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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:The Law: A Mirror Without Distortion
Text:1 Timothy 1:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

From the 1976 Psalter Hymnal:

459 – Jesus Calls Us; O’er the Tumult

137 - In Doubt and Temptation

426 - Jesus, with Thy Church Abide

1 - That Man Is Blest

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
“The Law: A Mirror Without Distortion”
1 Timothy 1:1-11
You have perhaps all heard that old expression, “You can’t see the forest because of the trees.”  The point is that a person can get so caught up in individual trivialities that they miss the main point.
That was happening in Ephesus, and that is why Paul urged Timothy to stay there. In verse 3 and 4 Paul writes: As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies…
The myths and endless genealogies went hand in hand. They both grew out of a Jewish fascination with the people whose lives are recorded in the Old Testament. Teachers of that day would take a “hint” supplied by the Old Testament and then expand that little hint into an interesting and fascinating story. Unfortunately, the fascinating story would miss the meaning of the Old Testament passage completely.
As an example, there was a popular book called “The Book of Jubilees”, also known as “The Little Genesis”. The book was based on Genesis, but it divided everything in Genesis by seven. For instance, “The Book of Jubilees” had 49 chapter to equal 7 times 7. Each month in the book had 28 days, 4 times 7, and each year had 364 days, 52 times 7.
Into this time frame the Old Testament characters from Genesis were embellished and their genealogies emphasized. For example, “The Book of Jubilees” taught that Jacob never tricked anyone, angels were circumcised, and the Sabbath was already observed by the archangels. As you can imagine, this – and other embellishments like it – led to the controversy that Paul warned Timothy about in verse 4; and it led to the meaningless talk that came from these teachers who had wandered from the truth.
When we hear of these things we are inclined to say, “How foolish! How can the truth of God’s Word be brought into such speculation and hypotheses?” Yet it has been pointed out that this type of speculation still goes on in the church today, whether with an unhealthy fascination with millennial views, or various applications of Old Testament law which have been fulfilled in Christ, or through the tendency to follow man-made laws that are derived from biblical laws.  Many of us grew up with man-made laws that had good intentions, but often had no true spiritual value.
Anyone of us can miss the forest because of the trees if we are not careful. The problems that Paul and Timothy encountered in the Ephesian church so long ago, still crop up in many different ways within churches today.
Yet, as we see the ludicrous teaching that was going on by those who specialized in myths and genealogies, we might ask, “Why did those teachers go to such extremes teaching what was clearly a myth? Why would anyone be so caught up in one individual “tree” that they would miss the “forest” of truth?
The reason why they came up with all their myths and genealogies is because they didn’t want to face the reality that God’s law applied to them. They were self-righteous, and the law of God exposes the hypocrisy of those who rest in their own self-righteousness.
If the false teachers did not make up their myths and genealogies, they would have to face the truth of their own sin as it is exposed by the law. In that way they were like the Pharisees. The Pharisees tacked innumerable laws onto the law of God. They embellished God’s law with their own extreme laws, and they did so in an effort to evade the convicting power of the law.
They made so many detailed laws that the truth of God’s law was soon obscured by the laws of the Pharisees. Think about this for a moment: One of their laws taught that you can eat an egg hatched by a chicken on the Sabbath day if you kill the chicken the next day because it worked on the Sabbath hatching the egg that you ate. Can you imagine eating your egg and at the same time planning how you will execute the “death sentence” on the hen who hatched your egg on the Sabbath Day?
The myths and genealogies that were being taught in Ephesus were being taught in order to sidetrack people from the teaching of God’s law, much as the Pharisees sidetracked God’s law by imposing their own man-made laws.
And still today, within the visible church, there are so many efforts to evade the law of God. Very few churches today, for instance, read the 10 Commandments on a regular basis. People want to hear of the love of God apart from the law. But the law was given in love, and the law and gospel go hand in hand.
What the false teachers in Ephesus missed is that the law is good if it is used properly, and that is what Paul reminds Timothy of, there in verse 8: We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.
