“The rules are only meant for those who break them.”
It was a turning point in my life and I was only fourteen years old. Pretty cool having an epiphany before I’ve hit the quarter of a century mark, right?
It was one of my junior high small group leaders and this Christian man was declaring more truth than he probably knew—or maybe he did know!
He wasn’t advocating anarchy at all; instead, he was expressing an old truth. Honest people are honest and don’t need rules and regulations. On the other hand, dishonest people are dishonest and need rules, regulations, and the associated punishments in order to try to keep them in line.
The Apostle Paul would agree with this man. In our continuing study of 1 Timothy, we read in 1 Timothy 1:8-11:
8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
1 Timothy 1:8-11, NIV
Verses 9-11 proclaim the thought of my junior high small group leader: the law is made for lawbreakers. Without the Law showing humanity what is right and wrong, only Christians would know (because of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling). Instead, the Law shows humanity that murder, sexual immortality (heterosexual and homosexual), liars, injustice, and the like are sinful.
It was the Law constraining the Old Testament saints. It was the Law showing them how to live as Children of God. Without it, the people of God in the Old Testament would have been lost and not know the way to the Father by His grace.
And the Law is good. The Law was not cursed by the Old Testament people of God. “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7, NIV). The people of God were thankful for the Law because it brought them life.
But as can sometimes happen: that which is good can be taken to extremes and become detrimental. Paul’s warning to Timothy causes reflection: “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly” (verse 8).
We’ve talked about one side of this already, but what’s the danger for those of us who are Christian? Too much “Law”. I’ve observed Christians bashing other Christians when over-applying some part of the Law (tattoo conversation, anyone?). Likewise, we can legalistically give 10% of all of our income but neglect other parts of the Law (cf. Matthew 23:23).
Both are examples of taking what is good and perfect and polluting it with our sinful nature.
No wonder the Apostle Paul instructs church leaders to ensure we’re using the Scriptures properly. It doesn’t take much for us in our sinful nature to become like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day: “tying up heavy, cumbersome loads and putting them on other people’s shoulders…” (Matthew 23:4, NIV).
The Law really is meant for the lawbreakers. And until we arrive home in Heaven, we’re still lawbreakers even though we have received the Father’s forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. While we are not “under the Law”, we are still under the command to use Scripture properly and lead people to the freedom of life only found in Jesus.
Interested in more like this? Consider my book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs. Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, I walk readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life. The goal? Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.