heart

THE PURE AND THE POLLUTED (Titus 1:1-15)

A little background on Crete is in order as begin our series on the book of Titus.

Most of the people there came from a mercenary background. Violence, greed and sexual corruption were everywhere. When Paul said that all Cretans were liars, he was quoting a Cretan writer named Epimenides who said that about his own people. The Greeks actually used the word ‘cretize’ as a synonymn for ‘lying’.   Look at the list of elder qualifications again and you will see that the explanation accompanying the list seems to target the stereotypical behavior of Cretan men. As you might expect, the gods the Cretans worshipped (primarily Zeus) were characterized by the same things that characterized the people. This was where the church was trying to grow.

Paul, servant of God and emissary of Jesus, the Anointed One, on behalf of the faith that is accepted by God’s chosen people and the knowledge of the undeniable truth that leads to godliness.

We rest in this hope we’ve been given—the hope that we will live forever with our God—the hope that He proclaimed ages and ages ago (even before time began). And our God is no liar; He is not even capable of uttering lies. So we can be sure that it is in His exact right time that He released His word into the world—through the preaching that God our Savior has commanded into my care.

 To you, Titus, my dear son birthed through our shared faith: may grace and peace rest upon you from God the Father and Jesus the Anointed, our Savior.

One of the first things Paul reminds Titus of is that God is not a liar. The second is that God is trustworthy, and we can confidently place our hope in Him.  God is involved with the world, and His plan and His timing are perfect. Then Paul starts to put structure in place (this will continue throughout the letter). The church community is going to need both moral and communal guidelines if they are going to move into the freedom Christ offers and establish a compelling outpost of the Kingdom in a remarkably needy place. 

 I left you on Crete so you could sort out the chaos and the unfinished business and appoint elders over communities in each and every city according to my earlier orders. Here’s what you should look for in an elder: he should be above suspicion; if he is married, he should be the husband of one wife, raise children who believe, and be a person who can’t be accused of rough and raucous living. It is necessary that any overseer you appoint be blameless, as he is entrusted with God’s mission. Look for someone who isn’t pompous or quick to anger, who is not a drunkard, violent, or chasing after seedy gain or worldly fame. Find a person who lovingly opens his home to others; who honors goodness; who is thoughtful, fair, devout, self-controlled; and who clings to the faithful word that was taught because he must be able, not only to encourage people with sound teaching, but also to challenge those who are against it.

You see antagonists everywhere; they are rebellious, loose-lipped, and deceitful (especially those who are from the circumcised lot). Their talk must be quashed—their mouths sealed up because impure teaching is flying out of their lips and overturning entire families for the sake of their own squalid gain.  I’ll tell you, even their own prophet was heard saying, “Chronic liars, foul beasts, and lazy gluttons—that’s who you’ll meet in Crete.” And he’s right! This is why we have to scold them, sometimes severely, so they will be sound in the faith  and be able to ignore Jewish myths[i] as well as any commandments given by those who turn away from the truth.

He warns about false teachers:[ii] specifically, the Judaizers ("those of the circumcision”), though there were others. These teachers insisted that keeping external rules – diet, circumcision, washing - equaled purity.  And while these weren’t in and of themselves bad things, these false teachers were saying these outward actions had the power to save or to make righteous. This didn’t address issues of the purity of someone’s heart.[iii] 

This is a problem (think of how Jesus challenged the heart in the Sermon On The Mount). People become pure from the inside out after God does a work inside.  They become "new creatures in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17) who are "born anew" (John 3:3). We don’t become pure by scrubbing the outside.

 Listen: to those who are pure, all things are pure. But to those who are tainted, stained, and unbelieving, nothing is pure because their minds and their consciences are polluted. They claim, “I know God,” but their actions are a slap to His face. They are wretched, disobedient, and useless to any worthwhile cause.”

* * * * *

That’s a claim that would have rattled his Jewish audience – and frankly, it's a phrase that can be easily misunderstood by our 21st century ears.[iv]

1. Christian purity is moral purity.

John Gill’s Expository On The New Testament references a Jewish commentary on the issue of pure and impure people:

`The flesh of the most holy things is forbidden to strangers, though pure; the flesh of things lightly holy is free to strangers that are pure, but forbidden to them that are defiled.''

