The Purpose Is Love


Paul’s first letter to Timothy defined the destination toward which the younger man was to guide the church in Ephesus: “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). It’s easy to miss the significance of this simple statement; our target is a life overflowing with love.

In Ephesus, influential teachers were speculating about myths and genealogies. Doctrinal speculation divorced from Christian living breeds confusion and error. More importantly, it obscures the end for which Christ gave Himself on our behalf. Of course, biblical truth is to be guarded and proclaimed. Yet, Paul writes that our goal is love. Mere understanding is insufficient. Discipleship requires loving.

That should come as no surprise. Jesus did not identify the greatest commandment as memorization or comprehension. It is to love God, and the second is to love our neighbor. Likewise, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but do not have love, I am nothing.” In a modern context, Paul might say “if I have taught correct doctrine and led many people to Christ, if I have corrected many social evils, if I have served a congregation great in size and influence but have not love, I am nothing.”

Love that we are to pursue comes from three necessary qualities identified in 1Timothy 1:5. The first is a pure heart. Jesus said, “‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’” (Matt. 5:8). Authentic Christian living begins with cleansing, not with self-improvement. If we fail to grasp this necessity, we will strip the cross of its meaning and the gospel of its power. Forgiveness is a great blessing, but it is not the end of Christ’s work. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In a world polluted by mud-slinging politics, foul language, pornographic images and unashamed immorality, it is difficult to keep one’s heart pure. Regular cleansing can be found only by daily returning to the source. Only in Christ’s redeeming sacrifice can
sufficient power be found to forgive and restore, and only out of a pure heart can pure love come.

The Father sent His Son “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). A good conscience, the second quality found in Paul’s instructions to Timothy, demonstrates the genuineness of our love. Holiness and righteous living are not ends in themselves but the means by which our love for God (holiness) and for our neighbor (righteousness) is given form. It is not legalism to live a holy life. License cannot result in righteousness, and without righteousness genuine love is impossible.

Lastly, the apostle affirms the necessity of sincere faith. In 1 Corinthians Paul wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (13:13). But love cannot be sustained apart from sincere faith. In the New Testament, the word agape describes the love produced by the life of faith. It is self-sacrificing, as demonstrated when Jesus gave Himself as the atonement for sin. This love originates with the Father. It is a reflection of divine character, and it is impossible to express apart from the faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

Timothy was charged to bring an end to false teaching in the Ephesian church, where arguments about arcane doctrinal issues resulted in pride, division and spiritual immaturity. Decades after Timothy ended his ministry in Ephesus the angel of the Lord rebuked the church there because, though commended for doctrinal faithfulness, they abandoned their first love. The goal of Christian living is not knowledge or understanding; it is love that issues from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith.

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