The Goal of Our Teaching

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:3-7, ESV)

What are you aiming for as you lead your Bible study group? What would you love to see as a result of your teaching – results that would cause you to celebrate and give thanks to God? Is it your students’ greater knowledge of the Bible or a growing understanding of theology? Is it greater obedience to God? For me, there have been plenty of times where my main goal was simply to help people understand a passage of Scripture better, and help them begin to see some implications for how they live their lives. That’s not a bad goal, and sometimes, given the backgrounds and ages of those we teach, basic scripture understanding is an important and necessary first step. But if I stop there I am missing out on the larger picture and the greater goal God has for us. It is an easy mistake to make, but Paul knows better.

What I love about this passage is how Paul focuses very clearly and simply on three goals for the teaching ministry he urges Timothy to pursue. But first, he warns Timothy about the teaching of some who focus on strange doctrines, myths, and genealogies, dismissing it as the kind of speculation that is not helpful for God’s purposes. He also warns against the fruitless discussion of some who want to be seen as respected Bible teachers, even though they really don’t know what they are talking about. They love the respect of the community that comes with being a teacher, and they want to appear to be smart and to know a lot about spiritual things, but the end result of their teaching is useless at best, and potentially dangerous to those they teach. God, save us from ever being like this!

By contrast, Paul focuses on three connected goals, as relevant for us today in our teaching ministries as they were for Paul and Timothy. All three focus on an inner transformation of the person that God can use to shape their lives toward greater faithfulness:

Love from a Pure Heart. As beneficial as a growing knowledge of the Bible can be, it is not the ultimate goal. It is a means toward the greater goal of the transformation of the heart, that leads to more fully living out the greatest commandment of loving God with all we have and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that mere knowledge “puffs up,” but love “builds up.” Paul wants his teaching to lead to the kind of growing knowledge of God that results in greater love for God and for the people God brings into our lives. If we miss this, we miss the whole point of teaching God’s Word.

A Good Conscience. Our teaching of the Bible is meant to help us develop consciences better tuned in to align with God’s moral character. The better we understand and accept what God identifies as morally right and wrong, what God loves and hates, what God desires for us and for those around us, the better we can live the way God wants us to live as His children. Our consciences have been formed by our family experiences, the culture around us, and what we have been rewarded and punished for. As we study the Bible together, as we welcome God’s instruction, God can train our consciences to better reflect His character.

A Sincere Faith. God desires to deepen our faith, trust, confidence, and dependence on Him that leads to greater obedience to Him. As we learn more of the Bible story and teachings, it needs to lead us to greater faith in Christ, a faith that is lived out more naturally in our daily lives as we take new steps of obedience in our choices and actions. This “sincere faith” leads us to acts of love and compassion toward others, seeking and offering forgiveness as needed, pursuing justice and reconciliation in our fellowships and our communities. Becoming “rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18) is an outflow of a heart purified and grown in its capacity to love others (think of the Grinch in the popular Christmas story), a conscience shaped by God to better reflect His character, and a genuine faith that leads to acts of love, justice, and mercy.

We may not see these kinds of inner transformation in any given Bible study session, but they are the goals we need to pursue, and we celebrate the signs of small progress along the way. How do your typical teaching goals compare with these three goals that Paul urges Timothy to pursue? What adjustments do you need to make in your teaching to better pursue these goals? Whatever it is, begin with your next lesson!

Father, I know that you desire the inner transformation of our very nature and character, not just greater knowledge of the Bible and acts of obedience. Through your Holy Spirit and your Word, please work in me, that my own heart is purified, that I may love you and others more fully, that my conscience becomes more trustworthy because it matches your own character better, that my faith becomes so strong and real that it moves me to act as you would in this world out of the love that you are growing in me. Then, may my teaching reflect that work you have done in my own heart and be used by your Spirit to accomplish these same goals in the lives of those you have given me to teach. For this I will give you thanks and praise! Amen.

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