Guarding the gospel – 1 Timothy 1:3-11

In this series through Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus I’m exploring Paul’s message to the church. I’d like to encourage you stop reading, grab your Bible, pray and then come back once you’ve done that ……. Welcome back! Lest we think that this is all old news, keep reading! Paul’s message to Timothy and Titus are as relevant todays as they have ever been. In fact Paul says:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

1 Timothy 3:14-15

So this letter of Paul’s to this young pastor of a difficult, struggling church is about the church of God and how the church is supposed to act and behave in society. It’s a difficult, struggling church because Ephesus was filled with paganism and rampant immorality and idolatry. There were huge cultural pressures on the people. So, I think this makes for a very relevant letter to us! Don’t we all feel the pressure to conform and be less than what God’s us to be?

In this section (1 Timothy 1:3-11) Paul’s main message to this young pastor is: guard the gospel. This is how he starts:

3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,

We are not to teach anything that is different from the gospel. why? because there is nothing more important or precious than this message of hope to a dying world. If we lose the message, if we lose the gospel, then we lose the hope that is attached to it. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker that used to be popular (superseded now by Pinterest I suppose). Here’s what it read: NO JESUS – NO HOPE – KNOW JESUS, KNOW HOPE. This is why the message of the gospel is so important – it gives hope. It’s vital that the gospel is guarded! In the eight verses that follow Paul exhorts Timothy to consider how the law of God is used and misapplied in the lives of believers.

Promote Godliness

4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.

Here’s the first warning: don’t get distracted. There were some false teachers in Ephesus promoting the idea that you can take just about any story and so long as it has a good, moral outcome, then it’s as if it is God’s Word speaking to the church. Now look, there is nothing wrong with a good story. Testimonies of God’s goodness to us should be freely and frequently shared. The problem Timothy was facing was that these had become the basis for the church’s doctrine. These false teachers were also promoting the idea that said that the better family you had and the most prestigious your heritage is, the most God approved of you. Well, Paul says don’t think about things that might not be true, those things that promote unhealthy arguments, those things that are based purely on human experience that can’t be proven, don’t think about where your family have come from as if God is more pleased with that.

The fruit of these distractions is pretty clear: lack of stewardship. The word stewardship means “to build” or “edify”. Paul says that these things (stories and prestige) are distracting the church from building up the godliness that comes by faith. One way that this happens is demonstrated in verse 6:

6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion

Sadly we see this too often in church. People who would rather debate and be controversial over minor, fairly irrelevant things and ignore the basics of the truth of the gospel. Paul says that the fruit of doing this is a lack of godliness and empty discussion.

7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

Sounds harsh doesn’t it? These people are arrogant as well as ignorant – a terrible combination!

Now, you will probably have noticed that I missed out verse 5, that’s because I want to spend a good portion of my time thinking about it:

5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Here’s the essence of What Paul is saying: “love is produced by instruction in the gospel as opposed to listening and retelling of myths and genealogies”. Here’s the next warning: instruction that doesn’t lead to love. This means that truth aims as love. This is very important. Instruction here is not the goal. Love is the goal. Instruction is the means. It is subordinate. Truth serves love.

The writer to the Hebrews says a similar thing:

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25

Let us hold fast the confession – truth ….. let us stir one another to love … love. The aim, Paul writes, of our instruction to you, Timothy, is a stirring up of love. Instruction is the foundation love and leads to love through purity and faith. It’s always truth and love in that order.

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,

1 Peter 1:22

“God is” provides the truth of “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Truth precedes love. Truth serves love. This is the great benefit of sound doctrine … it should produce love.

Here’s the third warning: misapplied law in the life of the believer. Paul continues in verse 8 to tell us

8 … that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully,

So what is good about the law (and by that I mean the moral law of God, not the dietary or ritualistic law) ..  and how should it be thought about? Paul tells us:

9 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, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

Throughout the Bible the law is given for three reasons:

  1. To restrain sin (see Romans 7:7). The “don’t do this” of the law stops us sinning as often as we do.
  2. To condemn sin (see Romans 8:8). The “don’t do this” of the law proves that we are sinners. Paul said in Romans 2:14-15 that all people know the law of God as it is ingrained in our hearts.
  3. To point to Christ (see Ezekiel 36:27). The “don’t do this” of the law weren’t done by Jesus. He is perfect and with his Spirit at work in us, the law is no longer a crushing hammer but a divine gift that makes our hearts long for Christ.

Don’t misapply the law. At no point, ever, anywhere does God say “keep the law and you’ll be accepted by me”. That’s man’s invention. The Bible consistently says “you can’t keep the law, stop trying, be born again and allow Jesus to live through you”. This is the best definition of godliness I know: allowing Jesus’ live to become yours. Three things that produce godliness:

  1. Repentance of sin
  2. The longing for Christ
  3. The desire to keep His laws
  4. The surrender to His will and life lived through us.


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