Sermons

God's Law Is Good

June 20, 2021 Speaker: Josh DeGroote Series: First Timothy - Guard the Deposit

Topic: The Law Passage: 1 Timothy 1:8–1:11

GUARD THE DEPOSIT

The opening verses of this letter are very telling. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy out of a deep concern. Remember Paul is writing to Timothy for him to remain in Ephesus and deal with some problems. He had invested a ton of blood, sweat, and tears into the life and health of the church at Ephesus. A matter of 4-5 years prior to writing this letter to Timothy, Paul was wrapping up a lengthy stay there. He had been there three years, teaching hours every day. The ministry of Paul was so fruitful and effective that the idol-making trade went into a freefall. People were being converted at such a clip that there was a steep drop in the need for idols. People didn’t want them anymore, they didn’t need them anymore. They were worshiping the true God. Revival and a spiritual awakening had come to Ehesus. In addition to this the church at Ephesus was probably a command center for evangelism throughout the whole region of Asia minor. This was an important church in an important and strategic city. 

Near the end of his three year stay in Ephesus, Paul gathered the elders (pastors) of the church for some parting words and instruction. In Acts 20 we see this instruction and the heart of it starts in verse 28:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. 

Well, Paul’s prediction came true. In a matter of only 4-5 years, false teachers had arisen in the church. They were in the church, perhaps even elders in the church, teaching twisted things and drawing disciples after them.  So Paul writes out of this concern that the truth be preserved, that the deposit of the divine revelation be guarded, that the people be protected from strange and false doctrine. In 1:19 Paul laments, “some have made shipwreck of their faith”. In 4:1, Paul says, “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.” In 5:15 Paul says, “For some have already strayed after Satan.” And the letter ends with Paul pleading with Timothy:

O Timothy, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. Avoid irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith…” 

This is relevant in every age. Brothers and sisters, we have been given a deposit of divine truth. It is precious, and we are called to guard it! Which does not mean hide it from others. NO! We are to guard it from being diminished, changed, perverted, etc. I would suggest that this is the thrust of the book of 1 Timothy. Guard the deposit. It is always under attack - and a cursory look at church history underscores this point. 

To be sure, there are some who are on an island by themselves because they cannot find anyone who believes every point of doctrine just like them. That’s not healthy. That’s bad! But that is not the main problem we suffer with today. We live in a time when everything goes. We live in a time where I would say many have little or no definite opinions on doctrine. JC Ryle described some Christians like jellyfish, who kind of believe: “Everybody is right--and nobody is wrong, everything is true--and nothing is false, all sermons are good--and none are bad, every minister is sound--and none are unsound.”

Paul didn’t believe that! He comes out swinging saying, “Timothy, tell certain men (they knew who) to stop teaching strange doctrines!” That’s clear. There’s a reason for Paul’s directness - strange doctrines hurt people. Richard Baxter said somewhere that “a man may go to hell by heresy just as he may by unrepented sin.” John Piper said something like, “Bad doctrine hurts people, and it hurts people in proportion to its badness”. This is the concern Paul has here. And it is a concern we ought to have. If a church that drank from the pure spring of the apostolic teaching of Paul could quickly get off track, we would be foolish to think that could never happen to us. 

So this is Paul’s burden. But to be more precise, this is the Holy Spirit’s burden - for the sake of God’s glory and the souls of men and women, boys and girls. God has entrusted the treasure of his divine truth to us - so we are to guard it for the good of souls (2:6). Now, as we move into verse 8 of our text this morning, Paul wants to draw out an important truth. And we see it in the first part of verse 8:

 

THE LAW GOOD

And we know that the law is good...

Did you catch that? “The law is good.” Let that just settle on you. The law is good. He qualifies this, but it’s important for us to hear these words. Psalm 119. The law is good! Paul says in Romans 7:12, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” The law is good. Now, Paul qualifies this. He puts a condition on the unqualified statement “the law is good.” He says,

If one uses it lawfully

The false teachers were using the law in a bad way. They were digging into the law to find, “special/hidden knowledge” - and this special knowledge was the key to union with God. Perhaps they were also using the law in a moralistic sort of way - “obedience to the law is the key to being justified”. That was bad and Paul wanted them to stop it! But there are good uses of the law.

1) For one, the law serves as a way of showing us the character and nature of God. I think of the opening lines of Exodus 20 right before going into the 10 commandments: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” It points to what God is like, who he is. His glory, nature, character. That’s what the law does and that is good for us!

2) Another good use is the law serves as a pattern for the life of the believer. God’s moral law summed up in the ten commandments is still a pattern for our lives. We are not saved by obedience to the law, but saved for obedience to God’s moral law in order to please him. We clearly know this because all of them are given to us in various places in the NT letters written to Christians (Ephesians 6: “children obey your parents…”)

3) Third and this is the main point of our text, the law is given to condemn the unconverted and convict the sleepy, backslidden Christian and show them their need for Christ. The law condemns and convicts people by showing them their sin and guilt against the Lawgiver. Here’s what Paul says,

Understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their mothers and fathers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine…

Paul says, “the law is not laid down for the just (righteous)”. The “just” here is speaking about those who are saved and justified and who have received the gift of a perfect righteousness through faith in Christ. But I don’t think that is an absolute statement. I have already told you two ways in which the law is given to the just. The purpose here is to draw our attention the law’s power to condemn:

First, six general statements describing certain kinds of people: the law is for: the lawless (those who turn away from God’s law), disobedient (rebellious - living in high handed rebellion against God), the ungodly (destitute of reverential awe towards God - Romans 3), sinners (those devoted to sin), the unholy (impious), profane (common or worldly).

