1 Tim. 1:3-7
“Teach Truth. Love Well” is the motto or tag line of Dallas Theological Seminary. It conveys the ideal that biblical truth, when properly understood, is best manifested in Christian love. Yet Christians struggle with the apparent disconnect between faith and practice in our lives.
In 1 Tim. 1:3-7, we see the importance of right doctrine in Paul’s instructions to Timothy to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” (v. 3). The false teaching in Ephesus attracted some to develop an unhealthy preoccupation with “myths” and “genealogies,” which stirred up controversies and meaningless speculations and hindered “God’s work” (vv. 4, 6). The heresy was wrong not only in substance, but actually contributed to the deterioration of church life. The conjunction of teaching and behaviour is evident in Paul’s statement that “the goal of this command” is love (v. 5). Given the importance of right doctrine or teaching, one might have expected that the goal of instruction would be doctrinal correctness. Instead it is love. This is the first occurrence in the Pastoral Epistles of the blend of beliefs and character, of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, sound doctrine and moral living.
Prior to my ordination in 1989, I had preached 1 Cor. 13 on Christian love many times. But once I was tasked to shepherd a local church, it became one of the most perplexing passages to me in the entire Bible. Why? It’s actually not difficult to interpret. The passage is challenging because it’s easier to be orthodox in one’s beliefs than it is to be loving in one’s Christian witness.
To be sure, knowledge of Bible and theology is important to help us cultivate spiritual wisdom and to minister to others. However, spiritual maturity comes only through years of labour in the vineyard of the Lord. I’m convinced that academic credentials do not guarantee ministerial competence.
I also realised in my early years in ministry that people under my care were less concerned about my orthodoxy, though I could never compromise it. They just wanted to know if I really cared for them. Once they knew I genuinely cared for them, not as mere subjects for evangelism or discipleship, they became much more willing to listen to me expound biblical and theological orthodoxy. Truth and love are not either-or propositions. They are always held in tension in the Bible and should be lived out in life.