God's Commands Lead to Love

by Spiros Zodhiates

 "Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned."

For Paul, Jesus' emphasis on true love was foundational in the life of every believer. Speaking of his own ministry, the apostle declared "charity" (agpe\, selfless love) to be the perfect fulfillment of his God-ordained mission among humanity. Decades before Paul's letter to Timothy, our Lord unveiled the "new commandment" while with His disciples in the upper room: that they should love each other as He had loved them (John 13:34).

Now Paul, whose message stemmed directly from our Lord's command, was reminding his pupil that love fulfilled their spiritual duty among mankind. It was necessary for Timothy, as it is for every believer, to love fellow Christians despite their shortcomings. An old Gaelic proverb reads, "Faults are thick where love is thin." But the Word of God tells us that "love shall cover a multitude of sins" (1 Pet. 4:8 a.t.).

The apostle's message also agreed with the commandment which, according to Jesus and the Jews, was the greatest of all: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength" (Mark 12:30, cf. Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37, 38; Luke 10:27). Regarding the new commandment unfurled at His last supper, our Lord emphasized that He gave it to the disciples, a fact that links directly to two declarations occurring exclusively in John's writings.

First, the apostle noted that the Father gave His Son on the world's behalf because He loved the unbelievers within it (John 3:16). Secondly, John twice penned the phrase "God is love" in his first epistle (1 John 4:8, 16)-which suggests that the Trinity is the empowering force behind a believer when he loves both Christians and non-Christians. Therefore, the commandment that we believers love each other is vitally important because in so doing we are really manifesting God Himself to a lost and dying world that is searching for true love (cf. John 17:21).

Contrary to the self-centered aspirations of postmodern society, real love views itself as a sacred duty. Indeed, Christ's love overcame the shame of the crucifixion as He looked forward to the joy that would accompany His future relationship with believers (Heb. 12:2).

In 1 Timothy 1:5, the Greek noun translated "commandment" (paraggeli [3852], a charge) is only found four other times in the New Testament. The more common Greek word entole\ (a general command) is that which Jesus employed when introducing the new commandment in the upper room. Although paraggeli and entole\ are near synonyms, there is a slight difference in their individual usage.

entole ([1785]) and its verbal root entéllomai ([1781], to order, enjoin) most often refer to a general charge without delineating a specific course of action. For instance, Jesus, when speaking to the disciples, said, "You are my friends if you do whatsoever I command [entéllomai] you" (John 15:14). Later He declared, "These things I command [entéllomai] you, that you love one another" (John 15:17) which indicated that love crowned the pyramid of His wide-ranging commands.

However, Paul employed paraggeli (specific command) in 1 Timothy 1:5 because he was emphasizing Timothy's individual responsibility over the congregation he was pastoring.

After Jesus ascended to the Father and the apostles were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1-2), they wasted no time in spreading the gospel throughout the surrounding region (Acts 4:32,33). Their spiritual embassage caused quite a stir among the religious leaders whose unjust murder of Jesus was still freshly stamped on their conscience. In an effort to squelch the movement that had troubled them from its inception, the priests and Sadducees hauled Christ's followers before the Sanhedrin in order to divert them from preaching the gospel (Acts 4:1-22). Instead of stifling the believers' witness and good works, the Jews' threatening only motivated the blood-washed band to intensify their testifying (Acts 4:23-31).

Sometime later the high priest arrested the apostles again, an imprisonment that came to an abrupt halt when God supernaturally opened the doors and told His children to preach publicly in the Temple court (Acts 5:17-25). When the priests and Temple officers were apprised as to what had happened, they detained the apostles for interrogation once again, ostensibly for a peaceful dialogue (Acts 5:26).

Facing his antagonists, the high priest demanded, "Did not we straitly command you that you should not teach in this name?" (Acts 5:28). Interestingly, both paraggéllo\ (to command specifically) and paraggeli (specific command) occur in the high priest's inquiry, the noun immediately preceding the verb, which was rendered "straitly command" in the King James Version. In a sense, the religious leaders "specifically commanded" the apostles with a "specific command" not to teach in the name of Christ.

Of interest is the fact that the religious leaders' command (paraggeli) was aimed against the believers' teaching (didsko\) the principles of Christ. Yet Paul's reason for writing to Timothy was that he instruct his flock in the very principles which the Jews' ruling body attempted to invalidate. While the apostle reminded his pupil that agpe\ love should be every teacher's main objective, the high priest and Sadducees disregarded the greatest command because it did not concur with their sinful and selfish disposition.

