conscience

The Goal Of The Church (1 Timothy 1:1-7)

Paul, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed, commissioned by order of God our Savior and Jesus the Anointed, our living and certain hope, to you, Timothy, my true son in the faith. May the grace, mercy, and peace that come only from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ mark your life. As I said that day I left for Macedonia, stay in Ephesus and instruct the unruly people in the church, once and for all, to stop teaching a different doctrine. Tell them to turn away from fables and endless genealogies. These activities just cause more arguments and confusion. Instead, they should concern themselves with welcoming in and bringing about the Kingdom of God, which is all about faith. Our teaching about this journey is intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.Yes, some have wandered away from these traits and have fallen into a life of endless blabber and nonsense— they wish to become scholars of the law, but they don’t know what they are talking about, and they make these grand pronouncements but clearly don’t understand what they just said. (1 TImothy 1:1-7, The Voice)

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Kids ask all the time, “What’s that for?” It's a natural question. We see designed things, and we figure they were designed with a goal in mind. But even when we know what something is for, we are very good at coming up with all kinds of ways to use things differently than the designer intended.

  • I remember telling Vince what the intended use of the family scissors was, but he soon realized it could also be used on the dog.
  • Sheila told him the purpose of having good clothes and run-around clothes….
  • Heads: You should think; you can run full speed into other people (football concussions)
  • Lungs: You should breathe; you can inhale substances

We can get frustrated if we aren’t on the same page with other people about what a thing is meant to be. What is the purpose of the following:

  • Fishing – To catch fish? To relax? To talk?
  • Supper  - To eat? To connect?
  • Marriage - Happiness? Family? Love? Growth? Spiritual symbolism?
  • Think of the tension in our culture as we disagree about what it means to be male/female, or masculine/feminine. We are disagreeing on fundamental questions of design and purpose.

It is important that we learn the purpose of a thing and then commit to fulfilling that purpose. So what is the purpose or the goal of the Church? According to Paul, the church exists to bring about the Kingdom of God, through faith, characterized by love.

At least three things stood out in Timothy’s church that undermined this goal. (I’m trying to summarize in a way that takes a particular situation and generalizes the principles. Plus, it’s not entirely clear what Paul meant by some of these, so there is some speculation involved).

  • Righteousness By Association. Genealogies were a big deal in ways we don’t understand. Herod tried to erase all record of his genealogy because he was ashamed of it; in doing this, he destroyed a lot of Jewish historical records. Apparently, the Jews were trying to reconstruct lost genealogies by finding obscure people and basically make up a story for them, and they would make every connection they could to try to fit into the family of someone important, mainly because they wanted to be in the line of the anticipated Messiah – as if that somehow made them better. This is the group that in some fashion asks the question, “Do you know who I am?” with the assumption that if you only knew, you would know how important and valuable they are.
  • Religious Jet Set Fantasies. The Greeks were more enamored with the myths, the equivalent of Hollywood gods and goddesses, fantasizing about a life of luxury and indulgence with the gods.[i]  Perhaps the Greek converts were trying to apply this kind of thinking to heaven. When Jesus gave the Beatitudes, the Greek word ‘blessed’ (makarios) had to do with ‘participating in the life of the gods’ – and Jesus made clear it’s not a jet set fantasy. The poor, the humble, the persecuted, the mourners – they all have a place in the Kingdom of God. Apparently, early preachers were replacing the reality of the kind of blessedness that comes with ‘taking up your cross’ with an early version of the health/wealth/prosperity Gospel. This is the group that in some fashion asked the question, “Do you see what I have?” as if cultural standards of health and wealth somehow translated into revealing that they are clearly good people. If you could only see how God has apparently blessed them with comfort and things, you would know how important and valuable they are.
  • Worshiping The Law. Apparently the Judaizers were returning to teaching that observance of the Law could save people – our righteousness, God’s favor, and our worth was earned by being a good person.  This is the group that in some fashion is asking the question, “Do you see what I do or don’t do?” with the assumption that if you only knew, you would know how important and valuable they are. In a church that taught that our attempts at self-earned righteousness was worthless, and God’s loving grace was the only thing that will justify and save us, this was ‘blabber’ and ‘nonsense’ that was causing confusion.  

This strikes me as revealing three ways in which people fight for acceptance, value or a sense of worth: family of origin, success by cultural standards of success, and a resume of good works. This can even become something we believe will help us gauge whether or not we have God’s attention or affirmation.

