Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Aim of Our Charge is Love

I think St Timothy really got a charge out of St Paul’s letters to him, because he was constantly being charged to do this or that: “This charge I commit to you… I charge you to keep these rules… I charge you to keep the commandment unstained… I charge you to preach the word,” etc. Paul even charged Timothy to charge others: “…charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine…” Why all these charges, these urgent exhortations to lead his flock wisely and virtuously?

He gives the answer right in the beginning of his first Epistle: “the aim of our charge is love” (1Tim. 1:5). And not just love in general but “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.” This means that love requires personal holiness (a pure heart), honest and charitable dealings with others (a good conscience), all of which flows from one’s relationship to God (sincere faith).

It’s important that Paul made his aim clear in the beginning. The “Pastoral Epistles” (those to Timothy and Titus) contain a lot of instructions about the qualifications for Church ministers and various practical matters. It could seem that there is simply a concern for order (or even control) that doesn’t evidently have a whole lot to do with the Spirit-fired message of the Gospel of Jesus. But in fact it does, for the aim of Paul’s charge is love: purely, honestly, sincerely. The warnings he has to give are for the sake of the preservation of the Gospel from adulteration, so that it can bear its saving fruit in fullness.

And there are plenty of warnings. He makes it clear that without the pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith that are at the source of the love he enjoins, all manner of aberrations follow: disobedience, godlessness, murder, sodomy, lies—“and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (1:9-11). This is one reason the Church has always insisted on “sound doctrine,” something that those who commit the above sins find irrelevant to spiritual life.

So this is the charge, for Timothy and for you and me: “As for you…aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light…” (6:11-16).

The aim of all this is love—love for God and for each other, for the sake of the salvation of souls, for “certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith” (1:19), but we know that “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2:3-4). Let us realize that all the exhortations, warnings, and charges of Scripture, though they may be demanding and difficult, begin with love and end with salvation.