There are so many different kinds of New Year’s resolutions. People can make honest evaluations of their lives and see the need for change in every area. These can often manifest themselves in the different kinds of resolutions we make. Whether it is personal health, relationships, professional development, or finances there is always something in our life that needs refining and resolve.
This really got me thinking about the diversity of experiences we have as human beings. Our relationships are complicated because we all have different needs and make different contributions our varied relationships (e.g., marriages, parenting, friendship). Our work places are complicated because of structure, expectations, responsibilities, and co-workers. Even ministry is complicated based on where we are located, the size of the church we attend, and even the relative health of the local assembly.
Still in life’s complexity, there is a paradox. The paradox is seen when we understand what Scripture demands from us in the midst of the complexity—simple love for God and others. It is easy to give in to the temptation that we are called to untie all the knots in our life, but we’re not. We are simply called to love God and others in the midst of the chaos of life.
This is seen in the life of young Timothy. As a young man serving the Lord he was thrown into an unfortunate situation in the Ephesian church. He had experienced great success under the discipleship of Paul early on in his ministerial experience (cf. Acts 16:1–10). Now, he sits alone in Ephesus as Paul had left him for Macedonia (cf. 1 Tim 1:3).
Now in Ephesus he faces a series of complexities in ministry. He is surrounded by false teachers teaching strange doctrines (1 Tim 1:3). These men have devoted themselves to things like myths and endless genealogies (v. 4) and fruitless discussion (v. 6). Perhaps even worse is that these men want to be in the church (vv. 6–7). These are people that Timothy had to personally confront.
Nevertheless, the disruptive presence of these men cannot detract Timothy from the practice of true piety and ministry. Paul identifies the true minister’s resolve to be one of love in 1 Timothy 1:5, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Here, the Christian minister identifies his primary point of emphasis in all he does, love. Just to be clear, Paul is calling for Timothy to display love towards the brethren, the church, his fellow brother and sisters in the faith. The call to love is the greatest command given to Christians (Matt 22:34–40; Rom 13:8–10; Gal 5:14). The goal of Christian ministry is to love and care for others more than carrying about ourselves and our own needs. But where does this love come from? How does a minister cultivate such love for God and His people? Paul provides Timothy with the three-fold source of such love: (1) a pure heart; (2) a good conscience; and a (3) sincere faith.
#1: Ministerial Love Comes from a Pure Heart. The heart of man is the center of his decision-making. It is the place where his thoughts and actions come together. A minister aiming to practice love must begin with the purification of his internal heart. A pure heart is a clean heart, and the heart is cleaned by the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:7, 9). He cleanses us with His blood (1 John 1:7). Also, just to be clear, this does not mean that Christian’s live stagnantly, but actively pursue godliness, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).
A pure heart is cultivated by a gospel-centered lifestyle. A man who is enthralled with the doctrines of grace and the Savior of grace grow in their ministerial love. This makes sense because Christ is the ultimate manifestation of love. His demonstration of love is seen in His self-sacrifice in the stead of sinners (Rom 5:8). Therefore, the more a minister seeks to understand and apply the Gospel the more he familiarizes himself with true self-sacrifice.
#2: Ministerial Love Comes from a Good Conscience. The second source of ministerial love is a good conscience. The conscience is a gift from God that is innate and universal (Rom 2:14–15). The conscience is the arena where we make moral judgment and decisions. Interestingly, the Pastoral Epistles use the term conscience frequently. When used with reference to the false teachers the term speaks of their destruction of their conscience leading to their moral misconduct (1 Tim 4:2).
For the believer, we must remember that the conscience can be strengthened or weakened. The single most contributing factor in shaping our conscience is Scripture. This makes it vital for Christians not merely immerse themselves in Scripture reading, but also biblical community. Other Christians can help us understand and apply Scripture and this is good for our conscience.
Therefore, Christian ministers must do their best to shape their conscience if they want to grow in ministerial love. They need to have legitimate accountability groups, read good books, and most importantly read and understand Scripture for personal growth and development.
#3: Ministerial Love comes from a Sincere Faith. The third source of ministerial love is a sincere faith. The concept of faith can also be understood as trust. In order for us to love others properly we need to display simple trust in the things of God and in not in our own wisdom. The call for a “sincere” faith means that we are free of hypocrisy. Believe it or not, there are people in ministry for different motives. People join for the pride, possessions, or prestige. True ministers love others because of their sincere faith in God.
In order for us to grow in our love for one another we must display a sincere faith in the things of God. Our own methodologies may seem more logical from an earthly perspective, but they may run against the grain of biblical logic (cf. 1 Cor 1:18ff). Trusting in how God has ordered the Christian life is important. Whether it is in how we structure the church, our methodology of gospel proclamation, accountability, etc. We must display sincere faith that God’s way is the proper way.
Those in ministry are loving their people when they trust God’s way, perhaps even in the face of internal opposition (cf. 2 Tim 2:24–26). Digging down deep and trusting God is a beautiful activity. Through ordinary obedience to His Word, God accomplishes divine works—He saves us and sanctifies us.
The practice of love seems simple enough, but committing ourselves to a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith is difficult work. It is a resolution that must be maintained year-after-year. We cannot and must not ever deviate from the simple path of love. Through Christ-like love God’s people love are cared for and instructed. It is God’s path and it is His resolution for us.