In this first chapter of the first of two letters from Paul to Timothy, I appreciate how Paul’s greeting to Timothy anchors us in context and reminds us that this is a realio, trulio letter from Paul—a letter meant to be shared around with the people and churches Timothy interfaced with and which has survived all this time for us as well. So what are we to glean from a letter between two guys, two thousand years ago?
What jumped out at me was verse five: “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.”
I find this instruction of Paul’s to be particularly compelling in light of his words in verses eight and nine: “We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy …”
Now, certainly Paul isn’t saying that there exists anyone who does “what is right” all the time. No one is perfect. But I think he is saying that once we dedicate ourselves to Christ, we usually clean up a lot of the big stuff and try to do what is right in all aspects of our lives. An ongoing process, to be sure.
But Paul is saying that his real point isn’t about believers following the law, because we’re doing this already. His real desire is that we be filled with love.
And what kind of love? One that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. We wouldn’t have those three things, and thus the love that is born out of them, if we weren’t already doing what was right.
So what does this kind of love look like in my life? Love from a pure heart is not selfish, it is not manipulative. It doesn’t require quid pro quo. I don’t think we can manufacture that love. Paul says “be filled with”—this is a passive construction; someone else is doing the filling. Love rooted in genuine faith is love that comes through us from God himself. We have faith that he is who he says he is, that he loves us with a pure heart. And then we pass that love on—with no diminution of what we get to retain. What an impact we could have individually and corporately if “all believers” were filled with that kind of love! We’d be individuals and a community that attracted people, that was safe, that would stand with others in difficulties and in pain. That kind of love would open doors and open hearts.
Lord, fill me with your divine love, and help me to pass it on.