Paul mentions a proper use of the law in 1 Timothy 1:9 that reveals something pretty amazing about the law. The law of God restrains sin in non-Christians whether they recognize it or not. In another letter, Paul writes, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15).
The law of God is good in part because it restrains sin in non-Christians. The world would simply be a chaotic place to live in if there was no law. The way this works is that the law of God is written on the hearts of all people. This means even if you never read the Bible, you will know that certain things are wrong. This is one reason why Paul speaks of non-Christians being under the law.
In 1 Timothy 1:9-10, Paul gives Timothy specific examples of why the law is good. We know the law is good, as we understand that it was laid down for those who break the Mosaic Law. The biggest part of the Mosaic Law is the Ten Commandments. Paul provide us with a list of people who have broken the Ten Commandments to show us that breaking the law of God is the reason it exists and proves their condemnation before God.
Almost all of the Ten Commandments are included in this list. Let’s see if we can see them.
- “the ungodly and sinners” refer to the first two commandments, which say, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Ex. 20:3-6).
- “the profane” refers to the third commandment, which says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Ex. 20:7).
- “the unholy” refers to the fourth commandment, which says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8).
- “those who strike their fathers and mothers” refers to the fifth commandment, which says, “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12).
- “murderers” refers to the sixth commandment, which says, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13).
- “the sexually immoral [and] men who practice homosexuality” refers to the seventh commandment, which says, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14).
- “enslavers” refers to the eighth commandment, which says, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15).
- “liars [and] perjurers” refers to the ninth commandment, which says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16).
The only commandment not included as an example in Paul’s list is the tenth commandment, which says, “You shall not covet” (Ex. 20:17). The list Paul gives is not to show that only people who do these certain sins are guilty before God. It is to show specific examples of one of the proper uses of the law. The law was given for people who break the Ten Commandments. The law was given for you and me. May this law lead us to look to Christ, the one who perfectly obeyed the law in our place.
Mathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.