But what happens when your family of origin is lousy? What happens when you live paycheck to paycheck, or when health and comfort disappear? What happens when, despite your best efforts, you fail to do what you ought to do? If we have placed your hope and worth in those things, then our life crumbles. Our stability is gone. We try harder and harder to make those things bring our life meaning – and that leads to pride and judgment if we achieve it, or anger and bitterness if we don’t.

So how do we avoid this? How do we accomplish the goal or design for the church? We live IN FAITH and WITH LOVE when we surrender to Christ three crucial things.

  • A Pure Heart:The heart was regarded as the inward part of the person and the center of one's spiritual and thought life. The total inner life of the believer, cleansed from sin, could be depicted with the term pure heart” (biblegateway.com).  

Right away, we are relieved of the obligation to be good enough on our own power. We find stability in the positional purity that Jesus offers; that is, when we surrender our life and commit our self to Jesus, He purifies our heart. This is a supernatural work of God. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow…create in me a clean heart, O God.” Nothing we do contributes to this. Our dirty heart is made clean because God makes it clean. God moves us out of spiritual darkness and places or positions us into the light of righteousness.  Our positional purity as a Christian never wavers even when we sin, because it was never about us being good enough. It was about Jesus being good enough.

Our family, success or moral strength do not place us here. There is no room to boast and no need to despair. God does the heavy lifting.

  • A Clear Conscience: [ii] A pure heart had to do with our interior life; a clear conscience reminds us that our actions need to align with a pure heart. This is a part of what we call conditional purity. We can make choices that either encourage or undermine the new purity God has given us. We can say anything we want to about how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to God, but what do we do matters. Does our exterior lives confirm what we claim is happening on the inside? 

“The conscience is that part or faculty of the mind that gives awareness of the standing of one's conduct as measured against an accepted standard.” (biblegateway.com)

I may say that I love my wife, but if I constantly mistreat her or betray her with my words or actions, you would have good reason to believe that I am lying. My conscience would in no way be clear. Our interior lives and exterior lives are meant to align. A positionally pure heart is meant to lead to conditionally pure actions that result in a clear conscience.

And in that kind of community – whether in the home or in the church – the Kingdom of God flourishes not just because of what is happening in us, but what is happening around us because of Christ at work in us. None of us are perfect – there’s a reason the church must model repentance, grace and forgiveness – but the more we are committed to living in a way that our conscience remains clear, the more we make the beauty of the Kingdom of God tangible.

  • Genuine Faith: This has to do with what we believe. It’s about  embracing the fundamentals of Christian doctrine – particularly, the person and work of Jesus. We need to increasingly understand “the reason for the hope that lies within in us.” [iii]  We don’t all need to be Bible scholars or answer all manner of obscure question, but we need to be committed to “rightly dividing the word of truth.”

A pure heart and a clear conscience are built on the person and work of Christ, and it’s in the Bible that God has revealed what we need to know in this area.  

God promises that the Holy Spirit will work in those who have committed to following Jesus, but we are tasked with knowing Scripture so that we can know more about Jesus: studying, listening, talking with other Christians, praying, etc. Look at any other area of life: if you want to become knowledgeable, you must do the hard work that leads to knowledge. God will help to turn your knowledge into wisdom, but knowledge doesn’t occur magically. We ‘study to show ourselves approved unto God” even as “he who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.”

We live in a culture that is increasingly dismissive or hostile toward Christianity. Some of it is unfair; a lot of it is because the world is having a difficult time seeing pure hearts, clear consciences, and genuine faith. That’s a call to revival. Perhaps more than ever, it is important that the church as a body fulfill God’s design and purpose for his representatives on earth.

The church is meant to be a place where being in the family of Christ is far more important than the family from which you came; where spiritual blessings like a pure heart are far more important than material wealth and comfort; where a clear conscience motivated by a pure heart characterizes our community; where God is worshipped not only in spirit, but in truth.

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[i] “As the term is used in the New Testament (always in the plural--1 Tim 4:7; 2 Tim 4:4; Tit 1:14; 2 Pet 1:16), myths is consistently a pejorative and polemical classification. It classifies material not simply as untrue or legendary but as pernicious in its (or its author's) purpose to justify immoral or improper behavior on the basis of a divine or traditional pattern.”– commentary from Biblegateway.  In the case of the early church, I suspect  they brought in the idea of ‘blessedness’ from the Greek ideals and tried to apply them to what God must be like, and to what God had in store for them in this life (and perhaps the next).