What are some of the proper uses of the law? One proper use of the law is to restrain evil. Although many have tried to rewrite the history of the United States, the civil laws of the United States are based on biblical law. Even such basic laws as “You shall not steal,” and “You shall not murder,” restrain sin within any society that upholds those laws. Even those who are not Christian realize that the law does not condone their evil conduct, and in that way the law restrains evil within society.
That is one use of the law, and a second use of the law is to reveal how God wants us to live. We understand that God gave the law to Israel after he had brought them out of bondage in Egypt. By doing so he was showing them how they should live, in recognition of their deliverance from bondage by God’s gracious hand.
Those who are Reformed in their theology have recognized this aspect of the law of God; we recognize that God’s law is given to us to teach us how we are to live. That is why the Heidelberg Catechism treats the moral law – the 10 Commandments – under the third section, the section on gratitude.
(The Heidelberg catechism is divided into three parts. First, the catechism stresses our guilt, then it points to God’s grace in redeeming us through faith in Jesus Christ, and then it explains how we are to live in gratitude for what God has done. Thus, the catechism is divided into three sections: guilt, grace, and gratitude. Or, to put it another way, the three sections focus on sin, salvation, and service).
And part of that gratitude is living according to the law that God has given us. Even though we are unable to keep the law with the perfect obedience that God requires, we make the goal of our lives to keep the law to the best of our ability, God enabling us. We do so to show our gratitude to God for delivering us out of our bondage to sin and Satan.
But while those are proper uses of the law, there are many improper uses. In Ephesus the law was used as a “springboard” into all sorts of other areas, including myths and genealogies. Still today the law is often used as a springboard into other areas that circumvent the purposes of the law. For example, the law is often used improperly when people try to justify themselves by the law. I trust that each one of us realizes that we have broken every commandment given by God. But you might be surprised by how many people sincerely believe they have kept God’s law.
Most pastors have had people tell them sincerely that they have always kept the ten commandments. They point out that they have never murdered anyone, they never stole anything from the bank or the store, and they never committed adultery with someone else’s wife or husband. They totally miss the point that Jesus made so clearly, that the law is broken internally as well as externally. Jesus taught that when we hate someone, we murder them in our heart. We break the eighth commandment “You shall not steal” in so many ways, even by being lazy when we should be working for our employer. We kill by the words we speak and the hatred in our hearts. And as Jesus famously taught, “Anyone who looks at a woman in lust has committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
Those who justify themselves by outward conformity to the law miss the third use of the law entirely.  A third proper and crucial use of God’s law is to illuminate our sinfulness to us. The law is like a mirror without distortion. A mirror often shows us what we don’t want to see. If you have acne, what do you see when you glance in the mirror? It’s that big pimple that you wish would go away!
Invariably when I use charcoal on the grill, I end up with some black charcoal smudges on my face. Usually, my wife and children point that out to me, with quite a bit of delight, and then I look in the mirror to see if it’s true. One glance in the mirror and I see that filthy smudge all over my face.
That is what the law does as it reveals our sin to us. It serves as God’s mirror, and what we see when we look in the mirror of God’s law is far worse than any black smudge that I see in the mirror after barbecuing.
When I was an intern during my seminary years, the pastor who was my mentor read this passage from 1 Timothy, and he focused on verse 8-10. He read: We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine...
And then he asked me, “Who do you think that refers to?” I wanted to say, “I’m still in seminary, so maybe you should give me the answer to the question!” But I didn’t want to upset my mentor, and after thinking about it, “I said I think it applies to you and to me.”  He said, “So do I.”
Those verses do apply to you and to me. There is not a single one of us here this evening who knows the depths of the depravity within our heart. Even after being cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we can still fall into such great sin, we can still think such evil thoughts, and say words that sound anything but Christian.
The self-righteous person reading these verses will try to skirt around them, much as the false teachers in Ephesus tried to skirt around the truth of God’s law with their myths and genealogies. But the true believer will recognize that God is gracious in using his law as a mirror to illuminate the dark smudge of sin in our heart – often a darkness so deep that we do not want to admit to others the depth of depravity that is there.
