This particular section of Scripture kept coming to mind this week at various different points so I thought I would share it and talk about it a little bit. The passage is taken from Paul’s letter to Timothy and in it he encouraging Timothy to continue in guiding God’s people with truth and love which is contrary to what has been happening. Part of the reason this has been on my heart this week is because there are many places today that would fall into this same category. Church’s that, though likely meaning well, have turned from truth and godliness to pursue what seems fair in the eyes of man.
Fortunately we do not live in a world of being able to choose and decide what God would call good, nor do we have to, because God has given us instructions in His Word. Let’s take a look at the passage in question before we continue further.
1 Timothy 1:3-11
When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God.
The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently.
We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.
Some may be wondering what some of the “meaningless discussions” may be in church today that seem as though they are of God’s intention, but completely miss the mark. One of these teachings is ironically the teaching on love. There are many people today that teach and believe that all we need to do is to love one another. The unfortunate part of this is that it is only half true and maybe not even that. We are exhorted as Christians by Jesus himself in Luke 10:27 to “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Even when reading this passage now you might be thinking, “where is the part that loving is not true?” To love God and love others is true, but it is our understanding of love that is flawed. Take for instance the first command, to love God with every part of our being, it is taken from Deuteronomy 6 which immediately follows when the instructions on the Ten Commandments were given in Deuteronomy 5. Here is the meaning of our instruction to Love God.
“These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
“The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.
“You must not worship any of the gods of neighboring nations, for the Lord your God, who lives among you, is a jealous God. His anger will flare up against you, and he will wipe you from the face of the earth. You must not test the Lord your God as you did when you complained at Massah. You must diligently obey the commands of the Lord your God—all the laws and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so all will go well with you. Then you will enter and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to give your ancestors. You will drive out all the enemies living in the land, just as the Lord said you would.
“In the future your children will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of these laws, decrees, and regulations that the Lord our God has commanded us to obey?’
“Then you must tell them, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand. The Lord did miraculous signs and wonders before our eyes, dealing terrifying blows against Egypt and Pharaoh and all his people. He brought us out of Egypt so he could give us this land he had sworn to give our ancestors. And the Lord our God commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear him so he can continue to bless us and preserve our lives, as he has done to this day. For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the Lord our God has given us.’
So to love God means that we are to follow His decrees out of both reverence and fear, we are to remember all that He has done for us, and we are to look forward to His continued blessing because of His promise to those who do these things. When we follow the command to love God our lives will reflect it by following His Word and the way that we love others will be grounded and preceded by and in our understanding of how we are supposed to love God. For an understanding of what it means to love our neighbor let’s go to Leviticus. This particular passage also says more about what it means to love God.
The Lord also said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
“Each of you must show great respect for your mother and father, and you must always observe my Sabbath days of rest. I am the Lord your God.
“Do not put your trust in idols or make metal images of gods for yourselves. I am the Lord your God.
“When you sacrifice a peace offering to the Lord, offer it properly so you will be accepted by God. The sacrifice must be eaten on the same day you offer it or on the next day. Whatever is left over until the third day must be completely burned up. If any of the sacrifice is eaten on the third day, it will be contaminated, and I will not accept it. Anyone who eats it on the third day will be punished for defiling what is holy to the Lord and will be cut off from the community.
“When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.
“Do not steal.
“Do not deceive or cheat one another.
“Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the Lord.
“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
“Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay.
“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.
“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.
“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.
“Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord.
“Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
“You must obey all my decrees.
“Do not mate two different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread.
“If a man has sex with a slave girl whose freedom has never been purchased but who is committed to become another man’s wife, he must pay full compensation to her master. But since she is not a free woman, neither the man nor the woman will be put to death. The man, however, must bring a ram as a guilt offering and present it to the Lord at the entrance of the Tabernacle. The priest will then purify him before the Lord with the ram of the guilt offering, and the man’s sin will be forgiven.
“When you enter the land and plant fruit trees, leave the fruit unharvested for the first three years and consider it forbidden. Do not eat it. In the fourth year the entire crop must be consecrated to the Lord as a celebration of praise. Finally, in the fifth year you may eat the fruit. If you follow this pattern, your harvest will increase. I am the Lord your God.
“Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood.
“Do not practice fortune-telling or witchcraft.
“Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards.
“Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.
“Do not defile your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will be filled with prostitution and wickedness.
“Keep my Sabbath days of rest, and show reverence toward my sanctuary. I am the Lord.
“Do not defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead. I am the Lord your God.
“Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord.
“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or volume. Your scales and weights must be accurate. Your containers for measuring dry materials or liquids must be accurate. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
“You must be careful to keep all of my decrees and regulations by putting them into practice. I am the Lord.”
I must point out, because some of you are already thinking this, but this is the Law and we are no longer bound by the Law. But, because we have been raised from the dead we are to serve God by living in the Spirit.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.
Again, we are no longer bound by the Law, but with that said, if the new way of living in the Spirit is better then shouldn’t we treat our neighbors with even greater love than in the ways we were commanded to under the Law? Jesus treated every person that He encountered with love, but He never swerved from the Truth of God which is the only truth. He helped people who were caught in sin, through love. He let others know when they were misusing God’s Word, in love. He even rebuked people in love. In all that Jesus did, He stuck to the teachings of the Word with the goal of reconciling people to God. He did not waiver from loving people, even when He was rebuking those who claimed to be Christians or God’s chosen people because He understood that the only true love that He could give someone was to reveal the truth to them in hopes that they would choose the way that lead to life rather than the way that leads to death and destruction.
Our idea of love must be firmly rooted in who God is, what He has commanded us to do, what He has already done for us, and what He continues to do for us when we follow His ways. Love is not about doing what feels right or seems fair, but it is about following God with every part of our lives and understanding that to follow God is the only way to truly know love and be loved. When we do not teach about sin, talk about sinfulness, the need for repentance because of the gift God gave us through His Son, or our need for God we are not loving. At the same time when we are hateful toward people that are caught up in sin we are not being loving either, but in all are actions we are to be wrapped in Grace and Truth and that can only happen when we spend regular time with God in prayer, in His Word, and in His presence. We cannot adequately let others know about all that God is unless we truly understand who He is.
My prayer is that we can all know God and the richness of His presence that He desires for us to experience when we truly follow Him and love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Then and only then will we truly be able to understand how we can love our neighbor as ourselves.