1 Timothy 1:8-11 – Ignorance Exposed
“But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.”
We left off last week (1 Tim 1:3-7) after Paul gave Timothy his marching orders. We now understand that Timothy was given just one job to do: Instruct certain individuals to stop teaching scripture in a completely foreign manner and to stop being filled with meaningless nonsense.
The situation in Ephesus is quite serious. The individuals in question have turned their backs to true love, which comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. These jokers eagerly desire to be teachers of the law, and yet have no clue what the law says, what it does, or how to use it. It is in that vein of thought which we pick up Paul’s argument.
Paul is about to fill in some gaps of understanding. These wannabe teachers of the law have no idea what the law is or how to use it, though they’re convinced that they do. In these four verses, Paul tells them quite plainly what the law is and what the law does.
What is the Law? (v. 8)
“But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully”
What exactly is being referenced here? By law, Paul is referencing the entire Mosaic Law as given:
1) To Moses
2) From God
3) For Israel
4) On Sinai (Exodus 20-31).
These certain men of v. 3 desire to be known as teachers of this law. They want the prestige and honor that is associated with learned men. Paul has already critiqued this attitude (though he is far from finished). But make no mistake, the problem is with the men, their attitude, and approach. The problem is not with the law itself, for the law is good.
If you stop and think about it for a full second, there is no other conclusion that you can come to. The law came directly from God. He spoke it. The law is contained in our Bibles for a reason. It is part of the collective whole of the Scriptures (i.e. the inerrant, sufficient, holy Word of God). Through His Word, God has revealed Himself to humanity. As a portion of Scripture, the law is no different. Any quality or attribute that you would attribute to the Bible in part or in whole must also be attributed to the Mosaic Law. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul stated that all Scripture – yes, even the Mosaic Law – is inspired by God – meaning that it comes from God and therefore it cannot be anything that God is not – and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
To impugn the nature or character of Scripture is to impugn the nature and character of God. To acknowledge God as good is to likewise acknowledge His Word as good. There is a problem with these ignorant law-teachers, but the problem is not with the law. It is good.
If the problem does not lay with the law itself, then it is with the use of the law. A screwdriver is always the best tool for the purpose of driving screws. A center punch is always the best tool to either set or remove pins. Yet disaster strikes (and I begin to pull out by hair) when a tool is used in a context for which it was not designed. The inability of a center punch to tighten a screw or the inefficient manner by which a screwdriver would dislodge a pin is not the fault of the tools. The fault lies in the ignorance of the one wielding the tools when they use them in a manner completely foreign to their design. The law is good and yields good results when it is used properly.
What is the proper us of the law? This is an interesting question that assumes two very important points. First, it assumes that there is a proper use of the law. Just like there is a proper use for certain tools and all other uses are by definition improper, there is but one proper use of the law. These ignorant law-teachers have been misusing the law in their pursuit of fruitless discussions, myths, and endless genealogies. There is but one singular use and anything outside of that use wrong.
Second, it assumes that the proper use of the law is already established and determined. In other words, we do not get to decide what the proper use is. Well then, who does? The creator is always the author of meaning. If it is God’s law, originating with Him, then He is the only one who can attribute meaning and purpose to His law. There is but one use of the law and God alone determines what the use is. But we ask again, What is it?
What does the Law do? (vv. 9-11)
“Realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.”
From the onset Paul states that the law is not for a righteous person. On the surface that should just make sense. Rules against spitting on sidewalks do not have in mind those who don’t spit on sidewalks. That rule is aimed very specifically at those who can’t keep their saliva off the cement. But what does Paul mean by righteous? He has already written to the Romans that there is none righteous and none who seek God (Romans 3:9-18). What’s going on here?
The law is not made for a righteous person
We have two options. First, Paul means that law is only made for sinners and transgressors. This would clearly implicate everyone. But that interpretation wouldn’t limit the scope of the law. Paul's argument is against the use and application of the law. There's something wrong with the way that these wannabe teachers are using the law and in correcting them, Paul makes a distinction between who the law is meant for and who it is not meant for. Clearly this first option is not the correct option.
The second option is to understand righteous as one who has been made righteous. The reference is therefore pointed at Christians, those who have confessed, repented, and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ. The law is not intended for those who have already believed, but for those who are still living in rebellion. Notice the contrast:
But for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers,
What you have here is a list of sinners, not sins but sinners, who exhibit lifestyles in perfect contrast to the law. There are several different ways of aligning these individuals, but anyway you look at this list reveals a close connection with the 10 Commandments. Here’s what I mean by that:
The whole point and purpose of the law is to reveal the holy and righteous nature of God in order to drive people to repentance. The law is unattainable for any person and yet it reveals the good and awesome character of Almighty God. Therefore, to take the law that is meant to drive the unredeemed to repentance and apply it to those who have been justified/made righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ is ridiculous.
You can’t “tell” if someone is a Christian by seeing if they keep the 10 Commandments. That’s a misuse of the law. You’re taking what is good and right and holy and making a mess of things. You’re using a center punch to tighten a deck screw, ruining both punch and screw while you’re at it.
Christian’s are not marked by sinlessness. Only God is marked by sinlessness. Christian’s are marked by repentance. Christians continue to sin. But Christians repent. The law is designed to expose sinners by revealing the righteousness of God. To use the law in any other fashion is to misappropriate it and abuse it.
and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching
Here we have another connection to last week’s text. The law is defined as being designed for sinners; to expose them as living consistently contrary to God’s nature and will. The list given parallels the 10 Commandments but is also here equated with contrary to sound doctrine or “other than healthy teaching.” The language here is almost identical to what Paul said in v. 3 about strange teaching. In other words, there is healthy teaching and the law on one side, and everything else stands opposite. The law reveals God and exposes sin. Teaching that is not different (in content or approach) also reveals God and exposes sin. This is the gospel message of the apostles.
According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted
I normally read and preach out of the New American Standard Bible (NASB), but in this instance let’s look at the English Standard Version (ESV).
In accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:11 ESV)
What’s the difference? The word glory is not an adjective (wonderful, wondrous, marvelous) as the NASB renders it, but a noun. The glory of God is the sum total of His attributes. His glory is the fullness of His person. The gospel, the good news of redemption through Christ, glorifies God as it displays and declares the fullness of God. The gospel displays the glory of the blessed God.
It is this gospel that is in accordance with sound doctrine (the measuring line of what makes doctrine/teaching sound or unsound, healthy or unhealthy) and the object entrusted to Paul. The content cannot be changed. To change the gospel would be to alter the degree that it displays God’s glory. It is not up for debate and it has been entrusted to remain the same.
Timothy is commanded to instruct these would-be instructors who do not know the law from a hole in the ground. They are misusing the law to the detriment of all. But that is no negative comment on the law. The law is good and holy and perfect as is the God who spoke it. The problem is not in the law, but its application.
When there are problems within the church – between individuals, families, or different assemblies of believers – there is one inerrant and sufficient Word that reproves, rebukes, and exhorts us. Any failure of redemption and reconciliation is never an indication that the Word has failed. It’s either an indication that the Word has been approached in a flippant and irresponsible manner or it has just been ignored. The law is good if used lawfully. The Word is sufficient when approached properly.