The answer is “no one.” It is certainly a coup for our enemy that the church has been historically afraid to be different than the culture around us. On one level it makes sense: we want to be liked. On the other, it’s a miserable capitulation to our fears: we are already “liked” by the Lord who purchased us. Is there more that’s really necessary?
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
The “charge” the apostle Paul speaks of is their instruction, their teaching. Timothy was serving the church in Ephesus. That town was full: idols, issues and interests. It was probably true that you could seek and find just about whatever you wanted there. Paul sends the young pastor into such a place with a teaching whose aim is love.
Love is acting for the good or the glory of another. What determines what is good is God Himself. Still, Paul spends more time in this verse on the motives that drove love: “pure heart” and a “good conscience” and a “sincere faith.” It is difficult to parse these out as if they were different aspects of the human soul. The Bible uses “heart” and “conscience” in ways that are often interchangeable. There are differences to be sure, but perhaps the best we can do is say our love of others should be driven by motives at home in God’s throne room.
Motives are tricky things. No one is able to act with the purity, goodness or sincerity of the Lord fully: there will always be a little of me in my love for you. That is to say we always have a little bit of an angle in our service for each other. There is always some “how can I benefit from this….” driving what we do. That might explain Paul’s emphasis.
Paul’s charge to Timothy was to penetrate a culture wildly committed to the glory of the self with a message of selflessness. There really is nothing more odd in our culture than to exemplify its opposite, right? In our culture, the institutions that have bound us are crumbling or our commitment to what they represent has waned. Now, too many of us are too easily driven by what “I think is right,” what “I want to see happen,” what “will benefit me”…all no matter the cost.
Beloved, if we revive the motives of God to pursue God’s ends, that will be very weird to our culture. So, weird, in fact, that, by God’s grace and power, we will be able to build a kingdom that will bring down all the rest. Our culture has no shortage of sycophants. It needs critics but not just critics, examples of what human flourishing really looks like: those striving to be conformed to Christ, courageous in their lives and compelled to serve.
That’s the kind of weird that gets noticed.