“The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
— 1 Timothy 1:5
There is a lot of instruction out there these days. Everyone seems to have an opinion about how we need to think, feel, vote, eat, love, shop, dress, believe, etc. I would argue that for every facet of human life, big or small, there are ten to twenty different perspectives being forced on us about how to approach them. Social media, “news” networks, advertising, belligerent family members, and, yes, religious institutions all seem to be full of teachings that we are promised will bring us whatever it is we are seeking.
On the flip side, these teachings are reinforced with the threat that failure to heed them will result in all manner of unfortunate and unpleasant consequences. This is, of course, not because those seeking to manipulate us are the problem (heavens, no!). It is our own fault for daring to think critically about what is being shoveled at us.
Interestingly enough, though, thinking critically is exactly what we should be doing, and the Scriptures encourage it wholeheartedly. Deuteronomy encourages us to examine whether those claiming to speak on behalf of God are really doing so, and it even includes a severe penalty for those who do not speak what is right, causing unnecessary worry for the people. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul encourages us to not “brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.”
Rather than allowing ourselves to be told what to think or what instructions to follow, we would probably be better off paying attention to how we think with regard to our chosen paths. Undoubtedly, there are paths that are dangerous for ourselves and for others, but, generally speaking, if we approach each crossroads with a carefully chosen process of discernment, we may rest assured that our chances of being steered wrong are exponentially reduced. Ironically, to give this a try, you will have to trust me and my interpretation of the Scriptures a little, but please feel free to think critically and let me know how it sits with you!
For me, the greatest guiding principles to life’s decisions can be found in the Gospel (predictable? Meh.). The first is Jesus’ teaching on the greatest commandment in the Law, Matthew 22:34-40. Christ teaches us that it is not the rules that are most important. Rather, it is how we determine which rules to follow or break, and the best way to make that determination is to ask whether whatever path we are considering is centered in love for God and others or… not.
Second, we find a similar teaching from Paul in his Letter to the Romans. We are taught that the right decision is made when it is rooted in the love of one’s neighbor, which (in biblical terms) means everyone, not just those who we consider worth it or easy to love (see Matthew 5:43-48). This is the love God offers us in Jesus, and it is the love we are expected to imitate. On a side note, if you happen to be sitting there in wonder at the impractical or monotonous nature of this teaching, consider whether you would want strangers to think kindly or selfishly in a matter that affects you. Hmmm…
Finally, we have the quote that started off this post. With all the instruction that awaits us in this crazy world of ours, no matter who or what is attempting to influence you, it is essential that you and I make decisions that are centered in love that is authentically from the heart, won’t violate our conscience, and will promote a sense of faith and hope in others. As you go about the rest of your day, I hope you will join me in resolving to only follow that instruction which keeps your conscience clean, your hope alive, and your heart full of love.