Love from the inside out

1 Timothy 1:3-11

14 September 2008

Blenheim Free Church, Maidenhead

Morning service


Depending who's holding it, a knife can be good or bad, can't it?

Rightly used, in the hands of a surgeon, a knife is capable of doing a great deal of good: even saving lives.

Wrongly used, in the hands of a thug, a knife is more likely to take life.

There are things in the Bible for which the same is true. Rightly understood they can bring life; in the hands of theological thugs they can take life. Rightly taught they can build faith; wrongly taught they can destroy faith.

This is what the Apostle Paul is writing to Timothy about in the opening of this letter. Paul has urged Timothy in verse 3 to stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longerref. Why? Because, we see in verse four, their teaching was promoting controversy rather than faith.

What were they doing that was so wrong? Well, we see from verse 8 that they were misusing the Old Testament law. Paul argues that there is a right use for the law, and a wrong use for the law. He says, We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.ref Rightly used, the law is good; wrongly used it can make a shipwreck of faith, as he puts it, over in verse 19.

In this passage Paul explains the right use and the wrong use of the law, and you may find what he says quite surprising. In any case, it's vital that we understand these things: which of us wants to make a shipwreck of our faith?

For a change, I'm not going to preach through the passage in order, but I want to look at it with three questions. First, Who is the law for? from verses 8 to 11. Second, Who is the law not for? from verses 3 to 7. Finally, I want to focus in on verse 5 with the question, What's love got to do with it?

Who is the law for?

First, who is the law for?

Well, verse 9 is clear: We know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligiousref.

It might seem strange, but Paul is saying that the Ten Commandments and all the rest of the moral law in the Old Testament are not made for believers, they are made for unbelievers: the ungodly, the unholy, the irreligious.

On holiday recently we saw a number of ancient churches, and without exception they had the Ten Commandments inscribed on stone tablets and set into the walls somewhere inside. What Paul is saying here is that the Ten Commandments shouldn't be put on the wall inside the church, they should be put outside the church. They're not for our benefit, if we are Christian, they are for the benefit of non-Christians.

To rub the point in, Paul illustrates his statement with a list of types of people who wilfully break the commandments.

Verse 9, The law is made for those who kill their fathers or mothersref, obviously breaking the fifth commandment, honour your father and motherref.

Then, he says, the law is made for murderers in general, who break the sixth commandment, you shall not murderref.

Now verse 10, the law is made for adulterers and pervertsref. The translation "perverts" here in the NIV is not very helpful. The Greek word used probably means "those who practice homosexuality". Here Paul puts practising homosexuality on a par with adultery: one is no more or less sinful than the other, which both sides in current debates would do well to remember. But they both break the principle of sexual morality enshrined in the seventh commandment you shall not commit adulteryref.

Then, he says, the law is made for slave traders, who break the eighth commandment you shall not stealref by stealing human lives in the most horrible way.

The ninth commandment, you shall not bear false witnessref, is broken by liars and perjurers, for whom the law is also made. And so on: Paul's point is not to make a comprehensive list, but to show that the Old Testament law is made for the very people who wilfully break it.

The law is not made for people who love God, it is made for people who reject God.

What function, then, does the law have in relation to these people? What is the law for?

Well, the law is made for unbelievers in two respects. First it is there to restrain people's behaviour: it sets a moral standard; it works on people's consciences to prevent them being as bad as they might otherwise be. It is a preservative, preventing decay. So, as Christians, we should be campaigning for God's moral law to be part of our public life. We should take every opportunity we have to promote God's standards, simply because they are good for society, although society may not always agree. It was this conviction that drove William Wilberforce's twenty-year struggle for the abolition of slave trading — one of the very sins on this list.

The second way the law is made for unbelievers is to encourage them to become believers. God's law holds up God's holy and perfect and good standards. As people try to keep these standards, time and time again they will fail. Paul says in Romans that through the law comes knowledge of sinref. And, in some people, that knowledge of sin will become desperation for forgiveness, which drives them to Jesus to find it. The law points to Jesus.

So, who is the law for? The law is for lawbreakers: ultimately it points them, as Paul says, to to the glorious gospel of the blessed Godref where they can find forgiveness. Every one of us who has become a Christian has been through this process: driven by the law to Christ Jesus, because we find we cannot please God without him.

Who is the law not for?

Now, who is the law not for?

Back to verse 9: We know that law is made not for the righteous...ref.

Elsewhere, Paul says of Christians, now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.ref, that is, the law. And he says in another place if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the lawref.

The law does not apply to those whose faith in Jesus has made them righteous. But that's what the false teachers in Ephesus were doing with it. They were taking the Old Testament law, and quite a lot of other stuff it seems, and applying it to the church in controversial and destructive ways.

Paul says, 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.ref

What were they doing wrong? What hadn't they understood?

Well, the problem with law is that it works only from the outside-in. It tells you how to behave outwardly, but it cannot fix the real problem which is in the heart. The Pharisees of Jesus' time were near perfect law keepers on the outside, but inside they were like tombs full of dead men's bones and all uncleannessref.

To borrow a saying that's been in the news recently, "you can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig" . Law only acts from the outside-in. Like the Pharisees, you can put on all the law-keeping lipstick you like, but unless you are changed from the inside-out you're still a pig.

