Are you a list maker? I’m not, but my wife, Steph, and kids are. I asked my daughter why she likes lists, and her instant answer was “They help me plan, organize, and recall my goals.” Wow! That’s a good list right there. Maybe it’s why Steph makes sure I have one when I go shopping. If I don’t, I return with more of what we don’t need than what we do.
God’s is a list maker too. The Bible is packed full of lists. The most common are for ethical instruction, vice and virtue lists that condemn or commend certain behavior. The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and seven deadly sins (Proverbs 6) are famous Old Testament examples, as is the lovely list of three from Micah: Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God (6:8).
I counted forty lists in the New Testament, without looking hard. Jesus’ Beatitudes and Paul’s fruit of the Spirit (both numbering nine, Matthew 5 and Galatians 5) sprung first to mind. Jesus and Paul taught that love is the organizing plan and goal of God’s lists; all hang on it. These simple catalogs spring from the Father’s will to teach us what His love looks like, and doesn’t. In describing this love, Paul made a lovely list of his own: Love is patient and kind, it doesn’t rejoice in iniquity but in the truth — just four traits on his list of sixteen (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
No list can replace a relationship with God, but lists are divinely given signposts of what is pleasing to Him. That’s why Paul magnifies God-breathed Scripture with a list of four, as “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). He also praises Timothy’s faithfulness to his teaching: “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance” (v. 10). The context is perilous times when men will no longer endure sound teaching, but will turn from the truth (3:1 — 4:5).
The same Spirit who empowers us to live the lists also inspired their writing. A faithful follower carefully follows good doctrine, in accordance with godliness, nourished in the words of our Lord (1 Timothy 4:6; 6:3). Recall the plan and goal again in a last lovely list: Love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (1:5).
— Jason Overman
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