This is one of many teaching you can find on the privileges and restrictions for pure and impure people. The more ceremonially clean you were – the more outward appearance of purity -  the more privileges you got.  When God said He was looking on the heart while people were looking on the outside (1 Samuel 16:7), I believe he was referring to situations like this.

Titus has the task of re-teaching the concept of genuine purity. Genuine purity is the internal purity of the heart and soul that only Christ can bring, and it will manifest itself in pure living.  Once again, that will be about morally pure living, not ceremonially washing your hands and not touching dead things.

2.  Morally Impure Things Don’t Become Pure Because Our Heart Is Pure.

To understand this better, let’s establish what biblical, spiritual purity is. In 1 Timothy 4:4, Paul stated that "every creature (everything?) created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected.” Barnes’ Notes On The Bible gives a good clarification on what this means:

“It is good in its place; good for the purpose for which God made it. But it should not be inferred that a thing which is poisonous in its nature is good for food because it is a creation of God. It is good only in its place, and for the ends for which he intended it.”

When something is existing in its God-given intent and purpose – when it is unmixed or unalloyed with anything else (the literal translation of the word ‘pure’) -  it is pure.  Paul insisted in his letter to the Roman church that there is nothing that, when used with the intent and purpose for which God created it, is unclean in itself (Romans 14:14, 20).

To the pure (people who live in their God-designed intent and purpose and are unalloyed with the world), all things are pure (they recognize and use everything within God’s design).

Notice this is very different from saying that even impure things become pure with our magical pure touch. Two examples should suffice.

  • Pornography  or promiscuity do not become miraculously okay because Christians think that they are pure enough to make it okay.
  • Christians can’t naively dabble in the occult and walk away unscathed. Being a Christian doesn’t change the nature of a Ouija board or a tarot card reading or seances.

There is no sense whatsoever anywhere in Scripture that suggest we can engage in sin and somehow sanctify it because we are good people deep inside.[v]  Paul is not excusing sin. He’s saying that we are pure or impure because of the state of our heart.  Our lifestyle flows from our heart; our heart provides the lenses through which we see everything. That’s why we must guard our hearts; they are the “wellspring of life” and determine the course of our lives (Proverbs 4:23).

Eating bacon and shrimp won’t make your heart impure, and eating kosher food or washing your hands just right won’t purify your soul. If you haven’t been cleansed by Jesus on the inside, you can do everything right externally and still be defiled.

3. Even Pure Things Can Become Impure To Us If Our Heart Is Impure

When I was a baby, I didn’t know what things were for or where they were supposed to be, and I left a trail of chaos behind me. I ate dirt. Seriously. It was not one of my better moments. 

I don’t eat dirt anymore (!), but I have a remarkable capacity to clutter things.  Really, I can leave a mess anywhere relatively quickly. You should see the interior of my truck, or the floor on my side of the bed. But I know I have this capacity because I know what clean is. I know what a ‘pure’ kitchen and bathroom should look like.

When you know what clean is, at least you have a frame of reference for how you are doing. If you don’t know what clean is, everything you touch becomes unclean.

If our soul is not clean (purified by God so that we know and love the intent and purpose for all things God has created), we will make everything we touch unclean because we won’t understand how God designed it.

  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for money, we will use it selfishly rather than for God’s glory.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for sex, we will use and abuse others rather than delighting in and honoring them as part of married life.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for marriage, we will keep thinking it’s about happiness when it’s actually about holiness.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for language, we will think we have the right to say anything we want and we will destroy people with our words.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for education, the arts, work…

This isn’t just about things. This is relevant to what we believe as Christians; specifically, how we understand the Bible. The Judaizers were distorting God’s Law. We can do this with Scripture today as well if we aren’t careful. We can take good and true teachings and distort them.

  • “Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8); God is always faithful when we are not (2 Timothy 2:13); God’s grace abounds (Romans 5:20)” can remind us that God is so, so good and motivate us to greater worship… or it can be used as an excuse to do whatever we want. 
  • “Ask and you shall receive (Matthew 7:7); God gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11); give and see if I won’t open up the storehouses” (Malachi 3:10) can remind us that God takes care of us and blesses our faithfulness for His glory and the sake of His Kingdom… or it can make us think God is a cosmic slot machine where if we pull the right levers we get rich.
  • “You will have none of these diseases (Exodus 15:26) and He heals our diseases” (Psalm 103:3) can be seen as a get-out-of-sick-jail free card… or it can be seen as a reminder that God cares for us and works miracles in His time and for His purposes for our good and His glory.

