As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. 1 Timothy 1:3-7 NIV
I once knew a man who didn’t think doctrine mattered, in fact, he believed it was harmful. I remember how he tried to warn me away from studying theology. I was honestly really disappointed by his attitude because he was someone I respected for his enthusiasm and love for the Lord, and because I had just discovered the world of theology and I was smitten. Needless to say, one degree in theology later and another under way, I didn’t heed his advice.
Since then, the closest thinking I’ve came across similar to this view (and its quite far away from it) was from someone who thought the Bible and academia went together like pickles and ice cream, ironically he was himself working towards a Bachelors Degree in Theology.
To be fair to this position, the people who think in these (and usually less extreme) ways prioritise a vibrant, experiential relationship with God which they tend to see as in some ways at odds with serious thinking about who God is. This concern is one I sympathise with because I know I’m prone to equating knowledge about God with loving God (which should be, but often isn’t, the case). And I know, from personal experience, that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1 NIV).
At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who know a lot about the Bible and theology (or think they do, cf. 1 Corinthians 8:2) but, to be honest, they’re kind of jerks or just unpleasant to be around (again, speaking from personal experience!) because all that knowledge has filled their brains but it has yet to filter down deep into their hearts. They’ve forgotten, or simply not yet realised, that is isn’t those who know a lot about God who are known by God but, rather, it is those who love God who are, in fact, the ones known by God (1 Corinthians 8:3).
Again, to be fair, the more theologically minded among us, those of us with our bookshelves filled with myriads of books (or our friends, as they’re affectionately called – in private), we’re not against experiencing God in deeply emotional ways (generally) but we are aware of historical excesses that have resulted from a lack of understanding concerning Scripture and God’s usual means of operating in our lives: through the mundane regular reading of Scripture, prayer, church attendance and Christian friendship, etc. Or we are slightly more reserved in our personalities, perhaps preferring longer periods of solitude for reflection and discussions with a few similarly inclined friends to rambunctious worship services and raucous get-togethers with large groups of people. Even though knowledge has the danger of inflating our egos we also believe with Paul that we are “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds” (Romans 12:2 NIV).
However, what both groups need to keep in mind is that we don’t have to choose either/or but instead learn to grow in appreciation and practice of both approaches to living as Christians because God is just as concerned about us knowing the truth about him as he is about us loving him from the depth of our hearts. We all fall somewhere along that spectrum between knowledge and experience, but by God’s grace to us through Jesus we can grow in both of these areas because God has given us a brain and a heart (literally and metaphorically). Like the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman in L.F. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz we tend to be in need of one more than the other because God has given us each different strengths and allowed us to experience different weaknesses so his strength could be manifest in our lives as he “[transforms us] into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV).
It is this concern, the wedding together of love and theology, knowledge about God and experience of God, which the Apostle Paul addresses at the beginning of his letter to Timothy because loving doctrine should be loving doctrine. Thinking correctly about who God is should cause us to develop deep affection for God and others which in turn should find expression in concrete, real life ways.
In Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering, false teachers had infiltrated the church and their false teaching, their bad doctrine, was infecting the congregation with the result that people stopped acting in love towards one another and instead got bogged down in controversial speculation and meaningless talk because they became concerned about myths and genealogies instead of God’s act of sacrificial love in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
When the gospel is displaced in our lives we too become easily distracted by all sorts of things,
“Who were the sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4?”
“How old is the earth?”
“When will Jesus return?”
And other questions we simply don’t know the answer to because God hasn’t told us. Moreover, we can get tangled up in all kinds of false teaching such as denying that on the cross Jesus bore God’s wrath in our place, or believing that somehow we can merit favour with God by our good works.
When we lose focus on the centrality of the gospel as the foundation of our doctrine and how we live, falling into false teaching or simply becoming unceasingly distracted by peripheral questions (which have no answers), we are no longer able to fulfil God’s command to love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith because we will no longer be incarnating the sacrificial love of God in our lives.
We lose focus on the centrality of the gospel when we fail to understand the doctrines taught in Scripture, thereby making us susceptible to every kind of false teaching. However, we also lose focus on the centrality of the gospel when we get caught up in simply accumulating knowledge but never taking the time to pray that knowledge deep into our hearts.
We each have our own proclivities, whether that be not wanting to take the time to learn what God has revealed about himself in Scripture or being satisfied with simply having learned what God has revealed about himself in Scripture but neglecting to allow all that knowledge to transform our hearts so we really, experientially, love God and others. The good news is that God doesn’t want to leave us as we are, he wants to make us whole, he wants to make us complete, he wants to join together our knowledge of him with a deep, heartfelt love for him and others.
To do this he has given us the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sins, reveal our weaknesses, and empower repentance and change. He has also given us one another, with our various strengths and weaknesses, to be instruments of the Holy Spirit in one another’s lives as we challenge and love another. If we want to become whole people, who know who God is and love him, then we need one another: to see our weaknesses in light of the strengths of others and to have those same weaknesses bolsters by those very same strengths as we serve one another has God has so gifted us.
So where do your strengths and weaknesses lie?
How can you serve others using the strengths and gifts God has given you?
In what ways can you use your weaknesses as an opportunity to grow in Christ and be served by the strengths of others?