Love is the Purpose of the Command

Identifying the Command

Paul wrote two letters of training and encouragement to a younger church leader named Timothy. At the outset of his first letter, he explains that “the purpose of the command is love” (1 Timothy 1:5). But what command is he talking about? Here are five options:

  • Option 1: The great command (Mt. 22:36-40)
  • Option 2: The command to be an apostle (1 Tim. 1:1)
  • Option 3: The exhortation that Paul gave to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3a)
  • Option 4: The command Timothy was to give to distracted teachers (1 Tim. 1:3b)
  • Option 5: Some other command known only to Paul and Timothy

Which option do you believe is correct? If you’re reading in a cursory manner, you might assume that Option 1 is the easy answer. After all, love for God and man is the summation of all of God’s commands. Isn’t that what Paul is talking about?

But wait. What about the context? Does Paul refer to any command in the opening verses of this letter? He does! First, he mentions in 1 Timothy 1:1 the command of God for him to be an apostle. But by v.5, he has moved on from this detail. Next, in 1 Timothy 1:3, he mentions an instance in which he urged Timothy to continue serving in the church at Ephesus. But he describes this as an “exhortation” and not a “command.”

This brings us to the second half of 1 Timothy 1:3, which states the purposes for why Paul urged Timothy to remain in Ephesus. He wanted him to give a “charge” to certain people. This word “charge” is the same word that Paul uses two verses later in 1 Timothy 1:5, the word “command.” Therefore it is most likely that love is the purpose of this command, the command Timothy was supposed to give to certain people.

Understanding the Command

Charge [command] some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. (1 Timothy 1:3-4)

As in Ephesus, there is potential in any church for some people to teach useless and irrelevant things, promoting them as important Christian doctrine. When this happens, a pastor is responsible to say no. He is obligated to say, “Don’t teach that here.” In the church at Ephesus, some were teaching Jewish mythical tales and speculative genealogies of human origins, angels and so on. Teaching like this captures attention and raises curiosity, giving a false impression of special knowledge and insight. Today, we encounter a kaleidoscope of fanciful, trendy tangents such as: conspiracy theories, to-heaven-and-back testimonials, charismatic experiences, Bible translation myths and dietary trends.

Teaching that varies from this guidepost wanders away from the love of God into the sinkhole of Satan’s deception.

Topics like this sell books, but they don’t build up the church of God in faith. They spawn divisions and arguments instead. And that’s why Paul says that the purpose of this command is love. By guarding a church from useless, unbiblical teaching fads, a pastor encourages Christian love instead of division. You see, wholesome, biblical teaching maintains an unrelenting focus on the gospel. Teaching that varies from this guidepost wanders away from the love of God into the sinkhole of Satan’s deception. Say no to these things when they appear in your church. You will not be unkind. It is the loving thing to do.

This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. (Titus 1:13-14)

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