The Effect of the Gospel (3) 1 Timothy 1. 6-20
Stephen Whitmore, Clacton-on-Sea
The Contrast of Law and Grace
As we saw in the previous article, the remaining verses of the chapter deal with the effect of the gospel in three respects:
1. The Work of the Law in Conviction of Sin, vv. 6-11.
2. The Grace of the Lord in Saving from Sin, vv. 12-17.
3. The Danger of Falling Back into Sin, vv. 18-20.
We shall look at these in more detail now.
The Work of the Law in Conviction of Sin,, vv. 6-11
These verses set the contrast between the law as it was intended by God, and the law as it was used by the Judaisers in Paul's day, and as it has been used consistently since that day. It is a sad reflection on the heart of man that matters which are most clearly dealt with in the word of God are still the basis of much error.
The error of the teachers at Ephesus was that they had lost sight of the basic desire of God for His people. Before dealing in detail with the specific matters which troubled Ephesus, we ought to consider the underlying principle here. Any practice that we undertake in obedience to the word of God must always be performed in the spirit outlined in verse 5. Clearly, there is no room for condoning disobedience to the truth if we are to fulfil the charge, but what is in view here is that a rigid obedience to the word of God will never please the heart of God unless it is done in the right spirit.
The error of these men appears to be in a failure to recognize where the need for law arises. It may be that the law of God is a specific example of this, but the need for any form of law is because the natural man is opposed to the way of God by nature. The result is that laws must be made to govern his conduct, whether in dealings with God or with others. The need for law assumes that there is a rebellious spirit. The believer ought to be marked by subjection, not to the letter of the Law of God, but the spirit that underlies it. The Lord makes the distinction clear in Matthew 5. 17-48. This is a character that cannot be imitated, only created by the work of the Spirit in the children of God. Law may regulate the actions of a sinner, but sound doctrine will transform the believer from within so that law becomes irrelevant, and love for the Lord generates more complete obedience than the law could ever demand.
The Grace of the Lord in Saving from Sin, vv. 12-17
Paul now turns from the sinner to consider himself as an example of the contrast between the works of law and the power of the Lord in saving grace. As he thinks of this, he begins with a note of thanks to the Lord for enabling him and putting him into the ministry.
The reference of Paul to his past should stand as a clear warning to those who trust in or promote law. As we think of the description here, we must put it alongside that in Philippians 3. The two cannot be considered in isolation. Philippians 3 contains the description of all that Paul could claim after the flesh. There is the man who lives by law, and can make the claim that, as far as outward obedience to the law is concerned, he has more right to boast of his righteousness than any other man. In verse 13 we learn the true character of the same man when he allows the Lord to reveal Himself to his heart. The man who could make every boast of his own righteousness before men, stands as guilty of ihe most heinous sins before the Lord. The difference was that one was a man who never looked below the surface, the other was a man who looked at the real motivation. The cause of his thanksgiving is that, despite his awful sin, the Lord looked even deeper than the actions, and saw the sincerity with which he acted. It may be that he was guilty of dreadful sins, but he did all out of a genuine, if misguided, zeal. The result is that the Lord revealed Himself to Saul of Tarsus, and offered the opportunity to repent, and to use his zeal for the true glory of God. It is surely this background that convinces Paul of the uselessness of law in fulfilling the desires of the heart of God.
The terms that he uses in this chapter open to us the secret of how we can fulfil the desires of His heart, in verse 11, sound doctrine is centred in the 'gospel of the glory of the blessed God' (Newberry margin). It is not a set of rules to control our actions, but a heart that has seen the glory of God. This was the basis of Abraham's life, Acts 7. 2; this was something Peter never forgot to his last days, 2 Pet. 1. 16, 17; this was John's theme, John 1. 14; 2. 11, 17; it is the basis of conduct towards saints in James 2. 1; it was a subject that filled the teachings of Paul. First and foremost, an appreciation of the glory of God is a requirement for the heart that is to be set in a right path to please Him. The law exposes failure but it cannot put it away.
Immediately following from this is the acknowledgement of the Man in the glory. The title, Christ Jesus, reminds us of the heavenly character of our Lord and Saviour. Here is the Man who has entered into heaven itself, and as Paul speaks of Him, He is our Lord. We are under the direction of One who has been this way, who has walked this earth, but who has proved consistently that He does not belong to earth. If we are His servants, then we shall not be moved by the desires of men on the earth. It is only when He chooses to bestow His abundant favours on us that we can be anything for Him. We have nothing of ourselves with which to work His pleasure. We are utterly dependent on His grace to make us strong in our weakness. There is another side to this, however. The faith and love in Christ Jesus reminds us of the fact that we must lay claim to His resources. We cannot please Him of ourselves, but He will not force us to do His pleasure. Faith lays claim to the supplies that grace puts at our disposal. Just as the sinner is only saved when he accepts his helplessness and turns in faith, so the servant will only prosper when he lays hold on the blessings that are his in Christ. The reference to love may have a double meaning here. On the one hand it is a reminder that love flows out from Christ Jesus. The same love that brought Him into the world to save sinners is bestowed upon us daily as we move through this scene, guiding and directing us through life. On the other hand, that love should also cause a reciprocal love from our hearts which is the well-spring from which all our service is performed. We may do great things for Him, we may keep as close as is possible to the pattern of truth laid down in the Scriptures, but unless our hearts have been truly touched by His love in such a way as to create love for Him, all is of no value. It is also true that, just as faith must find its centre in Christ Jesus, so must love. This is where many fail. They see the need for love, but they do not see that everything springs from love for Christ.
This is the context of verse 15, a verse that we often use in gospel preaching. The truth of the gospel is clearly stated, but if we limit it to the gospel, we lose its real force. It comes as a challenge to our hearts in service. We look up, and see Christ Jesus in heaven, the place He left for the cross. We look down and see ourselves at the bottom of the pile of sinners. In the middle we see the cross, and the salvation that comes from the cross, and we find that the Lord out of heaven became a curse for us, so that we, under the curse of sin, might become the sons of God, the bride of Christ. If this does not touch our hearts, then we need to ask whether we are even saved.
The section closes with a further challenge. Paul speaks of himself as an example for all who would believe. The humility of the man is something which cannot be imitated by the flesh.
We often consider his service and his labours, and think of an example that we could not achieve. Here is the apostle that we so often admire, and he says that he has obtained mercy as a pattern of the longsuffering of Christ. In effect, he says, 'If He can do this with me, what can He do with any other?' Surely the secret is that Paul has lost every thought of self for Christ, and so Christ can be seen in him. It is against this background that the doxology of verse 17 is raised. Paul has learned in his experience just what these words mean, not as something to be seen in the future, but as the sole reason for everything that he does, and therefore the effect in his life is seen.
The Danger of Falling Back into Sin, vv. 18-20
We now return to the charge that was given to Timothy. With the two examples that we have considered, he is encouraged to wage a good warfare, without relinquishing faith or a good conscience. These are the guides which will warn of impending danger. If we begin to move without the conviction that we are obeying the Lord, or if we begin to do things that we are not absolutely certain are right to do, then we area prey to the enemy. We need to turn to the Lord at once, and ask for His guidance so that we are delivered from the danger of shipwreck.
The Motivation to Godliness
As we consider these verses, let us ask just how far our lives are motivated by the recognition of the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus our Lord. The need of the present time is for whole-hearted devotion in every detail of life. Only this will transform outward conformity into living, vital service for the pleasure and glory of God.