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How to Use the Law Lawfully

1 Timothy 1:5-11

Timothy Copple

(1 Tim 1:5-11 NKJV) Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, {6} from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, {7} desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. {8} But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, {9} knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, {10} for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, {11} according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.

 After expounding on the folly of the "other doctrine" being taught, that is the Jewish insistence upon obedience to the Jewish Law, St. Paul feels a need to state what the right place of the Law is in order that we do not get things out of balance. Many have been known to see in St. Paul’s condemnation of this view a charge to throw out the Law, despite both this Apostles and Christ’s statements to the contrary. Here we see one of his clearest statements on the purpose of the Law, which in no way demeans it but brings out its true character in contrast to the legalistic manner of the Judiazers.

So our spiritual father St. Paul, speaking to St. Timothy tells us in what way the Law becomes effective for our daily lives.

The first point we see is that the Law and its commandments are for the purpose of love. This at first may seem odd, as we tend to think of "commandments" as God yelling down at us what we should do and the resulting punishment if we don’t. We liken it to our parents telling us to do something and when we fail end up with a sore rear. Even though in this there is an element of love, what St. Paul is speaking of here goes beyond that. It goes to the heart and spirit of the Law. As we mentioned last time, Christ tells us in John 14 "If you love Me, you will obey Me." Love and obedience go hand in hand with God. Therefore, is it not too strange to see that obedience to the Law was not intended to inflict upon us punishment as much as it was a means whereby we are given to love God? It is for this reason that the Psalmist says:

(Psa 1:1-2 NKJV) Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; {2} But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.

…and in prophesying of the coming Messiah…

(Psa 40:7-8 NKJV) Then I said, "Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. {8} I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart."

St. Paul comes back around to this point in a bit. But here we must ask what kind of love is St. Paul speaking of? Carnal love? Love that keeps a balance between what we owe others and what they owe us? No, rather this is the type of love that first comes from a pure heart. Not a heart clouded by the passions; that is, ulterior motives of gain, power and prestige. Selfish interests are out the door, but that heart adorned with virtues and desire for them will find the Law a delight rather than a burden. It is because of this love of the heart that the Law responds and resonates in our hearts without being forced or arising from legalistic observance.

This is also a love that springs from a good conscience. It is when our conscience convicts us that we do not see love coming forth, rather guilt, shame and hiding from God as Adam did. Fear is the result of our conscience convicting us of the truth of the Law. This can be good, if it lead us to repentance and confession. If, however, we hide our sin behind our own constructed fig leaves of rationalizations and passing the blame to anyone else or anything else than ourselves, we will eventually find ourselves outside the Garden. A conscience cleansed by continuous repentance and obedience will find a true love the natural outgrowth of our encounter with the Law.

The last quality mentioned is a sincere faith. This is a heart truly seeking after God, placing itself in God’s mercy with childlike faith. Faith is a trust in God and a dependence upon Him rather than ourselves.

(Prov 3:5-8 NKJV) Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; {6} In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. {7} Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil. {8} It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones.

One of my old Protestant hymns conveys this thought fairly well, "Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey." While one might question whether the theological end goal is to be "happy in Jesus", that could be understood in a correct spiritual way of contentment rather than the emotional sense of happiness that we experience when circumstances are to our liking. However, when it comes to abiding in His love, it means that love first springs from a heartfelt trust and delight in our Lord. In so doing, we have no problem in humbly submitting to the demands of the Law, because we do so out of trust and love, out of zeal for Him and to more firmly root the virtues in our life. Here in we find the value of the Law.

St. John Chrysostom also lists several benefits of the Law in his commentaries on these passages.

But what he means is this; if any one fulfills it in his actions; for that is to "use it lawfully" as here intended. But when they expound it in their words, and neglect it in their deeds, that is using it unlawfully. For such an one uses it, but not to his own profit. And another way may be named besides. What is it? that the law, if thou use it aright, sends thee to Christ. For since its aim is to justify man, and it fails to effect this, it remits us to Him who can do so. Another way again of using the law lawfully, is when we keep it, but as a thing superfluous. And how as a thing superfluous? As the bridle is properly used, not by the prancing horse that champs it, but by that which wears it only for the sake of appearance, so he uses the law lawfully, who governs himself, though not as constrained by the letter of it. He uses the law lawfully who is conscience that he does not need it, for he who is already so virtuous that he fulfills it not from fear of it, but from a principle of virtue, uses it lawfully and safely: that is, if one so use it, not as being in fear of it, but having before his eyes rather the condemnation of conscience than the punishment hereafter. Moreover he calls him a righteous man, who has attained unto virtue. He therefore uses the law lawfully, who does not require to be instructed by it.

It is therefore those "teachers" which teach about the Law, those referred to before as preaching another doctrine than the one delivered to St. Timothy, who speak of things that they do not know themselves. They have not experienced the enlightening grace and love that St. Paul speaks of so clearly here. The result is the same anytime someone looks at the faith in a purely academic manner, devising clever philosophies and theological systems in which to force fit the Faith into frameworks we can manipulate and control. It is the testimony of the Fathers that the divine revelation and our experience of it rather than our own ability to derive truth through logic and arguments enlighten us.

St. John Cassin states in his 3rd book of the Conferences:

If however any more subtle inference of man’s argumentation and reasoning seems opposed to this interpretation, it should be avoided rather than brought forward to the destruction of the faith (for we gain not faith from understanding, but understanding from faith, as it is written: "Except ye believe, ye will not understand") for how God works all things in us and yet everything can be ascribed to free will, cannot be fully grasped by the mind and reason of man. (Chapter 18)

It is for this very reason that our "theology" and faith are more expressed by the liturgy, by the hymns of the Church, and by imagery than by rational doctrines and debates. The former modes keep us from becoming black and white legalist about the faith, but still express the essence of what is being conveyed even while it is not confining. It has the ability to be an experience of truth in Christ rather than an academic examination as if one had just dissected the faith on one’s own operating table.

This false type of teaching is powerless to prevent one from falling into the many sins that St. Paul lists in this section. Indeed, such an approach can lead one into these things because pride is the foundation of such teaching. Rather, when we find ourselves experiencing the love to which the Law leads us to because it brings us to a purity of heart, a clean conscience and the expression of a sincere faith then we no longer have need of the Law in the strict sense. Rather, we wear it as a glorious garment of virtue placed on us by Christ. St. John Chrysostom writes concerning this:

The glory of this world is worthless and not enduring, or if it abides, it abides but till death, and after that is wholly extinguished. For "his glory," it says, "shall not descend after him." (Psalm 49:17.) And with many it lasts not even to the end of life. But no such thing is to be thought of in that glory; it abides, and will have no end. For such are the things of God, enduring, and above all change or end. For the glory of that state is not from without, but from within. I mean, it consists not in a multitude of servant, or of chariot, nor in costly garments. Independently of these things, the man himself is clothed with glory. Here, without these things, the man appears naked.

Let us take on the Law not out of fear of punishment, but as a guide to Christ, as an expression of love, and as a constant reminder of our need of repentance in this life. In this way we wear it as a glorious garment and a fragrant scent of the heavenly kingdom within.

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