The Proper Use of the Law

February 17, 2019 | Speaker: Pastor Jurem Ramos

1 Timothy 1:8-11

  Many years ago, when I would pass by the Rizal Park to obtain a Community Tax Certificate or Cedula at the City Hall, or if I would be in that park after some public event such as an Evangelistic Crusade, I would often witness a small group of by-standers surrounding two individuals in a heated debate. In some of those instances, the debaters would be Catholic Faith Defenders and Iglesia ni Kristo who would be defending a particular doctrine of their religion arguing from logic or using texts from the Bible that are interpreted out of context. We do not only see zealous members of denominations misuse the Bible, but even those who see themselves as expert teachers of God’s word.   I remember one time, I watched a question and answer portion in the program Ang Dating Daan. A person asked Mr. Eli Soriano whether God had buttocks or not. Using a combination of distorted logic and a very literal interpretation of OT passages that describe God’s particular actions in metaphorical language, he tried to convince the inquirer that God indeed has buttocks. He argued that the Bible says that God sits on His throne therefore this means that God has buttocks. But in another instance, when Mr. Soriano was asked whether God has knees, his answer was “No, God has no knees.”  And this time his defense was that knees are used for kneeling and since God never kneels, therefore God doesn't have knees.   This kind of discussion only breeds speculations, leads into more vain discussions, and diverts people from the main issues of Scripture like the gospel, our salvation, and how to live in order to glorify God.   Some people might think that issues like God having buttocks are so obviously non-essential and irrelevant to the Christian life and that they will never be entertained by and distract the church. Well, don’t be so sure about it. I hear of some pastors who claim to be Reformed who also say that if you want to be saved and be a good Christian you need to become Baptist. I am not sure if I represented that view accurately, but my point is that sometimes even pastors could fall into some non-essential doctrine, find support for their view in Scripture that often has been wrongly interpreted, and cause speculation and division in the church. This case of even leaders in the church misusing Scripture is not surprising.   In our study of the first letter of Paul to Timothy, we find the problem that Paul appointed Timothy to address involved some church Elders in the Ephesian church who were devoted to non-essentials and trivial matters. For example, they were teaching myths and genealogies based from narratives or other portion in the OT, making a big issue out of them, and they were causing controversies, vain discussions, and quarrelings in the church of Jesus Christ. These church leaders were using the Bible wrongly.   This is why Paul told Timothy, “remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves  to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1:3).   Paul had to address this concern urgently, not only because the source of the problem was the elders of the church but because of the speed that these leaders were departing from the faith.   Preaching the Word Commentary   Apostasy's speed. The threat of wholesale apostasy in Ephesus drove Paul at the time he wrote this letter. His concern was well-founded because of the speed with which apostasy had come to some of the elder-led congregations in Ephesus. It had only been four years since his famous farewell address to the Ephesian elders in which he had warned them saying, "After I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29, 30). And now it was dreadfully true. Unbelievable! The Ephesian church had drunk from the pure stream of apostolic teaching... for three years. They had even had the grandest ecclesiastical letter of the New Testament written personally to them. But within forty-eight months of Paul's farewell, apostasy had come. ..... We must remember that Ephesus was the lighthouse of Asia Minor. It was up to this point an apostolic success story. It had been evangelical in the purest sense ... with its primary emphasis on the gospel and on mission. But the church at Ephesus was beginning to decay from the inside. .... [This] make concrete the sobering reality that gospel ministries nourished from the well of God's Word can become apostate with amazing speed. ...         What were these false teachers doing?   Paul said that these false teachers have devoted themselves to myths and endless genealogies (1:4). They wanted to be teachers of the Law and saying things from the Law although they were really ignorant of the things they were asserting. Perhaps these church leaders were trying to understand the meaning of the names found in the genealogies in Genesis, and they talked about abstinence from certain foods, etc. They were using the law for idle speculation and meaningless talk, no different from the way the debaters using the OT at the Rizal park. Perhaps, they were even teaching a salvation that was based on myths and their allegorical interpretation of genealogies. Or perhaps, the believers who who were convinced by their teachings were beginning to feel proud because of they imagined that they had special status before God because they learned from the false teachers that they were somehow related to the names that were found in the genealogies.       Why had some of the Ephesian elders become teachers of false doctrine? Why did they miss the proper use of the Law?   The answer is this. Their false teaching had come as a result of their moral decline. Doctrinal departure follows moral departure. Look at these passages.    
