The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost July 20, 2014
1 Timothy 1:8-15
296, 295, 493, 264
But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep:
Near the beginning of the popular movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the wealthy benefactor who sends “Indy” on an archaeological expedition, gives this warning: “Trust no one.”
Whom do you trust? We talk about college students who make a habit of cheating in school, politicians who are more loyal to themselves than to their country, ambulance-chasing lawyers who are not legal beagles, but legal vultures.
It’s no wonder that people are left wondering whether anyone can be trusted. I even once saw a car with a license plate that advised: “Trust no one!”
Does that mean me? Did the driver of that car have a bad experience with his minister? Is it possible that there are ministers who should not be trusted? Surely we can trust the minister! But Jesus said that there were “blind leaders of the blind,”in His day. He warned that they caused their followers to “fall into the ditch” with them (Matthew 15:14).
Likewise, in our day many smooth-talking spiritual leaders are so hopelessly blinded by their own reason, pride, and self-righteousness that they cannot be trusted to lead others out of the wilderness of sin to eternal salvation. Whom can we trust with the eternal welfare of our souls? What are THE CHIEF QUALIFICATIONS OF A FAITHFUL SHEPHERD?
The apostle Paul begins this letter by saying: “Teach no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). There had been trouble with false teachers in the congregation at Ephesus. Some left the Christian faith and tried to impress men with their knowledge rather than with the simple truths of the saving Gospel. So, Paul instructed the young pastor, Timothy, to stay in Ephesus to correct those who were teaching a doctrine and way of salvation other than the way of the Gospel of Christ.
False teachers had been saying that the Old Testament Law and tradition were necessary for salvation. But Paul says: “Teach no other doctrine”—which includes the Gospel and a proper teaching of the Law. Because of Christ’s life and death, those who trust in Him are freed from the Law. We are to preach a message of liberty to those who are still held captive to the Law.
Now this doesn’t mean that our children should no longer learn the Ten Commandments. “We know that the Law is good,”Paul writes in Romans 7:12. The Law comes from our God—It must be good, just as He is good. Many spiritual leaders will not preach and teach the Law plainly because it offends the pride and self-righteous nature of their congregations. But who would trust a medical doctor who covers a cancerous sore with salve, instead of cutting it out with a knife?
The God-pleasing spiritual leader knows that the Law of God is good and must be used, but it must be used properly. “Knowing this,” Paul says: “that the Law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners…” [v.9] What does he mean? The Lutheran Formula of Concord of 1580 declares on the basis of this passage that the Christian is free from the curse of the Law.
Neither should the Law, or threats of its punishments, be used to force the Christian to do good works. He needs no threats or instructions from outside forced upon him. Insofar as he is a true Christian, his faith in the Gospel of Christ moves him to freely love God and to serve his neighbor. Those who need the Law with its threats and curses are those who deny the Law and serve their own lust and desires—the impenitent and the rebels against God who indulge in evil against God and man. Paul gives a long, but not complete, list: “…the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine…” [vv.9-10]
The Law must be used against such in order to reveal and convict them of their sins. “For by the Law is the knowledge of sin,” Paul writes in Romans 3:20. The qualified, God-pleasing spiritual leader, knows this. He uses the law, not to save sinners by preaching obedience to it, but in order to mirror their sins to them so that they might really know the depths of their condemnation before the holy God.
This “lawful” or “proper” use of the Law is “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God,” Paul says in v. 11. The proper use of the Law prepares the convicted sinners for the joyous reception of the Gospel of Christ as his sure salvation and comfort! A man who is not thirsty will not care for a dozen glasses of water. But one who is really thirsty will gladly receive even one small glass of refreshing water! Martin Luther said: “After the Law has shown disease, the Gospel brings remedy, health, and strength.”
A God-pleasing, spiritual leader knows the Gospel far better than the Law, and he wants to proclaim and teach the Gospel faithfully. Paul had already learned that seeking salvation by one’s own works is like playing with a lion that has not shown its teeth. On the road to Damascus the Law bit Paul as never before! For the first time in his life he realized that all his works had left him far short of the glory of God. Jesus sent Paul to Ananias where he heard the Gospel of grace and forgiveness in the blood of Jesus.
Paul had been a “blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man (a violently arrogant aggressor)” [v.13] against the Church of Christ. But he had learned from the Gospel that “the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” [v.14] Now, Paul was able to say from his heart: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” which is a “faithful (trustworthy) statement, deserving full acceptance.” [v.15]
Through the Gospel of Christ Paul had received unconditional pardon for his great sins. So it was that he preached an unconditional Gospel. He did not preach half of a Savior—A Jesus who teaches us how to live by the Commandments so that we can save ourselves. Paul did not preach salvation on the condition that the sinner first “change his life.” But as the Law condemns all mankind unconditionally, so the Gospel must be proclaimed as a free and unconditional pardon of sinners for Christ’s sake!
Pray, brethren, that all of your spiritual shepherds may preach the Law in all its killing severity and the Gospel in its full sweetness. For it is our God alone who makes and preserves qualified shepherds.
God-pleasing, faithful shepherds are to teach no other doctrine, except the Law properly, the Gospel faithfully, and with confident humility.
With confidence! Read Paul’s epistles and you will know see how confident he was about His Savior’s Word of grace, His love, and His truth. Paul did not compromise the truth. He strongly and boldly opposed all error for the sake of Christ and the souls Christ purchased with His own blood.
But neither Paul’s intelligence, personality, voice, nor any other personal quality took the place of true humility before God. Think of the leaders of the Jewish religion at the time of Christ and the Apostles. They were all well-trained in the teachings of Moses and Jewish tradition. But, because of their self-righteousness and pride, they were not God-pleasing spiritual leaders. Jesus had to warn His disciples to “beware of the leaven (teachings) of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6).
Again, think of the spiritual leadership of the middle ages. The popes and bishops—puffed with power—became tyrants over the consciences of men. They made demands of penance and obedience to church laws as conditions of salvation. In bold contrast to these, Martin Luther, a lowly priest, bowed himself before the holy God as a miserable sinner without any merit of his own. He gave all glory to God for His gracious salvation in Jesus Christ. So it was with the Apostle Paul. Although he was confident about his message, he did not boast of his accomplishments. He gave all glory to God, while counting Himself “chief of sinners.” [v.15]
So it must be with all who are true and God-pleasing spiritual leaders of Christ’s flock. Only the heart which truly knows its own need for the Savior and its own spiritual helplessness can show others the way, counsel, correct, and encourage in the way of Christ.
To my knowledge, there are more congregations in the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) currently seeking pastors than at any time in our church body’s history. Yet none are merely seeking someone to “fill the pulpit.” They all are praying for qualified and faithful shepherds.
May God grant that we all may be served by called servants of the Word who teach the Law properly, the Gospel faithfully, and with confidence humbly. And may we always be led to hear their teaching and receive their counsel as from our Savior Himself. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.