The Purpose of Paul’s Commandment vs. The Purpose of the Law: A Brief Exposition of 1 Timothy 1

Law/Gospel

As I reread 1 Timothy, I noticed a distinction being drawn by Paul from the outset of the letter between “commands” given by God regarding the preaching of the Gospel, and the “Law” being incorrectly expounded upon by the false teachers trying to creep into Timothy’s church. The book opens with reference to a “command” from God, which ordained Paul to be an apostle (specifically, an apostle to the Gentiles, cf. 2:7), and Timothy’s true status as a son of God based upon his faith in Christ. This establishes a few things for us: (i.) Paul’s call to apostleship was given by God’s command, and (ii.) sonship is by God’s grace and mercy (cf. Eph. 2:8). We read:

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope,

2 To Timothy, a true son in the faith:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.

The next “command” is given in v. 3, where Paul tells Timothy:

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine…

The distinction becomes clearer as we see what the false teachers were teaching. Paul tells us in v. 4:

4 nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.

Fables and endless genealogies are the topic of the false teachers, but these two topics stand not alone. Rather, they are part and parcel of the false teachers’ desire to “be teachers of the Law,” as Paul goes on to say in v. 7. The calling of the false teachers is from themselves – it is not from God. The content of their message is fable, genealogy, and their perversion of the Law – it is not the Gospel. These men who desire to be expounders of the Law have set themselves up, therefore, not in opposition to Paul primarily, but to God and His Christ. Paul’s doctrine has been given from God Himself. Therefore, Paul tells us the purpose of this “command” that he has given Timothy in (see, v.3) in v. 5:

5 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith,

“The commandment” is not “the Law” or “the decalogue” but “the charge” or “command” given in v. 3. And what is that command? To allow no one to preach anything but the unadulterated pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s words, therefore, can be reduced to this: “The purpose of giving the Gospel and the Gospel alone free reign from your pulpit, Timothy, is love, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” These are the fruits, therefore, not simply of the command to not allow any other Gospel to be preached, but they are  fruits of the Gospel itself. The Gospel, the Word of Christ, is that message which the Holy Spirit makes audible to the once-deaf sinner, it is that which purifies, is that whereby faith comes (cf. Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2) – not the Law.

The false teachers were proud, opposed to the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul, and Timothy in that they (i.) rejected the Gospel, (ii.) claimed themselves as authorities (in opposition to Paul), and (iii.) sought to stir up trouble by engaging in endless debates that sprang from their own propensity to heed fables as authoritative, genealogical affiliation (as Jews, it would seem) and their misinterpretation of the Law, which was the fruit of their own unregenerate state. Paul writes:

6 from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.

8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully,

These men were self-deceived and did not even understand what they were saying! “But,” says Paul to Timothy, “we know…” And that is where the distinction becomes ever clearer. The unregenerate teachers of the Law were blind, hard hearted, and did not know that the Law is good “if one uses it lawfully.” And so it is to this day. It is the regenerated sinner who sees that the Law is no means to becoming righteous, but was given to show us our need for the Lord Jesus Christ’s amazing mercy and grace, and to show us that it is only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that a man is accounted as righteous. Paul shows us this in the following verses, where he writes:

8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.

The Law shows us God’s utter holiness, our utter inability to please God by our own attempts at being righteous (which the Lord calls “filthy rags”), and turns us to Christ. Those who are not regenerated, however, do not see this, and instead see the Law as a means of righteousness, embracing an “I think I can, I think I can” soteriology that stands in opposition to the glorious Gospel of the blessed God committed to Paul’s trust, which is a Gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. [Amen!]

Paul realizes this when he goes on to give a  brief account of his calling, conversion, and gives an emphatic declaration of the Lord Jesus’ role as Savior. We read:

12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul was a Christ-ignorant blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent man who was shown mercy. Paul was a sinner, and not self-righteous (cf. v.15 & v. 9). And Paul became a regenerate person, who then understood that a man can only be declared righteous before God, by God, on the basis of a perfect righteous wrought by God Himself – the Lord Jesus Christ. No man can earn brownie points with God by imperfectly following the Law of God, as he sees fit to so do in his own mind. This is not only foolishness and ignorance, according to Paul Himself, but – in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – it is blasphemy and damnable heresy.

