But there is more than an impersonal interest in preserving correct doctrine in all of this. For the goal of this admonition is love, flowing out of a cleansed heart, a good conscience and a genuine faith. Faith and love in the Pastorals and throughout Paul's letters signify a correct and personal knowledge of and belief in God, and its proper, active outworking in the life of the believer (see notes on 2:15). Pure heart and good conscience are technical terms in the Pastorals. The heart was regarded as the inward part of the person and the center of one's spiritual and thought life. The total inner life of the believer, cleansed from sin, could be depicted with the term pure heart. For Paul and for us, the conscience is that part or faculty of the mind that gives awareness of the standing of one's conduct as measured against an accepted standard.
But we who are modern Westerners should not read into Paul's term all of our understanding. The concept of individuality bred into us in the West was foreign to Paul's culture. Conscience tends to function individualistically in us to produce feelings of guilt. For Paul and the ancient Mediterranean culture in general, conscience was the internal judgment of one's actions by that one's group—"pain one feels because others consider one's actions inappropriate and dishonorable" (Malina 1981:70). Honor and shame, rather than guilt, were the operative feelings. Therefore, Paul's readers would perceive the conscience as sending internal signals evaluating the rightness or wrongness of behavior (past, present or future) as a member of a group. We, on the other hand, view the conscience as concerned with right and wrong on an individual basis, not necessarily taking into account what others think and expect about us.
Now just as the qualifier pure defines the condition of the true believer's heart, so good (1:19) and "clear" (3:9; 2 Tim 1:3) refer specifically to the conscience of the one rightly aligned with God. As the opposing references to the "seared" (4:2) and "corrupted" consciences (Tit 1:15) of the false teachers reveal, it is the acceptance or rejection of correct doctrine (the Word of God) that determines the condition and effectiveness of the conscience. That is, the standard of behavior accepted by the group (the community of faith or church) is the Word of God properly interpreted. It is necessary to operate with this standard for the conscience to perform its function of encouraging correct behavior (the behavior deemed appropriate by the Christian community).
Thus the goal Paul sets for Timothy in opposing the errorists through teaching is to encourage the development of "whole" Christians: cleansed by God, directed by his effective Word, producing visible fruit. While the main concern is to reach believers who have been threatened by false doctrine, the goal embraces the heretics themselves, if they repent and return to orthodox beliefs (see 2 Tim 2:25-26).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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