Sunday, June 26, 2022

Ezekiel (1A): They Shall Know That I Am The Lord

In one of their issues, the magazine Psychology Today published a list of the five ways that we should deliver bad news to another person. And the five steps went this way: 

1) Tell at least part of the truth if you think the person can handle hearing it.

2) Sugar-coat the news if you don't think the person can handle the truth.

3) If the bad news involves a potential threat to their self-esteem, help that person save face, develop some kind of cover story to preserve their reputation and try to help them avoid embarrassment.

4) Take your time, prepare the message carefully, choose your words carefully, go at it in the right moment, pick the right time and then finally,

5) Rely on others to help you deliver the message, always come as a team, it's a more effective way to deliver the bad news.

The article says, if you do it this way, then you're going to be far more likely to deliver the bad news in a successful manner, one that strays as little as possible from a certain “politeness theory”.

But there was a man, a priest from Judah who lived long ago in the nation of Israel, and the Lord called that man to deliver some very bad news to the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, this particular man had never read Psychology Today because in the way he delivered the bad news to Israel, he goes about it in violation of all five of those rules. He delivered the bad news according to the wisdom of God, as opposed to the "wisdom" of men.

For example, he held back nothing. None of the terrible news, none of the details, none of the facts. He sugar-coated nothing. He gave all of the details of what went wrong in the nation of Israel and what God was prepared to do in consequence. He cared nothing for Israel’s self-esteem. Quite the opposite - he targeted their pride with what he said. He called them out for their apostasy, and he refused to let them hide behind their excuses. And, oh yes, he did choose his words carefully. He chose them for maximum impact as opposed to softness. He spoke in graphic and even vulgar terms, as we'll see, and he did so because he was trying to awaken this nation to its own depravity. He sought to offend Israel. Just as they had offended their God. And then finally, he stood alone. Virtually alone in his accusations, he lived at a time in which multiple prophets were operating in Israel in general. But he himself worked alone. He was rejected by his own people as a result of his ministry. They responded to his declarations with cynicism, not repentance. In fact, history does not even record this man's birth or his death, or even if he had any children. We know virtually nothing about his personal life. There is no record of him outside of his own book. 

This prophet, his name was Ezekiel. His name means “strengthened by God” and that's likely because he had to be in order to accomplish the mission he was given. Ezekiel’s called a major prophet of the Old Testament. And he was called by God in Judah in the days around the Babylonian captivity. This man is unique in Scripture, he’s even enigmatic. God asked things of him that he asked of no other prophet. You're going to see that he had done some things that almost defy explanation, that seemed quite bizarre. But he also received rare and marvelous visions unequalled by any other prophet.

He was told to explain to Judah the reasons for why God was bringing harsh judgment against the people and he delivered that message exactly as the Lord required. He didn't mince words. He didn't soften the blow. He certainly didn't worry about hurting anybody's feelings. God told Ezekiel to arrest a disobedient Israel with dramatic words of judgment so that they would be without excuse.

But in the midst of all this bad news, God also gave Ezekiel a message of hope, a glimmer of hope for the future because he gave Ezekiel this stunning preview of the glory that God has prepared for the nation in the coming kingdom that one day they're going to return, and one day they'll be re-gathered, and one day, they'll receive the promises of God. They'll see a renewed temple. It'll be filled with the glory of God. And even though they had been unfaithful to their covenant promises to God, He would remain faithful to His side of the bargain.

And so, as we study this book together, we're going to learn a number of things. We're going to learn some history. You have to understand the times in which it was written. We're going to learn about the covenant, which are the reasons for why God acts as he does. We're going to learn about sin. We're going to learn about judgment. But above all these things, what this book is here to teach us is about the glory of God and about the power of God's promises found in His Word.

Ezekiel, more than any other Old Testament work, emphasizes the glory of God. In fact, the phrase “that they will know that I am Lord” appears over 60 times in this book.

“That they will know that I am the Lord”.

Which reminds us that the Lord chooses to reveal Himself to us, to reveal His purposes in our life so that He would receive glory for who He is and what He does.

But when God's people turn from Him into idolatry and into other kinds of sin, we spurn that revelation. We break fellowship. We do not acknowledge His glory.

Thomas Constable said it this way, he said God used the events of Ezekiel’s life to teach His people and all people, that He is the only true God. And in the future, He will bring things to pass that will teach people that only He is God.

And we can learn that even now, as we gain God's viewpoint on life from this great book, that we can help others make sense of what's happening because we can understand the one who is creating the history.

So, Ezekiel’s the classical Testament text that records God's faithfulness to His word concerning Israel. He fulfills a lot of His promises in the course of what we read in Ezekiel. He fulfills His promises to judge Israel for their sin. But then He reiterates his blessings to them in a future time of glory. And He promises ultimately to them in Ezekiel that we'll move out of this cycle of sin, judgment and restoration. He'll get done with that cycle ultimately, because He's going to bring a new and better covenant, one that will put an end to the cycle.

We know that the new covenant is expressed in the Old Testament. Traditionally we refer to Jeremiah 31:31. That actually is where it's named, but Ezekiel who was a contemporary with Jeremiah also tells us about this new covenant. So now what about us? We're not Israel. What do we have to look forward to in this book? 

Well, there's a lot to be excited about because the prophecies that have existed in this book - going on now 2500 years since it was written - they are coming to pass today before our very eyes. We're literally living in the days that Ezekiel prophesied about because some of the prophecies include the regathering of Israel, which we see now happening, and others - some of them have already happened. But the most dramatic and mysterious visions that Ezekiel received – they are yet to happen, but soon-to-be reality.

So, let's dive into the opening chapters. We're going to go in softly and then dive a much deeper section next time. Now, let's get going to understand how we come into the book and where it begins. Starting at the beginning:

Ezekiel 1:1 Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.

Ezekiel 1:2 (On the fifth of the month in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile,

Ezekiel 1:3 the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and there the hand of the Lord came upon him.)

This is our introduction. The book begins with a little bit of geography and chronology, and that's one of the distinctives of Ezekiel’s narrative. His book is known for its precise time and historical references and it is a collection of prophecies. If you want to get a big picture of what you're about to dive into, this is a book of a series of prophecies - one after another, they're presented in chronological order. That is to say, as he received them, Ezekiel wrote them down. So as they flow through the book, it's also chronologically the same order that he received them.

There's a total of fourteen of these prophesies in this book. He received them over about twenty years while he was in exile with the rest of Judah. The southern kingdom of Judah at this point had been taken out of their land and brought to Babylon in captivity by Nebuchadnezzar by the nation of Babylon. And Ezekiel’s one of those who went with the people and he's sitting in Babylon, and he begins to receive these visions from God.

And as he gets each of the fourteen, he dates them. He dates them so precisely you can tell exactly on the calendar which day he was talking about in each case. The first of those 14 runs from Chapter one to Chapter three. And according to the day you just gave in Verse 1, this is July 31st, 593BC. That’s July 31st on the modern calendar. He speaks here in terms of the Jewish calendar but that's what it would be for us. He says it happens during the reign of King Jehoiakim, who was living also in captivity. He was taken into Babylon the same year that Ezekiel was, which would have been 597 BC.