God alone is Wise

Yet, men think themselves wise, teachers of the Law, desiring to step on Paul’s head in order to promote themselves. But what does Scripture say?

1. The false teachers were ignorant (although blind to their own ignorance).

2. Paul was also ignorant (although now aware of his own foolishness, by the grace of God in Christ).

3. God alone is wise.

The mention of God’s wisdom is not superfluous, but fits into this Law/Gospel distinction being set up by the apostle Paul, and echoes 1 Corinthians 1:18-19, where Paul writes:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“ I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

The “wisdom of God” is directly related to the Gospel here. It is Jesus Christ who has become for us “wisdom from God.” It is on this basis, and on the basis of the context of Paul’s Law/Gospel distinction that it is possible for us to assert that God’s wisdom here has a similar intended meaning. Why else would Paul mention it? In it we are reminded of the foolishness of these self-appointed “teachers of the Law” and the repentant and humble cry of Paul the apostle who willingly accepted God’s designation of him as ignorant, foolish, a brute beast (that is, apart from Christ Jesus).

Warfare?

Paul equates this opposition to the Gospel with warfare, spiritual warfare, and repeats his command to Timothy.

18 This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, 20 of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

– 1 Tim. 1:18-20

The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and those who reject it have neither faith nor a good conscience, but are enemies of God. Paul’s message to Timothy is clear, as it is clear to us: Those who preach a works-righteousness (either by denying the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to all who believe in Him, or by telling people that their final salvation from Hell, and God’s declaration of them as being “righteous” is somehow dependent upon their obedience to the Law, or conditioned upon their continuance [as opposed to, their continuance being conditioned upon the promise of the Father, the redemption accomplished by the Son, and the keeping power of the Holy Spirit]), these men lack faith and a good conscience, and they should be put out so that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Praise God for His glorious gift of salvation in Jesus Christ alone!

-h.

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5 thoughts on “The Purpose of Paul’s Commandment vs. The Purpose of the Law: A Brief Exposition of 1 Timothy 1

  1. Heather says:

    Hiram,

    No man can earn brownie points with God by imperfectly following the Law of God, as he sees fit to so do in his own mind. This is not only foolishness and ignorance, according to Paul Himself, but – in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – it is blasphemy and damnable heresy.

    This is an absolutely blood-chilling statement.

    There is so much Gospel-plus-works being promoted these days it’s a miracle that anyone finds the truth that what Jesus meant when He said “It is Finished!” is that He actually completed the work of securing that which belongs to Him.

    The obvious legalists are pretty easy to spot but the subtle, pride stroking lure of the ones who have added just a bit of “my” effort are sneaky. Why is it so easy to get distracted and think that what Jesus really meant was “I cleared your account—now it’s up to you to finish it”?

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  2. Hiram says:

    Michael Horton at Westminster, California says, and I’m beginning to agree with him more and more, that our sinful, natural religion is Pelagianism – even as believers we tend fall back into this sin of trying to be Christ.

    I’m turning back to Hebrews 5 and 7, to remind myself that it is Christ who is the Priest, the Sacrifice, and the King – not me. lol

    -h.

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  3. Heather says:

    I’m not familiar with Michael Horton’s work, but that sounds about right. The rebellious human desire to be god for ourselves can be traced all the way back to the Garden.

    Most of the pagan religions I’ve come across forward the idea that we can somehow eventually work our way into the favor of a designated deity. Even in their wrongness, there is acknowledgment that man naturally falls short of perfection and needs “something” to protect us from the wrath of one to whom we all answer.

    And, if I’m understanding Romans 7 correctly, believers have a war raging inside as the “old” nature kicks against the Spirit that has taken up residence. Guess my question was asked more out of disgust with myself than from a lack of information.

    Hebrews is good :) Christ is sufficient.

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