By Collin Ross
Every Sunday, I stand before my local community of Jesus followers and deliver a sermon, in which I strive to explain and apply the scriptures, convey the love of the Father, and invite others to the mission of Jesus Christ. In my tradition, immediately following the sermon, I invite the congregation to stand with me and recite an ancient statement of Christian faith which summarizes the person and work of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The position of this statement in our Sunday service is intentional. It serves to hold the preacher accountable. That which I have just taught in my sermon is checked against the foundational truths of the faith. Where my words align with the gospel passed down from the apostles, they are to be accepted; but should my teaching depart from that gospel, it is to be thrown out and rejected. In this way, the church affirms that the primary fuel for Christian living is found in the gospel alone.
This is exactly the point that Paul is making as he charges Timothy to oppose those in the community who are espousing false doctrine that went against the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. For Paul, the presence of these false teachers is a crisis of monumental proportions. In his view, what’s at stake is the very ability for a person to demonstrate Christ-like love.
In Paul’s teaching, love is the visible expression of authentic Christian faith. When we encounter and respond to the radical love of God through the gospel, our inner selves are transformed to enable us to love others in a similar fashion. Our ability to love flows from our encounter with God’s love.
Notice how Paul frames for Timothy the purpose for teaching the gospel: “Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1Timothy 1:5). The goal is love—the kind of love that flows from a heart made pure and conscious made good by the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. Without the gospel, none of this is possible.
Therein lies the problem with these false teachers. Because they’ve wandered from the true gospel, their teaching no longer produces love. Rather, it promotes “empty speculation” (v.4) and “fruitless discussion” (v.6). I think we can all agree that the world could use more love and less fruitless discussion. For this to be the case, we must be all the more committed to teach the gospel to those that God has placed before us.
The primary fuel for Christian living is the gospel. When we wander away from the good news that Jesus preached and embodied, we leave behind more than “sound teaching.” We leave behind that which carries the power to so enliven our hearts that we experience the life-giving love of the Father as it flows through us and out into the world.