As much as we gather to sing praises to God and to pray for one another, much of what we do as churches is to teach. This teaching takes different forms: large group, small group, and one-on-one. It uses different methods: sermons, Sunday School lessons, books, and videos. Yet, what is our goal in teaching?
Paul wrote to Timothy, who he urged to stay on in Ephesus, to encourage the church and its teachers away from false and divisive teachings. They were to avoid clinging to “myths and endless genealogies” for such “breeds disputes” (1 Timothy 1:3-4).
Rather, Paul urged “the instruction in faith that comes from God.” Then Paul gave us the goal of such God-centered, faith-building teaching:
The goal of such instruction is love—the love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. (1:5)
The goal was of a deep spiritual maturity in purity, character, and Christ-ward trust, with this maturity producing love. Such should be our goal as well.
Love, throughout Scripture, has three-directions as found in the greatest commandment: Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. So there is our love for God, love for our fellow Christian neighbors, and love for our non-Christian neighbors.
Our love for God is found in our desire for him and desire to obey him. We love God when we exalt him as supreme in our lives and when from that exaltation we obey him. This is why Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Of course, as John wrote later in his letter, we love because we are first loved by God. His love manifested in our hearts through his Spirit and word produces a deepening love for him that leads us to want to obey him. The closer we draw to God in our relationship with him, the more we will desire to do his will.
Our love for our Christian neighbors is found in our desire to bond together as family. This is true fellowship. We look at each other through Jesus as those who belong to one another. So we long to know each other more, we long to help each other grow in our journey away from sin and toward Jesus, we weep with those who weep, we rejoice with those who rejoice, we welcome one another, and we serve one another. As fellow followers of Jesus, we should long to know each other with the depth of family. When we call each other brother or sister, it is not to be mere words, but the overflow of love.
Our love for our non-Christian neighbors is found in our desire to meet their needs, including their greatest need: to know Jesus. So we set aside preferences and comforts to serve them. We take time to get to know them. We pray for opportunities to speak to them about the love and grace of Jesus, and we take hold of such opportunities that arise. We are to see them not as a nuisance to our comfort or an enemy to our way of life, but as the living and breathing mission that God has given us. We love them because God so loved the world…
These three directions of love should be ours and growing. That is the aim of our teaching. John echoed Paul’s thought in his second letter when he wrote: “I was delighted when I found some of your children walking in the truth, just as we received the commandment from the Father. And now, dear Lady, I ask you…that we should love one another” (2 John 4-5).
We can know the deepest truths of scripture, but if we lack love then we have missed the point. Truth and love are to walk hand in hand. If our teaching as churches produces anything less than a growing love as we share the truth, then we need to reevaluate what and how we teach.