So Ezekiel’s been in captivity now four years by the time he gets his first vision. And the year that we start with here, 593, is the base year for all of his prophecies. So from this point forward, he'll refer back to this year as the baseline Zero. So we started 593 by the River Chebar in the midst of the exiles of Judah. The Jews were taken into slavery by Nebuchadnezzar and he settles them along this place called the Chebar River. It's not really a river at all. It was a man-made channel. They had built this channel off the River Euphrates that moved water out of the River Euphrates eastward around the east side of the city of Babylon, and they did it principally to feed water to the Jewish slaves who were settled on that side of the city.

So they lived in a community there. They called the community Tel Aviv, which means “old spring”. Those two words together communicate something old and something new. Spring is a euphemism for new, and so they called this an old new. Something old, that is the people of Israel living in a new place Tel Aviv, and that channel Chebar was bringing water to them and the Jews living here had a surprisingly comfortable existence.

For us, when we hear that someone's been taken bondage into slavery, we immediately make an assumption about what life must have been like for them. And certainly, they're not as happy as they were when they were back home in Jerusalem because they've been taken out of their homes, some of them were killed, others were treated very badly. It was a bad time. But once they were settled, the goal was not to make Israel miserable, the goal was to take them out of their land so that that land could be conquered by Babylon.

And so what Babylon did was they gave the Jews a place to live. They were allowed to own their own homes. They were allowed to own their own businesses. They could travel freely within Babylon. They were free to worship, as they chose to in their little space. In fact, life became so comfortable for them in that place that 70 years later, when there's a new king, when the Persians have conquered the Babylonians and that new king in Persia, Cyrus, tells Israel the Lord has told him they're free to go back to Israel now, not many of them went. Most of them chose to stay right where they were. And that tells you something about how comfortable life became for the Jews in captivity. 

Ezekiel was not one of the Jews responsible for the judgment that put them in Babylon and yet he was caught up in it. And though some of the nation were faithful to God, like Ezekiel, they were all subject to the judgment. God didn't selectively imprison or enslave just the bad people in Israel. He took the whole nation. Because the basis for the captivity was the old covenant’s promises. And in the old covenant, God said to the nation of Israel that unless they keep His law perfectly, they as a nation will be subject to certain consequences.

The terms of that deal of the old covenant were “national” in their focus. It was not an individual covenant. Not every Jew had to agree to it. When the nation agreed to it, the whole nation was bound to it. When we're born into a nation, we find ourselves under the laws of that nation. Regardless of whether you and I individually decided we liked each and every one of those laws, you get them all. That's just part of the deal.

Similarly, when you were entering into the nation of Israel by birth, you became part of a covenant, whether you wanted it or not. But the covenant had strict terms, and the terms said that if you did not keep it, there would be a consequence, and one of the consequences is this captivity. Moving the people outside the land, as God said He would do.

But here you have Ezekiel, a faithful follower of Yahweh. Still, though, he's in captivity, living among the exiles. And then he adds that this prophecy came in the 30th year, which is a reference to his own age. He says he was 30 years old when he got this vision. Why do you think he’d mentioned that?

Notice what it says in verse 3 when he says he was a priest. Now, in the nation of Israel, there’s a time in the man’s life when he was eligible to start acting in temple service, to go do the very thing priests are supposed to do. When were you allowed to begin service in the temple as a priest? Age 30. So Ezekiel says he’s 30 years old now. How long has he been in captivity? Four years, and the year is 593 BC. He was captive in 597 BC. Four years later, in 593 BC, he’s 30. That means he was taken when he was 26. So knowing he turned 30 while he was in captivity, we can then also say he never had the chance to serve as a priest in the temple. And now the Lord is calling him at age 30 into a form of service as a prophet, not as a priest. 

So here's what we know about Ezekiel already. This is a man who spent all his early adult life preparing to serve God in performing sacrificial rituals in a temple service, and priestly preparation was a demanding thing. There were years of preparation for anyone who was designated to become a priest, and no doubt knowing Ezekiel, he dedicated himself to that hard work. But just as the time approached for his service, suddenly this guy finds himself dragged off to a foreign land. At the same time, the temple is ultimately destroyed, which puts an end to his entire career. His opportunity for service as a priest is seemingly stolen from him, right on the eve of being able to do everything he's been preparing for.

But in reality, what we find is the Lord had been preparing him, but He was preparing him for a very different kind of service and a greater one, in fact, than the one he was expecting. And Ezekiel’s predicament is a reminder that God has set each of us on some kind of course of preparation and that course of preparation, whatever it looks like in your life, it certainly suggests a certain role that you're supposed to go serve God in. And yet, when the day comes, you need to be prepared for the possibility that the Lord may direct you in some completely new and even better way of service. But yet one you did not see coming, one you did not expect to follow from your preparation. And if you think like that, then you'll be prepared to serve God properly in that call, because you're open to detours in your life. And likewise, on the flip side, you'll be more likely to receive that person who comes to you in service but doesn't look the part. Doesn't have the pedigree, not the one you would’ve expected. 

Jesus calls unqualified people to serve him, but he doesn't leave them untrained. He uses all your experiences to prepare you for serving Him, and when He puts that training to work, eventually He may do it in a very surprising way. A servant may be trained in farming or in business or in some trade of one kind or another, and then when the day comes, the Lord may take that training and put that service into work of a ministry that's totally different than what the person trained for.

History would tell us this is God's pattern because you can look through history and find many good servants of God who gained their start in ministry in some unorthodox way, like a good shepherd who's never been trained as a pastor, or good Bible teacher who never attended seminary. Even the apostles - the guys that Jesus chose originally - they were never trained to be religious leaders. They had no respect among the religious leaders of their day. But God picked them to found the Church. To what degree does fishing help you prepare to lead a Church? Or tax collecting? Actually, a lot. There's a lot of life lessons in one world that transfers very well into the next. So Ezekiel spent time preparing to be a priest, and he might have wondered if that was wasted time, since he's going to spend his whole life in exile where there's no temple.

But as it turns out his priestly training became critical to his role as a prophet. There's a reason why there's only a few men in all of the history of Scripture who were prophets and priests. He's one of them, because many of the visions that he will give us in this book concerned priestly matters and, namely, his most famous, is his prophecy concerning the temple in the Kingdom - this idea that God brings back a temple in the time of the 1000-year reign, which just blows our mind because we've learned from Hebrews, for example, that there's no need for sacrifice any longer. And yet there is sacrifice in the Kingdom, which when we get there, we'll understand it better. 

But for now, you can see how knowing something about that process about that world might help you if your prophecies are going to concern those things. So remember Ezekiel’s career shift as you consider how God's calling you to serve. You may be trained as an accountant or a soldier or a teacher, or a nurse or an athlete or even a pastor, but God may take that preparation and call you to use it in some new and surprising way. God flips people all the time, probably because we do better service when we're not depending on our own skills and ability, when we're a little outside our comfort zone. So, expect Him to do the unexpected. Remain open to the Spirit’s leading, but then be ready because you have to obey that call. And if you're relying on stereotypes or if you have your five-year plan and you're into Year 2, and you really hate to change it, well, then you're not going to be ready to accept the work that God sends you when the time comes because you're too busy working your own plan.

So now we're going to turn to the opening description of Ezekiel’s first vision. We're not going to go very deep in this for now. Verse 4, in a vision of the first prophecy:

Ezekiel. 1:4  As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire.

