problem with that. We love the idea of love!
But Paul doesn’t just say “love”. He’s not singing with the rest of culture today, “All you need is love!” He actually says “love that issues from” three things.
Stop and think for a moment. What is similar about these three things? They are, each and every one of them, internal realities, aren’t they? These are things that happen where no one can see, where no one can watch. These are realities that happen between you and the Lord and are part of your ongoing relationship with Jesus. These come first, and the external reality, what people can see, comes after these things are in place.
But. We’ve got a problem now. A lot of our so-called “love” doesn’t flow from these particular internal realities, does it? A lot of our sacrificial giving for the benefit of others comes from very different internal realities. Let’s think about some examples.
Our “love” can come from guilt, which cries out inside some of you saying, “You’re not doing enough. You’re not measuring up. You’re failing, and so you have to do more.” Some people do loving things just because they always feel really guilty about not being the kind of person they should be. They can’t stop themselves from feeling awful and like they have to do things to make up for what is wrong inside them.
And really, if you love out of guilt, you are just throwing more water on a fire that will never stop raging.
Our “love” can actually be a self-serving kind of lust that really exists only to make sure we get what we want from others. We show “love” to get rewarded with things we want from the people we are “loving.”
Our “love” can flow from obligation– “I have no choice, this is my lot in life, this is my burden to bear, and there’s not a single bit of joy in this.” A lack of joy, by the way, is a sign that something is broken internally.
”Love” can flow from a desire for glory.
“I love others to be seen loving others. I want to be thanked, I want to be known, I want to be seen as a loving person. I need that and so that’s why I’m really loving. “
And when the appreciation isn’t there, when the thanks don’t come, when in fact, criticism comes instead of appreciation, and you’re accused of meddling instead of trying to love, what flares out? It’s not peace and a pure heart, it’s Rage, hatred even. “How dare them!”
“Don’t you people see how loving I am?!” That’s what this kind of ‘love’ cries out.
How often do we think of love only in terms of what we are doing, and neglect to consider where love comes from, and what is motivating that love?
And here’s another sad reality- none of those motivations for “loving” produce real joy. A lot of times people see right through the false motivations and recognize it’s not real love anyway. Or, it is received as love but it’s love that is built on a lie. Also, there’s a very self centered focus in this kind of love, which kind of goes against the whole idea of it being love in the first place. Who exactly are you loving with the things you’re doing? Yourself, or them?
God’s not impressed by things that are done out of guilt, lust, fear, or pride. God’s not impressed by all that you do because you are anxious. He is a God who is concerned with more than just our actions. He is concerned with who we really are, and why we really do the things we do. Others might be fooled because we look loving, but God isn’t fooled if we are actually broken on the inside.
What impresses God? That your love flows from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a sincere faith.
So what are those things? This is obviously the heart of what the Gospel does since Paul goes right here when talking about false teachers. This is at risk of being lost in Ephesus, and it can’t be. The goal isn’t just love. It’s not just doing more for others. It’s not saying, “fine, I hear you, and I’ll reach out to someone this week and love them.” No, if that’s what you’re thinking, you don’t hear me. No, the goal is love that flows from these three internal realities.
First, a pure heart
Does your love from a heart that is pure? What is the motivation for all the things you’re doing? This is a constant war that has to be waged within our souls. Are our motives pure? There’s only one way to answer this, biblically- through the Gospel work of Jesus Christ. You simply can’t make your heart pure. God has to do that. He cleanses our hearts through the blood of Jesus Christ. He sees our sin, and he forgives it, and then he purifies our hearts.
So, when you are wrestling with whether your heart is pure, ask this question- am I trusting completely in my Savior Jesus right now for grace and forgiveness for what is in my heart, and is my motivation to die to myself, and to live for my Lord Jesus Christ?
Is your motivation to live for Christ, or for self? Is it to serve as Christ served, or is it to be served? In other words, the standard for a pure heart is nothing else but Jesus Christ himself. You can’t get there unless you are forgiven by God through Christ and then you are living for him. You can’t scrub your heart clean, you have balance out the wrongs you’ve done. It’s Christ, and Christ alone.