[ii] “The concept of individuality bred into us in the West was foreign to Paul's culture. Conscience tends to function individualistically in us to produce feelings of guilt. For Paul and the ancient Mediterranean culture in general, conscience was the internal judgment of one's actions by that one's group--"pain one feels because others consider one's actions inappropriate and dishonorable" (Malina 1981:70). Honor and shame, rather than guilt, were the operative feelings. Therefore, Paul's readers would perceive the conscience as sending internal signals evaluating the rightness or wrongness of behavior (past, present or future) as a member of a group.” – commentary from Biblegateway

[iii] “Heresy in reference to a doctrine denotes one "that was sufficiently intolerable to destroy the unity of the Christian church. In the early church, heresy did not refer to simply any doctrinal disagreement, but to something that seemed to undercut the very basis for Christian existence" (Brown 1984:2)…doctrines pertaining to God and Christ and the nature of salvation and justification, because the very substance of the gospel message and the salvation that rests on it lies in these things. Teachings that tend to characterize and distinguish the various Christian denominations (views about baptism, Communion, church government, gifts of the Holy Spirit and the role of women in ministry, among others) may certainly be held to with passion, but the differences here derive mainly from biblical passages capable of more than one reasonable explanation. The term heresy is not appropriate in this latter context. As Paul saw it, heresy posed a dual threat. It endangered the church and individuals who would be drawn into error, perhaps beyond the reach of salvation. It threatened the church's evangelistic mission in the world, by contaminating the gospel.”  - commentary from Biblegateway

What is the Goal of the Church? (1 Timothy 1: 1-11)

Paul, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed commissioned by order of God our Savior and Jesus the Anointed, our living and certain hope, to you, Timothy, my true son in the faith. May the grace, mercy, and peace that come only from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ mark your life. As I said that day I left for Macedonia, stay in Ephesus and instruct the unruly people in the church, once and for all, to stop teaching a different doctrine. Tell them to turn away from fables and endless genealogies. These activities just cause more arguments and confusion.  Instead, they should concern themselves with welcoming in and bringing about the Kingdom of God, which is all about faith. Our teaching about this journey is intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.  Yes, some have walked away from these traits and have fallen into a life of endless blabber and nonsense— they wish to become scholars of the law, but they don’t know what they are talking about, and they make these grand pronouncements but clearly don’t understand what they just said.  (1 Timothy 1:1-11)

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Kids ask all the time, “What’s that for?” It's a natural question. We see designed things, and we figure they were designed with a goal in mind. It’s cute when you are explaining tools, funny when you are walking through a store, and awkward when they start discovering themselves. Then they start to discover they can come up with all kinds of ways to use the new things they find. You tell them what a hammer is for, but they find out all kinds of things they can do with it. You tell them what the intended use of the family scissors is, but they soon realize it can also be used on the dog. You tell them the purpose of having good clothes and run-around clothes….

Part of growing up is understanding the purpose and design of things. We can get frustrated if we aren’t on the same page with other people about what a thing is meant to be. What is the purpose of the following:

  • Fishing – To catch fish? To relax? To talk?
  • Supper? - To eat? To connect?
  • Marriage - Happiness? Family? Love? Growth? Spiritual symbolism?
  • Church services? - For the saved or the unsaved? To learn? To connect? To feel?)

 Another part of growing up is learning the difference between what we CAN do with things and what we SHOULD do with things. We can harm ourselves and others if we ignore what we should do with a thing and instead settle for what we can do. For example, we should use our Lungs to breathe, be we can inhale harmful intoxicants if we want to. Sex should be an activity that both creates new life and unites us physically, emotionally, even spiritually with our spouse. We can use our sexual organs to do a lot of other things instead.

 Part of growing up is learning the purpose of a thing – What is that for? – and then committing to fulfill that purpose. Part of growing up in Christ is learning the purpose and design of the church -  Not what CAN it be, but what SHOULD it be?

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According to Paul, the Church (of people) exists to bring about the Kingdom of God, through faith, characterized by love. Love is not Eros - the love of the worthy, the beautiful, that you take for your benefit. It is Agape love, which is irrespective of the merit of the object of love. It acts sacrificially for the benefit of the other.

How we won't accomplish the goal: ignoring core doctrine and engaging in endless debate about secondary issues or speculative ideas. The goal of church is not to get so caught up in speculation and debate about issues that do not involve Jesus Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the necessity and means of salvation he offers us.