This entire scene is reminiscent of another scene from another prophet, in Isaiah Chapter 6, where Isaiah sees the Lord seated on the throne. And then we have a song that uses some of the early verses from that chapter and exalted on His throne. And then he talks to the Lord and he gets his commission. And there's a very strong similarity between what God is going to tell Ezekiel in this book and what he tells Isaiah in his own book. Key among them is He warns both prophets, “I'm going to call you to go talk to a bunch of people who aren't going to listen to you.” Which would lead us to ask the next question. “Why do I do this thing?” Which is a reminder that sometimes, many times, God's purpose is bigger than those who hear the message the first time. It's the idea of planting and sowing. Not everything you do is going to result in the ultimate outcome, but it's going somewhere. Just be faithful. 

Coming back to Ezekiel’s vision. Now, his visions are generally mysterious and they have even disturbing images that'll make interpretation difficult at times. So interpreting what he says, gaining a full understanding of its actual meaning, will require a careful adherence to the rules of biblical interpretation. We call those rules hermeneutics. We’ll see the workings of it as we move through the text, that is, as we see how we're arriving at what we're learning, we’ll see the rules on display in that way. And, in particular, when you're dealing with this kind of text, symbolic language in visions that are mysterious and so on, it's very important to distinguish between literal detail and symbolic meaning of that detail. And then applying Scripture properly from other places is the key to maintain a consistent and understanding of the symbols.

Let's just start with Verse 4. We'll just observe some of the details. First you’ve got a storm blowing from the north, and it brings this great cloud, and the cloud is filled with lightning. Start there. Now you and I think about this in our head. We think, this is just already completely outside our understanding.

But the truth is, for someone who's living in Babylon, this is not an uncommon image. This is a very common image. This would have seemed very normal, at least as it starts, because in the Middle East desert they commonly experience storms, sandstorms or dust storms that will fit the general description of this vision, at least to a point.

The storms will rise up suddenly, they move across the land like this great shadow of dust. Now, if you Google “dust storm” or “sandstorm”, you’ll get some of these pictures and if you look at these pictures, they don't even look real. They look photoshopped. It's a phenomenon that relies on static electricity to help lift some of the particles. It's like a living thing moving across the land and they rise up suddenly and they come like a freight train and they just blow across, destroying things and covering everything in sand. And because of the static electricity built up inside these things, they generate huge amounts of lightning. Lightning is sort of a constant feature, but you don't see it very well when it's dust. But it's in there and you can see it sometimes.

So the Lord gives Ezekiel what is actually a very familiar image for someone living in that region. But at that point, of course, the details start to go a different direction, and it starts to depart from the normal. Because, for example, naturally sandstorm clouds are shrouded in darkness. They obscure the sun. You don't get any light. But here, it says, the storm had a bright light surrounding it. So that's our first detail – that it’s not natural. Furthermore, duststorms are monolithic. They're just sand. There's nothing else in them, but in the center of this storm, there is something different. It's glowing like metal, Ezekiel says.

So this starts now the process of some interpretation. We're sitting here wondering what he's trying to tell us. And you think, well, if I just go further, he'll explain it. But not entirely. Not in this case. He goes into some new things right away.

And so we have to stop at this point and gain a general understanding of what's the point of this vision.

Now, the understanding of some of these symbols is actually accessible to us because of other Scripture.

For example, clouds or storms of lightning. In the Bible, that’s a symbol that’s used very consistently - that as of lightning and clouds and storms - there's a certain thing it's always representing in Scripture. And they are details commonly associated with the appearance of the glory of God.

For example, the camp of Israel when they assembled at the mountain and Moses goes up the mountain. What's covering the top of the mountain? A big cloud, dark in that case, filled with lightning.

Then you have Elijah when he's carried up by a whirlwind, which is another word for this kind of storm.

Or John, who saw the burning fire and lightning around the throne in Revelation.

There are many other examples, but this is a consistent pattern of God demonstrating His glory in some physical way. It's not the glory of God. It's a manifestation, a representation of the glory of God.

And then you have the glowing metal inside this cloud. Well glowing metal like it's in a furnace is another picture that's very consistent in Scripture. It's always a picture of God's judgement. In particular, glowing bronze in a furnace is the specific, most common picture of judgment - God's judgment fire.

So you have a representation of God's glory, holding within it God's judgment.

And then it says “from the North”, and that detail would have been especially significant to the exiles in Babylon, because it was from the north that the Babylonian army rolled into town like a big storm and took over the nation of Judah, took them captive and brought them back into Babylon. And for that matter, a few centuries earlier, Assyria came from the north as well and did something very similar to the Northern Kingdom. 

So when you take these three details together, you hear a message. You see a message that's actually very easy to see, that is, God communicating through Ezekiel that Babylon was an instrument in God's hands to bring about the judgment that God promised according to His covenant.

God is reminding Israel, “You're not here because of the vagaries of international politics. You're not here because of the shifting powers of the world battling, and you're just collateral damage, you’re just here by happenstance. No, no, you're here because I put you here. And don't mistake the fact that I did it. They're just my instrument. But in the end, it was Me who brought you here.”

Isaiah told the people of Israel a few centuries earlier that this is exactly what would happen. In Isaiah 13:1, this is what Isaiah told these people earlier:

Isaiah 13:1  The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.

Isaiah 13:2  Lift up a standard on the bare hill, Raise your voice to them, Wave the hand that they may enter the doors of the nobles.

Isaiah 13:3  I have commanded My consecrated ones, I have even called My mighty warriors, My proudly exulting ones, To execute My anger.

He's describing Babylon. He's saying to Israel in a sarcastic voice. Stand up, raise your voice. Flag him in like a guy who's leading an aircraft down the runway, he tells Israel. Get up on the walls and raise your flags, call them on in their coming and they're coming to execute my anger against you. My consecrated ones, my mighty warriors, he's talking about Babylon. 

So Israel was on notice from centuries earlier. And yet they did not repent. They did not seek to be obedient. They continued in sin and apostasy. And so now where are they? They're sitting in exile by a channel made by their captors. But now having been in captivity for several years, the temple, the house of the glory of God, has now been robbed. The priesthood has been decimated. The people are scattered, they are in slavery. The Kingdom has basically ceased to exist, and they had little hope of going home, at least at this early point. And they're disillusioned. And Nebuchadnezzar is going to go back to Jerusalem for a third time, and he's going to absolutely reduce the temple to rubble.

And we have to suspect that some of them, if not all of them, were wondering, “Why are we here? What happened? How did we get here? What went wrong?” They're saying, “Does God only dwell in Judah? Now that we're outside the land, are we without a God?” Because that's never happened before. “Are we without a God now? And even if we could return to God, how do we return to them without a temple where we're supposed to make the sacrifices that are required under the law? How do we worship him anymore? And does this captivity mean that the promises He gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have just come to an end? Has He forsaken us?”

The answer should have been obvious if they just read their own Scripture. To answer those questions, the Lord brings Ezekiel visions, and the first vision He brings him is an explanation for their personal circumstances for why they are where they are now. He has a lot more to say and His message will center on Himself, on His sovereignty, His omniscience, His glory, because that's His first priority.

But He has to explain to them from the outset, “Why are you here, Israel?”

Let’s just run down briefly a few Scriptures that would explain why they're sitting in Babylon in 593 BC. In Deuteronomy 28:15, through Moses, this is what the people heard: 

Deut. 28:15  “But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:

And then following that verse, we jump further into the chapter. Here are some of the curses, see if you recognize these,

Deut. 28:25  “The Lord shall cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth.

Deut. 28:30 “You shall betroth a wife, but another man will violate her; you shall build a house, but you will not live in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but you will not use its fruit.

