“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (1 Tim.1:8)
The law is good—holy, as a matter of fact. Paul says so in Romans 7:12. But in his first letter to the young preacher, Timothy, he places a qualifier on this premise. Using a valid form of argument: If A, then B; not A; therefore, not B. In other words, if used lawfully, the law is good; if not used lawfully, the law is not good. This is a sobering thought. I am always amazed when I read in the Bible how our omnipotent God chooses to grant powers of limitation to us mortals. As A.W. Tozer has rightfully observed, I think, only a truly sovereign God would be secure enough to do such a thing. Whether we choose to limit this verse to the Law, as given to Moses, or the entire canon of Scripture, as given to us by God through the “holy men of old,” the principle remains the same. Men and women are capable of doing bad things with good implements. And it is possible to handle the Word of God “deceitfully” (2Cor.4:2) and “wrest” (twist) the Scriptures to our own or others’ “destruction” (2Pet.3:16).
As though God were reminding me that we need not wonder how to rightfully use the Bible (and the verse does say “use”), my Old Testament reading today included Psalm nineteen, where David talks about the Law and some of its many uses. For instance, it is capable of generating conversion and making us wise (v.7); it can give us joyful hearts and spiritually enlightened eyes (v.8); and it provides warning when needed, with promised reward, if heeded (v.11). So we may safely say that using the Bible to these ends is to use it lawfully. To use it for other purposes, no matter how lofty, however, is to run the risk of trying to make it say what we want it to say, in order to get favorable results. The Bible is not a means to an end, except for God’s. It cannot be plugged into our personal goals. It is a living, breathing “organism,” meant to change us, not our circumstances.
The law of the Lord is perfect (Psl.19:1); but we are not. The more we try to make it “relevant” (one of my least favorite words), the more we are in danger of using it unlawfully. It is up the Spirit of God to personalize it. Only the inattentive, unaware, or unenlightened fail to grasp its significance. We need to use it, and use it lawfully. And one of the best ways to do that is to use it on ourselves more than others.
Take the Word of God as it is, and it will meet you where you are.