Doctrine and Piety

Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 1:8-11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/21/2016 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Timothy 1:8-11

Doctrine and Piety

Last week we talked about the connection of doctrine with love. This week we study a similar connection between doctrine and piety, between doctrine and godly living. The context in today’s passage for this comes in verse 7. Paul had been reminding Timothy that he needed to confront those who were teaching other doctrines, non-orthodox doctrines. In verse 7 Paul says that some of these teachers of other doctrines desire to be teachers of the law. But the problem, Paul says, is that they don’t know what they are talking about. They don’t rightly understand the law themselves, therefore they aren’t rightly handling the law in their teachings. That causes Paul to launch into a brief discussion of the goodness of the law and its purpose. In this he makes and important connection between the law and doctrine. In this we find that doctrine and godly living are not at odds, but sweetly relate to one another.

So let’s begin first today by thinking about the law in terms of it being a standard for righteousness. This first point might seem obvious when we talk about the law. I want us to think about what the law is. I want us to define it a bit. Essentially the law is God’s definition of what is sin and what is not. We are reminded of that here in verses 9 and 10. Here as Paul talks about the use of the law, we see a number of sins that it forbids. This list is by no means an exhaustive list of each and every sin forbidden by God’s law. The end of verse 10 explicitly tells us that the list is not exhaustive. And yet when we look at the list, it seems to be something more than just a random list of various sins. It starts to approach a high level summary of the law’s demands. When you look at the list of sins, you see it starts with some very broad sins referenced that could cover immorality in general, like the reference to the lawless and the insubordinate. Then the rest of the sins mentioned bring to mind the Ten Commandments. The next sins listed about being ungodly, sinners, unholy, and profane – they arguably bring to mind the first table of the Ten Commandments, the part that deals with our duty toward God. Then the rest of the sins mentioned very clearly bring to mind the second table of the Ten Commandments, the part that deal with our duty to our neighbor.

So that we can be students of the law, I will briefly mention each of these sins in verses 9 and 10. That way we can be reminded this morning of God’s standard of righteousness as we consider them each briefly. First then it mentions the lawless. This refers to the general idea of rejecting God’s law. This results in someone making themselves instead of God as the one to determine what is morally right or wrong. This is at the heart of moral relativism, when someone says that morality is not an absolute standard but something each individual has to decide. But God’s law speaks against such lawlessness. Next, verse 9 mentions the insubordinate. This describes someone who acts rebellious against God. You can begin to see the first table of the law even here with this. The first commandment requires us to have no other gods before the one true God. To be insubordinate means you are rebelling against that one true God. You are not submitting to him as Lord and Master of all. This too is at the heart of the world’s attitude when it rejects God’s law. It is ultimately an insubordination where they have set themselves as king instead of God. The law also condemns such idolatry of the heart.

Next in verse 9 you have the ungodly. This could also be translated as the impious. One lexicon (L&N) defines it as, “living without regard for religious belief or practice.” Again, we think of the first table of the law here. When we say someone is immoral we speak to their external behavior in general. But when we say they are ungodly or impious we speak of that in connection with the person’s lack of religion. We can’t ultimately separate ethics from religion. Our morality must be done out of reverence and worship of God. Some today want to talk about a secular morality but a secular morality is by definition ungodly and thus impious. The law condemns such ungodliness. The law calls people to worship and revere God. Next we have in verse 9 sinners. This is a pretty general term as well about missing the mark, referring to any violation of the law. To sin is to omit what the law demands or to commit what the law forbids. This would include all violations of ceremonial law in terms of how we should and should not be worshipping God, which some think that’s why Paul put it in this spot in the list. The next two in verse 9 are the unholy and the profane. The unholy are those who reject religious obligations, that don’t properly respect the sacred. There’s almost a sacrilegious connotation there. The profane refers to the worldly and irreligious. In our day, we think of the demand for secularism, people who want to remove all concepts of religion and God from their lives. It’s easy to consider the unholy and the profane together when we remember how many people today live like this. They might even claim they believe in God, yet live unholy and profane lives because they forsake the worship of God with the saints, they aren’t a part of his church, or they neglect the Word, sacraments, and prayer. They either don’t have any religious practice or their religious practice is not in line with the Bible.