  • Paul told Timothy in 1:19 to hold on to faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,
  • Paul told Timothy in 1:5-6 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, they have wandered into vain discussion.
  • 4:12: "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared"
  Preaching The Word: How could Christians who had drunk from the supreme stream of apostolic gospel truth leave Christ and the gospel for "myths and endless genealogies" (1:4)? The answer is in they have failed to guard their hearts, their conscience and their faith. As a result of that, they became open to the world, the flesh, and the devil - and thus prey to fanciful theology and heresy.   The battle for orthodoxy is lost not only in the head but in the heart. When we do not guard our hearts and when we violate our conscience and when our faith is not sincere, in time, our love for God will fade, our heart and conscience will give in, and we will be shells of hypocrisy. Maintaining "a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" is the primary battle for those who want to live for God.     So eventually, these people misused the law, they got precoccupied with non-essentials and fell into wrangling about words. They became entangled in myths and genealogies and thereby robbed the law of its convicting power.   So now we come to a portion of this letter where Paul explains the right use of the law.  

So, what is the right use of the law?

  Paul writes in 1:8… Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully.   By his opening words, “now we know,” Paul is placing himself on the side of those who those who know the truth about God’s way of salvation. This includes himself, Timothy and all of the other like-minded people who hold on to the standard of truth, the apostolic gospel. In effect, he is placing the false teachers outside of this group. These people claim be teachers of the law, but the fact is, according to verse 7, they are “without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” In contrast with these false teachers, Paul and other like-minded people know.     Paul says that “that the law is good.” This statement that the law is good is typical for Paul. In Romans 7:12 he gives his classic statement of the law's goodness: "So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." In Ro 7:14 Paul says that the “law is spiritual” and in verse  16, he again says that the “law is good.”  
  • The presence of the definite article “the” before the word “law” in this verse suggests that Paul is referring to the specific law and not law in general (i.e., general to govern people and nations). Because in context, Paul refers to genealogies (v 4), which occur in the narrative material of the Pentateuch, and to elements of the Decalogue (vv 9-10), he may be thinking at least of the Mosaic law. (WBC)
  • The word “good” comes from a Greek word that means “excellent in its nature and characteristics, and therefore well adapted to its ends.” The law is excellent “it accurately reflects the will of God and is beneficial to people.”
    Paul says that the law is good if one uses it lawfully. What Paul means is that the Law is good if it is used lawfully of correctly, appropriately, or legitimately. If it is used as it was intended for the lawless, then good. The Law should not be used “illegitimately” as a source for myths and endless genealogies, or for ascetic practices.       What is the proper use of God’s law?   In Paul’s writings, we see at least three different uses of God’s moral law.  
  • First, the law puts a restraint on sin (Rom 7:7; Ps 19:13).
  Christ-Centered Expositional Commentary: The law is intended to show God’s restraint of sin. God’s law helps us recognize the boundaries between good and evil so we might avoid sin. Actually, this is a function of any type of law. For example, think about speed limit signs. Why are they there? They exist because reckless drivers on the road need to be restrained (Stott, Message, 48). In this sense the law is written for law-breakers. The law helps identify and restrain these sins in our lives. Paul said something similar in Romans 7:7: “I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet.” The law shows us what is good, and God uses this realization to restrain us from evil. However, because of our sin, the law’s restraint is only temporary. The law says, “Don’t do this,” and it may restrain us temporarily, but eventually we sin, all of us. Our predisposition to sinning leads to a second use of the law.    
  • Second, the law brings condemnation on the sinner.