To those whom God has made pure, everything – the Scriptures, our bodies, the things around us - is pure; that is, they are understood, valued and used and God intended them to be. To those not made pure by God, everything becomes devalued and misused outside of God’s created design.

  • Why do our minds wander when we see someone attractive?
  • Why is the first thought after our bonus on how we can spend it on ourselves rather than how God can be glorified?
  • Why can we turn ordinary comments into, “That’s what she said”?
  • Why do we daydream about how we could have humiliated someone in that argument we had?
  • Why do we use food and entertainment to avoid life?
  • Why do we use work as an excuse to avoid resolving conflict at home?
  • Why do we twist Scripture to make it say what we want it to say?

Becaus are hearts, while undergoing ongoing purification by God, will never be perfetly pure on this side of heaven. God does a miraculaous work of purification throught the act of salvation (read 1 Timothy - Paul uses the language of purity everywhere!), and God continues this purification process through what we call sanctification. But this life is marred by sin, and even our gloriously new hearts are under attack from the sins that so easily beset us. It's part of why we mourn will all of creation (Romans 8) as we wait for the New Heaven and Earth. 

In Psalm 24:3-4, David asks who can stand in the holy presence of God. His answer? “The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” The one whose entire life is characterized by purity. This is bad news in one sense: on our own, we can never purify our hearts; even after God gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), we still manage to soil it. Is it any wonder that David also asked God to do what is impossible for us to do: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10)?

While God has given us agency- we are called to participate in our purity by living within God's path for lifen(1 Peter 1:22) -we must have that miraculous work of God in us so that our hearts are renewed and our eyes are opened in ways that only God can do it. Then we will see the goodness of God and His creation – we will see how He designed the world to be – and we will be able to live in our God-given purity through the power and for the glory of God.

[i] After the Babylonian Captivity, many rabbis began to assign mystical meanings to numbers and apply it to the Hebrew Scriptures and the Talmud,  the rabbinical interpretations of Scripture. By the time Paul was writing, they were also taking ideas from Hebrew and Greek numerology and arriving at increasingly fanciful interpretations.

[ii] For previous sermons on the biblical focus on false teachers, see two sermons from our 1 Thessalonians series: Teachers Good And Bad (Part 1) https://clgonline.org/teachers-good-and-bad-part-1-2/ and Teachers Good And Bad ({Part 2) https://clgonline.org/teachers-good-and-bad-part-2-2/

[iii]  “It is sin, and that only, which takes its rise from the heart, lies in thought, and is either expressed by the mouth, or performed by some outward action, which defiles the man, and renders him loathsome, abominable, and odious in the sight of God. The heart is the source of all evil; the pollution of it is very early, and very general, reaching to all the powers and faculties of the soul; which shows the ignorance of some, and folly of others, that talk of, and trust to the goodness of their hearts; and also the necessity of new hearts and right spirits being formed and created; and that the sinful thoughts of the heart, and the lusts thereof, are defiling to men; and that they are sinful in God's account, and abominable in his sight; that they are loathsome to sensible sinners, and are to be repented of, and forsaken by them; and need the pardoning grace of God or otherwise will be brought into judgment. Sinful words, which, through the abundance of wickedness in the heart, come out of the mouth, have the same influence and effect: words are of a defiling nature; with these men pollute both themselves and others: the tongue, though a little member, defiles the whole body; and evil and corrupt communication proceeding out of the mouth, corrupts the best of manners, and renders men loathsome to God, and liable to his awful judgment. And this is the nature of all sinful actions; they are what God can take no pleasure in; they are disagreeable, to a sensible mind; they leave a stain, which can never be removed by any thing the creature can do; nothing short of the blood of Christ can cleanse from it; and inasmuch as they are frequently committed, there is need of continual application to it. These are now the things men should be concerned about, as of a defiling nature; and not about meats and drinks, and the manner of using them, whether with hands washed, or unwashed.”  (Gill’s Exposition Of The Entire Bible)

[iv] Check out Precept Austin’s explanation of this passage. http://www.preceptaustin.org/titus_114-15

[v] The Children of Israel entered Canaan were commanded to avoid the practices of the pagan religions (Deuteronomy 12:30). Paul wrote to the Romans, "I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil"  (Romans 16:19). The Bible warns us to "flee the flesh" (2 Timothy 2:22) and to avoid things that could “entangle” us (Hebrews 12:1)

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 2)

The classic vampire claim is that they can’t come into your house until you let them.  Kept outside, they can do nothing. Left inside, they will drain your life.  Though Hollywood has turned most vampire stories into gory bloodbaths, this wasn’t always the case. Some of the earliest stories (such as Bram Stoker’s classic work) were deeply connected with Christianity, with the vampire as the figure of Satan or at least of sin. It was meant to shock the reader into recognizing the seriousness and horror of what sin does.

This doorway metaphor echoes biblical imagery. Right before Cain killed his brother, God reminded him that “sin crouches at the door; its desire is for you, and you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) Sin is the ultimate vampire, the one that wants in to drain our souls.

These spiritual vampires that crouch at the door of my heart want me to be harsh in my home; they want me to love money and fame; they want me to ignore God; they want me to reject the guidelines of the Bible; they want me to overlook my friends and hate my enemies; they want me to objectify people and love things. They want me to shame the name of Jesus in my testimony.

Thanks to Jesus, the most it can do is crouch at the door of my life. But I still have my free will, and I can still choose to whom I open the door of my heart.  

This isn’t the only time the Bible uses this image: When John records in Revelation 3 that God says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” he was talking to the church – the Christians - of Laodicea. They needed to continue to open the door of their heart.

I need Jesus as much after my salvation as I did before. That’s what I want to talk about today: how, after salvation, God has a plan in place for us to help us resist the ongoing temptation of the sin that so easily besets us (Hebrews 12:1).

After we visit our local hospital or doctor for a particular ailment, we learn about ‘after care’; that is, what we need to do so that what the doctor has made new will continue to flourish. This is called compliance:

“Accepting life-saving treatment.  The extent to which a person’s behavior coincides with medical advice. Adaptation or adherence to medical advice.”(d3jonline.tripod.com)

We can undermine our newfound health. In medical terms, this is called non-compliance.

  • “A patient who does not follow the doctors' orders is called a non-compliant patient.” (from Wiki Answers)
  • “We eat foods that kill us, we don't stick to our exercise regimens, and we don't follow our doctors' orders, even when we remember what they tell us. If you ask people whether it's smart to get a colonoscopy if the doctor says you need one, no one's going to say no… but no one wakes up and says, 'Yes, today is a good day for a colonoscopy.'"  (“Mind Your Body: Doctor’s Orders – Without Distress.” (www.psychologytoday.com)

Granted, some people have had bad experiences with doctors whose diagnosis or after care were deeply flawed. For the sake of this analogy, let's assume we are talking about a doctor who has given an accurate diagnosis and a true course of after care (we are moving toward our involvement with the Great Physician after all...gotta keep this analogy on track!)

 Non-compliance is a huge problem because obedience is hard!

Assume that the doctor gave a blueprint for ongoing health. For whatever reasons, we just have a hard time following even if the advice is spot on. “I’m not that sick…My doctor doesn’t understand…it’s so complicated…but fried food is the nectar of the gods.” So even though we were freed from whatever ailed us and are given new life, we can flounder when we could be flourishing. 

We do the same thing spiritually. “I’m not that sick… it’s so complicated…surely God wants me to be happy, and THIS makes me happy.” So even though we were freed from the sin that was killing us and were given new life, we can flounder when we could be flourishing. 

Why?

“Where do you think your fighting and endless conflict come from? Don’t you think that they originate in the constant pursuit of gratification that rages inside each of you like an uncontrolled militia? You crave something that you do not possess, so you murder to get it. You desire the things you cannot earn, so you sue others and fight for what you want. You do not have because you have chosen not to ask. And when you do ask, you still do not get what you want because your motives are all wrong—because you continually focus on self-indulgence. 

You are spiritual adulterers. Don’t you know that loving this corrupt world order is open aggression toward God? So anyone who aligns with this bogus world system is declaring war against the one true God. Do you think it is empty rhetoric when the Scriptures say, “The spirit that lives in us is addicted to envy and jealousy”? You may think that the situation is hopeless, but God gives us more grace when we turn away from our own interests. That’s why Scripture says, ‘God opposes the proud, but He pours out grace on the humble.’