Next in verse 9 you have the shift of commands in dealing with your neighbor when it turns to speak against father-murderers and mother-murderers. To clarify, the language here is literally about striking your parents, and might more specifically have in mind those who hit or beat their parents. This is sad to think about let alone talk about. But we can remember here the fifth commandment where we are told to honor our parents. And here we are reminded that such a duty to honor extends beyond childhood because this surely is not referring to little kids hitting their parents. Next in verse 9 you have murderers. Here we remember the 6th commandment. This word for murder in English typically brings to mind premeditated murder, but in the Greek the word could also refer to what we might refer legally to manslaughter. Next in verse 10 we have fornicators. This most literally refers to sexual activity outside of marriage, marriage as the Bible defines marriage. We think here especially of the 7th commandment forbidding adultery. There is so much of this going on today, sex outside of marriage, along with so many other forms of sexual immorality. Here this is the Greek word porneia which in our language makes us remember pornography. That certainly is a prevalent sin today that God’s law would condemn as well. Next in verse 10 you have sodomites which is just another word for homosexuals. There is obviously a connection here with the last reference to fornication. In our day homosexuality is certainly a hot topic issue. Many people want to say it is not a sin. Some will even try to explain away the Bible’s teaching on it. But here it is in black and white. God’s law calls homosexuality a sin. We shouldn’t act like it is the unforgivable sin but should acknowledge that it is indeed a violation of God’s law.

Next in verse 10 you have kidnappers. This could also be translated as slave-dealers, and is the most specific nuance of this word. That’s the idea about the kidnapping, they are kidnapped in order to be sold. Here we think of the 8th commandment that forbids stealing. Sadly, kidnapping for slave trading is something that still exists in this world, with individuals especially trafficked for the sex industry. Lastly in verse 10 you have both liars and perjurers. Here the 9th commandment comes to mind. Lying is the more general idea here of not telling the truth, perjury is when you lie under oath. Both are against God’s law.

So then we’ve spent quite some time reflecting on the law here and seeing its standards summarized. I hope the application in this first point is that your knowledge and understanding of God’s law would be sharpened and encouraged again today. We don’t want to be like those false teachers that don’t actually understand the law. Let’s turn now in our second point to observe the connection between the law and sound doctrine. We see the connection referenced in verse 10 when it says that the law speaks against whatever is contrary to sound doctrine. (“Sound” doctrine here is literally “healthy” doctrine, by the way.) What a wonderful truth we find here. Doctrine is not at odds with godly living. So often this is what you hear in too many churches today. They say that doctrine divides so we just need to focus on more practical things like growing in godliness and personal piety. But this passage tells us that it is not like we have to choose between one or the other. In fact, true godliness and piety requires sound doctrine. It’s unsound doctrine that will yield ungodliness. Right living flows from right doctrine. Wrong living flows from wrong doctrine.

Let me give you an example. Take the doctrine of justification. A sound doctrine of justification forbids antinomianism. Let me explain. Recall that justification is the teaching that tells us we can only be right before God by grace through faith, and not by our works. Some have abused that teaching to promote the doctrine of antinomianism which would say that because we are justified by faith and not works that there is no real requirement to live a godly life. And yet that is not the biblical teaching on justification. Antinomianism therefore is a false doctrine which would lead to ungodly living. A sound understanding of justification would instead recognize that our salvation does not do away with the call for Christians to pursue godly living. In fact, it would be other doctrines likes sanctification and the moral law that would go on to further explain why we need to pursue godly living and what such living should even look like. And so from a very doctrinal way of thinking about things, we see that doctrine and piety are closely related.

Let me give you another example that shows this connection from the other direction. Let’s start with an example sin and work our way back to the connection with doctrine. Take for example the homosexuality issue today. The message you hear more and more from the LGBTQ community is that they don’t think there is anything wrong with their sexual lifestyle. They don’t go around living their lifestyle and saying that it is sinful and wrong. In fact, they repeatedly reject that claim. You see, such people have a doctrine that says that homosexuality is not a sin. Their doctrine says that homosexuality is moral and right and even to be celebrated. But of course that doctrine is a false doctrine according to the Bible. It’s false in the sense that it is not God’s doctrine, that it is not according to God’s law on what is right and good. The opposite is that we are called to abstain from homosexual behavior because sound doctrine says that it is wrong behavior. So this is just another example that shows the connection of doctrine and godly living.

And so the application is to not believe the lie that piety and doctrine are at odds. Last week we said that love and doctrine were not at odds but allies. We said that biblical love depends on doctrine, specifically right doctrine. This is very much the case with piety too. True piety will need right doctrine. Oh how we see this true in the world today. Right now there is this spirit to try to make almost nothing unlawful. More and the more our world seems to want to make nothing sinful. They want to say almost every behavior is okay. But isn’t that the spirit of the Antichrist at work, the one described as the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians! Be on guard oh saints against this devilish lie! In the face of this growing threat against godly living and morality, the church doesn’t need less doctrine, we need more doctrine!

