Doing God’s Work By Faith

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1 Timothy 1:3-11

INTRODUCTION: Last week we started a new series on 1 Timothy called “Doing Church Together.” We saw that Paul wrote this letter to Timothy so that Timothy would know “how people should conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

As we mentioned last week, when we use the word church here, we are not talking about the church building or just Sunday morning worship, but rather the ongoing life and ministry of the local church in the community and throughout the week. Church is not something you go to. Church is who we are and what we do as the body of Christ.

In verses 1-2 Paul identified himself as the writer. He greeted Timothy and introduced some of the themes that will appear later in the letter. Now he is ready to give Timothy instruction about the church. And he begins by focusing on the church’s primary task. What is the one main thing the church should be doing? Paul sums it all up with the phrase we find in verse 4: We should be doing God’s work — which is by faith.

1 Timothy 1:3-11 – 3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work — which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that 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, 10 for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (NIV)

What is the one main thing the church should be doing? We should be doing God’s work by faith. That one phrase tells us what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.

What should we be doing? We should be doing God’s work. Not man’s work, not our own work, certainly not the devil’s work, but God’s work. The church exists for God and his glory. The church exists to serve God and his purposes. The church was founded by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Jesus is the head of the church. The head gives the instructions and sets the direction for the whole body. The church is not a social club or a religious order. It is a living, breathing organism that exists to do the work of God.

How should we be doing this work? By faith. In fact, faith is the only way we can do God’s work. Faith means trust and dependency on God alone. If we try to do God’s work in our own strength or according to our own wisdom, we will surely fail. God’s work in the church is always accomplished by God working through his people. We must do God’s work by faith.

So, if this is our primary task as a church, how do we do it? How do we do God’s work by faith? In verses 3-11 Paul gives Timothy three instructions that are essential if we are going to do God’s work by faith as a church. They are: 1) Practice spiritual discernment. 2) Be motivated by love. And 3) Use the law properly.

I. Practice spiritual discernment. (verses 3-4)

We will look at the first of these, practicing discernment, in just a minute. But right now I want you to notice something from the beginning of verse 3 where Paul says, “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus.” (1 Timothy 1:3a)

This note gives us a little more background about the letter. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to oversee the church while he went into Macedonia to continue his own ministry. When Paul wrote this first letter to Timothy, the church at Ephesus was about ten years old. Paul himself had planted this church back around 54 A.D. He spent three years in Ephesus sharing Christ with people, teaching them God’s word, building them up in the faith, and gathering them together into a church. Now he writes to Timothy with further instructions to help this church stay the course and fulfill God’s intended purposes.

As I reflected on 1 Timothy over the past couple months in preparation for this series, I couldn’t help but think of some of the parallels with our own church. We are also the result of a church plant, a little older than the church at Ephesus, but still a fairly young church compared to most in New England. God laid it on a man named Roger Martin’s heart to plant this church right here in Agawam back in the 1990’s. Just like Paul, Roger arrived in Agawam and stayed a number of years sharing Christ with people, teaching them God’s word, building them up in the faith, and gathering them together into a church. We are the beneficiaries of that work today, and the instructions Paul gave Timothy are just as applicable to us as they were to the people in Ephesus in his time. We also are to do God’s work by faith.

The first instruction Paul gives Timothy on how to do God’s work by faith is this: Practice spiritual discernment. Discernment is necessary to make sure that you are doing God’s work and not something else. Paul tells Timothy he needs to practice spiritual discernment when it comes to false teaching and when it comes to focusing on the essentials of the faith.

    A. Do not allow false teaching.

As far as false teaching, Paul simply tells Timothy not to allow it. Let’s look at all of verse 3 this time: “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer.” (1 Timothy 1:3)

The word “command” here is a military term which means “to give strict orders.” Paul does not tell Timothy to suggest that these men stop teaching false doctrines. Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ, and Timothy is his appointed representative at the church. Timothy is to use his God-given authority in the church to command that these men stop teaching false doctrines.

That phrase “teaching false doctrine” is a single word in the Greek that means “to teach something different, to teach something other than what had been taught before.” There is a similar passage found at the beginning of the book of Galatians where Paul writes: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:6-8) That word “different” in the phrase “different gospel” is the same word that appears in the word that 1 Timothy translates “teaching false or different doctrines.”

It seems some people are always on the lookout for new and unfamiliar teachings. But Christianity is not an evolving religion. Christianity is a set of teachings that was delivered once and for all to God’s people, first through the Old Testament prophets and then through Jesus Christ and the apostles. God made sure that these teachings were written down for us so that they would not be changed. That written revelation is now complete in the sixty-six books of the Bible.

Anytime someone teaches something that is contradictory to the Bible, we may immediately know that we are dealing with false teaching. The Bible is our authority for discerning truth from error. False teaching in the church cannot be ignored or tolerated. Paul tells Timothy to command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer.

