Bragging One’s Way Out of Church Leadership!
I received this question recently, on 1 Timothy 1:
"In 1st Timothy—with the section that starts at verse 8 of chapter one. When Paul says the law is made for the unrighteous and goes on to list who they are is he meaning that they will be judged by the law on Judgement Day or does he mean something else?"
A few things are in play here. One is that there was a group of immature or actually unsaved people in the church in Ephesus, which Timothy was pastoring (1:3), who were attempting to be leaders in the church and even church officers (3:1-13). That is the primary occasion for Paul’s writing of the letter.
One of the things these people were doing was pointing to the Old Testament, especially its list of genealogies, and then to their own Jewish heritage, and reasoning that their own genealogies were a reason that they should be considered to be leaders in the church. See 1:4.
Also, in the same vein, they were pointing with pride at the law of God, which they had learned from their births, being Jewish. This was another reason, they argued, that they should be considered “the mature” (the elders) and leaders of the church. They were Jewish and had the law from birth, they exclaimed!
In contrast, Timothy, the pastor of the church there, was half Jewish and half gentile (Acts 16:1). These unsaved people were promoting themselves up and above their pastor, Timothy, and above any gentile, by their genealogies and by being full sons of the law, so to speak. So, in 1:8, Paul argues that it is a ridiculous thing, in a sense, to brag that God gave you the law from birth, since the law is but a way to restrain a sinful person, both in its commands to do righteous things and in its prohibitions from doing sinful things. If a person were truly righteous, he would need no commands to restrain him—no law to govern him. So, Paul is arguing from 1:8 and downward that to say you are a son of the law was in a sense to argue that you are a sinful person who needs to be restrained and guided, due to your own lack of righteousness and wisdom.
Paul continues in this line of thinking in verses 12 through 16, in which he highlights not that he was a son of the law, but that he was the worst of all sinners! God exalts the humble (like Paul, the worst of sinners) and not those who claim to be deserving. Those vying for leadership in Ephesus were arguing that they should be leaders for the opposite reason, and they were wrong. That is Paul’s point in all of this.
All unbelievers will be judged according to the law, whether they know the whole Bible or just have the basics of
the law written on their hearts, at judgment day (Romans 2:12–16). However, Paul’s not really addressing that here, but is hitting the above.
I hope that makes sense! Another great question.