1 Timothy
by Francis Foulkes ©


'Now we know that the law is good, if anyone 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 murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted' (1:8-11)

The people whose methods and teaching Timothy had to resist boasted that they were 'teachers of the law' (verse 7). To them the law of the Old Testament was the beginning and the end of everything; but they used it in the way that they wanted to, and took from it just the teaching of which they approved. Paul did not in fact speak against the law. Rather he said, 'the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good' (Romans 7:12). Here he says, 'the law is good, if anyone uses it lawfully', it is good in itself, but it must be given its right place and meaning.

a. The purpose of the law

He says first, 'The law is not laid down for the just' (verse 9). But who is just? Romans 3:10 uses the words of the Old Testament and says, 'None is righteous, no, not one.' Then the law is for us all - for us as sinners. What does it do? It condemns us for our sin. It calls us to turn from our sin to God, It leads us to Christ, who alone can bring us forgiveness of sin (Galatians 3:24). When we receive forgiveness, we are no longer counted as sinners before God, but as righteous, as those whom He has accepted (Romans 3:24-26): we no longer need the law in the way that we needed it before.

b. The Christian's substitute for the law

What takes the place of the law as guide in the Christian's life? When we receive forgiveness through Christ, we also receive new life. Holy Spirit - God Himself, God the Spirit - comes into our lives, and He guides us in the way that we should live. The principles of the law (as in the ten commandments) are still important and valuable for us. God will not lead us to act contrary to them. But now the law of God is in our hearts instead of just in a book. (See Jeremiah 31:33, 34; Hebrews 8:10-12.)

c. The continuing place of the law

Not all people have turned to Christ, and none of us perfectly obeys Him. So there is still the need of law. No country or society has been able to exist without laws. God's law in the Old Testament is not out of date. In verses 9, 10 the apostle lists the worst forms of sin (see the note below) to show how necessary the law still is. The law still shows up men's sin, and the need of all people for the Saviour. 'Through the law comes knowledge of sin' (Romans 3:20).

d. The supreme place of the gospel

The great commandments of the Old Testament should still be taught (see Romans 13:8, 9). But for the Christian there is something more than the law. There is the gospel. We have a greater task than that of being 'teachers of the law'. Christian teaching and preaching is much more than telling people to be good. Entrusted to us, as to the apostle Paul, is the gospel, 'the glorious gospel of the blessed God' he calls it. This is good news for men, the best news ever, news that the law could not bring. 'God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do' (Romans 8:3). The law could show us our sin; only the gospel can tell the way of forgiveness through the death of Jesus Christ. The law could tell us what to do, but it could not give us the power to do it. The gospel tells us of the Holy Spirit; all who believe receive the Holy Spirit (Romans 8: 9), and He gives the desire and the power to obey God. This is good news indeed - it has come to us; we are to pass on this news, to others. Knowing the gospel, we should see that we are not just 'teachers of the law': we are messengers of the glorious news of Jesus Christ.


O God, we thank Thee for the law which shows us Thy truth and Thy holiness. Above all, we thank Thee for the gospel of forgiveness and life and power. Help us to live as those who have gladly received Thy gospel, and gladly share it with others, for Jesus Christ's sake. AMEN.

Note. Most of the ten commandments are mentioned (in order) in verses 9, 10: 'the ungodly and sinners', 'the unholy and profane' refer to the first four commandments; 'murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers' to the fifth; 'manslayers' to the sixth; 'immoral persons' and 'sodomites' to the seventh; 'kidnappers' to the eighth; and 'liars' and 'perjurers' to the ninth. There is no direct reference to the tenth commandment.

Further Study. Study what Paul says about the law and the gospel in such passages as Romans 3:19-24; 7:1-8:11 and Philippians 3:3-9.