You want a pure heart- do nothing else but rely on Christ’s work, and follow Christ.
Second, a good conscience.
Consciences are funny things. They aren’t always right and can lead you astray. But at the same time, it’s amazing how often Paul refers to the importance of a good conscience, and he also uses the fact that he has a clear conscience as vital to his own testimony. The word appears about 30 times in the New Testament, and the idea is referred to even more.
Our consciences can function on things that are truly important- and they can function on things that don’t matter at all. Christians in the south can have their consciences go haywire at the idea of drinking wine with dinner, and Christians in London might not even bat an eye at that. So why does it matter so much?
No matter what you think, you care deeply about what your conscience is saying about you, and yet many people feel guilty when they shouldn’t. Many people feel self-righteous when they shouldn’t because they don’t work to understand how to make sure their consciences are taught by the Bible and not by our culture.
In Ephesus, where Timothy is, you’ve got some haywire consciences that are saying you shouldn’t get married and you can’t eat particular foods or you’re sinning. Paul says in 1 Tim. 4:2, “through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
Those consciences are influencing other peoples’ consciences. The logic is: if someone as great as so-and-so believes you can’t eat those foods, then it must be wrong. Our consciences are vital because if they are telling us wrong things, and we are listening to them, we can forget the truth of the Gospel.
But when your conscience is aligned with the gospel, it can bring you peace. You literally can sleep better at night.
Romans 14:22- Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.”
A good conscience is something you train and educate, and something you work to keep.
Why are you able to love better when your conscience is clear? Because, again, you are able to love from right motives. This is where some people serve only out of obligation, and have no joy in their service.
A clear conscience can affirm and confirm what you’re doing, bringing joy. You can know you are doing the right thing and you can know you are glorifying God. Someone who loves out a constant and nagging guilt has to understand why a clear conscience matters. This person is loving only to try and put out a fire that they can’t put out. How much better to remember that those who are in Christ aren’t condemned any longer. They’re not guilty in God’s sight! There’s such freedom in that. And when you rely on the Gospel to free you from guilt, and you live for Christ in all you do, your conscience will become a joy to you instead of a source of deep pain.
Thirdly, a sincere faith.
The idea here is a love that flows from a true trust in God. Loving rightly involves an incredible amount of trust. An unbelievable amount of trust! Trust that the love you are showing is worthwhile, isn’t wasted, isn’t pointless. Trust that what you are doing is good and right. There must be a sincere faith that God is the one who is working through our love. You can’t put your trust in how other people will receive, or even return, your love. There must be a faith that whether or not our love is received or appreciated, that doesn’t matter.
JI Packer says that faith is
…a belief-and-behavior commitment to Jesus Christ, the divine-human Lord, who came to earth, died for sins, rose from death, returned to heaven, reigns now over the cosmos as his Father’s nominated vice-regent, and will reappear to judge everyone and to take his own people into glory, where they will be with him in unimaginable joy forever.
Christians love from a trusting commitment- in their beliefs and in the behaviors- to Jesus Christ. We have faith in Christ, and so we are able to love when our sinful instincts might be telling us to do something else instead. We may want to NOT love, but our Lord calls us to love, so because we believe in him, trust in him, and are committed to him, we love instead of doing what we’d really like to do.
JI Packer talks about how, in our day, faith has become more like a warm fuzzy feeling we have about Jesus. But that’s not what the Bible says, faith is a trust and commitment to Jesus that brings us to love others.
This is the heart work Christians pour themselves into when they are saved by God. These are the changes that should be taking place. I read that list, and immediately thought, I don’t measure up to that! When do I ever love perfectly from a pure heart, clear conscience, and sincere faith? I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I ever have.
Which, by the way, is one answer to why even Christians who have been saved and made right with God still need to sit under faithful Gospel preaching. Paul doesn’t say this will automatically happen. He says it’s the goal of our preaching.
What does the Gospel of Jesus Christ do when it is taught and preached rightly and regularly?
It produces love from a heart that has been cleansed, freed, and strengthened by Jesus Himself. A self sacrificing, patient, compassionate love for God and for others.