  Christ-Centered Expositional Commentary: The law is also intended to show God’s condemnation of the sinner. When we sin, the law becomes a testimony against us, showing us how we have disobeyed. The law makes our rebellion apparent, and this realization is an essential part of our salvation. Before we come to Christ, we stand before the law condemned by God. We have not kept His law; in fact, we cannot keep His law (Rom 8:8). The law opens our eyes to the fact that we are guilty before God. But then we look to Christ, who has kept the law of God perfectly, and we see that He is righteous before God. In response we cry out to God, “I need Him!” And that’s how we are saved. That’s the gospel. Christ, the law-keeper, has paid the penalty for lawbreakers. The law doesn’t save us; the law leads us to Christ, and He saves us.   Preaching The Word Commentary: Paul described his experience of this in Romans 7:13 - "Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful." The law hammered Paul down, so that he might see his own sin and open himself to the gospel. John Stott quotes Martin Luther in this respect:   It is a mighty "hammer" to crush the self-righteousness of human beings. For "it shows them their sin, so that by the recognition of sin they may be humbled, frightened, and worn down, and so may long for grace and for the Blessed Offspring [Christ]." It is in this sense that "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ."  
  • Third, the law is also intended to show God’s will to the saved. It serves as a rule and guide to point out the works that please God (Rom 13:8-10).
  Christ-Centered Expositional Commentary: Finally, the law functions to show God’s will for the saved. We want to honor Christ as His followers, so what do we do now that we’re saved? God’s law instructs us. His moral law … reveals His character and shows us how to love God and love our neighbor. Now that we are indwelled by His Spirit, we have the desire and the power to obey what God says (cf. Ezek 36:27). As we rest in the righteousness of Christ, possessed by the Spirit of Christ, compelled by the ongoing grace of Christ, we are led from the inside out to walk in God’s will. For the Christian, God’s law is no longer a crushing hammer but a divine guide.     In vv. 9-10 Paul explains more precisely how the law is to be used lawfully. Verse 9 begins with the phrase, “understanding this.” This introduces the reason why the statement in verse 8, that the law is good if one uses it lawfully is true,  is true.   9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,   When Paul explained to Timothy how to use the Law rightly here in vv. 9-11, he had in mind the two functions of the Law which is to restrain sin and to condemn the sinner (who in this context is an unbeliever).   The false teachers were using the law wrongly.   WBC: Paul's opponents pride themselves on being teachers of the law, even though they are ignorant of its proper function (v 7). The opponents were apparently using the Law, in its stories of genealogies found in the narratives and the food regulations and special laws including e.g., marriage and certain foods (1 Tim 4:3) for discussion among the believers.   This was only causing more vain discussion, speculations, confusion and divisions among believers. This is definitely a wrong use of the Law.   By saying that the Law was not intended for the “just,” what Paul meant in this context was that the moral laws of God were not intended for Christian believers who through their genuine conversion produce the self-giving love (1:5) that fulfills the law.       Paul now begins his list of those for whom the law is still in effect.   The list of fourteen kinds of sins in vv 9-10 describes the kinds of people for whom the law was laid down and contrasts them with the one kind of person—the "just"—for whom the law was not intended.   The first six sins are offenses correspond to the first half of the Ten Commandments which are offenses against God. but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane   And the remaining sins correspond to the second half of the Ten Commandments which are offenses against people. They follow more closely the 5th to the 9th commandments.  
  • for those who strike their fathers and mothers, Honor your father and mother (Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16).
  • for murderers,. You shall not kill (Exod 20:13; Deut 5:17).
  • 10, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, You shall not commit adultery (Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18).
  • enslavers. You shall not steal (Exod 20:15; Deut 5:19).
  • liars, perjurers, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Exod 20:16; Deut 5:20).
    Let us now look at this list of sins:  
  • “lawless and disobedient” head the list of sins here. “Lawless persons are not here persons who are ignorant of the law but those who live as if there were no law. They live doing as they please.” (HK NTC)
  • Disobedient signifies the attitude of people who refuse to submit themselves to the authority of God.” (1Ti 2:11; 3:4; Titus 1:6, 10; 2:5, 9; 3:1) (HK NTC)
  • Ungodly refers to inward irreverence, the opposite of reverence towards God.
