Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Goal of Christian Instruction

Human behavior is a fascinating subject. Why do we do the things we do? A large work of study seems to indicate that human beings behave the way they behave because they value the consequences that particular behavior affords. A man may spend a great deal of time watching his professional sports team because he derives a sense of satisfaction from watching his team engage in that competition. When his team is engaged in a competition, you can count on him to observe the match so long as it is within his power to do so and, providing there are no other behaviors available that may provide for him a more valued reward. This is the nature of human beings and of human behavior. Not only is this true for non-Christians, it is equally true for Christians. This is also true of the apostle Paul who himself had a goal in mind when he sent his letters to a particular audience. Clearly, Paul valued his work and he deeply enjoyed the rewards of his behavior. Of course, the difference between what one actually values and enjoys versus what one should value and enjoy are two entirely different matters.

In I Timothy 1:5 we find the following revelation: τὸ δὲ τέλος τῆς παραγγελίας ἐστὶν ἀγάπη ἐκ καθαρᾶς καρδίας καὶ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς καὶ πίστεως ἀνυποκρίτου. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a genuine faith. Initially two things jump off the page when I read this verse: 1. Paul was instructing Timothy. 2. Paul’s instructions had a very specific goal. The Greek word paraggelias appears five times in the NT. Paul uses it three times while Luke accounts for the remaining two. The word is a derivative of the Greek word paraggello which means to order, to command, and to proclaim. Luke uses this derivative in Acts 17:30 when he says that God is declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent. This indicates that Timothy would have understood “instruction” in a much differently than we do in modern times. To us, instruction has nothing to do with imperatives either implicitly or otherwise. For us, an imperative is always a kind of instruction. However, we seldom think of instruction in and of itself as an imperative. When we read this verse in our modern English translations through the grid of our culture, we tend to weaken the meaning of Paul’s words. The Greek word paraggelias is translated command twice, commandment once, and strict orders once. Out of the five occurrences, only once is it translated instructions. The general thrust of this word is an instruction, command, or proclamation given by someone in a position of authority. In other words, we take for granted that the person receiving the instructions will comply. For Paul, the possibility that Timothy would not receive his instructions did not exist. The presumption was that Timothy would acknowledge and appropriate his authoritative instructions. This is remarkable different from how most professing Christians view Paul’s instructions today.
Secondly, Paul had a goal for his instructions. He was not aimlessly writing Timothy to transfer information. The Greek word telos signifies the purpose of an event or state, viewed in terms of its results. Paul was not interested is merely passing along some information to Timothy. He had a goal in mind for his instructions. Telos appears some 40 times in the NT. It is translated end sixty percent of the time. The word enjoys wide usage by numerous NT authors. It appears in every gospel. Six times the word is translated “outcome.” In Rom. 6:22 Paul says, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” The idea is that Paul has a very specific end that he wishes to accomplish by issuing these instructions to Timothy. He sends the message to Timothy with clear deliberateness. What is the goal for Paul’s instruction? Paul does not leave us at the mercy of sinful speculation. He tells us expressly that his instructions should result in three specific behaviors.

Paul intends his instructions produce the kind of love that can only find its source in God. He says, “Love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a genuine faith.” The idea here is to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard – to love, to regard with affection, loving concern, love.” [Louw-Nida 25.43] Modern American Christians hardly understand the nature of the love discussed in Scripture. In modern America and the west, love is most often confused with emotions. The romantic fantasy only serves to add extreme perversion to the true nature of godly love, which is, true love. In Greco-Roman culture, love was a bond or an attachment to a group or a person. It may or, may not have been accompanied by emotions or affection. [Pilch & Malina, Handbook of Biblical Social Values] At the same time, the Mediterranean culture had and has issues of its own in terms of recognizing the relationship between love and act. Jesus was constantly tying love to actions. This was unusual for that specific mindset. Nevertheless, it is clear that one does not meet the obligation to love by feeling a certain way about someone. Action is the underlying theme of love in the NT not to mention throughout all of Scripture. To love someone is to have a certain disposition toward that person. While it includes acting to help when a need arises, it is more than that. Paul told us we could actually give all our goods to feed the poor and still lack love! That is a foreign concept to the Western mindset. We think that philanthropy equals love. Obviously, it is not: at least not according to Paul.
Love is much more than outward doing and even inward feelings. Primarily, this love is ground in a pure heart. The Greek word katharas concerns a ritual purity. The idea is “pure in the eyes of God.” Ritual purity is far more complex than this blog can treat. Suffice it to say that New Testament purity differs remarkably from the concept of purity in Western culture. David deSilva writes,