Deut. 28:31 “Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will not eat of it; your donkey shall be torn away from you, and will not be restored to you; your sheep shall be given to your enemies, and you will have none to save you.

Deut. 28:32 “Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and yearn for them continually; but there will be nothing you can do.

Deut. 28:33 “A people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labors, and you will never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually.

Deut. 28:34 “You shall be driven mad by the sight of what you see.

Those are hard words, hard words. But the Lord issued those warnings through Moses specifically to give Israel incentive to obey the covenant that they just entered into freely. But as history records, they forgot the covenant. And so now the question becomes, “What do you expect God to do under those circumstances?”

Because here's the point. And really the core of the book of Ezekiel. God's glory is on the line here. He could no more ignore the Words He spoke to them in this covenant than He could lie to them. What do you expect God to do? You expect God to only observe the things in His Word that we prefer? Is that a God you can trust? Is that a God who keeps His promises?

And that's the challenge. That's the two-sided understanding of what we see in the covenant God gave Israel in the old. He said to them, “You have an opportunity for blessing, but there's also going to be consequences for failure.” You can't rest on one side unless you're willing to see God is faithful on both sides.

So for His glory’s sake, He was obligated to fulfill the terms of His covenant in judgment against Israel. And Israel couldn't understand their circumstances unless they understood the importance of the glory of God. They were in exile because they entered into a covenant with a covenant-keeping God.

And we, too, are in covenant by the blood of Christ. We're in a new and better covenant, but we're in covenant with a covenant-keeping God whose first priority in that covenant in that relationship is His glory.

And you have to appreciate how life circumstances are moving in your life under His hand, according to His will for His glory. Not for your will, necessarily. Not for your enjoyment, necessarily - not in the short term - so that when circumstances require, the Lord may bring something difficult into our lives by one means or another.

But when He does it, He only does it because His glory requires it. He'll do it to grow us or to prepare us for what's next, or to disciple us or to discipline us, but always according to His Word.

And corollary in this truth is that when He does these things in your life, He will not be silent about it. He will not leave you in the dark as to why you are in the situation you're in, no more than He did for Israel. By His Spirit, in His word, He will explain Himself just as He did to Israel, through Ezekiel.

But here's the thing. He usually just reminds you of things you already knew. It's never news. You know it’s never, “Oh, if I had only known that.” It’s usually, “Oh, I knew that. But I didn't really follow that”

We serve a holy God who calls us to be like Him, and He asks us to bring glory to His name among the nations, and we must therefore remain faithful to His Word so that we can accomplish that goal. But even when we are not, He remains faithful to His, which means sometimes, we find ourselves sitting by a river, wondering, “How did we get here?” 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

1 Timothy (1) : The Sources for False Teaching Should Be Silenced

The Apostle Paul, or Saul in Hebrew, was the foremost evangelist of the early church and probably in all church history. He was appointed by Christ to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, which was no small task. A Jewish Messiah held very little attraction for a pagan Greek culture. And even Paul's own fellow apostles, who are Jewish, were opposed to the idea at first of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. 

Nevertheless, Paul preached the good news faithfully and his ministry bore extraordinary fruit over the course of several decades as he preached by the grace of Christ. He founded numerous churches - or contributed significantly to their growth - churches in gentile cities across the Roman Empire, including Antioch, Troas, Berea, Philippi, Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Colossi, others. He made a total of four journeys. We call them missionary journeys, including the final one he took to Rome.

And one of Paul’s most loyal companions on a number of those journeys was a young convert named Timothy. Paul often worked alone, but he was not a loner. In fact, Paul commonly sought other men to accompany him on long journeys - men like Luke, Barnabas, Mark, others, who are mentioned at times in the record of Scriptures as having worked with Paul. They would go with him from place to place. They would give him support, they would give him encouragement, and they helped him through many trials.  

Some of these men would work with Paul for a time and then depart. Others stayed with him for quite long periods of time, like Luke. And a few even turned against Paul at points along the way. But only one of those men who accompanied Paul has books of Scripture named after him and that was Timothy. Paul met Timothy while on his second missionary journey when he was ministering in a town called Lystra. You can read about that moment in Acts 16. This is Acts 16:1, when Paul and Timothy met:

Acts 16:1 Paul also came to Derbe and Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek,  

Acts 16:2 and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 

Acts 16:3 Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

So begins the relationship Paul had with Timothy. Lystra was located about 100 miles north, inland from the Mediterranean Sea, in what is modern day Turkey. And when Paul arrived, there was a church there. It was already present, and it was growing. And one of the up and coming converts that was in that church already was this young man named Timothy. Timothy had a mixed background, a mixed heritage. He had a Greek father but he had a Jewish mother who was a believer. Mixed marriages of that sort were certainly not approved by Jewish culture, but they weren't uncommon outside of Judea.  In the diaspora and the Greek cities around the area of Judea, you'd find this kind of a situation from time to time. 

Nevertheless, Timothy's mother and his grandmother were devout Jews, believers, who raised Timothy in the Jewish traditions in the Jewish faith as a youngster. Notably, though, Timothy was not circumcised as a child, owing to the fact that his father was Greek and, apparently, didn't think it worthwhile. That issue became a concern for Paul because Paul wanted Timothy to join him on his missionary journeys, and he was looking for a companion, specifically, who could move freely between Jewish worlds and Gentile worlds, acting as an ambassador for Christ on either side of the aisle. Timothy would've been an ideal candidate because of his background and heritage. He was the son of a Greek father, so he was raised in Greek society. He knew the Greek ways. Yet he was raised also in a home with Jewish traditions and could operate within the Jewish culture just as effectively. But his lack of circumcision rendered him unapproachable among the Jews. 

So, for that reason, Paul had asked Timothy to be circumcised as an adult, and Timothy consented, which is no small thing at a time without anesthesia. That's an early indication that Timothy was a pretty special man. He had some very strong convictions about doing what Paul needed done. And he proved himself to Paul over the course of several years working together. He eventually assisted Paul on several of his journeys and ended up in many of the places that we now associate with Paul. Timothy was with Paul in Troas, Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth. He also accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey, which, at a point in time, stopped in Ephesus. 

On the third journey, when they stopped in Ephesus, they separated. Paul dispatched Timothy from Ephesus to Macedonia on his own, where he proved himself an effective evangelist when he went there. Eventually, Paul then goes to join Timothy in Macedonia before the two of them then travel to Corinth and eventually get back to Ephesus and Troas. These two men were close companions that traveled a lot, and that's the main point. And Paul respected Timothy enough that, at certain points, he would send Timothy on ahead, as his representative. And Timothy did the job well. Timothy was also with Paul in Rome. And after his first imprisonment, Paul left Timothy in Ephesus permanently to lead the church there, or to be one of the leaders, one of the pastors in the church. Paul did this likely knowing that he was not going to find his way back to Timothy at that point in his life. 

So this letter, along with the other one that we have to Timothy, and adding to that, the third letter Paul wrote, which we call Titus - so First Timothy, Second Timothy and Titus - those three letters have collectively been labeled the pastoral epistles of the New Testament. Despite the term, Paul's occasion for writing these letters was far less about training up pastors as leaders. It was far more about church discipline, church self-sacrifice, the culture and the behavior of the entire body with an eye toward how leaders ensure those outcomes. Paul then asked Timothy to make personal sacrifices in remaining in that role and remaining in that city in order to serve Christ. He was asking Timothy to forego the life of an itinerant evangelist traveling the world with Paul, which must have had some excitement associated with it, something that Timothy obviously sought for, and he did it so that Timothy can set an example of perseverance, diligence and persistence in a role that he felt God had appointed for him. 

