The Purpose of God's Word
1 Timothy 1:5-16
A number of passages in the Bible contain a list of sinful behaviors. In Romans 1:29-31, Paul itemized the sins of the Gentiles. In First Corinthians 6:9-10, he listed the former sins of the church there. And, in Galatians 5:19-21, he catalogued the works of the flesh. In each of this lists, his purpose is clearly to warn his audience against engaging in such behaviors.
In First Timothy 1:9-10, we find a similar list. But, while Paul is not condoning these behaviors, neither is he listing them merely to condemn them. This list is part of a larger argument which Paul is making -- a message about our own sinfulness, and the purpose of God's word. And, we desperately need to learn these lessons.
Verses 5-7. The purpose (or "end") of God's law is really very simple. It is to lead us unto a pure (or sincere) love for others. It is to create in us a good conscience (via forgiveness). And, it is to develop within each of us an unfeigned (or a non-hypocritical) faith. In other words, God's word seeks to transform our innermost being.
Its purpose is NOT, as some seem to think, to provide polemic fodder for egocentric teachers. These individuals, priding themselves in their great learning, use God's word to impress others. Missing the crucial elements which God seeks to impart (love, conscience & faith), they revel in "vain jangling" (or "fruitless discussion" -- NASB). These self-righteous individuals view themselves as a notch above others -- in their learning and in their righteousness.
Verses 8-11. It is in this context that Paul itemizes a number of sins. And, he does so to remind the reader that THIS is the purpose of God's law -- to save those who are in these sins. It is precisely the same point which Jesus himself had earlier made: "For I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Mt 9:13). Paul does not defend these sinful practices. On the contrary, he states that these sins are "contrary to sound doctrine". But, he wants us to realize that
THESE SINS DESCRIBE US!
Verses 12-16. And, as if to impress this point upon the reader, Paul uses himself as an example. He was thankful to God; but, not like the self-righteous Pharisee of Luke 18:11. No, Paul was thankful that God had been merciful to him -- that God had forgiven him of his sins. Though he viewed himself as the "chief" of sinners, he saw God's merciful forgiveness as a "pattern" of the forgiveness which God has in store for anyone who will "believe on him".
The lesson is not hard to see. We must lay aside our self-righteous proclamations of perfection (or near-perfection) and acknowledge our sinfulness before God. This is what God's word seeks to accomplish. This is what God demands.
By Warren King
From Expository Files 3.11; November 1996