From Law to Gospel: Seeing the Literary Structure of 1 Timothy 1

bibleIn his chapter “Cohesion and Structure in the Pastoral Epistles,” Ray Van Neste argues for literary cohesion in 1 Timothy (in Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles, 84–104). While many critical scholars have denied this unity and declared 1 Timothy is a patchwork letter (not written by Paul), Van Neste shows how the letter demonstrates internal cohesion. From a careful reading of the letter, he shows how thematic and linguistic connections unity the first and last chapter (98–104).

Most impressive in his argument is his treatment of 1 Timothy 1 and 6, where he shows multiple ways the letter shows cohesion and structure. For instance, developing a number of “hook words,” Van Neste observes,

  • The use of “teachers of the law” (v. 7), law (v. 8), and lawfully (v. 8) link verses 3–7 with verses 8–11.
  • Pisteuō (“entrusted”) ends verse 11 and serves as the keyword for verses 12–17: “faithful” (v. 12), “unbelief” (v. 13), “faith” (v. 14), “trustworthy” (v. 15), “believe” (v. 16). In each case, the Greek word has pist- as its root.
  • Faith and a good conscience also mark the beginning and end of the chapter (v. 5 and v. 19).

With these various “hook words,” we see how the chapter holds together and unfolds. This strengthens our commitment to Paul’s authorship of 1 Timothy, and it shows us how to read the chapter as a whole. Yet, the unity is more than just linguistic. There also appears to be a literary structure in 1 Timothy 1. Continue reading

The Good News of the Law (1 Timothy 1:8–11)

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Reading the Law Lawfully (1 Timothy 1:8–11)
(Sermon Audio)

This Sunday we considered 1 Timothy 1:8–11 and the good news of God’s law. If there is anything in church history that has puzzled and divided Christians it is the relationship between the law and the gospel. Yet, in this passage we are given a clear understanding of how Paul read the Law of Moses.

With application for today, Sunday’s sermon sought to show how Paul read the Law lawfully and how we should do the same. You can listen to the sermon here. Additional resources can be found below.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor David Continue reading

Reading the Law Lawfully: A Primer on the Three Uses of the Law

law.jpegNow we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully
— 1 Timothy 1:8 —

In his classic Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof outlines three uses of the law,[1]

[The Civil Use of the Law]
The law serves the purpose of restraining sin and promoting righteousness. Considered from this point of view, the law presupposes sin and is necessary on account of sin. It serves the purpose of God’s common grace in the world at large. This means that from this point of view it cannot be regarded a means of grace in the technical sense of the word.

[The Pedagogical Use of the Law]
In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law. In that way the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption.

[The Normative or Christian Use of the Law]
This is the so-called . . . the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians. (Berkhof, Systematic Theology614–615)

Not to be confused with the tripartite division of the Law (i.e., the Moral, Civil, Ceremonial), the three uses of the law are a traditional way Reformed (and other) theologians have explained law and its various uses in God’s plan of salvation.

Observing the way the New Testament, but especially Paul, spoke of the Law positively (Rom. 7:12; 1 Tim. 1:8) and negatively (Rom. 7:5–6; 8:2), this threefold approach shows how God’s law preserved the world from sin (first use), revealed sin and prepared Israel for the gospel (second use), and now continues to purify the Christian by means of Spirit-powered obedience to God’s law (third use). To better understand each aspect of the law, let’s consider each in turn. Continue reading

Entrusted with the Gospel, We Can Speak With Confidence of What We Know

matrixHow do you know what you know?

Few questions may be more important for standing firm in a world full of competing voices and conflicting views. Yet, the follower of Christ does not need to fear the truthfulness of his or her faith, when that faith has been grounded in God’s revealed Word.

In contrast to every other religion that derives its views from the perspective of man, the testimony of the Bible is one where God has revealed himself to his people through Spirit-inspired Prophets and Apostles. From Moses receiving God’s Law on Sinai to the Spirit bearing witness by means of signs and wonders to the Apostles’s teaching (Heb. 2:1–4), God has entrusted his Word to men who rightly communicated his message.

