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Timothy Series - Lesson Four

John Baugh
August, 2008

Righteous and the Law
(1 Timothy 1: 8-12)

6Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

The Law

8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that the 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, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
(1Timothy 1:8-11 NIV)

In this section of his letter, Paul continues writing to Timothy about those who want to be teachers of the law.

If Paul's reference in Verse 7, about those who wanted to be teachers of the law, was referring to Jewish converts, He may have been writing that these men wanted to impose (on the Christian Church in Ephesus) all of the teachings of Judaism - the Mitzvot (the 613 commandments on the Torah) and the rules of application - Mishnah, which is the record of rabbinic discussions, debate and commentary on compliance with the compilation of Jewish law or the Talmud. A second option is that he may have been referring only to the Ten Commandments.

In either event, it seems likely that Paul was talking about Jewish law here, and the insistence of those who wanted to incorporate all of the Jewish law into their association with the new Christians in Ephesus. Earlier, in Acts 6:7, Luke indicated that even Priests were being converted. These converts would have brought much of their former beliefs with them as they came to Christianity. It would have been difficult for these Jews to let go of everything they had been taught and believed before coming to the Gospel.

Paul writes two things about the law to Timothy.

1 - He says, "We know that the law is good, if one uses it properly."

What does Paul mean with this statement?

Perhaps he is writing that the law (what the Jews believed about their relationship with God and each other) states the standards of a righteous life - one that was pleasing to God. He writes that there is a proper use of the law ("the law is good if one uses it properly").

When studying the complexity of the Jewish law (all of the rules that existed in addition to the Ten Commandments), we are be reminded how difficult it would be to live under strict compliance to the law - leading to our utter "lost-ness" without grace and mercy from God. This helps us to understand that our salvation is not guaranteed by strict compliance to the law, but on the grace of God through Christ Jesus. As many have written, the Law exists in a large part to convict us of sin, regardless of our actions to avoid sin.

So why is the Law good?

First of all The Law is good because God wrote it.

Did you know that in all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament, the Ten Commandments are the only words that God wrote Himself? All of the other writings in the Bible were given to the writer by God, but in the case of the Ten Commandments, they were actually written by the hand of God on the tablets that he presented to Moses. Actually God wrote them twice, repeating the process a second time after Moses broke the tablets in his anger with the Israelites.

The Ten Commandments reflect the very character and the holiness of God. They express the life God expects, in its outward behavior and in its inward attitudes. The Law states God's righteous demands for human behavior, anywhere on earth. They reveal the only acceptable standard of behavior before God, both as outward actions and inward thoughts.

In Romans, Paul writes:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,
(Romans 2: 14-45 NAS)

Paul writes that the Law is even written into the hearts of people who have never heard of the Ten Commandments.

For these reasons alone, the Law will never be invalid.

What is the condition of Christians, regarding the Law?

Some Christians believe that through Christ, we are completely delivered from the Law and that we have nothing to do with it anymore. This is a misunderstanding of what Christ intended. Jesus' teaching regarding the Law is clearly stated in the Sermon on the Mount.

What did Christ say about the Law in the Sermon on the Mount?

From Matthew's Account:

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:17-19 NAS)

Jesus' words are very clear. He came to fulfill the Law, which still stands and will remain. The Law will always be there because it is holy, just and good and reflects the character of God. As Christians, we live under the Law (we keep the Law in our lives and teach it to others) and the grace of God, offered to us through Jesus Christ. Our goal as Christians is to live a life of righteousness under the law as we daily attempt to become more like Christ Jesus.

2 - Who, then, was the Law given for? Paul goes on to answer that by saying, "the Law is not laid down for the righteous but for…" and he lists two groups of people.

The first group of people Paul lists illustrates what people are, not what they do. These terms describe the basic outlook nature, and attitude of the people in Ephesus.

Paul says that the Law was made for people who are:

Lawbreakers and rebels: lawbreakers know the rules - They understand what is right and what is wrong and in spite of their knowledge of right and wrong, they deliberately break the law. Rebels (translated as the rebellious in NAS, disobedient in KJV) are willfully dispositioned to ignore doing what is right. Their problem is that they lack the desire and self-restraint to follow, submit or yield to authority.