A second prominent line urges us to abstain from polluting the church, keeping the holy congregation without blemish. Christians are put on their guard against defiling the body of believers with their own persistence in one sin or another, or with bringing the lies of the world into the church, thus defiling its vision, hindering its mission and muting its witness. Since disruption of the (social) body is a source of defilement, it is also incumbent on each believer to abstaining from the murmuring, the grumbling, the wrangling and the power plays that pollute a congregation.[1]
The idea is that the kind of love Paul is hoping for is one that comes from a heart that God says is right! Only a regenerate heart is capable of such love. Regeneration then, is a prerequisite for this love. However, such regeneration does not guarantee that we are necessarily there yet! What it does provide for is the necessary framework and presuppositions for one to move to this kind of love. On the other hand, rejection of this idea and behavior that clearly demonstrates this love is absent, hasn’t even begun, could be a clear indication that Christ also is absent. Read John’s first letter if you want to know more about that.

The second characteristic of God-approved love is that it emanates from a good conscience. The Greek is quite simply, “suneideseos aagathes.” This word conveys a sense of moral sensitivity. The word appears 30 times in the NT and 29 of those times it is rendered conscience in the NASB. In some languages, it may be rendered ‘the inner voice’ or ‘the voice in one’s heart.’ The term conscience in this case should cannot rightly be separated from the Greek term agathos.

b) As a t.t. “good conscience” (1 Tim 1:5, 19; cf. Acts 23:1; 1 Pet 3:16, 21; Heb 13:18) belongs to the late period of the NT. Reacting against Gnosticism, the Pastorals call for conduct that corresponds to a faith that takes creation seriously and to the love commandment (1 Tim 1:14). “Thus the traditional parenesis with its household codes, lists of virtues and vices, and its emphasis on the value of marriage and family and on the indispensability for communal life of the normal virtues of good citizenship. Thus the demand for ‘good works’ (1 Tim 2:10; Titus 2:14) and the good or pure conscience (1 Tim 1:5; 3:9)” (P. Vielhauer, Geschichte der urchristlichen Literatur [1975] 234).[2]
That a good conscience refers to good in a moral sense in this context is unquestionable. Paul uses the same construction in 1:19 where he says the opposite has resulted in disaster for some. Throughout the pastorals in nearly every other instance he uses the word agathos, he does so in reference to works. Paul is seeking the kind of love that emanates from a “good conscience.” This is a conscience of the highest moral quality.

Finally Paul seeks the kind of love that has a sincere faith at its substructure. Rather than focus on pisteos, which is the Greek word for faith, I will spend some time on the word anupokritou. This word appears six times in the Greek NT. It stems from the same Greek work for hypocrisy with the addition of the Greek preposition anti which means against. Quite literally, this is a faith is that is “not a play acting” kind of faith. It refers to being with pretense. It is a faith that is real. The word means that which is genuine and sincere, and hence lacking in pretense of show. Of this six occurrences in the Greek NT, it is rendered sincere three times, without hypocrisy twice and genuine once. Two-thirds of its usage occur in Paul and twice in the pastorals. The idea is that genuine faith is the necessary basis for the kind of love God approves. Genuine faith produces fruit, good deeds, and a clean heart with godly intentions.
The goal of Christian instruction is love. It is the God kind of love. Standing at the very head of this love is a love for God. From this love for God, this love from a pure heart, a moral conscience, and a genuine faith, flows love for the Christian group, the community if you will. Love begins in regeneration, visible at first only to God for God is the one who implants it. But like a volcano, it cannot be held invisible. It is active and her deeds, as she grows within the heart of the believer, only become more and more obvious to those around her/him.

[1] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity : Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 314.
[2] Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, vol. 1, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990-), 7.

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