Series on I Timothy, I Warnings, B Denial of Grace, Text:1: 3-11,18-20, Title: When the Law Is Good


Paul has begun his first letter to Timothy with a declaration of grace. It is a vital reminder because now he proceeds directly from the good news to the bad news. Timothy, young and fearful, must confront false teachers in the church in Ephesus. They were older, more experienced, and articulate and Timothy has to command them to stop teaching their false doctrines. Paul reminded him in the opening verses that they were servants by the commandment of God and now Timothy must use that authority. All of this false teaching revolves around the law, not just the ten commandments, but the law in the Jewish Bible, our Old Testament. This was the Torah, the fist five books of our Bible. They were teaching it perverting its meaning. We should not be deluded. This was a frightening prospect. At the end of the chapter in verses 18-20 Paul says, Fight the good fight holding on to the faith and a good conscience which some such as Hymaneus and Alexander have rejected, Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. That is they have rejected the content of the faith and a good conscience with regard to the faith and so have shipwrecked their personal faith. Let us today look at the problem Timothy faced. We consider three things from our text: controversy, correction and conviction.

I Controversy

The false teachers were generating controversy rather than wholesome lives. These were definitely Jewish teachings. In verses 3 and 4 Paul calls them here myths and genealogies, As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work-which is by faith. The terms are one. They were myths as measured by the truth and genealogical narratives as to their contents. They were not accurate teaching of the Torah and were fictitious. Paul calls them old wives tales in chapter 4 and myths and fables in II Timothy 4. The rabbis spun endless yarns on the basis of some hint from the Old Testament. These embroidered stories were regularly peddled in the synagogues and later found a place in the Haggadah which is part of the Jewish Talmud. There was a Jewish book called Jubilees, called the little Genesis, which told the story from creation to the entrance of the Hebrew people into Canaan. In it the narratives of Genesis are embellished beyond recognition. For example you can learn there that Jacob never tricked anybody, that the sabbath was observed by archangels and that the angels practiced circumcision. It's not hard to see how such tales generated confusion and controversy and completely subverted the use of the true law of God in the Torah. Of course the more fanciful the teachers became the better they thought of themselves. This sort of thing goes on even in Christian circles. People allegorize the Bible. They indulge in wild fancies about typology and they create millennial schemes that stagger the imagination. When i came to the tabernacle in the wilderness in preaching on Exodus a short time ago i found that every material, every color, every shape, every dimension had some symbolical meaning in the mind of some author. If you put them all together they were totally contradictory and controversial. In the end one wants to ask why? What is the purpose? Is this why God gave us his law? Is this why the Torah was written, for idle speculation? Or was it written to produce righteousness in our lives. This is Paul's point as he moves on to the proper purpose of the law.

II Correction

What we want to promote is God's work, by faith. The goal is very explicitly stated. We read in verses 5-7, The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. Those that lose sight of this goal end up indulging in meaningless talk. They don't even know what they are talking about. The goal is love. Love is the fulfilling of the law, but Paul wants us to understand that he is using the word love in a very specific and narrow way. Love means so many different things to people, but Paul means only one thing. He means the love of God mediated through us. It is our love for him which is born out of his love for us. He describes it as flowing out of three things: a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith. What he is talking about is genuine Christianity. This is the goal of the Torah as explicitly stated in Deuteronomy 6:5, Love the lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These three sources Paul mentions correspond exactly to God's gracious work in us. First our hearts are regenerated, and the result is that our consciences come under conviction, and then we embrace Jesus Christ in faith. A heart into which God sends his life becomes a loving heart. A conscience into which God sends his Word is cleared of guilt and made obedient to God's law. This leads to a life of genuine faith and trust in Jesus the Redeemer. By nature the heart is evil, the conscience is uninstructed, and unguided by God's Word, and the capacity to believe in God does not exist because we are blind and deaf and dumb and dead. Grace changes all of this. the love of God changes us. The purpose of the law in the larger sense, meaning the revelation of God to his people is to produce changed lives. It is not to fulfill our curiosity, or entertain us with nonsensical fads. It is to produce obedience.

III Conviction

Paul now contrasts the proper use of the law with the foolishness of the false teachers in verses 8-11, We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers-and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. They are not teaching to produce loving obedience but foolishness. Thus he reminds Timothy that for such people who have forgotten the proper use of the law, the law has but one use, convicting them of sin. Here they were teaching the law and yet never felt a twinge of guilt. They would just read until they found some proper name or ceremonial detail and they would shine with their stories and spiritualizations. They thought they were good and righteous, but if I was perfectly righteous i wouldn't need the law would I? They had missed the first purpose of the law which was to bring them to their knees and show them their need of a Savior. Paul goes on to testify of how he found that Savior. Suffice it for us at this point to realize that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Sound doctrine says man must keep the law, and it also says he cannot keep the law. Therefore he needs a Savior. Jesus provides us with a righteous obedience to the law. Jesus died to pay for our transgressions. When we realize this we use the law rightly and we can fulfill the goal of the law which is love out of a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith.