Cistern or well?
5-7The whole point of what we're urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God. Those who fail to keep to this point soon wander off into cul-de-sacs of gossip. They set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven't the remotest idea of what they're holding forth with such imposing eloquence. 8-11It's true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say. It's obvious, isn't it, that the law code isn't primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life, sex, truth, whatever! They are contemptuous of this great Message I've been put in charge of by this great God. (I Tim. 1:5-11)
In our passage this morning, you will see that Paul opens his letter to Timothy, a young man of God, called to work with the church at Ephesus, with a reminder that love is to be at the core of the work he is doing. He describes this love as uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith - open to God. It is quite plain to us that love that is guided by self-interest is really not love at all - it is lust. Lust does not always have to have a sexual connotation - it is that drive or desire within us that "makes" us pursue a certain course of action or behavior. Lust is at the center of self-directed pursuits and Paul reminds Timothy that a body of believers cannot grow well if the only focus that its members have is what pleases them, what satisfies their hunger, etc. We must be "other minded" in our focus.
Paul warns Timothy that a life that maintains a focus on what benefits "self" soon drifts off into activities that are neither Christ-like nor exemplary of the love God has bestowed on each of us. He reminds us that it is easy to drift into the pattern of gossiping about others, holding ourselves up as self-proclaimed religious experts and imposing our own expectations for performance on those around us when we have not placed Christ at the center of our lives. Eventually, if we pursue this self-centered pattern of life long enough, we will begin to "run roughshod" over God and all those in our path.
No wonder Paul opens his letter to Timothy, a young and impressionable believer called to help a new church grow in the grace of God, with such a heart-searching warning to consistently examine our heart-focus. If heart-focus is off, the entire course of action we take is headed in that direction. Ever attend a church where a bunch of people are "in attendance" but there just seems to be a lack of clarity about what God is doing in the midst of that congregation? The parking lot may be filled, giving the outward appearance that it is a vibrant and growing body of believers, but the pews are filled with individuals who are not on the same page! When that occurs, the church fails to reach its community as it should.
The responsibility for heart-focus is not the pastor of the church - yes, he guides or leads by example, but he has no control over our individual hearts. Only the individual believer has that control - if we neglect to examine our own heart-focus on a consistent basis, we may be contributing to the lack of effectiveness of our own local body of believers. If we really begin to examine our heart-motivations in the actions we take, the words we speak, and even the thoughts that demand our attention, we may just find that we are living with some "contamination" in our love-life with Jesus. His desire is that we allow him to free us of that contamination and to purify our heart motives. In so doing, we become wells of life instead of cisterns of disease. Let God examine your heart today for any sign of contamination - his love is just dying to show through to a hurting world all around you!