Charles Spurgeon pointed out that the law can be compared to shutters in a cellar. He described how dark and infested a cellar can be. He described a dark, unkempt cellar as a place overtaken with cockroaches, spiders and other insects and creatures that we don’t want to see. And then he pointed out, “But the law takes down the shutters and lets in the light, and we see the evil.”
And that light which comes into the dark cellar of our heart, as “the law takes down the shutters” is a good thing – an absolute necessity in order for us to be saved from our sin. Because it is when we see our sinfulness that the law becomes a “tutor” leading us to Christ by the Holy’s Spirit’s conviction and regeneration (Galatians 3:24).
A self-righteous person never realizes their need of the gospel because they are blind to the evidence of the law; they remain blind to their own sinful condition. You cannot experience the gospel until you have first been convicted by the law.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon described the inseparable link between the law and the gospel when he wrote, “I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law. The law is the needle and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man's heart unless you first send the needle of the law to make way for it.  If men do not understand the law, they will not feel they are sinners.  And if they are not consciously sinners, they will never value the sin offering. There is no healing a man until the law has wounded him, no making him alive until the law has slain him.” (C.H. Spurgeon, from “A Plain Man’s Sermon”)
We see that truth throughout Scripture, including Romans 7:7 where the apostle Paul writes: I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” In that seventh chapter of Romans Paul describes how the law revealed to him how utterly sinful he really was. It was a mirror that showed him the darkness of his heart. As he saw himself in the glaring light of God’s law – a brightly illuminated mirror without distortion – the apostle agonized over his sin. He wrote: For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
As he considered the power of God’s law at work in his life he came to this conclusion: So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
You see, it was when he was pierced by the law, and his sin was revealed to him through the law, that the apostle Paul called out to the Lord Jesus Christ recognizing his great need for the only Savior from sin. And that is the most crucial use of the law. It shows us our sin and causes us to see our great need for the only Savior, Jesus Christ.
In Timothy’s day there were those who could not see the forest because of the trees. They could not see that the law condemned them and put them in need of the only Savior, Jesus Christ. They did everything possible to avoid looking intently into the law of God. They would much rather delve into myths and genealogies.
What about you, and what about me? Do we look intently into the reflective mirror of God’s law? And as it reveals the darkness of our sin, do we turn in repentance to Christ? And do we have saving faith in Him alone for our salvation from sin and our inheritance in heaven? If not, we are as foolish as the man James describes, who looks into the mirror but leaves, forgetting what he looks like (James 1:22-25).

Rather than trying to escape the cutting edge of the God’s law, may you and I - through the conviction of the law - see our sin, confess it with a contrite heart and then rejoice as did the Apostle Paul, who exclaimed, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen!


                                            - bulletin outline -
They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or
what they so confidently affirm. - 1 Timothy 1:8
                   “The Law: A Mirror Without Distortion”
                                        1 Timothy 1:1-11
I.  In Ephesus there were many teachers who wanted to instruct others
     about the law yet were blind to what the law says. Their teaching was
     contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of
     the blessed God (10c, 11a):
      1) They devoted themselves to myths and genealogies (3-4) which led
           to controversy (4b; 6:3-5) and meaningless talk (6-7)
      2) They could not use the law properly because they failed to see that
           it applied to self-righteous people like themselves (8)
II. Applications:
     1) The law is good if used properly (8) which includes (a) restraining
          sin and (b) revealing how God wants us to live
     2) A third proper and crucial use of God’s law is to illuminate our
         sinfulness to us (9-11; Romans 7:7-25)
     3) When we see our sinfulness, the law becomes a “tutor” leading us
          to Christ by the Holy’s Spirit’s conviction and regeneration
          (8; Galatians 3:24)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Ted Gray

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