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul speaks often about the truthfulness of his message and the error of false teachers. And in these letters, he speaks in two ways that highlight the way God has communicated himself to the Church. The first has to do with the agreed upon truth (i.e., the content of the gospel) that God gave his disciples; the second has to do with the way God entrusted (passive tense of “believe”) his people with his words.

In his commentary on The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Robert Yarbrough nicely organizes the  places where Paul speaks in this way. And he show how Paul’s language of knowing (“we what we know”) is a technical term for the revealed word of God. Likewise, Yarbrough lists the places Paul speaks of the gospel (or God’s Word) entrusted to his people. Consider the way Paul speaks and what this means for our confidence in Scripture. Continue reading

Take Care of the Truth, For We Are All False Teachers in Training (1 Timothy 1:3–7)

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Take Care of the Truth, For We Are All False Teachers in Training (Sermon Audio)

All the Scriptures, but especially the Pastoral Epistles, talk a lot about false teaching. 

This shouldn’t surprise us. If the gospel is the priceless message of salvation in Christ, then false teaching and false teachers are the gospel’s greatest threat. Yet, false teaching is not just what we may find on TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network), it is found in our own hearts and it threatens every church.

On Sunday we considered 7 False Teachers in Training (or temptations to falsehood that may be resident in our hearts). I argued that sound doctrine leading to a pure heart and a loving church is the best protection for truth. You can listen to the sermon here. Response questions are below, as are some additional resources. Continue reading

A Family of Believers Centered on the Gospel (Galatians 1:6–10)

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A Family of Believers Centered on the Gospel

On Sunday our elders proposed a new church mission statement. At its core is the commitment is to be a “Family of Believers Centered on the Gospel.” In preparation for that “roll out,” I preached a sermon on Galatians 1 and the importance of protecting and proclaiming the gospel.

Here’s the sermon audio, with a few additional resources and response questions.

The Gospel Proper

Theological Triage: A Way to Keep the Gospel at the Center

Response Questions

  1. What is the letter to the Galatians all about? Why does the tone matter? How does it teach us to think about the Gospel?
  2. Who is Paul writing to? And why does that matter? (Hint: the church is ultimately responsible for their doctrinal beliefs).
  3. What is the gospel? Read Galatians 1:4; Romans 1:1–7; 1 Corinthians 15:1–8 for reference.
  4. How can we deviate from the Gospel? How have you turned aside—in belief or practice? How have you seen churches deviate? What do we learn from Peter’s example (read Galatians 2:11–14)?
  5. How does a church keep the gospel at the center? What role does a statement of faith play in that? What about a mission statement?
  6. Read over the mission statement and the associated Scriptures. What would you add or edit in this statement? Talk about how keeping these truths before us helps us keep the gospel at the center.
  7. Pray for the church and for our focus on the gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Introducing Lottie Moon, Her Sacrifice, and the Missions Offering Taken in Her Name

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Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
— Hebrews 13:7 —

On Christmas Eve in 1912, some eight months after the sinking of the Titanic, there was another loss of titanic proportions. On the other side of the world, on a boat in the harbor of Kobe, Japan Lottie Moon—all 50 pounds of her starving body—breathed her last. She had run her race to the end and finished well!

For forty years, this 4′ 3″ firebrand served as a missionary to the people of China. After growing up in Charlottesville, Virginia and becoming one of the most educated women in the South, this single woman took her teaching gifts to the other side of the world.

At the age of eighteen she was convicted of her sin and trusted in Christ. For twelve years, she taught school throughout the South. But compelled by the need for the gospel in China, Lottie Moon followed her sister Edmonia to become a teacher on the other side of the world.

In a short time, she faced incredible difficulties. Personally, she was forced break an engagement with C. H. Toy, a prominent but every-increasing liberal Hebrew professor. Vocationally, she faced the hostility of a people who despised her and called her a “foreign devil.” And relationally, she saw her own sister succumb to sickness, forcing Edmonia to leave the mission field.

