For the last couple of weeks we have been involved in a series of messages that I have entitled “Building a gospel based church.” We’re making out aim to be a gospel centered church and we are looking at this epistle as the blueprints for our church. The pastoral epistles basically lay out for us what a gospel based church looks like.
Paul is a guy who loves to talk about the gospel. And there were people in Ephesus who were more concerned about the law. As a matter of fact, they were so enamored with the law that Paul calls them “teacher of the law.” That was probably a derogatory term.
Now, the problem wasn’t that the loved the law. The problem was that they were using the law in the wrong way. They had begun to confuse the law and the gospel. The law was their gospel. The gospel was being nullified because they were teaching that the law was a way of salvation.
And so one of the things Paul has to do is sort out where the law fits in a gospel based church. And you’ll notice that our passage for this morning begins by saying, “Now we know that the law is good.” And that phrase is the theme for the entirety of this passage. Paul here proclaims that a gospel based church will embrace God’s law because it is good.
And we are going to see that he gives three reasons why the law is good. We are going to see that the law is good because of its function; one of the functions of God’s law is to restrain sinful behavior (which is a very good thing). We are also going to see that the law is good because of its nature. The law, by nature, is something that promotes our overall health and well-being. And then, finally, we’ll find that the law is good because it is in accord with the greatest good that there is; it exists in perfect harmony with the gospel.
Let’s begin by talking about the function of God’s law though.
I. Its function – it restrains sin [8-10a]
In verses 8-10 Paul tells us that the law’s function is to restrain sin in unruly men. Look at what he says, starting in verse 8:
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers.”
Do you see what Paul is saying? He’s telling us that the law isn’t for the just. If you are a moral person, you don’t need someone or something telling you what to do. The law is for people who are immoral. If you are prone to lying, and to murder or homosexuality or to spewing out all kinds of profanity, then you do need something to keep you in check. And that’s what the Law does. It is there to keep people from acting upon their sinful inclinations. It fetters sinful behavior by reminding people that those deeds are wrong and putting the threat of judgment on their conscience.
Theologians often refer to this as the “first use of the law.” Ordinarily, we say that there are three uses of the law. In the book of Galatians, we learn how God’s law can be used to convict people of their need for the Savior. Paul talks about how God’s law points out how sinful you are and that you stand condemned before God. So it ultimately reminds you of your need for a Savior.
The Bible also shows us that God’s law serves as a guide for Christian living. Once you come to Christ, God’s law can show you how to live and how to please God. This is the third use of the law.
But this passage is talking about the first use of the law, and we might call it the most basic use of the law. The primary function of God’s law is to keep people from doing what they are not supposed to do.
I used to teach Bible at a Christian high school, and the first thing I would do each semester is lay down the law. I would go over the rules for my classroom and I would make sure everyone was clear on what I required. Now, why did I do that? I can tell you that it wasn’t because they were good little kids. It might have been a Christian school, but they were a bunch of heathens. And I went over those rules so that they would know how they were to conduct themselves. And they would know that if they crossed that line, there would be consequences.
That is a perfect example of what Paul is talking about here. God’s law is laid down for the unjust and the lawless. Part of the reason it exists is to restrain the sins of the unregenerate and keep order in general society.
This is why it is sometimes called the “civil” or “political” use of the law. God’s word has a power to reign in sin in the broader culture, even of those who are not followers of Christ.
You can see this principle laid down in other places in Scripture too. Perhaps you remember the story of what happened to Cain after he killed his brother. Cain became worried that someone somewhere would try to kill him to exact vengeance and get rid of Him. But remember what God did. God placed a mark on him and declared that no one should touch Cain. So God laid down a law and it was publicized through the mark that was put on Cain. And that law kept everyone in the world from attacking Cain or doing him any wrong.
That was an example of what Paul is talking about right here in 1 Timothy: God’s law has the power to preserve order in society at large because it serves to curtail corrupt behavior.
If you think about God’s law in this way, you will understand why people in olden days were adamant about posting the Ten Commandments in public places and teaching kids to memorize them in schools. There is a big push today to remove any and every display of God’s law from the public eye and to make sure every school, courtroom, and park is sanitized of such things. But they were originally placed in those locations because they would be seen and the people knew that God’s law had this effect on society.
This is why I support things like the protest that the Johnson’s organized at Target yesterday. I had a few people ask me if they thought it was appropriate to protest what Target was doing. My answer is yes, because what you are doing is holding forth the truth of God’s word in the public forum. It might not bring people to Christ, but there is something that does happen. God does use that. What they are attempting to do is make a public proclamation about gender and immorality. And while people might not like that, this passage tells us God still has a purpose for that kind of thing in the public arena. Through those kinds of efforts the Lord puts a bridle upon the wicked and restrains them from sinning further.
And this is one reason why the law is good. The law is good because it has this immense power over people who do not even believe in God. It has the power to curtail sin and preserve a general righteousness in the broader society.
But there’s another reason why the law is good. Sure, it has the power to restrain sin, but it also has the power to promote health.
II. Its nature – it promotes health [10b]
Look at the end of verse 10. After listing all the different sins, Paul says “whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.” Paul’s saying that anything that is opposed to God’s law is “contrary to sound doctrine.”
Now the word “sound” can actually be translated “health” or “healthy.” It is a word that has to do with your physical condition. And Paul uses it here to say that anything that is contrary to God’s law is unhealthy. In other words, sin will have some sort of detrimental effect upon your personal well-being.