Then after these six more general terms, Paul gets pretty specific. He lists sins that pretty clearly mirror or reference commands 5-9 of the Ten Commandments. The law is for those who “strike their fathers and mothers” (5th command). The law is for murderers (6th command). The law is for the sexual immoral. The Greek word is pornia. The law is for men who practice homosexuality. There is a real effort in our day to try to redefine this as though Paul is talking about a certain kind of homosexual behavior - like an abusive man with a young boy. But this is just pure fiction. The Greek term (arsenokoites) simply means what men do in bed with other men. And in the bible it is universally condemned (7th command dealing with sexual sin). The law is for enslavers (8th command). The law is for liars and perjurers (9th command). 

Why is it good to use the law in this way? To awaken people to their spiritual guilt and coming judgment so that they may flee to Christ as Savior and Redeemer. Unless people see and feel the sinfulness of sin and the just punishment of their sin, they will never run to Jesus. JC Ryle in his great book “Holiness” wrote:

Those whom the Spirit draws to Jesus are those whom the Spirit has convinced of sin. Without conviction of sin, men may seem to come to Jesus and follow him for a season, but will soon fall away and return to the world. 

So listen to what Paul says to lawbreakers. Romans 2:5 says, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.” Ephesians 5:6 says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” Colossians 3:6 says almost the same thing: [after enumerating a list of sins], “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” The law is given to show people their sin and condemnation in order to lead them to Christ. Martin Luther said the law:

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 Christ.”

This is why Paul likens the law to a schoolmaster or tutor to lead us to Christ. Without the law’s condemning function, people may see Jesus as a good Person, a good teacher, a miracle worker who can give them what we want, but He will not be seen as the One who “came into the world to save sinners” (1:15). He will not be treasured as the “only Mediator between God and men who gave himself as a ransom...” (2:5).

We live in a time when grievous sins are being flaunted and celebrated everywhere. Many of you know that June is pride month. An entire month in which an abomination in God’s sight is thrust upon us and celebrated everywhere. And more and more, if you refuse to celebrate, you are considered unloving, a bigot, a hater, and we have seen in some cases the legal system barreling down on some who won’t go along. In an act of high handed rebellion, the rainbow which is a sign of God’s promise to never destroy the world by a flood again has been hijacked and serves as a sign of the “pride” people have in their abominable acts before God. On June 1 a statement was made from the office of the president which said:

“Today, President Biden issued a proclamation affirming June 2021 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month, marking a time a time of hope, progress, and promise for LGBTQ+ Americans across the country.”

Hope? There is no hope there. Progress? Only toward a cliff of destruction. Promise? Only of God’s judgment for those who continue on that path. Brothers and sisters, that statement is evil. And much of the church is silent or doesn’t know what to say. Or worse, has completely capitulated to the spirit of the age. And I’m not sure of all the reasons. But one reason is embarrassment of God’s law - and we have forgotten that the law is good and it is good as a hammer to smash self-righteousness (which the Pride flag flaunts) and show people their sin. 

But I think there is another reason and it’s this. We are often looking for justification from the world. We want the world to like us. We want the world to accept us and be okay with us. We want to be justified! 

But the only justification that matters is to be justified by God - to be righteous in God’s sight. And this only comes when we are honest about our sin, the wretchedness of our self-righteousness and cowardice. The grotesqueness of our own hatred, the stench our lusts are in God’s nostrils. The jealousies and greed that rages in our hearts. The love of this world that grips us so tightly. When we are honest about these things, repent of them, and RUN to Christ and Christ alone, what does God do? He justifies us. He wraps us, he clothes us with a perfect righteousness - one that can never be improved upon and can never be diminished because it is the very righteousness of Christ. 

Beloved why are Christians so timid to speak God’s law in a wicked and perverse world? It is because we often want their justification and are not confident in our justification before God. Proverbs 28:1 says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” We need to be bold AND loving to speak the truth to the lawless, pointing them to the law and Lawgiver. It is unloving to conceal this truth. 

I have a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while who is gay. I spent quite a bit of time with him. And it did not take long before I realized it would be unloving to not tell him what the bible says about homosexuality. He would let me speak honestly with him. It was clear that my friend struggled with guilt and condemnation. At one time he told me that with the wide acceptance of homosexuality and the legalization of so called gay marriage, he and others thought that their depression and sense of guilt and shame would go away, but it didn’t. The reason why is because they are made in the image of God and his law is written on their conscience. But you know what? My friend was hearing mixed messages from other so-called Christians who were too ashamed of what the law said to tell him the truth of sin against God’s law and coming judgment. In fact, he heard from others that you could be a homosexual and a Christian. 

A morally diseased world needs to hear that God’s law condemns them. But that’s not all they need to hear. The condemning function of the law needs to be an onramp to the gospel. Verses 10-11 say,

…and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God…

The law is not contrary to the gospel. It leads to the gospel; it lays the groundwork for the gospel. The word gospel means good news, and it is especially good news when set against the backdrop of humanity’s gross sinfulness. The good news is that God saves disobedient children and murderers and porn addicts and homosexuals and adulterers and thieves and liars and the jealous and covetous. God saves them and makes them new people! Listen to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Paul says to these Christians in Corinth, such were some of you. And I can say that here among us! Such were some of you! But you were washed, sanctified, justified through Christ! This is the greatest news in the world! God saves the worst sinners, and he does so in order to magnify and show off his grace.

People don’t need to hear how they can basically save themselves by self-discovery, self-improvement, self-esteem. They need to hear good news of a Savior. So the law is good to show us our GREAT SIN in order to awaken us to our GREAT NEED, and lead us to our GREAT SAVIOR.

More in First Timothy - Guard the Deposit

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November 7, 2021

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