So one of the first things we notice in this letter is Paul reinforcing Timothy in this role that Timothy himself does not seem to feel a natural for. Secondly, Paul looks past the leader and, for most of the letter, speaks to the congregation as a whole about subjecting personal needs to the needs of the body overall. He's going to address leaders, but he's also going to address husbands, wives, families, and older and widowed, and so on, all of them, demanding godliness, submission to authority and respect for others in their various roles. Above all of these, Paul appeals to the church on the basis of Christ's example that we ought not think better of ourselves than we should, and that we should be concerning ourselves with the quality of life within the body as a testimony rather than in our own individual stake within the body. 

So you have First Timothy, Second Timothy and Titus. They do have something in common. There is a similar theme, and here's how they relate. First Timothy covers the demands of life in the body along with requirements for church leadership. Titus focuses only on one of those - on the requirements for leadership, while Second Timothy focuses only on the other one of those - life of the body. 

So in that sense, First Timothy is the most general of the three whereas the other two specialize in one or the other area of what First Timothy covers. Most importantly, they all focus on something Paul calls the mystery of godliness. That term refers to the means of godliness which is found in Christ and His godliness in us lived out. So Paul is getting to the point that church leaders have to teach the truth of Christ. They have to defend the truth of Christ. They have to model the truth of Christ in order for the mystery of godliness to be lived out in the body that they oversee. Meanwhile, the church body has to receive the truth of godliness. It has to obey the truth of godliness, and they have to witness to the truth of godliness if they're going to serve out their purpose in existing. That'll come back over and over in the letter.

Let's now move to the letter itself. 

And Paul begins, as he does most of his letters, by addressing his authority and identifying himself in a salutation. In verse one and two: 

1 Tim. 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, 

1 Tim. 1:2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul’s opening is going to be very familiar to you if you've studied his letters. Paul often opens letters with a very similar way, very similar salutation. He identifies himself, and usually he makes a point early to remind the reader of his title as an apostle by the work of the Lord, appointed into this role by Christ.

And as a quick review, an apostle is a very special office limited to a handful of men who lived only in the first century. There are no apostles in the church after the first century. They were commissioned in one very unique way, which is why we know they don't exist anymore. An apostle was commissioned by a personal appearing of Jesus Christ, either before or after his death and resurrection. Obviously, Paul was commissioned by Christ following Christ's death and resurrection when Christ met him on the road to Damascus. 

You can see the uniqueness of the apostolic office reflected in Paul's salutation because, he says, he's an apostle by the commandment of God. God our Savior commanded that Paul be an apostle, which is the only way you can become an apostle. You cannot print your own business cards with the word apostle under your name and think that that somehow gets you into the club.

One of the ways that apostles validated their claim to being an apostle, since it was so unique, was in the gifts that came as part of the job. Apostolic gifts - the ability to raise people from the dead, as Paul did, or the ability to heal people with your shadow as Peter did. Things are clearly not common in the body of Christ. Those things showed others that the person's claim to being an apostle was true. Paul says he was commanded to be an apostle. And he goes further - he names Jesus Christ specifically. 

So God the Father chose Paul as an apostle, and then God the Son appeared to reveal that news to Paul. Acts 9:15, (Christ) speaking to a man that Christ asked to go visit Paul and help Paul with his new job:

Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 

Acts 9:16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake.”  

So, in other words, Paul did not apply to become an apostle; he did not fill out an application or submitted a resume. Neither did Jesus send Paul an invitation and ask him, “How do you like the idea of being an apostle? You'll have to suffer a lot, but its pay is really good.” No, it's a command. God commanded, Paul served, and he suffered. There was no option. There was no question, and there was no discussion. This is how God appoints apostles. And that's the same for every apostle. In John Chapter six as Jesus addressed Peter and the rest of the apostles, as Peter was busy congratulating himself for having followed Jesus, Jesus’ response was, “Did I not choose you? The Twelve?” And His point being, of course, that no one volunteered to do what God was asking them to do because you just don't volunteer to do God's will. God's Will will be done. 

So Paul addresses his letter to Timothy, saying that he had the authority of an apostle by the commandment of God, and in the process, he says to Timothy, “You are my true child in the faith.”. And in the early church, it was common to refer to someone being a child of another person in faith. To be a child in faith or, if you reverse it, to be a father in faith to someone, simply refers to having brought someone to faith, that is, having been the instrument that brought someone to faith. Or as the child of someone, you would say, “that person brought me to faith.”

So in this case, Paul is saying he was a participant in the process of bringing Timothy to faith, and therefore, Timothy was his child in the faith. Paul then extends his customary greeting, grace and peace, and from there, we move into the first major point of the letter. Verse 3, it says: 

1 Tim. 1:3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 

1 Tim. 1:4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. 

1 Tim. 1:5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 

1 Tim. 1:6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 

1 Tim. 1:7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

A strong opening. Paul left Timothy, he says, in Ephesus, and continued his own journey on to Macedonia. And, based on things that are said and reading a little between the lines, it seems as though Timothy became anxious after Paul’s departure to return to the road with Paul. Paul had urged Timothy to stay behind and that may indicate that Timothy was reluctant, that he needed urging. In other words, he needed some reinforcement. Perhaps he was reluctant to assume a local pastoral role. Remember, he has never done this before. He's a young man; we'll see that later in the letter. Furthermore, his only ministry has been to follow Paul except for a slight detour on his own to Macedonia when he did some evangelism work. Other than that, he has felt very much at home following Paul and under Paul’s shadow. 

Now Paul is saying, he’s not going to do that anymore, he’s going to be part of the leadership in the city, a big city with a church that's growing there. And like any man in Timothy’s situation, he probably didn't feel entirely cut out for pastoral work. Or maybe he just enjoyed Paul's company, or maybe he just likes the life of itinerant preaching. But whatever it is, Paul felt the need to convince him upon his original departure to stay, and again, reading between the lines, it seems as though Timothy has written back to Paul since Paul’s departure, asking if he could now leave his post and rejoin Paul in Macedonia, which prompted this letter. 

This is Paul’s response to Timothy's request to leave and come with him. And you see the answer. The answer is no. Paul refuses. And then he gives Timothy something of an encouragement and exhortation to stay the course in his new pastoral role in Ephesus. He reminds Timothy, “I left you there because I knew bad men were coming and you're the sheriff.” These bad men, or as he calls it here, “certain men”, were going to teach strange doctrines. There's a single Greek word there translated - teach strange doctrines - it's one word in Greek. You can also translate it to mean advocating a different truth or a different idea. Anything that departs from what is prescribed by the Spirit of God is, by definition then, strange or different from the truth. 

In Timothy’s day, the church in Ephesus was probably little more than an association of house churches that met under humble circumstances. Those churches would have been supervised by elders, presbuteros in the Greek, which just means gray-haired men. So it's literally older men who have some standing in the church as a result of their time in the faith or just their age. They would also had to have had characters that were worthy of the role. Timothy is not an elder, and that becomes evident later in the letter because as Paul refers to elders, he doesn't speak it to Timothy as if he's part of the group. 

