By Grant Vissers
Read 1 Timothy 1:1-11
This is a great passage for the church because it reminds us of what is most important in God’s kingdom. It is a charge to Timothy and the church to uphold that which matters most: faith and love. Paul comes at it by addressing false teaching that had risen within the church. This was not uncommon—especially in areas concerning the law. Paul writes, “Some have departed from these and have 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.” There is speculation as to who these false teachers are, but what seems to concern Paul more isn’t so much who the false teachers were but the fallout from their teaching.
Paul’s concern about their teaching is two-fold; it affects those inside the church and it jeopardizes the mission of the church in the world. The gold standard as it were for discerning whether teaching on the law is true or false is simple: does it promote the glory of God and the good of the church? In other words, does it encourage faith in the goodness of God and does it equip the church to love better and advance God’s work on earth? If it does not meet these two criteria according to Paul, it has become meaningless talk and promotes controversy and speculation about the true Gospel message and hope in Jesus.
So, if there is a wrong use of the law, can there be a right use of the law? Many people think that the law (handed down by God to Moses) is in direct opposition to the message of the cross and the good news of the New Testament. I think that would be to miss the point. Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)
The reformer John Calvin writes that there are three right uses of the law for the Christian and the Church. First, to show humanity their sinfulness and inability to achieve salvation on their own. Second, it compels those who are untouched by any care for what is right and just to do good. Third, and probably most importantly, it admonishes believers and urges them on in doing what is right and good. To be sure, the law has no salvific power. That is, it alone cannot bring about salvation since nobody can live perfectly, according to the law. Salvation is by grace through faith in the completed work of Jesus on the cross. Nonetheless, it is this third use of the law that I find applicable to the Church today.
Think about it, the only reason we have speed limits is because there are drivers who speed. Humanity has demonstrated time and time again that there is a human bent toward lawlessness—what the Church calls sin. Jesus stepped into humanity and conquered sin on the cross and opened a way for humanity to be given the gift of salvation. Obedience to the law, becomes a natural way of being for the Christian. What Paul is saying is that there is a new way of being for anyone who is in Christ.
However, there are some who have misunderstood what this looks like. Namely, rigid obedience to the law. So Paul’s first point rings the clearest and the loudest. The Church is called to teach and promote the greatest commandment which is love; coming from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
- What rules did you have growing up? Did your family follow any rules that you remember as being particularly important?
- What do you think is the relationship between the law and the gospel?
- What is Paul’s biggest concern for Timothy in the first eleven verses?
- Do you think that there is still a need to “check” or “test” teaching in the Church today?
- In your opinion, what is the most important thing for the Church to proclaim today?