5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
My friend graduated from seminary many years ago. He has since entered glory. It was a different time, the middle of the last century, when he received his first call to a small parish somewhere in the Midwest. He had been schooled in all the latest theological trends and was sure that he had deep insights which people needed to know. The old ways had to give way to the new, he thought. It was a time when many people were far more confident of what we knew.
He had several shut-in members, the folks who could not make it to church, and he faithfully visited them. There was a certain Anna, a widow, who loved to have the pastor come by. She always made cookies. He was a lean young man, and she thought he could use some more substance. She was a devout Christian, a practiced reader of her Bible, a woman who had seen a lot of life. He recollected several deep conversations with her about all the things he had learned at the seminary, things which he believed would change the church and the world too. Her response was always the same, “That’s nice, Pastor, have another cookie.” It was only after some years of preaching and serving people that he came to realize the gravity of what Paul wrote in this first verse of our passage today. The real deal is the love that comes from a heart purified by Christ, from a conscience which has been cleansed by Christ, and from a heart filled with faith. All his finely tuned theological insights either served that love or they did not. Anna understood this. She saw the love of Christ in the visits of this intense and eager young man. She patiently endured his attempts to enlighten her. She had been watching our Lord’s work for a long time. She knew what really mattered. She gave him another cookie.