Teaching series from 1 Timothy

Two Ways to Contribute to Your Church's Health

1 Timothy 1:7-17

Teaching t14013


Brief reminder of the letter’s setting and purpose (read 3:14,15) – to remind Timothy of key requisites of healthy church life.  Beware of two mind-sets that could prevent you from profiting from this series.

You may be thinking: “This would be important if I were an influential member (leader, teacher, etc.) – but I’m not, so it’s not very relevant to me.”  But remember – we are all influencing others in our church.  We all impact a portion of the household of God, so how we conduct ourselves in the household of God matters.

You may be tempted to go through this material focusing on how others in the church should improve in these areas for your benefit (consumer mentality).  That’s not what 3:15 says!  Instead, we should take in this series asking ourselves: “How can I conduct myself in a way that contributes to a healthy church culture?”

Last week, we saw that a key factor in a healthy church culture is the focus of its teaching ministry (briefly review?).  This week, Paul presents two additional ways each of us can contribute to our church’s health . . .

Use God’s law properly

Read 1:6-8.  The Ephesian church culture was in jeopardy because certain influential people had serious misunderstanding about God’s law (DEFINE).  The issue is not the goodness of the law (it comes from God, so it must be good), but rather its purpose and (therefore) its proper use (SLIDES).

Read 1:9-11.  Paul teaches here that the primary purpose of God’s law is not for Christians[1], but for non-Christians.  His point is that God gave His law to expose our sin and guilt before Him, to bring us under conviction of His just condemnation – so that we will see our need to receive by faith the mercy He extends through Christ (CANCER DENIAL ANALOGY: X-RAYS, CAT SCANS >> SURGERY).  Paul frequently teaches this same truth elsewhere (read and explain Rom. 3:19,20; Gal. 3:24).  As Luther said, “The . . . principal purpose of the law (is to be) 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 . . . and so may long for grace and for (Christ).” 

We can’t ignore the elephant in the room (though we cannot spend very much time on the elephant).  The fact that Paul pairs “those who practice homosexuality”[2] with “sexually immoral persons” and puts homosexual behavior in the same category as heinous acts (parent murder, kidnapping, perjury, etc.) is super-offensive to our culture.  We hear this through the grid of gay hatred protests.  The Bible has a two-fold response to this objection: God hates the sin, but He loves the sinner.

On the one hand, the Bible consistently condemns homosexual behavior (along with all sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage) as a violation of God’s design and therefore destructive to individuals and human society.  Biblical Christians cannot justify any form of homosexual behavior without rejecting God’s moral authority.  The attempts to prove that Paul is referring only to homosexual rape, or that sexual ethics are culturally bound, are exegetically unfeasible.  Saying that the Bible is simply wrong on this ethical issue arrogates to ourselves the infallibility that we deny the Bible.  Why should we be surprised that God’s ethics are sometimes different from and offensive to fallen societies (e.g., materialism in 21st century USA; kidnapping and slavery in 18th century Britain & 19th century southern USA)?

But on the other hand, Paul is not engaging in a self-righteous, unloving denunciation of “those bad people.”  He explicitly identifies himself as one of these people (see 1:13 and its intentional connection to 1:9,10).  God’s law has done its work in his own life, exposing him as a sinner who stands under God’s just condemnation.  He rejoices, not that his past behavior has been righteous, but that he is the recipient of God’s amazing mercy and grace.

Does God condemn homosexual behavior?  Yes – just as He condemns all sexual sins.  Does God love you if you (or others) have gone down this path?  Yes – enough to die for you.  Can God’s mercy and grace fully forgive and substantially transform people who have gone down this path?  Yes – and we have ample evidence of this in our own church. 

We must leave this issue here for now.  But before we go on to Paul’s second point, we need to remember his first point: misusing God’s law is very damaging to a church’s culture.  EXAMPLES OF WHAT THIS LOOKS LIKE:

“We earn God’s acceptance by obeying His moral standards and/or religious rituals.”  This has been the dominant view in Christendom for 20 centuries.  It turns Christianity into a religion (vs. a love-relationship with God).  It deprives the watching world of “good news” and leaves it only with “bad news.”  It promotes a self-righteous and hypocritical church culture

“We grow spiritually by focusing on obedience to God’s moral law.”  This has been the dominant view in churches that believe in salvation by grace through faith.  It turns the Christian life into moral self-effort (vs. depending on the Holy Spirit to transform and empower us).  It promotes a grim moralism, or an external focus, or hiding sin-problems.