If Christian leaders are laying down the law — you mustn't do that; you must behave like this; you must say these prayers; you mustn't drink wine; you must give ten-percent — then they are like the teachers in Ephesus, they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.ref

These teachers have not understood that Christians live by an entirely different principle. We don't live by applying external rules from the outside-in, we live by being transformed by God from the inside-out.

If we are Christians, our righteousness, our standing before God, doesn't depend in any way on what we do. It depends only on what Jesus has done for us. That's why these teachers were making a shipwreck of people's faith and condemning them to judgement: they weakened the people's trust in the gospel of Jesus and encouraged them to trust in just keeping some rules.

Who is the law not for? Well, it's not for me, and it's not for you if you are a Christian.

What's love got to do with it?

So, we've seen who the law is for and we've seen who the law is not for, and the answers are a bit unexpected. We might have expected to find that the law is for religious people — that seems to make sense. But it's not what Paul says. He says that the law is made for the irreligious.

To find an explanation for all this we need to look back to verse 5 and ask the the question, What's love got to do with it?

In verse 5 Paul says to Timothy, The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faithref. What's love got to do with the law?

Imagine I have a book: How to Love Your Wife. It's a book of rules, and it tells me what I need to do to be a loving husband. What might it say? Do the washing-up; Buy her a bunch of flowers every week; Give her a compliment three times a day.

OK. I've done the washing-up; I got the flowers yesterday; Oh yes, "You're looking very lovely this evening, dear" . Tick, tick, tick: I'm following the rules. Clearly I love my wife, don't I?

What's the problem? The problem is, I could tick off all the rules and still be having an affair! And that's not very loving.

So what do we do? Easy, we add another rule: Do not commit adultery. So I can keep that rule, but it won't stop me flirting. So we put in another rule: do not flirt. Then we'll need to add, do not ogle other women. Then it will be, don't look at pornography. Then it will be, don't fantasise about other women. And so it goes on and on, rule upon rule. And after I've obeyed all these rules that means I love my wife, right? Actually, if that were the way it worked I'd probably end up hating my wife because I had to obey all these rules.

To love my wife, I don't need a book of rules: it comes from the heart. One day I fell in love with Penny in my heart, and now I want to do these things. I don't want to commit adultery; I don't want to flirt with other women. I want to buy her flowers and do the washing-up and compliment her. These things are not a burden, they are a joy! I don't need a rule book for how to love her imposed from the outside; I naturally express my love for her because it comes from the inside: a heart that is in love with her.

And it is just the same with the Christian and the law.

Look at verse 5. In contrast to the false teachers who are saying "you must obey this law, you must obey that law", Paul says that the goal of his command is love.

And what we find is that when we love God and we love others it automatically fulfils the law. Just as I don't need a rule book on how to love my wife, so the Christian doesn't need a rule book on how to please God.

Paul says in Romans chapter 13 the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.ref

When we truly love our neighbours, we don't need a law any more. If everyone on the roads drove in a loving way, we could abolish speed limits, couldn't we? No-one would ever drive dangerously in inconsiderately. Speed limits exist to control the law-breakers, the selfish, the unloving. It is the same with God's moral law.

So love is the key. Love is the reason that the Old Testament law does not apply to us. Inasmuch as we love God and love our neighbours we keep God's law automatically.

So, where does love come from? How can we be more loving people? How can we be filled with this love that fulfils the law?

Well, Paul says that this un-self-interested, law-fulfilling love comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faithref.

Law works from the outside, which is why it will always be ineffective: lipstick on a pig. Love comes from the inside: from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

By nature our hearts are corrupt, on consciences seared, and our faith pathetic. Of all people who ever lived, only Jesus truly had a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

There is only one way for me to achieve a pure heart, which is for God to make it pure. There is only one way for me to achieve a good conscience, which is for God to make it good. There is only one way for me to achieve a sincere faith, which is for God to plant it in me.

Only God can can work from the inside-out. If you want to make progress in the Christian life, if you are struggling with love, there is only one way to do it.

Our natural choice is simply to try harder: law. That's what the devil would love you to do, because he knows that you will fail every time. But the gospel way is for you to cry out to God humbly and earnestly, "Lord, make me more like Jesus!", and he will answer that prayer. As you trust in Jesus, he will fill your heart with love.

So, Christianity is unlike any other religion. The Christian life is not lived according to rules imposed from outside-in, but by love from the inside-out. Love planted in us by God, that grows from a heart made pure by him, from a conscience cleaned by him, from a faith made sincere by him.


This, then is what Paul urges Timothy at the beginning of his letter. This is the foundational stuff that Timothy needs to know. The false teachers are bringing controversy and destruction by imposing law on the church. Timothy is to promote love from the inside-out.

This is foundational in all Paul's teaching. Christianity is based not on law but grace. It is based not on works but faith. This is the gospel: it is both the way in to the Christian life and the way on in the Christian life.

I want to finish with a little poem that is attributed to John Bunyan. It goes,

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

The law tries to work from the outside-in. It says, "Try harder! Try harder!". But in the end it cannot change our hearts; it will always fail to make us good.

Only the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus works from the inside-out. Only when God, through Jesus' death, has changed our hearts and cleaned our consciences and put faith in us can we truly love. And then we will fulfil the law.

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.