The Goodness of the Law
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully.”- 1 Timothy 1:8
Using the right tool correctly is the only way to do anything successfully. If we want to learn how to re-wire an electrical outlet, for example, a book explaining the process can be most helpful, as long as we read it and put its instructions into practice. But if we use the book wrongly, the consequences are potentially disastrous. Putting the text under a pillow and sleeping on it will not, by osmosis, provide us with what we need to accomplish our task. If we take this route, we will be shocked at our ineptness when we work on the outlet.
The fundamental error of the false teachers plaguing Timothy in Ephesus was their failure to use their tool properly. Paul makes this point in today’s passage when he speaks of the goodness of the law when it is used “lawfully”
(1 Tim. 1:8). With all the apostle’s harsh words about those “desiring to be teachers of the law” (vv. 6–7), we might think he is disparaging the Mosaic law itself. Yet this is not the case, for Paul elsewhere proclaims the Law’s holiness (Rom. 7:12), though it is limited in what it can actually accomplish (2 Cor. 3).
First Timothy 1:9–11 explains some of the ways the Law can be used lawfully, and we will study this usage in more detail next week. We can say with confidence today that Paul does not view as proper the use of the Torah as a source for endless speculation based on its genealogies and ritual requirements, for he opposes the wielding of the Law in this manner, which is the pattern the Ephesian heretics followed (vv. 3–7). Let us also be reminded of another improper use of the Mosaic law that we learned from Galatians, namely, the use of the Torah as the means to earn our own righteousness before God. This was never the purpose our Father intended when He revealed the Torah to Moses, for no sinner can obey it perfectly (3:10–14). But what the Law can do is reveal to fallen people the depth of their sin, point out their need of a savior, and lead them to the Messiah who meets this need (vv. 15–29). John Chrysostom, one of the most important early church fathers, comments, “The law, if you use it correctly, sends you to Christ. For since its aim is to justify, when the law itself fails to justify, it sends you on to the One who can justify” (ACCNT, vol. 9, p. 137).
Matthew Henry reveals one of the lawful uses of the Torah when he says that “the law is still very useful as a rule of life.” Paul will point us to the Law as a guide to ethical behavior (Eph. 6:1–3), provided that we always remember that we can keep the Law only in the power of the Spirit and do not use it as a way to get right with God. Pray that you would love the Law and make sure you turn to it when you are facing difficult choices.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 23:1–25