Well, in our final point for today I want us to consider the purpose of the law. Verse 8 says that the law is good if used lawfully. By the way, it is that redundant sounding in the Greek as well. The law needs to be used lawfully? Uh, yeah that makes sense! But that also begs the question. What does it mean to use the law lawfully? It means that we need to make use of the law in the way that the lawgiver intended. And we see one main use of the law beginning in verse 9. I could summarize it like this: basically, Paul says that the law is not for the righteous but for the wicked. Now let me clarify something here. I don’t think we should take this to mean that there is no use of the law for the righteous. What this appears to be doing is making a point about one particular use of the law. It’s the use of driving people to Christ for salvation, when we realize that the law leaves us all guilty of breaking the law.

And so I think the point in verse 9 is trying to bring us to that conclusion by talking about why the law was even written down in the first place. You see in verse 9 when it speaks of why the law was made, it is literally describing why the law was “laid down.” When you hear that language, I think of specifically why the law was written down in the first place. I think Paul’s point is that if everyone already naturally did what the written law requires, you wouldn’t really need to actually write it down. If everyone was inherently good and perfect in their righteousness, there wouldn’t need to be the law. Instead, the law is needed because not everyone does live righteously. In fact, everyone are sinners.

Galatians 3:19 explains it this way. It asks, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.” This is kind of like the phrase “There ought to be a law.” In our civil government when people think of yet new ways to do evil, lawmakers have to eventually respond by making a law to deal with that evil. And so Paul is saying that when you have unrighteous people, you write down the law so that they are all more without excuse when they break it. Of course, we should remember that not only is God’s law written down in the Bible. But it is also written down on men’s hearts. So humans are all guilty of God’s law.

And so again, this is Paul’s point here. One major use of the law is to expose sinners, to show how they are guilty before God. And lest you be quick to excuse Christians from this list, just look down a few verses. Just look at verse 15. There Paul says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” Did you catch that? Did you see how Paul just included himself in this list of sinners from today’s passage? Did you see how he actually said that he was the worst offender in that list? In verse 15 he called himself a sinner which is the same word mentioned here in verse 9. Do you see how this is all connected so wonderfully? We see in today’s passage that the law is meant for wicked sinners. We also see in verse 11 that somehow this truth is in accordance with the gospel of salvation. And so not only is the law consistent with sound doctrine, but even specifically with the gospel. This law that exposes sinners and shows them guilty is directly connected with the gospel. And the answer is there in verse 15. If the mighty Apostle Paul, bond servant of Christ, missionary extraordinaire, is the chief of sinners, what hope do any of us have? That Christ Jesus came into the world to save such sinners. And so the law exposes our guilt. It tells us we are condemned by the law. But that is why Christ came. That is the gospel, the good news. It’s the good news for the fornicator and the pornographer and the homosexual. It’s the good news for the murders and the liars. It’s the good news for all of who are sinners, which is each and every one of us. Believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Agree with God’s law that the law is right. That you are a guilty lawbreaker. But receive the free gift of God that you can be forgiven and made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. For us who have known this salvation, be encouraged in it again today. Yes, you were and still are a law breaker. We know this. But we also know the gospel. And now having been saved, we know that our sound doctrine tells us to seek to live a new life now. Now we seek to live a godly life by the grace of God. That too is part of the sound doctrine that we find in today’s passage.

In closing, we see that Paul was entrusted with this gospel. He was entrusted to pass it along to others. And that is what the church of Jesus Christ continues to be entrusted with. As a ministry, we need to be declaring this gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to do that we need to also teach the law, and we also need to teach doctrine. This is what we see in this passage. May we as a church keep bringing even the law to this world, for this very use of exposing man’s sin. The world may tell us to be quiet. They might tell us not to talk about certain sins. But there is a role for the law to drive people to Christ. But let us not leave them with just the law. Bring them to that sweet gospel of Jesus Christ. That is in accordance with the law’s purpose. We are not saved by our law keeping; we are saved by grace through faith. Bring them to Christ!

So then, may we study sound, healthy, doctrine. And may we pursue godly living in light of that doctrine. May we by the grace of God be people who love God’s law and look to submit to it. May we strive for godliness, and righteousness, and holiness. May we look to worship God publicly and privately, making use of the Word, sacraments, and prayer. May we honor our father and mother and all those in authority. May we protect our neighbor and promote their interests and wellbeing. May we speak the truth in love, and give God the glory in it all. Let us rejoice in righteousness as God has called us to righteousness, and has given us of his Holy Spirit. May we strive in grace in such a way, even as we look forward to Christ’s coming again in glory. Amen.

Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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