Exposition: 1 Timothy 1:8 – 17
In this first letter to Timothy concerning the church at Ephesus, Paul appears to be addressing a prideful elitism in the church. Some church members had devoted themselves to ‘myths and endless genealogies’, ‘mere speculations’ rather than ‘good stewardship’ (1 Timothy 1:4). Worse these members, having fallen short of ‘love from a pure heart’, have devoted themselves to ‘senseless babble’ aspiring to be teachers of the law (1 Timothy 1:6-7). It appears that these members are claiming they they have both the law and the gospel, but Paul argues that they have completely misunderstood the purpose of the law.
God’s law is not intended for our self-righteousness, it is not given to create a Christian elite puffed up with pride and arrogance. On the contrary the law is not given for the righteous in Christ, who are living according to the power of God’s Spirit within them, but for those living in rebellion against God’s kingdom.
Anticipating the accusation that he is opposed to the law, Paul writes, ‘the law is good if someone uses it lawfully’ (1 Timothy:8). Then to demonstrate this he argues that the purpose of the law is to convict ‘the lawless and rebellious, irreligious and sinners, unholy and profane’ (1 Timothy 1:9) these three couplets correspond to the first four of the ten commandments. The remaining vices and offences correspond to the next five commandments, ‘honour your father and mother’, ‘you shall not kill’, ‘you shall not commit adultery’, ‘you shall not steal’, and ‘you shall not bear false witness’ (Exodus 20:12-16).
Christians though are ‘no longer under the law, but under grace’ (Romans 6:14). For the gospel of our glorious God, entrusted to Paul, transforms us from within so that we may not boast in our outward observance but solely in the gospel of God’s grace to us.
In this wonderful truth the apostle Paul now revels as he declares himself continually thankful to the Lord Jesus Christ who ‘strengthened’ him and ‘appointed’ him to service, though formerly he was a ‘blasphemer, persecutor, and an insolent person’ (1 Timothy 1:12-13). Now through that Damascus road experience (Acts 9:1-19) Paul’s blasphemy, persecution and insolence has been obliterated by Jesus’ three gifts of mercy, faith and love. So Paul’s life is a testimony to the trustworthy saying that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world in order to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). Like Paul we should never grow tired of rejoicing in the truth that Christ has shown mercy to us!
For the purpose of God’s mercy is not simply for our benefit but so that ‘God’s patience’, God’s gracious character, might be made known to all ‘who would believe in Him for eternal life’ (1 Timothy 1:16). For all of this is to the honour and the glory of God, our King eternal.