  • The word “sinners” refers to outward disobedience and arrogant rejection of God.
  • NICNT: “Unholy” depicts things that are inappropriate to the worship of God, profane or not consecrated, and in opposition to sacred norms of worship and behavior.
  • HK NTC: A “profane” person is one who does not refrain or hesitate to trample on that which is holy. … It is therefore altogether natural to suppose that when Paul mentions unholy and profane persons, he is thinking of those who ridicule the very idea that there is only one true God, and of those who deny that this God is the Spirit of infinite perfection, that his name, or the name of Christ, should be reverenced, and that his day should be observed. Those who are unholy and profane flout the four commandments of the first table of the law.
  [Illustration: When somebody says that God is stupid, that is irreverence.]     Paul now begins to follow the second half of the Decalogue, which concerns conduct toward a neighbor. Paul uses the worst cases of violations of the commandments.  
  • "for those who strike their fathers and mothers." This is a violation of the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and your mother" (Exod 20:12). In the OT if a son proved to be stubborn and rebellious he was to be stoned (Deut 21:18-21). If this is the judgment for rebellious children, how much more for those who physically hurt their parents. (Exod 21:15 “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.; cf. Lev 20:9),
  • "murderers." This a violation of the sixth commandment "You shall not kill" (Exod 20:13). Murder was a capital offense in the OT.
  Verse 10 continues the list with two terms that refer to sexual sin.   the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality break the  seventh commandment "You shall not commit adultery" (Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18). In this verse there are two different ways in which that commandment can be broken.  
  • The first term, “the sexually immoral” is more general. It is simply sexual immorality in whatever form it may occur. It may even include fornication, adultery, and even lustful thoughts. Matt. 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
  • The next term is men who practice homosexuality. This word comes from one word in Greek and it has two parts: “male” and “bed” (particularly, marriage-bed). The reference is, therefore, directly to male homosexuals (Rom. 1:27; 1 Cor. 6:9); indirectly, the reference is to all homosexuals, male and female. [BAGD defines ἀρσενοκοίτης as a "male homosexual" (Lev 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:27; 1 Cor 6:9), or a man who has sexual relations with a young boy (pederast) or with animals (one who engages in bestiality (Exod 22:19; Lev 18:23; 20:15; Deut 23:18; 27:21)]. Bible scholars tell us that there is evidence that homosexuality was especially common in Ephesus.
  Note: Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Some have sought to restrict the application of the term to male prostitution or pederasty. It has also been argued that the expression refers merely to homosexual acts, not to “celibate” homosexual relationships (i.e., relationships between persons with a homosexual orientation who are in a relationship but do not have sexual relations). …. However, arsenokoitai is a broad term that cannot be confined to specific instances of homosexual activity. … The OT bans every type of homosexual intercourse (including a consensual one), not just male prostitution or intercourse with youths. Moreover, while Paul focuses on homosexual acts, he would hardly have considered “celibate” homosexual relationships as legitimate; for this would be to exchange a man’s “natural” function for what is “unnatural” (Ro 1:26–27 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.).  
  • "enslavers." This is against the eighth commandment, "You shall not steal" (Exod 20:15; Deut 5:19). Enslavers denotes those engaged in the business of kidnapping or stealing people and selling them into slavery. [They are guilty of the most heinous kind of stealing.] The penalty for kidnapping in the OT was death (Exod 21:16 “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.).
  "Liars and perjurers" break the ninth commandment not to bear false witness against our neighbor (Ex 20:16).      
  • Both “liars and perjurers” refer to deceptive speech, but a "liar" is more general. It refers to someone who speaks in a deceptive manner. Although Paul wrote that the Cretans liars (Titus 1:12), but by nature every man is a liar (Rom. 3:4). The liar, according to the scriptural usage of the term, is not only the person who actually tells an untruth, but also he whose actions and attitudes are out of harmony with his confession (1 John 2:4, Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 1Jn 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.).