Ungodly and sinful: Ungodly describes those who are actively and willfully against God. Ungodly describes one who is in direct conflict with God. Sinful people are those who have adopted sin as normal activity. Sinful indicates more than an occasional failure to sin. Sinful people lead a life with no moral standards.

Unholy and irreligious: Holiness describes that which is universally held as sacred. To be unholy is worse than to be a law-breaker. IT indicates a condition worse than sinfulness. One who is unholy is at variance with everything that is universally held as decent and desirable. An unholy person would be universally condemned. The Greek word for irreligious (bebeloi) indicates a person who profanes the sacred things, desecrates God's holy day, disobeys God's laws and belittles the worship of God.

Next, Paul writes about the deeds of people who need the Law. They include:

Those who kill their fathers and mothers (Murderers)

Under Roman law, for a child to even strike their parent made them guilty of a crime with a sentence of death. The Greek word for murderers is "androphonoi" which means manslayers. Here, Paul goes back to the Ten Commandments, referring to a lack of respect for Fathers and Mothers, expressed in the extreme (Murder). Then he broadens his statement to all who would murder.

Adulterers and Perverts

Some translations use the words "fornicators and homosexuals". Fornicators and Adulterers seek sex outside of, either before or within marriage. Perversion goes beyond the problems of homosexuality. It is normal to view today's society and to see it "as bad as it could be", but the sexual conditions in Paul's world were very promiscuous and immoral. Some have said that chastity was the one completely new virtue which Christianity brought into the world.

Slave Traders

Trade (kidnapping and sale) in slavery was common in Paul's time. Those who deal in the sale of the lives (freedom) of others stand on opposition to all that is right and proper. There is nothing involved in the denial of human freedom and the actions of those who take it away, trade or sell it for profit or self gain that can be considered acceptable.

Liars, perjurers

These people twist the truth or make false statements for personal gain. At minimum, their actions show no consideration for others. Often their twisting of the truth and false statements hurts others. At its extreme, lying is unlawful. Perjury, which is the swearing of an oath to tell the truth and then lying, is always unlawful.

Whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, which is entrusted to me

Paul mentions thirteen problems that are common to life in Ephesus, but he knows that there are many other problems that are at variance with the Gospel teachings of Christ.

The conditions that Paul writes about paint a vivid portrait of the society in which the early church operated and the problems that Christians in Ephesus encountered and were forced to deal with on a daily basis. Since these were life problems that the Church experienced, these where the problems that Timothy was left in Ephesus to deal with as he ministered to the church there. 

So how was Timothy to minister? Paul expected him to offer Christianity and Christian ethics to those in Ephesus.

Christianity is an ethical religion. To be a Christian is to lead a good life. Christians pray, attend worship, read their Bible and witness to the world and show consideration (love) for others. At the most basic though, Christians are expected to lead a good, clean, moral life. They are expected to lead lives that lead to a more perfect (Christ-like) person. As/when/if Christians grow in maturity, they are less likely to fall prey to lying, perversion, lack of consideration of others and all of the other problems that plague society, both during Timothy's time in Ephesus and in today's world.

Paul wanted to remind Timothy that righteousness under the Law did not apply to those who have been made righteous in Christ. Obtaining the righteousness that the Law requires of us has already been achieved when we come to Jesus. Paul writes about this is in Romans 8:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
(Romans 8:3-5 NAS)

However, the Law does place requirements on us. As a standard for righteousness; it insists that men act in a certain way. As we work to meet the standards contained within the Law it serves to help us fulfill of all the possibility and potential of human life. If we sin (fail to meet the standards of the Law) we fall under the bondage and continue to be slaved to the sin that keeps us from righteousness in our lives.  

In the passage from Chapter 8 of Romans, Paul writes that when we believe in Jesus, who died on the cross for us, and we understand that we were involved in that death and in his resurrection, we are given righteousness as a gift. We start our Christian life on that basis. The life of Jesus has come in. Our spirits have been joined to his.  Christ's spirit is righteous, so our human spirits are made righteous in Jesus. Our nature has been changed in Christ.

That is the good news. That is "the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me" that Paul writes to Timothy about.  We are no longer under the Law as a means of winning approval from God. We have his approval already, through Christ Jesus.

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