So he seems to have been one who served in a pastoral capacity in one or maybe all of these house churches. Keep in mind that the role of pastor in its original intentions within the church is not a position of authority so much as it is one of service to the body in shepherding, which implies leading, to a degree. But it's not absolute authority. The elders are the absolute authority in the church. The pastor was one, though, who, operating under elder authority, led the people into proper things they should know and do. Nevertheless, Paul clearly has high expectations for Timothy in this role. He expected Timothy to defend the flock, despite his youth, despite his inexperience, even though he wasn't an elder.

So here you find one of the major things of Paul's letter right up front, guarding the flock against false teaching. And to start, we need to understand false teaching. It's anything that departs from the true doctrine of the faith. Anything apart from what's revealed in Scripture is false, and any false teaching should not be heard.

Notice Paul asked Timothy to instruct those who are spreading the teachings to cease doing so, that is, to shut up.

He doesn’t tell Timothy to debate them. He doesn't tell Timothy to counsel them. He doesn't tell Timothy to reason with them to something better. The first order of business was to silence them.

This is a very politically incorrect thing today, isn't it? We try to avoid confrontations today, and here we’re not suggesting that Paul was inviting confrontation necessarily. But he was not afraid of confrontation because there was a preeminent goal involved here, which is to stop the bleeding, to stop the false teaching. 

It’s astounding how often churches today tolerate teaching on multiple contradictory perspectives within the body on major doctrines of faith. It's not uncommon to find, on inspecting the leadership on why this is going on, the tolerance is usually explained as an effort to educate the body on the wide spectrum of interpretive views that exist on a given point, or, in the case of prophecy - they'll say that opposing views are necessary because we certainly can't have a perfect understanding of prophecy, as if to say who knows what's right. 

Paul does not seem to share those concerns. His first concern was silencing strange doctrines, strange teachings. And of course, we apply this approach in every other academic pursuit you want to list. What would you think would happen in the history department if the History chair found out that there was a professor teaching the students that the Holocaust never happened because he had a preferred viewpoint that was different? Would the chair agree that all truth can't be known, and the fact that there's some people out there who disagree with facts, well, that might give them legitimacy just because they exist? You see how we don't hold those kinds of things to be appropriate in those academic settings, but somehow you get in the church, and now, for the sake of fellowship and the appearance of homogeneity within the church, we respond to false or strange teaching in ways that Paul says we should not. 

The sources for false teaching should be silenced, Paul says, in the church. There's time after that to figure out who's right. There's time after that to sort through the various views and come back to something in harmony. But in the meantime, as long as there are contradictory views being espoused in the church, at the very least, you're confusing people.  And at worst, you're teaching them that truth is relative or that Scripture can't be understood properly or that no one knows what they're talking about, so any view is equally valid. That's just not true.

If the people we’re working with feel they have some alternative, if they're at least teachable, well then, we have an opportunity to educate them. And maybe they can educate us if we're missing something, and eventually, we all arrive at a better place. But under no circumstances should we permit the body of Christ to be confused by contradictory teaching that we know to be false. 

In the case of Ephesus, the strange teaching was a common culprit in the early church. In verse four, Paul describes the false teaching as involving “myths and endless genealogies”. Now myths could refer to pretty much anything, of course. But when Paul also mentions endless genealogies and then, in verse seven, he mentions that these teachers want to be seen as teachers of the law, well, when you put all those pieces together, a picture of what was going on starts to come into focus.

First, “certain men”, based on things Paul says later in the letter, it's probable that these are actually leaders and maybe even elders within the church at this point. And they were instructing, it would appear, the people on Jewish myth, the kinds of Jewish myths that surrounded the coming of the Messiah or other prophecies. And likewise, Jewish thinking was uniquely focused on genealogies because of tribal affiliation. 

So genealogies were probably a way of summing up all the Jewish mythology that had developed in their popular writing around obscure biblical characters. Apocrypha is the term we give to those writings. Apocrypha is like the pulp fiction of the Old Testament days. If you didn't have fiction to read, what did you read? Well, really, the only thing you have was Scripture in the Old Testament when writing was a more complex and involved process. Scripture was the books of the day. So when you wrote fiction, what did you model it after? Scripture. You write in a style that is comparable to what your audience is expecting in their everyday life. 

So the apocrypha, the non-biblical, extra biblical books, the book of Enoch or Judah or so on - they're not Scripture. They somehow still hang around in history. Those are books written to mirror Scripture because that was the pulp fiction of the day, and it's circulated. The problem is people who are not inspired by the Spirit to know the difference can confuse one with the other. So the apocrypha would be the myths or genealogies that Paul is referring to here quite probably. 

In short, these were the ear-tickling teachings of Paul's day. And they had gained an audience in Ephesus, it appears, through the influence of these false teachers. These men and their teachings, Paul says, were not “furthering the administration of God which is by faith”. The word administration in verse 4 could just be translated as plan. So Paul is referring to the plan of salvation which is by faith. So men of the church were teaching in a way that was not furthering this plan in the minds of the church. And this is such an important concept. 

Today we still have ear-tickling going on. We still have myths. We still have teaching that is not useful. It may not be wrong in all cases, but at the very least, it's distracting from an understanding of the grace of God. Anything that is not furthering our understanding is a waste of time and contrary to God. At the very worst, it can be a misrepresentation of salvation, which is what appears to be going on here, a substituting of a works theology in place of salvation by grace. And that was coming out of a Jewish mindset. 

So Paul wants Timothy to ensure that the church receives better teaching. And he gives Timothy, in verse five, three tests for what should constitute a good source, a good teacher, a good model for teaching.

And he says, first, this teaching should come from “love from a pure heart”. A pure heart refers to the person who's teaching, that is, one’s intentions toward one’s students. So a pure heart is one that generally desires to share the truth for the benefit of the students. The teacher is not attempting to manipulate the audience, and the teacher is not trying to win some debate. It's not about the motive, other than simply having the best interest of the students. 

Secondly, the teaching has to come from a good conscience. A good conscience seeks to serve Christ, to share knowledge and further the Kingdom. A good conscience doesn't teach seeking fame or seeking fortune.

And then lastly, teaching must be accompanied by a sincere faith. And a sincere faith refers to a genuine born-again relationship with Christ at the foremost, certainly, but it can also refer to operating by the faith that a believer has in seeking to know Scripture by the counsel of the Holy Spirit. 

So a teacher that lacks sincerity of faith can either be an unbeliever, and certainly many false teachers are, or it could be a believer working in the flesh, absent of God-given insight. A believer who has decided to run after some other thinking of their own that they prefer to propagate in place of Scripture.

So we can safely assume these qualities were lacking in the “certain men” that Paul mentions here. That's why he gives this list. He knew that they couldn't pass these tests. They were teaching with false motives. They had corrupted conscience, and they were absent in sincere faith. At best, they were misguided which would mean that they were carnal Christians and were speaking out of an ego that's inflated by their positions of authority. But at worst, they were unbelievers, wolves in sheep's clothing, deceiving the flock. But either way, Paul says, they need to be silenced. 

We need to apply those same three tests today. If a teacher offers great biblical insight but stirs up division and controversy, walk away. If they are diligent and scholarly but ambitious for attention and wealth, steer clear. And if they lack sincere faith, beware.