  • "perjurers," is a more specific example of a liar. It occurs in the NT only here and speaks of those who are guilty of solemnly asserting that which is false, with the intention of hurting their neighbor; or those who, while making a solemn vow, do not intend to keep it.
    Application: HK NTC: The law, then, was laid down for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,, in order that it might shake them to the very depths of their being, might frighten them out of whatever self-complacency remained in them. It was enacted to make the disturbed even more disturbed so that they would cry out in self-despair, “Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?” (Rom. 7:24, and cf. Rom. 3:20).     The tenth commandment that prohibits covetousness is not included in Paul’s catalogue but in order to make his list comprehensive Paul concludes that the law is also made for “and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine. With this statement, Paul summarizes all that he has been saying, as he does with similar vice lists elsewhere (cf. Rom 13:9; Gal 5:21, 23; cf. 1 Pet 5:5; 1 Tim 5:10).   We see the term “sound doctrine” several times in the Pastoral Epistles (6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:2, 8). It is a medical metaphor referring to the “healthiness” of teaching “found in the gospel” (v. 11). In the [Pastoral] Epistles, the metaphor of healthy teaching becomes a [strong attack] against the diseased false teachers [and their unhealthy teaching]. But the concern of the metaphor is not just with the content of doctrine; rather, it is with behavior. Healthy teaching leads to proper Christian behavior, love and good works; the diseased teaching of the heretics leads to controversies, arrogance, abusiveness, and strife (6:4). (Undertanding the Bible)   In verse 11, Paul added that sound doctrine is in accordance with the gospel. This tells us that the gospel is the ultimate expression of healthy teaching. [Insert the ingredients of the gospel here.] Anything that moves away from it as the centerpiece of the church is diseased and dangerous.   In mentioning the gospel Paul gives us three facts about the gospel:  
  • First, the gospel concerns “of the glory of the blessed God.” The content of the gospel is to set forth and proclaim the “glory,” or majesty, of God himself. God’s glory describes primarily the radiance and power of God especially as seen in creation and salvation history.
  • Second, this gospel comes from "the blessed God." The term "blessed" pictures God as the source and fountain of all blessedness (NAC). “Blessedness when ascribed to God expresses the fact that God is absolute perfection, whether inwardly or outwardly. He is perfectly self-sufficient. His life is not a continual development, a mere striving and becoming, but an uninterrupted rest, an eternal peace.” (H. Bavinck, Th Doctrine of God.)
  • Third, this gospel had been entrusted to Paul (with which I have been entrusted). Paul was acutely aware that he has been entrusted with the gospel and so he refers to it again and again (1Co 9:17; Gal 2:7; 1Th 2:4; Tit 1:3),
  • It implies his commissioning by the Lord to call Paul to ministry and invest him with authority.
  • It was as a way of creating distance between his message and the false teaching and of identifying his mission as a true messenger of God.
    Closing Words  
  1. Let us be warned. MLJ: All institutions have a tendency to produce their opposite. This is a reminder for us to remain humble and vigilant.
  1. Let us guard our heart. Departure into false doctrine does not always begin in the intellect but the heart. Let us remember 1 Timothy 1:5:
  • 1:19 to hold on to faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,
  • 1:5-6 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, they have wandered into vain discussion.
  1. Let us remember that the moral standards of the gospel do not differ from the moral standards of the law.
  Bible Speaks Today: It is particularly noteworthy that sins which violate the Commandments are also contrary to the sound doctrine of the gospel. So the moral standards of the gospel do not differ from the moral standards of the law. We must not therefore imagine that, because we have embraced the gospel, we may now repudiate the law! To be sure, the law is impotent to save us, and we have been released from the law’s condemnation, so that we are no longer ‘under’ it in that sense. But God sent his Son to die for us, and now puts his Spirit within us, in order that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us.   Ro 8:2-4 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.   There is no [contradiction] between law and gospel in the moral standards which they teach; the [contradiction] is in the way of salvation, since the law condemns, while the gospel justifies.