Understand this: sin is a destroyer. Its nature is to diminish life. It attacks your emotions; it chokes your physique; it is a parasite that eats you alive.
God’s law, on the other hand, is health. It is what promotes and maintains good health. You can eat as many carrots as you’d like, but whatever fad diet you choose is not going to be as healthy as living in obedience to God.
I think that is something that’s important to point out. God’s law is good because it is healthy and will serve to enhance your overall quality of life.
Paul includes this because the false teachers were promoting different doctrines and he wanted Timothy to know that these different doctrines were not healthy. If followed, they would be harmful to the Christians and the entire Ephesian church community would suffer if they did not turn from them.
For instance, over in chapter 6 Paul says that the false teachers were guilty of producing discontent, strife and divisions. In other words, they were ruining the emotional and spiritual health of the people.
And then you may know the passage in chapter 5 where Paul encourages Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach. It is likely that these false teachers were teetotalers who were saying that alcohol was taboo. And Paul was telling tTmothy not to abstain from moderate drinking, because there would be some consequences for his health.
A few years ago I met a guy who I thought was 15 years older than I was. When I introduced myself he said, “Yeah, I know you. We went to school together.” He went on to explain that he was a sophomore when I was a senior. He was actually younger than I was! I wonder what the look on my face was because I was just stunned. The guy looked like he was 55-60 years old. What had happened is that he had not followed the Lord. He lived a life of pleasure and had made some very bad decisions in life. At the time of our conversation, he said he had just gotten out of rehab and was looking to get back on his feet.
This is an example of what verse 10 is talking about. This fellow had chosen not to submit to God’s law. As a result, it robbed him of his life and brought him a great deal of ruin.
But that is the rule of law when it comes to sin. Sin brings nothing but death and destruction. But God’s law should be recognized to be that which accords with health and happiness. Those who abide by God’s law will be more inclined to enjoy its fruits.
There’s another story about a mission in India. Years ago a Hindu woman came to the mission and asked if her daughter could stay at their orphanage. The missionaries wanted to know why the mother did not want to care for her child. She explained by saying, “The children here are so beautiful. I want my daughter to be like them.”
Why were the children at the orphanage so beautiful? It’s because they were healthy. Why were they healthy? It’s because they were living in a godly society, following the laws of God rather than the foolish ways of Buddhism and Shintoism.
Both of these illustrations I’ve given you are extreme examples, but they serve to make the point. God’s law is healthy. Had Adam never sinned, we’d all be the epitome of good health.
There’s one more thing about God’s law. Paul tells us that it is good because it restrains sin and promotes health. But he also tells us that it is good because it harmonizes with the gospel.
III. Its compatibility: It harmonizes with the gospel 
Look at verse 11. It says that this law is “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.”
God’s law is not in any conflict with the gospel. The law and the gospel are not polar opposites that have nothing to do with one another. When Paul says that God’s law is “in accordance with the gospel,” he wants us to understand that there is a perfect harmony that exists between them.
This is not to say that they are the same. Don’t get me wrong. They are distinct, and it is important to maintain that distinction. The gospel is about Christ. It tells you about salvation. The law tells us what God requires of us. It details our duty.
And we cannot mix those up. If we do, we get into a lot of trouble. And I would bet that was what was going on in Ephesus. These “teacher of the law” were probably saying that the law was a means of salvation. That’s fudging the lines between the law and the gospel. And they were probably saying that Paul didn’t care about the law. But Paul wants them to know that a vigorous embrace of the gospel does not mean that you negate or neglect the law. The two are distinct, but not altogether separate.
We talk a lot about compatibility today. When it comes to computers, we say that this software has to be compatible with your device. There are a lot of dating services that exist today, and they talk about finding a person with whom you are compatible. Or people will try and get a divorce on the grounds that they are not compatible.
What is all this talk of compatibility? What are we saying? We are looking for things that work together and have a great deal of similarity.
That’s what Paul is talking about here. He says that the law and the gospel are not at odds with one another. Rahter they are “in accordance with” one another. They are completely compatible.
Despite their differences, the law and the gospel have a lot of similarity. For instance, both are forms of divine revelation. Both of them come from God and point us to God. On top of that, both of them require perfect obedience. The law says God requires absolute holiness. The gospel says that perfect holiness is only found in Christ who lived a sinless life.
So you see, the two have much in common with one another. But they are not only compatible in that they have some overlap; they both play off of one another too.
My wife is good with scheduling and remembering things. I am not that keen in those areas. And there are some things that she cannot do, that I can (like opening jars of pickles). So we are compatible in that way. We play off of each other, and fill a need that each has.
The law and the gospel are like that. The law drives you to the gospel. It reminds you of how sinful you are and that you need a savior. The gospel fills that void. In the gospel we find that Christ is the perfect substitute. He bore the wrath of God and brings us eternal life.
But the gospel also points to the law. The gospel tells, “You must now live for Christ.” So it throws us back on the law so that we might know how to live a holy life and please God.
So you see how they harmonize. The law and the gospel are not pitted against one another. They are good friends who love to walk hand in hand.
All this helps to confirm for us that just because we are a gospel based church, it doesn’t mean that we are against God’s law. Absolutely not. I would say that it only serves to confirm that a gospel based church is a church that whole heartedly embraces God’s law. It simply understands the role and function of the law.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.