    B. Do not get distracted by non-essentials.

But discernment for Paul not only had to do with truth and error, but also with essentials and non-essentials. Look at verse 4: “… nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work — which is by faith.” (1 Timothy 1:4)

Apparently these “certain men” in Ephesus were not only teaching false doctrines; they were also fascinated with myths and legends. They were devoting themselves to “myths and endless genealogies.” This word “devoting” means to turn your mind to, to devote thought and effort to, to be pre-occupied with something. Instead of focusing on the core teachings from God’s word, these teachers were caught up in myths and legends surrounding the Bible. Instead of teaching the truth of God’s word, they were preoccupied with non-essentials.

We are not told exactly what these myths were all about. There are indications that these teachers were Jewish, and so they were probably arguing and debating about Jewish myths and genealogies related to the Bible. But it doesn’t really matter. That’s the whole point. None of these things really mattered compared to teaching the word of God.

Let me give you some modern day examples of myths and legends that a lot of people get distracted by today. The most recent example was the Lost Jesus Tomb special. Thousands of people tuned in to watch this Discovery Channel special about the supposed lost tomb containing the burial remains of Jesus Christ. The show was so badly biased that within a week of the broadcast, many of the experts featured in the special were already distancing themselves from the film’s conclusions.

Before that, and in some ways related to it, was the Da Vinci Code. Although there is no historical basis, anywhere, for a romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, people persist in perpetuating the myth and debating the genealogy of Christ. Some people just love a conspiracy theory whether or not it has any basis in historical fact.

Another example is the so-called “lost books of the Bible.” Let me assure you, there are no lost books of the Bible. God gave us his Word complete in the sixty-six books of the Bible, and there are no missing books. These other books are forgeries full of myths and legends and were never considered part of the Bible. A lot of people still find them fascinating, and it’s okay to read about them, as along as you realize that they are not God’s word, and you don’t let them distract you from the actual Bible. But some people spend more time reading about these other books than they do reading and studying God’s word itself. If this is an area of interest for you, talk to me. I can get you some good resources that will explain to you what these other books are all about and how we got the Bible that we use today.

I could site other distractions from recent years – Bible codes, Y2K, end-times speculations, the list goes on. What these all have in common is that they “promote controversies rather than God’s work — which is by faith.” (1 Timothy 1:4)

The word for “work” there in verse 4 is a word which means “administration or stewardship, something that is entrusted to someone else.” God has given us his word and entrusted us with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anytime we get distracted from that, we are dealing with non-essentials. We need to keep the main thing the main thing. Practicing spiritual discernment includes not allowing false teaching in the church and not getting distracted by non-essentials.

II. Be motivated by love. (verses 5-7)

Next Paul goes on to talk to Timothy about goals and motivation. Doing God’s work by faith must be motivated by love. That’s what Paul says in verse 5: “The goal of this command is love.” (1 Timothy 1:5a) The command is the command to stop the false teaching. If the goal of the command is love, how can we be motivated by love as we seek to do God’s work by faith?

    A. Guard your heart, conscience and faith.

First of all, you should guard your heart, your conscience and your faith. Look at the rest of verse 5 with me: “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) In order to do God’s work by faith, your motives must be pure. You cannot do God’s work in God’s way with selfish or impure motives. You need a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. You must be motivated by love.

    B. Teach what will actually help others in their faith.

Secondly, you must teach what will actually help others in their faith. Look at verse 6 with me. Paul says, “Some have wandered away from these [i.e a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith] and turned to meaningless talk.” (1 Timothy 1:6)

The word “meaningless” here basically means useless. These false teachers were not helping anyone. They were stirring up all sorts of controversy and debate, but were they bringing anyone to Christ? Were they building believers up in their faith? No, it was all just useless, meaningless talk.

The word for “wandered away” in this verse means to swerve or to miss the mark. The word for “turned to” means to turn aside. It is a medical term for “dislocated,” and therefore means something that is neither healthy nor useful. Paul is saying that these teachers have totally missed the mark. They were not helping people develop pure hearts, or good consciences or sincere faith, but rather they were wasting their time with meaningless talk. When you are motivated by love, you focus on that which will help others in their faith.

    C. Do not seek to glorify yourself.

And then a third way you can be sure that you are motivated by love is this: do not seek to glorify yourself. Look at verse 7: “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 1:7)

These teachers were not interested in helping other people. They were interested in glorifying themselves. They wanted to be known as teachers of the law. They wanted the respect and admiration of others. They wanted a following. But they were not really ready to teach anyone. They spoke with plenty of confidence, but they did not even know what they were talking about.

Let this be a caution to you and me this morning. Just because a person talks with confidence and a sense of authority does not mean that they are necessarily right. Some people are very dogmatic when they speak. They speak as if there is only one way to look at an issue, and that everyone else is obviously wrong. Don’t be intimidated by such people. Don’t accept everything at face value. Instead, test everything by Scripture. Don’t be taken in by those who seek to promote themselves at your expense. The person doing God’s work by faith is motivated by love.