  • The Jewish people in Paul’s time did this with genealogies. They would find obscure people and basically make up a story for them, and they would make every connection they could to try to fit into the family of someone important… but none of it mattered.
  • The Greeks were more enamored with the myths, the equivalent of Hollywood gods and goddesses, fantasizing about a life of luxury and indulgence with the gods. 

It doesn’t build anyone’s faith and it certainly doesn’t promote love. It’s a religion of trivia. And it usually results in self-promotion, pride, and self-righteousness. We have our own things within the church that distract and polarize us. When I was growing up Mennonite, churches split over whether or not women should wear a head covering. One church started over a hymnal issue. That’s silly. I am not sure it’s any sillier than some other things we divide over.

  • Demanding that others agree with a particular Bible teaching from a particular perspective (Creationism; End Times)
  • Overhype of encounters with the supernatural (stories of visiting Heaven or Hell)
  • Following people or movements religiously (Leaders become infallible; conferences or churches become meccas)
  • Arguing about a particular approach to a complex issue (Growing Kids God’s Way;  Marriage teacher X;  Biblical Economic Model)
  • Hyper Patriotism or political loyalty (“You aren’t following the issue like I am? You aren’t an unwavering Democrat or Republican or Independentt?)

God created the world in a particular way; there will be a time when God wraps up the world; Heaven, Hell and the supernatural are very real; marriage and the family are big deals Biblically; we are supposed to be good stewards of our money; as long as we have the freedom to impact our government by our voices and our votes, we should.  So please hear me clearly. NONE OF THOSE THINGS I LISTED ARE BAD THINGS. But they shouldn’t consume our time or become our priority. None of those issues further the goal of the church. They can help us; they can give structure to how we live and view the world, but they should not dominate your thoughts, time, or conversation.

They CAN, but it SHOULDN’T. If you are passionate about any of these things personally, awesome. Study, learn, pray, be discerning, be God-honoring in how you prioritize it and in how you communicate about it to others, But these things should not divide us. It’s not what church is about. Part of growing to maturity in Christ is understanding the purpose of the Church and committing ourselves to fulfilling that purpose. Speculation and division and anger over secondary issues is not the purpose of the church.

If it doesn't inspire us to the kind of love Paul mentions here, it’s doing nothing to build our faith characterized by love for the purpose of building the Kingdom of God. We need to major on the majors. We need to be about the Gospel.

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How do we accomplish this goal, this design? We live IN FAITH and WITH LOVE when we surrender to Christ three crucial things: 

  • A Pure Heart: What We Want (Attitudes, motives, priorities). This is not a call to perfection. It’s asking, “Do you love what God loves? Do you value what God values? Are you motivated by love or guilt? Are you earning God’s favor by right living or honoring God through right living? Do you treat others well because they bear God’s image or to impress other people?
  • A Clear Conscience: What We Do (Actions, thoughts, words).  A pure heart had to do with interior motives; this reminds us that our action need to align with our heart. We can say anything we want to about how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to God, but what do we do matters. Does our exterior lives confirm what we claim is happening on the inside? 

If I said that I loved my wife – my attitude, motives and priorities were all aligned properly – that would be admirable. But if I constantly mistreated her or betrayed her with my words or action, you would have good reason to believe that I am lying. My conscience would in no way be clear. Our interior lives and exterior lives are meant to align. A truly pure heart leads to a truly clear conscience. And in that kind of community – whether in the home or in the church – the Kingdom of God flourishes not just because of what is happening in us, but what is happening around us because of us.

  • Genuine Faith: What We Believe (Doctrine, truth). We need to increasingly understand “the reason for the hope that lies within in us.” The reason we even care about a pure heart and a clear conscience is because of the person of Christ. And we learn about Christ through Scripture. Genuine faith is built on a trust in the person and work of Christ and the reliability of the message in Scripture. For this reason, a church community has to be one in which we all are continually striving to learn the truth of Christ and experience the presence of Christ.)

The reason we even care about a pure heart and a clear conscience is because of the person of Christ. And we learn about Christ through Scripture. Genuine faith is built on a trust in the person and work of Christ and the reliability of the message in Scripture. For this reason, a church community has to be one in which we all are continually striving to learn the truth of Christ and experience the presence of Christ.)

If Christ is who he claimed, and the Scripture reliably tells me about Him and His plan for the world, then my response is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor. If that is the priority of our heart, and that is what is expressed in our actions, then that is “the journey  intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.