The Glorious Gospel of Our Blessed God

1 Timothy 1:6-17

 

Last month we introduced a series of expositional articles on 1 and 2 Timothy. In verses 3-4 of 1 Timothy chapter 1, we saw Paul exhort Timothy to stay on in ministry at Ephesus to curtail and correct the false teaching of some in the leadership of that church. Now, Paul continues, describing further the error of these false teachers.

He has reminded Timothy that "the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1:5), and now shows how the false teachers have a different mode of operation. "For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though  they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions" (1:6-7).

The first accusation Paul levels at the false teachers is that they are "off the reservation" when it comes to Christian motivations. Whereas Paul and those He had trained (like Timothy) were teaching the true Gospel of Christ out of a sincere gratitude for their salvation and a holy desire to reach the lost, these false teachers were looking for something else. In context, it seems as though they were seeking positions of greater influence by teaching things outside of the truth.

Secondly, Paul undercuts the teaching of these leaders, showing that they were in over their heads, teaching things that they themselves did not even understand. We don't know exactly what they were teaching, but it was marked by a deviation from the "main thing" (the Gospel message) and the elevation of secondary issues to the level of fixation ("fruitless discussion").

He tells us that they tried to teach the Law, but without grasping that the Law had been fulfilled by Christ. We know from chapter 4 that some of this teaching took the form of legalistic asceticism ("men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created" [4:3]). It is possible that this falsehood was rooted in the teaching of the Judiazers whose work Paul denounces in Galatians and elsewhere. Those men taught that following the Law of Moses was as necessary to salvation as the sacrifice of Christ, and Paul eviscerated their arguments by showing that "if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:20).

In all these errors, however, these leaders in Ephesus were confident. Paul's description of them sounds like Ronald Reagan's quip about his political opponents, "it's not that [they're] ignorant, it's just that they know so much that isn't so." They were boldly proclaiming lies and misconceptions as truth, and Paul charged Timothy to boldly refute their message and their influence with the truth of Scripture.

Paul then turns to two brief discussions that seem peripheral to the case he is making to Timothy, but that serve to intensify and shore up his position. The first is a counterpoint to the false teachers' views that places the Law in its full context, interpreted in the light of Christ's work on the cross. "But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted" (1:8-11).

Paul reaffirms his teaching from other epistles (notably Romans and Galatians) that the Law cannot save anyone, but serves to convict mankind of sin by revealing the holy standard of God. The Law is not for the righteous (i.e. - those who have been given God' righteousness through the blood of Christ) but serves as a "tutor" (Rom. 2:20, Gal. 3:24-25), teaching the ungodly of their depravity and need for a Savior.

The rigmarole of sinful behaviors Paul rattles off here fits with similar lists in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and elsewhere, though commentators note that the last few sins here mirror the 5-9th of the Ten Commandments. Paul's point whenever he makes such a list is to show the gamut of sins mankind is guilty of to make sure that anyone who might consider himself righteous finds some sin in his own heart and to show the depth and breadth of Christ's forgiveness. The law points up "whateveris contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God" to show us just how much we need that Gospel.

Paul then moves from his statement about the Law to a statement of his own personal testimony. He says at the end of verse 11 that he has been "entrusted" with the Gospel, and then briefly shares his story: "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus" (1:12-14). He builds on his earlier point by showing that God was using him to spread the Gospel, in spite of his past life of heinous sin, because of His abounding Grace.

Continuing his story, Paul interprets his own salvation in light of the "big picture" of God's glorification: "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life" (1:15-16). Don't miss what he is saying here-the scope and public nature of his sin served to amplify his witness for Christ. He says that Christ chose him, not because he was a righteous man, but because the depth of his sin would bring God great glory through his redemption!

This is really the crux of Paul's entire argument, not just in the Pastoral Epistles, but throughout his ministry-"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Jesus said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17). This is the touchstone of the Gospel, that none of us are righteous, but that we are made righteous through the cleansing blood of Christ. The message of Christ is one of total grace; we have nothing to offer God, but He loves us and redeems to showcase His own glory. Our works and efforts to follow the Law in our own strength come to nothing, and are, at heart, a rebellion against the free gift God offers.

It is because of this "upside-down" nature of the Gospel (which, in contrast to every other religion, disregards man's efforts for his own salvation) that Paul can make such bold statements. While Christians, through the Spirit's leading, are able to put their faith in action through good works, we know that we can't ever earn our way into heaven. While Christians take joy in living in obedience to God's Word, "doing the right thing" should never be the ultimate focus of our faith. What Paul demonstrates so profoundly is that owning our sin is crucial to the witness of the Gospel. If we present ourselves as anything other than sinners saved by grace, our proclamation of truth to the world will smack of "holier than thou" condemnation and undercut the glorious message.

It is for this mind-boggling reality of redemption that Paul proclaims praise: "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" (1:17). If anyone other than God receives the glory and credit for our life change and for any good things we do, we are robbing Him and proclaiming another gospel "which is really no gospel at all" (Gal. 1:7 NIV).

This is the message which Paul has entrusted to Timothy and which he is urging him to cling to and defend against falsehood with all his strength. It is for the sake of the Gospel that Paul commends to him everything he writes through the remainder of both epistles.

Justin Lonas is editor of Disciple Magazine for AMG International in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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