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Last week I felt like I was being drug through the mud, scraped through the briers, and ripped through a tree shredder.  That's sometimes what it feels like to be refined by fire or sharpened by iron.  But the end result is a purer and more refined Christian.

Over the last few months, I had developed a relative belief that I was more knowledgeable of the commands of God than other believers, and that other Christians were not living their lives with as much passionate conviction as I was.  What a dangerous mode of thinking to fall into.  Yet God is faithful and He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear and will always provide a way out (I Corinthians 10:13).

About the same time as my self-righteous beliefs were rising to new levels of boldness, I began to pray that God conform me more to the likeness of His image.  One important understanding to comprehend about prayer: It works.  Several years ago I prayed that God would break me.  He did.  It was often painful and humiliating, but He broke me (in other words, He humbled me).  The same thing happened when I prayed that the Lord conform me to His image.  Doing this, of course, is not impossible, for with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).  But changing me to be more like Jesus is like fitting a square peg into a round hole.  My pride took a beating last week, and I wasn't sure if I would ever fit the mold....

As I was reading I Timothy 1:5-7 a few weeks ago, I had this eerie feeling that the apostle Paul was talking to me.  Actually, I had the fearful understanding that the Holy Spirit was convicting me of sin that I did not want to confess.

Paul writes the following to Timothy in I Timothy 1:5-7:
"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."
Verses 6 and 7 (I'll come back to verse 5) were very convicting to me.  I was pretty sure I fit the characteristics of one of the "certain persons" Paul was talking about.  Here are the reasons why:

I was taking place in vain discussions.
When God opens the eyes of His children to more understanding of the Bible out of His grace, more knowledge is entrusted to the believer.  Pride, however, seeing the opportunity, sometimes will rise up and seize the knowledge, raising a banner of "I'm right and you're wrong."  This is what I was doing.  I was pointlessly discussing points of the Bible for the sole purpose of wanting to prove my opinion to be right.  How foolish.

I desired to be a teacher of the law, but did not understand what I was so confidently saying.
Going hand-in-hand with vain discussion is the prideful desire to be a teacher - to hold a prominent leadership position and manipulate power over others.  But pride will never do this with the student's best interests in mind.  It will only desire to puff up.  "Knowledge puffs up while love builds up" (I Corinthians 8:1).  I didn't understand what I was saying so confidently, even arrogantly.

But all of the above results of my puffed up self stemmed from one simple commandment I failed to understand.

I swerved away from love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
I was only seeking my own reputation.  The understanding that the Holy Spirit had revealed to me through God's Word was only puffing me up, not building others up in love as it should.  I had swerved away from love.  I had been entrusted with understanding of the Word of God for the sake of building others up, except I was not doing that.

As I shared these new revelations with my wife (for she had seen my pride swelling, to be sure) she recited to me the powerful words of I Corinthians 13:
"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."
The words resonated forcefully into my heart as the light of God's Word defeated my dark pride.  I was missing the whole point.  I wasn't loving others.  I could have all knowledge and be able to understand all God's mysteries, but if I didn't love, I was doing absolutely nothing.  I was nothing.  Never had these verses been so clear to me as they have been of late.  "Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13).

Oh, how great and unsearchable is the love of God!  Oh, how lavishly He has given us all things out of His great love for us!  Oh, that Your Church would love as You have loved us, oh God.  Oh, that You would soften our hearts with Your love and Your Word, dear God.

"Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).