Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Heart Of Being Together For The Gospel

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
1 Timothy 1:3-7
Lord willing, I will be traveling to Louisville, Kentucky next Monday evening to attend the second ever (first was in 2006) Together For the Gospel conference. T4G is hosted by four men (L-R in photo below: C.J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever) who are all prominent church leaders in America and dear friends to one another. They came up with the idea of this conference because they love to fellowship with one another and discuss the great and glorious truths of the gospel despite the many areas of theology where they do not agree. Indeed, it is the very fact that they have these differences in belief over certain points of theology (over what's going to happen when Jesus returns, whether all the spiritual gifts are all still active today, whether we should baptize infants, etc.) that makes the gospel of Jesus Christ shine so brightly in triumphing over their disagreements. The different colors that are painted around it serve to magnify the gospel's distinguished hue.

I am currently taking my second installment of Pastoral Ministry, for which we are studying in much depth Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus. We spent last night studying 1 Timothy 1. Paul opens the letter by telling Timothy to charge those in Ephesus not to teach anything other than sound doctrine. Many who were teaching had wandered off into all kinds of heresy because they were getting carried away with genealogies and myths. I was reminded of what Together For the Gospel stands for when we began discussing what kinds of issues might be classified as what Paul calls "vain discussion" (v.6).

How do we avoid being carried away into such vain discussions? There isn't one right answer to this question but I think that we are beginning to go down the path of vain discussions when our theological conversations lose sight of what Paul says to the Corinthian church is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3, 4): that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. I love this document that the brothers who are hosting T4G have crafted that highlights what they believe to be of first importance based on how each of these points affects our understanding of the gospel of Christ crucified and risen and its propagation in the world today.

But what do we do when we see others being carried away into such vain discussions and, even worse, false teaching? Paul says that such people have swerved from and wandered from the goal of the charge: love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (v.5). So he is telling Timothy, "Bring them back! Bring them back to where they are supposed to be!" Timothy is to, if you will, jump off the course so that he can go get those who have somehow gotten away from it and bring them back so that they will be heading again toward the destination. And do you see the danger? The danger is that, in trying to bring back those who are wandering, Timothy could lose complete sight of the destination as well.

How easy is it for us to see those who are in terrible theological error and sit in judgment of them or hit them over the head with "sound doctrine"? I know how easy it is because I've been there too many times. But what I don't realize when I do this is that in trying to restore those who have lost sight of the goal, I lose sight of the goal myself because the last thing I have in those moments are love, a pure heart, a good conscience, or sincere faith. Let us beware of losing sight of the aim in our attempts to bring others to it.

The aim of our charge is clear: love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. Love for God above all and love for people. This is the heart of being Together For the Gospel. And the reality is that we cannot produce this in ourselves, let alone in others. In the infinite wisdom of God, He has ordained that those who are His true ministers would cultivate this kind of a heart by sitting at table with those who don't have love, a pure heart, a good conscience, or sincere faith. We shouldn't be surprised, should we? This was the life that Jesus lived. And in those moments when I am not acting out of any of these things (yes, it still happens), He still sits at table with me.

So may God do this miraculous work in the brothers who are coming Together For The Gospel next week. I don't think there is a conference that I have been more excited about. And I don't think there is a conference that for me has been more important. I will try to post updates about the sermons (maybe I shouldn't have signed myself up for that =) ). Please pray that God would shine the light of the knowledge of the Glory of Christ more brightly in our hearts and enable us to exult in the gospel of His blessed Son so that we would become more like the Christ we are beholding. Pray that we would abound all the more in the love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. This will be easy for us when those we are sitting at table with during the week love and exalt all the same truths we do. But then we will return home to sit at table with those who don't. And when that happens, may we not prove to have spent three days in Kentucky in vain.
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
1 Timothy 1:5

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