Enough Of Useless Chatter! What Is The Main Purpose Of The Law?

Text: 1 Timothy 1:12-17

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Next time you are in Walmart or Barnes & Noble, go to the religious section.  What you will find are shelves full of useless chatter. Sure, many of the authors will look like experts on religion, but in reality, they don’t have the remotest idea of what they are talking about.  Frankly, many of the books in the religion section should just be labeled as fantasy, for they have more in common with Star Wars and Star Trek than they do the Christian faith.

Now, it may sound like I am a bit harsh. However, I am merely repeating what the Apostle Paul told Timothy long ago.  And friends, somethings never change. 

In our epistle reading from today, Paul wrote Timothy to urge him to stay in the city of Ephesus. The reason why? Timothy needed to deal with false teachers who had plenty to say about fancy family trees and their make-believe religious teachings but little understanding of how the Ten Commandments should properly function.  Simply stated, these false teachers were not only full of stupid useless talk but did not know how the Ten Commandments should work in the church and the lives of Christians. 

And so, Paul writes the letter of 1 Timothy to show that the Ten Commandments and the Cross of Jesus must be properly taught in the church.  Furthermore, Paul wrote the letter of 1 Timothy to use himself as an object lesson for Timothy and for all future believers of how the Ten Commandments and the Cross of Jesus work in the life of a Christian.

So, considering this, what does Paul say about himself? Does Paul tell Timothy, you, and me all about his spiritual accomplishments? Does he list all of his good deeds? Does he talk about his integrity, determination, and intellect? No, he does not. Instead, Paul does quite the opposite.  He talks about his failures and sin.  And then he talks about Jesus.  

Now, in case you may not realize it, the Apostle Paul did not have the most pleasant of backgrounds. Paul, persecuted Christ when he blasphemed, persecuted, and insulted Christ’s church in his former days.  For example, Paul would incite violence against Christians to get them arrested and ultimately stoned to death.  And yet, here is what is so incredibly profound. Christ came into the world to save sinners, like Paul.

Listen to what Paul says in our reading from 1 Timothy:  I was a man of violence, but I received mercy. I acted ignorantly in unbelief, but the grace of Jesus overflowed for me. I’m the worst of sinners, but Jesus accepted me!  

You see, Paul does not share his resume of sin to lessen his guilt somehow or excuse his actions. But instead, he is admitting that he is a poor miserable sinner. He is admitting that he has done wrong. And get this, he says – in the present tense – I am the worst of sinners. 

Dear friends, when we consider God’s Law, as expressed in the 10 Commandments, we do not see ten different tips on how to live our best life now. In other words, the 10 Commandments are not merely moral guidance and counsel given to help improve your life.  Keep in mind, even if a person were to quit their habitual cursing, boozing, womanizing, and blasphemy - becoming squeaky clean – that would not make them a Christian.  God does not tell pastors to preach the Ten Commandments to make people godly. The 10 Commandments make no one godly. To preach the 10 Commandments as pointers and tips that you can apply to your life to increase your holiness is useless chatter – the kind of chatter that Paul warns Timothy against.  It is the kind of chatter that tickles ears.[1]

To the point, when Paul talks about himself and his failures, he is showing Timothy that the 10 Commandments bring about the knowledge of sin. The Ten Commandments are meant to condemn us in such a way that we confess sin.  That is to say, Paul does not speak of the 10 Commandments to Timothy and then talk about how good he is doing at applying them. Instead, Paul references the 10 Commandments, and then talks about his arrogance, unbelief, hatred, and persecution – he shares how he has failed to live up to the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments revealed to Paul that he is proof positive – public sinner number one!

But you and I might say, I’m a Christian!  I am no longer a sinner!  I may fail from time to time, but to be a sinner? I am not.

Tragically, there are so-called Christians who walk around with their noses high in the air, acting like they do not struggle with sin anymore – that sin is a little thing that they conquered a long time ago.  They pretend that all is well and that they are now living a victorious life.  Well, these individuals are misinformed.  They are wrong and na├»ve at best. You see, plain reason, experience, and mankind’s failure to live up to the perfect standard of the 10 Commandments tell us that we Christians struggle with sin.  Not just in the past, but every single day.  In other words, even though we are baptized, our failure to uphold the 10 Commandments shows us that sin remains after our baptisms.

Let us imagine for a moment that we have a bunch of Christians, and godless Pagans lined up on a wall, much like a police lineup.  And let us imagine that we have an instrument that functions like the 10 Commandments – an instrument that detects sin.  Well, when we wave this instrument in front of every person in the lineup, we find that every person in the lineup is a sinner.  Yes, every single person in the line is a sinner – the Christian and the godless Pagan.   

And so what this means is that we Christians confess that we are real sinners, just like the Apostle Paul, and just like everyone else around us.   We confess that no one is good, not even one.[2]  We confess that we have real sin presently within us.  In fact, we confess every single Sunday at the beginning of the Divine Service – shoulder to shoulder – that we are poor miserable sinners in thought, word, and deed.

But Baptized Saint, this is not the only thing we confess!  Sure, the 10 Commandments reveal to us that we are sinners who sin, but the Gospel reveals to you and me that Jesus treats us mercifully. 

Listen to this!  Paul confesses his sins according to the 10 Commandments, but he also confesses with boldness and confidence that he has been shown mercy and forgiveness in Christ, because of the Gospel!  Hear this loud and clear, Baptized Saints!  You could never have made it on your own if it were not for the sheer mercy, love, and grace of God in Christ for you!  Hear this loud and clear! Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom you and I are the worst so that Christ could show us off as evidence of his patients and grace and mercy.  You are baptized into Christ; therefore, the guilt of your sin is forgiven; the condemnation of your sin is gone.  It is all buried deeply in the wounds of Christ. 

When we hear about the Apostle Paul and his messed up hellish life, we realize that there is more grace in Christ than there is sin in Paul. And that my friends, gives us hope and gives us joy.

Too many of us Christians fail to realize that our God is ‘not’ some unmoving, impassive, apathetic God. But instead, our God loved this sinful world so much – even when we don’t deserve it – that He sent His only Son to come into the world to save sinners. 

The 10 Commandments are intended to wake us up so that we know that we are a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a prodigal son. But the Gospel is intended to grant us faith, knowing that Jesus seeks out sinners - rebellious sheep who wander away into dangerous pastures. Yes, the Gospel for you this day is that Jesus runs to stinky-pig-smelling-prodigal-sons and kisses them, getting dirt on Himself, while getting a white robe to wrap guilt with righteousness.  The Gospel is that Jesus looks for pesky coins that get lost in the cracks of the floor. The Gospel is that Jesus seeks out the deplorable, the wretched - sinners… sinners of whom the Apostle Paul, you, and me, are the worst.

We are great sinners – that is most certainly true.  However, we have a greater Savior that seeks us out, forgives us, and considers it well-worthwhile.  

Christ seeks you – snatching you from darkness unto light, to be His dear children.  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  

[1] C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, (St. Louis, MO; Concordia Publishing House, 1928), 81-82. 
[2] See Romans 3:20. 

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