When those things are lacking, it's like a boat that has lost its anchor in the storm, which is sort of what Paul is talking about in verses six through seven. He says, these men, because they lack these things, have turned aside. And that Greek term for “turn aside”, it literally means to put something out of joint. So imagine a long-distance runner whose hip suddenly pops out of joint. They can't move properly, much less continue the course. What do they have to do? They have to turn aside. They have to leave the path because of the injury.

That's a serious moment in a spiritual life when you're talking about turning aside in this way. Turning aside is a lot more than just becoming confused or distracted by some kind of bright, shiny object that has come into your life for a time. We're talking here about something much more serious. The idea of turning aside spiritually in the New Testament always implies wandering away from an abiding walk with the Lord, and here we’re not saying it’s losing salvation because that's not possible. But it's still a serious impediment to obtaining a good testimony, and you'll see more of that in this letter. 

Paul says these men have turned aside. What has pulled them aside? He says, “fruitless discussion”, and that phrase can be translated differently, from the Greek, into simply empty talk. That's what it literally means in Greek, empty talk. It's a complete waste of time. And if there’s one thing Christians cannot afford to waste, it’s time. You have more money than you have time. Your time is precious because you can make more money. You cannot make more time and it's the most powerful resource you have to honor and serve the Lord. Waste it at your own peril.  Paul says in Romans 12:1, 

Rom. 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 

So in verse 7, you can see where they went wrong. He says that they didn't possess pure hearts or good consciences. They wanted to be teachers of the Law. This is a very insightful comment about them. A teacher of the Law, in biblical terms, just describes someone who wants a position of authority and power. Among the Jews, they have another term for that - they called him rabbi. Today, you might say professor in a secular setting, except that that really doesn't work well because in this day and age - Paul’s day and age - the term teacher of the Law or rabbi conveyed a significant amount of authority and respect all by itself.

These men were clearly motivated in what they were teaching by the prestige and the authority that they would gain for themselves if someone would allow them to have this title of teacher of the Law. And that in itself tells us they did not possess a pure heart or a pure conscience. Their hearts were not directed at the good of the students. Their conscience was polluted by these desires for self. Perhaps most importantly, they lack sincere faith. You see that at the end of verse 7. Paul says they didn't even understand the things that they tried to teach, even though they made confident assertions.

A person working in sincerity of faith will be bound by the Spirit of God in their teaching, and although sincere faith is not assurance of a perfect understanding of Scripture, it does guard against us making confident assertions about things we don't yet understand. This is because in the humility that the Spirit will give to someone who is truly of a pure conscience, seeking for the best, they will recognize in themselves that they're not yet at a position of confidence. They'll appreciate the fact that they have to be humble. They'll retreat a little from that kind of arrogance.

But when your motives are corrupt, when your conscience is compromised, you don't worry about that. Which reminds us that sincerity is never a substitute for insight. Sincerity does not equal accuracy. Many false teachers are confident. Many false teachers are sincere. They're just sincerely wrong, as you’ve probably heard people say. And here's the irony. Many good teachers, under the influence of the Spirit, will take caution with their conclusions because they don't want to be arrogant or over-confident in their interpretations. 

So if you're taking your teaching from the people who seem most confident, there's a pretty good chance you may be taking it from the worst people. The people you’d find to be most accurate in the long run are the ones who are least confident sometimes in what they're saying because they have enough spirit developed humility to leave room for the possibility that they don't know it all. So if you judge teachers on sincerity or confidence, you're likely to pick the wrong person. So we always inspect the teacher’s motive and conscience and faith as best we can.

So, having exposed the false motives of these men, the last piece for tonight, Paul can't resist taking a swipe at their teaching. Verses 8 through 11, he says, 

1 Tim. 1:8 But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 

1 Tim. 1:9 realizing the fact that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 

1 Tim. 1:10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 

1 Tim. 1:11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted. 

So these teachers were teaching on the Law. Of course, we're speaking about the Law given to Israel in the Old Covenant. And Paul makes clear that his problem with the teaching is not the fact that they were teaching the Law. The problem isn't the Law itself. The Law is good. The study of it is profitable but that's provided it's being used lawfully, which is to say in the way God intended that it be used.

And the Law served a very certain purpose for Israel under the Old Covenant. It serves a different yet complementary purpose for those of us in the New Covenant for Israel. It defined and secured that nation as God's people. But for the New Testament believer, it explains the mission of our Messiah, that is, His sacrificial mission to come and meet the terms of the Law.

But if you cross those two purposes, you depart from a lawful use of the Law. We will err if we teach to believers that they must live as if they were under the Old Covenant of the Old Testament, that is, to require them to observe the Law, to require them to keep any aspect of the Law. If we're doing that, then we're using the Law, ironically, unlawfully. 

To prove his point, Paul explains what the key function of the law is both for Israel and for the believer today. He says it was to expose sin, and in verse 9, he says, “the law is not made for the righteous person”.

He's referring to the essential nature of any law. Laws exist to define unrighteousness. They exist to tell you that you're doing something wrong. They do not have the power to compel you into doing what's right. They are only there to highlight when you're doing something wrong. If a law, in and of itself, would compel people to do the right thing, then there would never be anybody who's speeds because there are speed limits signs all over the street. That's the nature of law. There is no need for law among the righteous because they do nothing wrong. Righteousness and unrighteousness are not terms that describe behavior so much as nature. Righteousness is the absence of sin while unrighteousness is the absence of perfection. 

We are unrighteous by nature. This remains true whether we are currently engaged in any sin at the moment or whether we're doing everything right for the moment. You can be perfect for the next 10 seconds and you're still unrighteous. Even at rest you are unrighteous.

When we sin, we are acting out of an existing unrighteousness. As someone once said, we are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. Those who are unrighteous then will benefit from living under Law, because by that Law, we come to see all of our various unrighteous ways, and hopefully constrain them to some degree. We know that our behavior is departing from Law and that departure becomes a measuring stick of our own unrighteousness. It's like someone holding a mirror up to us and letting us see a little bit of who we truly are. Our unrighteousness was always there, but the Law helped us to quantify it, in a sense. 

So Paul takes that truth, and he turns it back upon the very men who are desiring to be teachers of the Law, and he says the Law is meant for those who practice lawlessness. The Law acts as a constraint, in other words, on evil, and he lists a number of these particular sins. These are serious sin. Paul chose some of the harshest examples so that he can associate those things with what these men were doing.

In effect Paul is saying that if these men wanted to be teachers of the Law, associated with the Law, well then, let their association be in the way God intended. Specifically, let the Law reveal the truth of their hearts - that they are lawless, they are rebellious men, that though they desire to show themselves as better than others by their supposed expertise in the Law, and all the piety they must have shown and all the rest, let the Law show that they’re no better than any other ungodly sinner. They are like the unholy and profane, the sexually immoral, the dishonest, and the violent. 

Ironically, Paul throws these teachers in with the worst of the law breakers. They use the Law to make themselves superior, which is not the use of the Law. That's an unlawful use of the Law. The chief purpose of the Law was to convict sin, and these men should have felt the conviction that the Law was intended to reveal in them. They were too good for them; their pride blinded them.

And notice how Paul ends. The rogues’ gallery of sin - he says anything “contrary to sound teaching”. With that statement, Paul just equated the work of those teachers with all the terrible sins that preceded it in the list.

Do we need any further proof of how Paul viewed false teaching in the church? He puts it in a list with murderers and homosexuals and kidnappers and the like. And this perspective is not Paul's all by itself. If you go to Peter's writings, if you go to Jude, even Christ himself speaking to the Pharisees at times, they all criticised false teachers in equally harsh terms. 