So submit yourselves to the one true God and fight against the devil and his schemes. If you do, he will run away in failure. Come close to the one true God, and He will draw close to you. Wash your hands; you have dirtied them in sin. Cleanse your heart, because your mind is split down the middle, your love for God on one side and selfish pursuits on the other. (James 4:1-8)

There is a dance between what God does for us and what God asks us to do. David asked God to create a clean heart in him (Psalm 51:10); here, James tells people to cleanse their heart. We know that God helps us resist temptation (“Deliver us from the Evil One" – Matthew 6:13), yet we have to fight too (“God gives us more grace when we turn away from our own interests”).

There is a war of love that rages in our hearts. Proverbs tells us to guard it, because everything in our life flows from it (Proverbs 4:23). I read a book last year by James K.A. Smith entitled You Are What You Love. It was a deeply challenging book in many ways; here’s one snippet of what he had to say.

“To be human is to be animated and oriented by some vision of the good life, some picture of what we think counts as “flourishing.” And we want that. We crave it. We desire it. This is why our most fundamental mode of orientation to the world is love. We are oriented by our longings, directed by our desires.

We adopt ways of life that are indexed to such visions of the good life, not usually because we “think through” our options but rather because some picture captures our imagination. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, succinctly encapsulates the motive power of such allure: “If you want to build a ship,” he counsels, “don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire? What if the center and seat of the human person is found not in the heady regions of the intellect but in the gut-level regions of the heart? It’s not just that I “know” or “believe” [in some end design to life]. More than that, I long for some end. I want something, and want it ultimately. It is my desires that define me. In short, you are what you love.”

What we do with what crouches or knocks at the door of our heart will depend a lot on who or what we love. How we experience the new life that God offers us through Jesus is going to be deeply influenced by how much we work with God in doing the hard work of re-ordering our loves. Since James talks about loving the world and loving ourselves, let’s contrast that to love for God.

LOVE OF SELF/WORLD                 LOVE FOR GOD

Pleasure                                                 Sacrifice

Rights                                                    Responsibilities

Individualism                                        Community

Hiddenness                                            Openness  

Choice                                                   Obedience

Rebellion                                               Submission

Eye for an Eye                                      Forgiveness

Self-sufficient                                       Asks for Help

Boasts in self                                         Boasts in Christ

Loves the Stage                                     Loves to Build It

Power                                                    Servanthood

Pride                                                      Humility

Indulgence                                             Self-control

Blame                                                    Ownership

Winning Arguments                              Winning people

Self-justification                                    Christ’s justification

Self-righteous judgment                        Compassionate love

Greedy                                                   Generous

Envious                                                  Content

Lustful                                                    Loving

Mocking                                                 Respectful

Angry                                                     Gentle

We know what we love by our thoughts, our daydreams, our fears, our time and energy, our money.  It’s what we think is part of the good life, so we order our lives around those things. We adopt a way of life that centers on its fulfillment.  And we get incredibly defensive when some calls us out, because it shakes us. We can’t imagine life without it.

Time for an honest self-check: In the following list, what do you love more – I don’t mean in your words, but in how our order your life? What do you long for? Which one do you think represents the good life? For which one of these have you adopted a way of life that centers around its fulfillment?

One thing that stands out to me: a life characterized by love of God looks very, very compelling. That’s why His yoke of obedience is easy, and his burden of sacrifice is light (Matthew 11:30). It’s hard, but it’s easy and light because it brings goodness and the life more abundant that Jesus promised (John 10:10).

So, how do we reorder our loves and experience the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13)?

First, pray for God to do the work only God can do. He must create a new heart in you.

Second, repent of your disordered loves and commit your ways to Jesus. Walk in obedience.

Third, focus on Jesus. Read the gospels. Study the person and work of Jesus. Sing about Jesus. Pray in worship of Jesus. Commit yourself to living in the path of life that Jesus has laid out for us. That must include filling yourself with truth, which is can be found not just in Scripture but in teachings, books, podcasts, counseling, and mentoring.

When we hear those competing knocks on the doors of our heart, let’s let the right one in.  

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Btfz9qKXUIk[/embed]

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)

___________________________________________________________________________

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.