1 Timothy chapter 1

The first letter to Timothy gives the Apostle Paul’s instructions to a young pastor. Timothy’s job was to teach people the gospel and urge people to trust Jesus Christ and live thankful lives in obedience to the one who rescued them from sin and death.

In reminding Timothy of his responsibilities, Paul first deals with false ideas that must be corrected.

These false ideas embolden people to abandon the good news (and so becoming ‘shipwrecked’), and instead to trust in their pedigree or their keeping of God’s law. This is why Paul refers to the vanity of genealogies (my mum/dad was so-and-so, and so I’m fine) and the unlawful use of the law (I did such-and-such, and so I’m fine).

Paul indicates that the law is not for good people, because the only person whose whole life may be called ‘good’ is our Lord Jesus Christ. The law is for bad people like us.

Paul then gives a list of bad behaviour of which the law is intended to convict us. We need to know our ‘bad’ before we can see the ‘good’ in the gospel.

In this list, Paul identifies bad attitudes and actions: disrespect for God, lack of submission to him, slanderous talk, murder of parents (the extreme end of ‘not honouring’), sexual sins, kidnapping, lying and the rest.

Paul says that church people who are indulging any of these sorts of sins are acting against pure teaching. That is, either they do not really believe that the law applies to them, or that they think God’s free mercy in Christ is a licence to do any wicked thing that they might wish.

In opposition to this, Paul says that God’s mercy to bad people like him (Paul called himself the ‘chief of sinners’) creates real changes in the attitudes and behaviours of those who are in Christ. While we are still sinners, we become saints by the new birth. We should be people who keep confessing and turning from our sins, not people who glory in our sins.

If the Lord Jesus Christ, who became a man to live a truly good life to replace our bad lives, to die in order to take responsibility for our sin, and to rise to give us righteousness so that we are pleasing to God — if Christ did all that for us, and we know it — then our lives ought to be conformed more and more to his pattern. He saves bad people that they might do good in this world for his glory.

As Paul writes elsewhere, there is no room for Christian boasting, except boasting of Christ and his doing, dying and rising for us. Timothy’s job was to remind church people of these things.

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Church is not to be ‘nice’

Sounds outrageous? Please let me try to explain.

These things I write … so that you might know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the support and seat of truth (1 Tim. 3:14-15).

Paul is writing to a young minister who has a pastoral service to perform. He warns Timothy of the untruths that people love that must be corrected; he gives some instructions regarding public worship; he outlines the characteristics to look for when considering men for eldership or the diaconate.

Paul does all this, he tells us, so that the church might fulfil its role in the world: to hold up truth and to be the place were truth sits.

If the church is the support and seat of truth, this tells us that the church is not the source of truth. Truth comes from elsewhere. The truth that the Church is to hold up is that which God has revealed in the Bible. Of all places, the church is to be the place where truth stays in the driver’s seat.

The church is to be all about truth. The truth of Jesus Christ – son of God, son of man, who for our salvation lived and died and rose again. This gospel calls for repentance and faith. Repentance means we are brought to a very different way of thinking. Faith means we receive that message of mercy that God has supplied. To this message we are to trust our lives. We can only be brought into the church of God by his grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why I think that the church must not have ‘being nice’ as its first priority.

‘Nice’ is not the same as telling the truth in love. Niceness is not the same thing as grace. ‘Nice’ is what people like, and, whatever people actually like in a world twisted by sin, it is not truth.

In our present age, the church in general, seems to want to be liked. It wants to be thought of as a nice place to be. The question that the church must ask continually is what sort of effect does its attempts to be liked, to be nice, have upon the its primary role of holding up and being the seat of truth.

Obviously, the church is to show to the world love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control. These things come to the church as the Holy Spirit takes the word of God and applies it to the church. The church is not to pick and choose the things it says from the Bible so it might appear ‘nice’. It is the whole counsel of God, as revealed in the Bible, that the church is to uphold and put in the driver’s seat, even those things that might not appear nice.