The English language, which sometimes lacks in specificity when compared with the Greek, employs the single word "love" to describe the concordant affections and dispositions between God and man as well humanity's varying relationships. On the other hand, the Greek language describes these affections with four different words, two of which appear in the New Testament: agpe\ (selfless love) and phili (friendship). The latter only appears once in the Greek Scriptures, when James employed it in his warning against being in "friendship with the world" (James 4:4; a.t.).

The two other words for "love" delineated in the Greek language which do not appear in Scripture are storgé\ (parental love) and éros (sexual desire). The adjective storgos ([794], without familial love), a derivative of storgé, does occur in Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3, rendered in both places "without natural affection."

There are three criteria that must be met in order for agpe\ love to have an ever-broadening effect in the believer's life: a cleansed heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. Let us consider each of these concepts individually.

A Cleansed Heart

In speaking of a cleansed heart, the translators of the King James Version have rendered the Greek adjective kathars (2513) as "pure," yet I believe "cleansed" would be a more appropriate interpretation. Kathars is the adjective which Jesus employed when, in the midst of His upper room discourse, He declared the eleven to be "clean" by the word He had spoken to them (John 15:3).

Interpreting kathars as "cleansed" also agrees with the purpose Paul was writing to Timothy, that he build up the Ephesian congregation in the basics of Christianity (v. 3). Therefore, if love is the terminus of Christ's new commandment, it has to grow out of a heart initially cleansed of sin. However, this inceptive cleansing does not mark the end of a believer's growth but only the beginning. Once a person places his faith in the Lord, the process of sanctification (hagiasms, purification) begins with the washing away of his sin nature and then continues throughout his entire existence here on earth. This process of purification will come to an end when Christ appears (1 John 3:1-3, cf. Matt. 5:48).

God places great value on the heart (kardi), calling it a fountain of life that must be guarded carefully (Prov. 4:23). Therefore, when the believer surrenders his heart to Christ's cleansing power, it is a picture of intense love. Yielding her heart to our Lord was the desire of nineteenth century poet Christina Rossetti:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what can I give Him: give my heart.

(Rossetti, "In the Bleak Midwinter")

A Good Conscience

Now let us consider the conscience (sunede\sis [4893]), which we will later connect with the modifying agaths (benevolently good). A good conscience is vital if a believer wishes to be a conduit of God's love. The noun sunede\sis is a compound word comprising the preposition sn ([4862], together with, often implying spiritual union; Rom. 6:8; 8:32), and ede\sis ([n.f.], knowledge) which comes from the verb edo\ ([1492], to see and perceive). Only God is capable of granting this perception because edo\ connotes divine revelation that enables mere men and women to understand the spiritual significance of human events.

Although sunede\sis is typically translated "conscience," it could also be termed "consciousness," especially when it is coupled with the adjective agaths (benevolently good). (For further exegesis on this topic, see my book Conscience, Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1989.)

The believer's heavenly Father is a God who benevolently gives (John 3:16, cf. Matt. 5:45; James 1:17) and those who are joined to (sn) Him and have taken on His nature (2 Pet. 1:4) begin to be aware of and concerned over the needs of humanity also. God's love can never be separated from His giving. In fact, His generosity also extends to unbelievers who receive more than they deserve even when they are condemned for their unbelief (Rom. 2:4).

Sincere Faith

At times it is easy for a person to portray a confident exterior while inwardly being wracked with fear and anxiety. This is the kind of faith devoid of true love. On the other hand, real faith must be "sincere" (anupkritos [505], literally "unhypocritical"). The word used in the King James Version is "unfeigned," but that is simply an archaic adjective meaning "true" or "real." Displaying sincere faith means that a person is confident without being pretentious. It is unmasked trust in God's enabling power.

No man is immune to hypocrisy-everyone has exhibited it at one time or another. And such actions show a lack of faith because we place more confidence in man's opinion of us than in seeking God's pleasure. Seneca, a man highly regarded in first-century Rome, composed a volume of letters to Lucilius now known as his "moral epistles." In one of these letters Seneca lauds the beauty of poverty and encourages Lucilius to live like a beggar. While praising penury, however, Seneca was living like a king in Caesar's palace. In fact, he may have been the greatest money-lender and usurer in the empire. May no believer be guilty of such hypocrisy.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul remarked that one quality exceeds all the others which remain in this dispensation of God: "Now abideth faith [pstis], hope [elps, expectation], love [agpe\], these three, but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13; a.t.). Truly, love is the completion of God's law and only those who are abiding in that love may reach His heavenly realm.

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