III. Use the law properly. (verses 8-11)

So how do you do God’s work by faith? First, you must practice spiritual discernment. Secondly, you must be motivated by love. And then finally, you must use the law properly. Remember, the false teachers wanted to be teachers of the law, but they did not know what they were talking about. Now Paul tells Timothy the proper use of the law.

    A. The law is good if one uses it properly.

Look at verse 8 where Paul says, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” (1 Timothy 1:8) The word “properly” in this verse is actually the word “lawfully.” Paul is making a play on words here – “The law is good if one uses it lawfully.” The word lawfully itself means “properly or according to design.” God designed the law, and he knows how it should be used.

Paul says the law is good. The law is good because it is God’s law. The law reflects God’s character, the law teaches us right from wrong, and the law shows us our need for Christ. That is all good, and those are all proper uses of the law. But when we use the law improperly, the law kills.

How do we use law improperly? Whenever we make Christianity all about rules and regulations instead of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we use the law improperly. Whenever we become judgmental and legalistic instead of forgiving and full of grace, we use the law improperly. Whenever we make coming to God dependent on obeying God’s law rather than depending on faith, we use the law improperly.

Remember, Paul’s first instruction to Timothy about doing church together is that we should be doing God’s work by faith. The law helps us to know God’s standards, but as Christians we are no longer under law but under grace. As Paul says in Galatians 2: “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20)

    B. The law is made not for the righteous but for the unrighteous.

Paul goes on to say that the law is made not for the righteous but for the unrighteous. Look at verses 9-11: “We also know that 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 adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the … gospel.” (1 Timothy 1:9-11)

Paul gives a long list in these verses describing who the unrighteous are. He begins with the general term “lawbreakers,” and then goes on to describe these lawbreakers in more specific terms. And the terms he uses follow the order and thought of the Ten Commandments. Let me lay it out for you in the following chart:

The Ten Commandments
1) No other gods before me
2) Not make or worship idols
3) Not misuse God’s name
4) Remember Sabbath Day
5) Honor father and mother
6) Not murder
7) Not commit adultery
8 ) Not steal
9) Not bear false witness
10) Not covet

Description from 1 Tim 1:9-10
rebels (not submitting to God)
ungodly/sinful (no reverence/idolatrous)
unholy (not treating God’s name as holy)
irreligious (common, public, profane)
kill fathers or mothers (kill or “strike”)
murderers
adulterers/perverts (immoral/homosexual)
slave dealers (kidnappers, manstealers)
liars, perjurers
whatever else contrary to gospel

You will notice that Paul does not specifically address the final commandment here: “You shall not covet.” That may be because he elsewhere links greed with idolatry (Colossians 3:5) which would already be covered in the list. It may be because he plans to address coveting more specifically later in the letter (1 Timothy 6:6-10) Or it may be that he just wants to leave the list open to whatever else stands opposed to the gospel of grace in Christ.

Either way, the terms Paul uses here and their range of meanings follow along with the same order of the Ten Commandments, which is, after all, the central expression of God’ law. Paul is showing that God’s law as expressed through the Ten Commandments was made not for the righteous but for the unrighteous.

In what way is law made for the unrighteous rather than the righteous?

        1) The law condemns their unrighteous acts.

First of all, the law condemns their unrighteous acts. You and I cannot fulfill the requirements of God’s law. We can try, but we are all sinners, and we break God’s law constantly. The law cannot save anyone. The law can only condemn.

        2) The law brings conviction for sin.

Secondly, the law brings conviction for sin. More accurately, the Holy Spirit brings conviction for sin through the law, but the law is designed to convict us of our sin and our need for a savior. The law is designed to drive us to Christ who died for our sins. The law is not made for the righteous, but for the unrighteous.

    C. Sound doctrine conforms to the gospel.

Paul does not end his list there but goes on to say: “and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (1 Timothy 1:10-11)

The word “sound” here is a word that has to do with good health. Remember the false teachers turned aside or “dislocated” themselves in an unhealthy way from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. In contrast Paul now extols the virtues of sound, healthy doctrine.

And what exactly is sound or healthy doctrine? Not legalism or law, not lawbreaking or rebellion, but rather that which conforms to the gospel, the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Sound doctrine always conforms to the gospel.

Paul says that God has entrusted him with this gospel. It is a different word here, but this brings us back to the same idea we saw in verse 4 – that God’s work is a stewardship that he has entrusted to us. God has entrusted us with the gospel that we might do God’s work by faith.

CONCLUSION: So, what should the church be doing? God’s work. And how should the church be doing God’s work? By faith.

How do you do God’s work by faith? Three important ways are: 1) Practice spiritual discernment. 2) Be motivated by love. 3) Use the law properly.

You are not saved by obeying God’s law. The law can only expose your sin and condemn you before God’s throne. You are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. This is the gospel that saves us. This is the gospel that God has entrusted to us. This is the gospel that allows us as a church to do God’s work by faith.

© Ray Fowler

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