If God’s law was not made for Christians, if it is not to be the focus of the Christian life, what is?  This is what Paul explains in 1:12-17 . . .

Appreciation for God’s grace

Re-read 1:11.  Do you notice how Paul’s tone changes here?  As soon as he mentions the good news of God’s grace, he becomes excited about God’s “good news” and how good God is (“the glorious gospel of the blessed God”).  He then breaks out in thanksgiving to God (read 1:12a) for being entrusted with this good news.  Why is this good news so exciting?  Because it is the news about the “super-abundant” grace of God (read 1:14,15), extended because of His love and through Christ death for our sins.  “Super-abundant” grace means that God gives guilty, undeserving sinners an inordinately lavish gift (PARDONING YOUR CHILD’S MURDERER & ALSO ADOPTING HIM & ALSO MAKING HIM YOUR HEIR).  God’s grace is even more lavish than this!

Read 1:13,15.  Even though he had done terrible things (blasphemed Jesus [as demon-possessed?], persecuted and killed His followers, and insolently committed shameful acts against them), God showed him mercy (i.e., had pity on him and issued him a full pardon).

Read 1:12,13a.  Even though he was criminally guilty before God, God has put him into His service and empowered him.  In the same encounter in which Jesus confronted Paul with these sins (Acts 26:14), He also appointed him to be His spokes-person (Acts 26:16).

Read 1:16.  Even though he is “the foremost of sinners,” God has made him a real-life example (“summary exposition”), a flesh-and-blood display to others that they also can receive mercy (“If God can forgive me, He can certainly forgive you!”).  You can receive God’s super-abundant grace, too, by simply coming to Christ in faith.

As Paul reflects on God’s “super-abundant” grace and its impact on his life, he breaks into personal praise, inviting others to join him (read 1:17).

This is not just Paul giving autobiographical information or stating theological truth.  This is Paul gushing his personal appreciation (gratitude and awe) for God’s super-abundant grace.  If you read his letters, you will see that he does this again and again (e.g., Romans doxologies; Eph. 1:3ff.). 

This is a potent contribution to a healthy church culture – and everyone can make it!  This is what spreads infectious joy, deepens attractive humility, motivates forgiveness and love, etc.  New Christians are this way naturally (WHY) – but older Christians are often stale in this regard (which also quenches the Spirit, makes them vulnerable to doctrinal tangents and worldliness, etc.).  Yet here is Paul, is a 20+ year-old Christian, more thankful for and awed by God’s grace than ever! 

How can we cultivate this same appreciation so that we can be contributors to a healthy church culture?  Look at the clues in this passage:

Remember what Jesus saved you from.  Paul remembers (1:13).  Paul earlier reminded the Ephesians to do this (read Eph. 2:12).  How about you?  Is your appreciation of your past rescue growing, or is it just a dim memory that you take for granted?

Let God keep showing you how much more sinful you are than you realized.  Paul says: “Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am (not ‘was’) foremost of all” (compare to earlier, less extreme self-descriptions (1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8).  Paul’s awareness of his sinfulness increases as he matures in Christ, even though his life is more transformed.  And this increases his appreciation of God’s grace.  How about you?  Is your heart becoming crusted over in self-deceived self-righteousness – or is it becoming more amazed at His mercy and patience with you?

Ponder all that God has showered on you through Christ.  Paul ponders three such blessings in this passage (briefly repeat).  His other letters consider many more (e.g., Eph. 1-3; Rom. 3-11; etc.) – like so many facets of a beautiful jewel.  How about you?  Is your comprehension of God’s grace 2-dimensional and black-and white, or 3-dimensional and full-color?

Give thanks and praise for the above – both and private and with others (as Paul does here).  This will complete and deepen your appreciation, and it will influence others in this same direction!


NEXT WEEK: 1 Tim. 1:18-20 – “Fight the Good Fight”

[1] “Righteous” (dikiaos) can refer to morally upright people.  But it is often used by Paul to refer to those who are “justified” (declared in right standing with God) through faith in Christ (see Rom. 1:16,17, etc.).  This meaning is preferred here, since none are righteous in their heart and behavior, all are sinners (1:9), the context is about the relationship between God’s law and His grace, etc.

[2] “The Greek word arsenokoitēs, which occurs only here and in 1 Corinthians 6:9, is a combination of arsēn (male) and either koitē (bed) or keimai (to lie). It probably refers back to the Leviticus texts which prohibit ‘lying with a man as one lies with a woman’; it denotes practicing male homosexuals.”  Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 49). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.