“Sound Doctrine: Applying Law and Gospel” (1 Timothy 1:5-17)

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 11, 2022

“Sound Doctrine: Applying Law and Gospel” (1 Timothy 1:5-17)

Sound doctrine: When you hear that phrase, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of a proud, triumphalistic claim: “We in the Missouri Synod have the pure doctrine, not like those other churches!” Maybe you think of sound doctrine as having all your facts in order, in your head, in a sterile, intellectual way, unrelated to real life. Or you think of sound doctrine as unloving, not caring about people, only about guarding the truth. Well, I’m here to tell you that nothing, none of that, could be further from the truth.

This stereotype of a concern for sound doctrine as being cold and unloving, all head and no heart, impersonal, uncaring–this is a caricature that people use to excuse their lack of concern for right doctrine and practice. We are accused of being obsessed with “incessant internal purification,” at the cost of being “missional.” But that is not the case. In fact, in our Epistle today, from Paul’s letter to Timothy, we will see that concern for pure doctrine and caring for people–that these two go hand in hand. And so our theme this morning, “Sound Doctrine: Applying Law and Gospel.”

First, a little background on Paul and Timothy and this epistle: Paul, of course, is the apostle Paul, appointed by Christ to spread the gospel to the Gentiles and to oversee churches across the Mediterranean world. Timothy was Paul’s younger assistant and his apostolic representative when Paul was traveling elsewhere. That was the case when Paul writes this letter. Paul was needed in Macedonia, northern Greece, so he left Timothy behind in Ephesus to oversee the churches there. And so in this letter Paul has instructions for Timothy on how to handle matters there in Ephesus.

Our text begins. Paul says to Timothy: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Now what is this “charge” that Paul speaks of? Well, Paul had told Timothy to remain at Ephesus so that he, Timothy, might “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” Which is to say, Paul had told Timothy to charge, that is, to command and sternly warn, certain persons not to teach any doctrine different from what Paul himself had taught.

Now in our day, people would say of this: “Who does Paul think he is? Isn’t he being rather haughty and arrogant, as though he thinks he has a corner on the truth? Shouldn’t people be able to teach whatever they perceive to be the truth? What is truth, anyway? Isn’t whatever you believe to be true your truth? You’re not allowed to say that anyone is wrong in what they believe!” That’s the attitude in our society today.

But that is not the biblical view. No, the Bible throughout teaches that there is truth and there is error; that the truth has specific, unchangeable content; and that we are not at liberty to mess with that. That’s the viewpoint St. Paul takes and we should take also.

So the charge that Paul had given Timothy to rebuke and correct false doctrine–that same charge, Paul says, is done out of love: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Insistence on sound doctrine is done out of love and the care of souls.

Doctrine has to do not only with facts about God, such as his divine attributes, getting the Trinity right, getting the person of Christ right–oh, it is all that, but there’s more to it than that. Sound doctrine also has to do with God’s commandments, his law, how God wants his human creatures to live. Doctrine has to get the law right, so that people will know what sin is and what God thinks of it. In our text, Paul says that the law is good and that it is laid down “for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.”

What jumps out at you in this list? To me, it’s that Paul lists as sinful behavior certain behaviors that are condoned or even celebrated in our day. For example, “the sexually immoral.” That covers all forms of sexual immorality–premarital sex, cohabitation, adultery, unscriptural divorce–anything outside of the marriage of one man and one woman for life. Of course, that teaching has fallen by the wayside in our lifetime.

And, even more specifically, what Paul lists next: “men who practice homosexuality.” “Oh, there, now you’ve done it, Paul! Now you’ve gone too far! You’re a homophobe! You’re guilty of hate speech! Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.” You see, Paul has the audacity to say that homosexual behavior is a sin. And it is. But our culture says: “Love is love! Love wins! Celebrate LGBTQ! Pride! Let’s have a pride parade! A pride month! And if you don’t agree with us, we will cancel you out!”

But sound doctrine applies law to people so they can see their sin before God, even if society says it’s ok. Otherwise, if there is no sin, people will think they don’t have any need to repent. They’ll not see their need for a Savior. And that would be disastrous.

So let’s not limit our application of the law to just those bad people out there–the gays and the fornicators and the abortionists. Sure, they need to repent. But then so do we. We, the respectable, morally upright people–we need to see ourselves as sinners, always in need of a Savior.

Take Paul himself as an example. As Saul of Tarsus, he was as morally upright a person as you could find. Clean living, dedicated to God’s service, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee devoted to the law–as zealous a young man as there was. But how does Paul reflect back on those days? He says, “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” In his zeal, and thinking he was doing a service for God, Paul had gone exactly opposite of God’s will, going so far as to persecute the church of Christ!

So Paul recognizes himself as a sinner. It’s not just those bad people out there. In fact, Paul puts himself at the top of the heap, as the chief of sinners! But even as bad as he had blown it, God still had mercy on him. Paul writes: “The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Friends, this is the gospel! This is the good news! Whether you have been a proud pervert or a proud Pharisee, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, which means . . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save you!

Who is this Christ Jesus? He is the very Son of God, one with the Father from eternity. Christ came into our world in the flesh, to do the great rescue mission, to save humanity. Jesus came and kept the law of God perfectly, as a man, fulfilling all righteousness, in our stead. Then this same Jesus of Nazareth went to the cross, willingly, to suffer and die as the sacrifice for your sins, shedding his holy blood to win your forgiveness. Christ then rose from the dead, showing his victory over sin and death–his resurrection life, which he now shares with you in your baptism. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and this is who he is and how he does it.

By the way, did you notice that everything I just said is doctrine? Yet it’s the most wonderful, the most comforting, the most joyous and loving and caring thing I can say! “Sound doctrine” simply means “healthy teaching.” To teach the word of God in its truth and purity–this is the healthiest, the most beneficial–this is the best thing for you! For it steers you away from all sorts of false doctrine, with their dead ends. Sound doctrine applies the law of God to your life, so that you will see that you are a sinner, in need for a Savior. Sound doctrine, healthy teaching, then points you to your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone can save you, and, thank God, he does!

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Do you qualify? I do. Paul did. And if God can save Paul, the foremost of sinners, he can certainly save you, no matter where you fall on the sinner scale. So, we’ll give Paul the last word here. He says: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Published in: on September 10, 2022 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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