On Wednesday, I mentioned one of the talks that I gave last month at the National Preachers Conference in Cuba, a class on elders. The other talk was a keynote lecture on “Doctrine.” Because the theme of the conference was 1 Timothy, I had been assigned 1 Timothy 1:3-5. And like so often happens, I learned something new when studying this passage again.
I had just heard James Thompson teach a class on 1 Timothy 2, so that was an advantage right there. Taking a cue from him, I went through 1 Timothy looking at descriptions of “unhealthy doctrine” and “healthy doctrine” (which is a better translation than “sound” doctrine; in the 21st century we don’t think of health when we hear the word “sound”). I summarized by saying that sound doctrine is centered on God; not on man, not on philosophy, not on works. It is also reflected in an upright life; moral, not seeking financial gain, with a focus on a healthy family.
Then I turned to the last verse that was assigned to me:
“The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
That was the one that I had forgotten about in this context. What an important verse it is! Paul calls on Timothy to stress sound doctrine… so that love may result.
I mentioned to the group that I had a document with controversies that had impacted the churches of Christ. I told them there were 28 reasons on the list. Then I said, “Oops! There’s another page.” And I kept using that technique, going from 28 to 57 to 85, all the way up to 171! (I actually left one off. The list I received included “Pretzels”; if anyone knows what the great pretzel controversy was, I’ll up the list to 172)
I told them that we couldn’t afford to be like that. We can’t divide over every issue. I then reminded them that we had another letter to the Ephesian church, written decades after the letters that Paul wrote to Timothy. In that letter, in Revelation 2, Jesus praises the church for their sound doctrine, but chastises them for their lack of love. And he tells them that if they don’t recover that love, they’ll lose their right to be called a church of Jesus.
As we study controversies like gender roles and homosexuality and pacifism and worship questions, we have to keep in mind this important fact: the goal is love. If love isn’t the result, we’ve missed the goal.