Still, through the difficulties that spanned twenty-years and beyond, she changed her gospel methods, adapted her accustomed dress, and endured in the face of hardship. Continue reading

Gospel-Motivated Giving

om-prakash-sethia-301978-unsplashThis summer our church looked at Jesus’s words concerning giving. In Sunday School, we studied Randy Alcorn’s helpful little book called The Treasure PrincipleYou can listen to the series here. And in our series on the Sermon on the Mount, we have looked at Jesus words about giving in Matthew 6:1–4, treasure in Matthew 6:19–24, and trusting God with our material needs in Matthew 6:25–34. You can listen to those sermons here:

Still, giving is not just something that Jesus talked about. It is something that goes back to the beginning of corporate worship. For in Exodus, when God redeemed his people from Egypt, he led them to contribute to the construction of the tabernacle. With the gifts God provided for Israel through the “plundering of the Egyptians,” God’s people gladly gave to the construction of God’s dwelling place.

Today, as the church has become the temple of the Holy Spirit, God’s people continue to give to its upbuilding, as the Lord moves our hearts. Jesus’s words about storing up treasure in heaven, and not on earth may even refer directly to this temple-directed giving (see Nicholas Perrin, Jesus the Temple), However, throughout the Bible there is a theme of God’s people giving to the upbuilding of God’s dwelling place because of the work of grace in their lives.

This is first seen in Exodus and continues until today. Accordingly, we can learn much by seeing the relationship between grace and giving, and how gospel-motivated giving is both similar and different from all other forms of philanthropy. Continue reading

A Filter, A Lens, and A Prism: Three Ways Christ Applies the Law of Moses to New Covenant Disciples

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One of the most challenging aspects of reading the Bible is applying the old covenant law to the new covenant follower of Christ. As the book Five Views on Law and Gospel illustrates, there are multiple ways in which Christians have sought to apply the Old Testament and its legal demands to the church today. And one of the most familiar ways is to differentiate three parts of the law.

Typically divided as moral, civil, and ceremonial, the tripartite approach to the Old Testament argues that some laws are eternal and unchanging (the moral); others are related to the theocracy given to  Israel (the civil); still others are related to the system of priests, sacrifices, and the temple (the ceremonial). In Christ, the civil and ceremonial came to their completion, while the moral law continues unabated.

The trouble with this approach is that the Old Testament never specifies the tripartite division and in many places the moral, civil, and ceremonial overlap. Still, we must make some sense of the way parts of the law continue and others do not. And historically, the tripartite division has a long tradition of helping Christians think carefully about the Bible, the Law, and the Gospel. Still, it is not the only way and there may be better approaches.
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Addressing this subject, I have found help in the way Jonathan Lunde uses three images to describe the way in which Christ fulfills the law. In his book Following Jesus, the Servant Kinghe spends three chapters outlining the way Christ fulfills the law of Moses. Focusing much of his attention on the Sermon on the Mount, he specifies the way Christ functions as filter, lens, and prism. In some ways, Christ brings the laws of Moses to an end (filter); in others, he clarifies what the law already meant (lens); and still in other ways, he heightens the demands of the law (prism).

While these three approaches (filter, lens, prism) are extra-textual and only illustrative, I find them more helpful in getting at what the text says. They make us consider what Jesus does and does not say about the law. And instead of foisting an extra-textual grid on the Bible, like the tripartite division of the law, they make us listen closely to the text itself to see how Jesus mediates between old and new covenants.

Because this approach is explicitly Christ-centered, in a way that the tripartite division of the law is not, I find it to be a surer guide. Likewise, because it does not create a whole system of categorization (which the Bible does not have), it lets the text of Scripture speak. It also permits more freedom to disagree about certain points—as I do below in two ways—and helps us go back to the feet of Jesus to learn how he approaches the old and new covenants. Continue reading

From Cain to Covenantal Continuity: Three Quotes on Matthew 5:21–26

kiwihug-284614-unsplash.jpgWhen reading Matthew 5:21–26, the first of six illustrations from Jesus on how to read and apply the Law of Moses, there are a number of interpretive factors to consider. In fact, we need to consider the meaning of the “anger,” the relationship of the Law-covenant to the Jesus’s fulfillment, and the way Jesus employs imagery from the first recorded murder.

In these three quotations from Charles Quarles, Jonathan Pennington, and Dale Allison we get a grasp on how the lexical, epochal, and canonical contexts should contribute to our understanding Jesus’s teaching. Continue reading