So while we have generally softened our criticism of teaching, of wrong teaching, false teaching, contrary teaching, Scripture itself continues to condemn it roundly. Any teaching, especially concerning salvation, that is contrary to the truth, is an expression of unrighteousness equal to the other sins in that list.

In verse 11, Paul says this is what's at risk - the “glorious gospel” of Jesus Christ which Paul preached. The gospel of Christ is the only truth, and it's the only message in the universe that has the power to bring someone into eternal life. It’s the only one. So how dangerous would something be if it puts at risk that message? If it undermines that truth, can there be anything more dangerous? And so Paul has positioned himself opposite of these men to silence them and to put an end to their teaching. 

And so, in summary, this is what Paul said to these men. Paul has commanded that teachers of the Scripture must endeavour to teach the word just as God has revealed it. It must be taught from a motive of love and from a sincere desire to communicate what it really means. This is especially true if you're talking about portions of Scripture, whether you're talking about a verse or chapter or a book. Whenever you take something out of the whole, even if you're talking about something as large as the whole Law itself, you have to teach that in light of the overall message of Scripture so that you can be confident in your conscience that what you're presenting is consistent with what the author intended it to mean. To misrepresent that truth is to join that rogues’ gallery that Paul listed.

But remembering Paul's history for a moment, Paul was a murderer. Paul was a blasphemer. Paul did do some of the very things that are listed in that list, did he not? He had his own history of contrary teaching. He was teaching against the Messiah, teaching against Christians, teaching the Law in an unlawful way, did he not? So Paul knew that his history could be used against him by these false teachers in their own defense against his charges. So Paul preempts their accusations. In verse 12, he says, 

1 Tim. 1:12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, putting me into service, 

1 Tim. 1:13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 

1 Tim. 1:14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 

1 Tim. 1:15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 

1 Tim. 1:16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in him for eternal life. 

1 Tim. 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 

So Paul acknowledges, he, too, once taught wrongly against this very gospel that he now cherishes, that he was once a blasphemer, too, that he spoke against Jesus, that he was a persecutor, a violent aggressor. He's probably referring to Acts Chapter 8, if nothing else, in which we see Saul there instigating the stoning of Stephen. He probably had other deaths on his hands, for all we know. Paul had to deal with this inconvenient truth throughout his entire ministry, and yet, he always had a powerful defense. And, in fact, his testimony itself became one of the chief instruments of his ministry. 

Paul's history validated the earnestness of his confession. He gave up everything to join the very side that he had once persecuted. There's no earthly explanation for Paul's about face, except that the message that he now preached was true. It was the only reason you could explain why he did what he did. At that same time, though, that past which we all know so well was a frequent tool of his critics who tried to discredit him because of his background. They would say to the church, “How can you trust the teaching of a man who is a murderer who was persecuting the very people that he now claims to want to help?” 

And so Paul was forced from time to time to have to explain himself and, in particular here, how is it that he can be judged as a rightful teacher under circumstances that might seem to be similar to that of these men he wants to silence? And that’s an important distinction which Paul highlights. And you see that in this passage. Now, Paul's a very honest and humble person when it comes to his background; he doesn't whitewash it at all. He admits his crimes. Nevertheless, he says, the Lord forgave him and showed him mercy. Obviously, Paul was shown mercy on the basis that all of us are shown mercy - by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is not claiming some special dispensation. 

At the end of verse 13 and into verse 14, Paul says very clearly, he was rescued by grace though he was a foremost sinner. So on the question of Paul’s guilt, he acknowledges his past. And then he must also acknowledge that he has been made righteous by faith alone. He’s saved like everyone else. So, so far he's aligning himself, at least at this point.

But then Paul moves to the distinction and it raises a larger question. And the question is, why did the Lord select someone like Paul, who had just persecuted the church so much, to receive the honor of serving in the unique role that Paul had? It’s one thing to say he was saved by faith - that's no surprise - but the real question is, why did God then turn around and get Paul the job he had, considering Paul's prior life? 

Paul answers by saying, first of all, he acted in ignorance; he acted in unbelief. Now he's not saying his sins were forgiven because he acted in ignorance. His sins were forgiven because of faith. But he's saying his opportunity to assume high office was not jeopardized by his prior crimes because those prior crimes were committed before he came to faith. So his role as persecutor and as blasphemer predated his knowledge of God in faith.

And therefore, you really couldn't expect anything different. Look, Paul blasphemed against Christ, and he persecuted the church out of unbelief because he held, at that time, a view that those things were wrong. And therefore, his past actions can't be a disqualification for serving Christ now. Really, how can anyone serve Christ if our resistance to God prior to faith were grounds for disqualification? Who amongst us would have any grounds to be qualified? We're measured by who we are and what we do following faith. 

So Paul is inferring something about the men that he opposes in Ephesus, and what he's inferring is that their errors have happened post-salvation, whereas his happened pre-salvation.

The false teachers can't rest on the same excuse for their false teaching. They understand the gospel. They're not ignorant about that - at least in the sense that they understand what the gospel requires - and yet they continue to teach in error. So what's ironic is Paul's critics accused him of having disqualified himself for what he did prior to faith, even as they are disqualifying themselves now after coming to faith. 

And then explains why the Lord would have chosen someone like him, of all men, to serve in the role that he had in the church. And Paul says God did this to use him as an example. He says first, “in me as the foremost”. Now, he's referring back to his earlier comments about being the foremost sinner. And the word “foremost” in Greek means “the most prominent”, as in the person standing first in a line such that you can't see who's standing behind them. 

Paul was the most prominent sinner in the church. Imagine if Hitler had become a Christian during World War Two, a true Christian or imagine if Stalin or some other famous evil person had converted to the faith, a sincere conversion, they would have been saved by faith, forgiven. They would have seen mercy. They would have been restored. They would have been a part of the body, no different than you and I. Their past would have to have been forgotten, at least in the sense that it’s not held against them, because truly in heaven it wouldn't have been.

But that person's crimes would undoubtedly have hung over their heads, at least in the minds of the fellow Christians around them for some time, if not forever. And in that sense they would be the most prominent sinner in the church, not in the sense of their ongoing sin, but in the sense of their history. That's what Paul is saying, and that's what he was. Think about it. Who was any more prominent than Paul in that regard? 

When anyone of the church wants to think about the most amazing convert, Paul's name would have always been first on the list. He says, he was brought into this as an act of God's mercy and for purpose. And the purpose was that he would be the most prominent sinner in the church. He’s not proud of it. What Paul is saying is that he was shown mercy so that he could serve as Christ’s billboard.

Forevermore, Paul would give witness to how patient and how forgiving the Lord is willing to be for those who believe in him. If anyone thought themselves too evil, too far from God to receive forgiveness, too much water under the bridge, there's no hope for him or her, all that a person had to do was look at Paul. Paul stood as God's counter-argument to that thinking. No one is out of reach. If Paul can be saved, who can't be saved? How many people have thought about that concerning a family member? And well, there's still hope because if God can save Paul, no sin is unforgivable. 

So though Paul’s critics pointed to Paul's past as evidence that he couldn't be trusted because he had too much baggage, Paul says his past is merely evidence of the depths of God's mercy. And so Paul ends in this minor doxology borne out of personal gratitude, he says, to the eternal, immortal, invisible God belong all the honor, glory and praise forever and ever. Amen.