The Lord wants there to be doctrinal purity in His church, but it’s not simply so that the church will be a repository of knowledge. False teachers tend to boast some kind of intellectual superiority, but it leads to arrogance and strife… these false teachers and their teachings, Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:4, “promote empty speculations, rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.”
Paul then contrasts true biblical teaching with this in verse 5, which says “But the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” That’s what we want. That’s the ultimate goal. That’s what we must be striving for. God wants us to be people who love God, and love others (the two greatest commandments). All throughout Scripture, and especially the New Testament, the supremacy of love is staggering. In fact, Jesus says that the mark of his disciples is love. In John 13:35, Jesus said “By this, all men will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.” John adds, in his first epistle, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” And, of course if you look at 1 Corinthians 13 (outside the context of a wedding ceremony), you’ll see that the Corinthian church was boasting all these magnificent, impressive, sign gifts, and they were actually quarreling over what sign was the greatest! And so Paul says that without love, none of that gains you anything. You’re all arguing about who has the most important gift, but in doing so you ignore the most important thing to have in the church community! God designed us to live in relationship, because that’s part of who He is. So it is paramount that we keep our eyes on the goal of biblical teaching.
We need to navigate carefully though, because we can easily run aground on a number of extremes. Many shipwreck by saying, “Doctrine divides! You can’t know that you’re right anyway. So forget about theology—love is all that matters.” But there is no such thing as biblical love apart from sound theology. Others run aground by assuming a cultural definition of love instead of a biblical one. They think that love means being nice all the time, burying our differences and never critiquing or opposing anyone else’s views. But if that’s what Paul meant, he contradicts himself within this very chapter by urging Timothy to oppose the false teachers… and with his comment about Hymenaeus and Alexander, at the end of the chapter.
So the supremacy of love does not cancel out the importance of theological orthodoxy. But in light of the arrogant and argumentative false teachers, Paul reminds Timothy that unlike that kind of teaching, which certainly can be appealing to our sinful natures… the goal of true biblical instruction, is love — love for God, and for those who are His.