An Example:  More Than Enough Grace, 1 Timothy 1:12—20

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to recognize that Paul’s letters to Timothy are markedly different from all his other letters.  The last phrase of verse 11, a reference to the Gospel being “entrusted” to Paul, is a beautiful thought.  Paul was a servant of God who was deeply aware of his “trust,” something he refers to many times in his writings.  It amazed Paul that God would entrust Paul with anything, let alone something as precious as the “glorious Gospel!”  He was a man who persecuted the Church of Jesus Christ; the last person anyone would trust with something that precious.   It is also a very special way to refer to the Gospel, something most of us take for granted.

This last clause is a fitting way to introduce the next section of his letter.

1.  Paul’s life:  an example of grace, 1:12—14

There is a lot going on in these verses.  Paul opened himself up to Timothy in a way not seen before in any of his earlier letters.  There was a reason for this, though.  Paul was Timothy’s mentor and he was his friend.  And Paul took seriously his calling as an “apostle.”  Remember, an “apostle” was such all day, every day.  An “apsotle’s” entire life was to set the example for others to follow.  Earlier, Paul wrote this—

1Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 11:1)

That is the very reason for Paul writing these powerful verses.  What Jesus Christ did for him, and, just as importantly, his response to Jesus Christ, should be an example for Timothy to follow.

12I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

No person in the history of the Church was more conscious than was Paul of God’s calling on his life.  He earlier wrote to the Galatians that God had, in fact, called him to service even before he was born!

15But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man.  (Galatians 1:15—16)

You may think that was a pretty audacious statement for Paul to make, but Paul was not the first servant of God to realize this great truth.  The prophet Jeremiah expressed a very similar thought in Jeremiah 1:5—

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

In Paul’s early days, there was little evidence of this divine calling, but once Christ came into Saul’s life, everything changed.  Saul became Paul and Paul, as he wrote in Acts 9:20 immediately began his ministry in a synagogue.  In an instant, the one-time persecutor of the Church became its staunchest ally.

Paul was thankful for the privilege of being an apostle for Christ, but notice he makes sure that Christ got all the glory; he declares that his strength for service came from Christ Himself.  Another way to translate that phrase is Christ “empowered” Paul.  And Christ did this because the Lord considered him faithful.

Once, this man of God by his own admission had been a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man!  All this coming from a Rabbi!  Paul was acutely conscious of his shameful past, and even though his past life and sins had long since been forgiven and forgotten, Paul’s gratitude for God’s mercy never lessened.  Such is the amazing love of God!

I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me he had made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love redeemed me for his own.
Such love!  Such wondrous love!
That God should love a sinner such as I,
How wonderful is love this!

Indeed; and this was what Timothy needed to understand.  One cannot communicate to others the wondrous love of God until he has experienced it himself.

What is so powerful and encouraging about verse 13 is this one, single declaration:  “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”  Notice, Paul does not say God was angry with him.  God graciously showed him mercy because Paul was pathetic, riddled with the disease of sin.  God, moved by compassion, showed the man mercy, as He does all of us.  No sinner, if they knew fully the sinfulness of his sin, its inevitable and ongoing consequences, would be guilty of the insane folly of defying God.  That’s why the clarion call of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ goes out constantly through the continuous ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Those who hear it and respond appropriately are the benefactors of unimaginable grace and mercy from a loving God.   What is truly amazing about God’s grace, and what Paul wants to communicate to Timothy using himself as an example, is that despite the magnitude of our human sin, God’s grace is more than sufficient, and every one who turns to Christ may obtain mercy.

2.  Paul the Apostle:  the worst of sinners, 1:15—17

15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The various “trustworthy sayings” are found only in the Pastorals (3:1, 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8) and studied together would make for an interesting Bible study.  The idea of a “trustworthy saying” as Paul used the phrase is that you could put your full faith and confidence in it.  Here, the “trustworthy saying” is a just a summary of the Gospel message:  Christ came into the world to forgive sinners.   Christ Himself put His mission in these terms—

10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  (Luke 19:10)

Christ’s whole reason for leaving the glories of heaven and veiling His majestic Godhood in flesh as a man was to save other men.  Paul, with not a hint of false humility adds that he is the worst of all sinners.  But what does Paul mean by this curious admission?  It is hard to believe that when compared to mass murderers, rapists, and child abusers Paul would consider himself the worst among the lot!   Some scholars suggest Paul felt this way on account of his persecution of the Church; when he was doing that he was, in his mind, persecuting Christ Himself.   We can’t know precisely what Paul was thinking, but my sense is that he felt the overwhelming guilt of his own sinfulness to such an extent that he felt himself to be the “first” among sinners; literally the number one sinner of all time.  Such an attitude should be ours, as well, for only when we are overwhelmed with a sense of shame for our sinful state and are completely speechless with nothing to say before the God we have offended, can we hope for the kind of love, mercy and grace Paul received.

As the “chief” or the worst sinner of all, Christ’s “unlimited patience” had been displayed as a powerful example for the entire world to see.  If Christ could save Paul, He could save anybody!   There is no more eloquent expression of Christ’s love than a changed life.  A thousand sermons could never describe the grace of God as effectively as a moment in the presence of a grateful sinner saved by grace.  Little wonder in verse 17 Paul bursts forth in a glorious doxology of praise to God!   When we think of what Christ has done for us, we ought to do the same.  When we let Christ be seen in our lives, others will praise God when they see us.

23They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they praised God because of me.  (Galatians 1:23—24)

That we may have that effect on other people!

3.  Paul:  the encourager, 1:18—20

18Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. 20Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

In this final section of chapter 1, Paul returns to the reason why he wrote the letter in the first place.  The “charge” or “mandate” to stay put in Ephesus to combat the false teachers was clearly stated and Paul makes that command part of Timothy’s calling.  Timothy, like Paul, had been called and ordained to the ministry and part of that calling involves something no pastor really enjoys; confronting errant members.

Paul states that by doing the work he was requesting of Timothy, the young pastor would be fulfilling certain “prophecies” made about him.  We wish Paul had elaborated on the nature of these prophecies!  A small measure of light is cast on this allusion by the following verses—

14Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.  (1 Timothy 4:14)

6For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  (2 Timothy 1:6)

It seems as though Timothy had been ordained into the ministry in a ceremony over which Paul himself presided.  It may well be that at that time, Paul spoke a word of prophecy over the newly minted minister, calling attention to some special God-given gift or ability the young man had.  Once again we are in the dark, but because Timothy had been given this gift from God, he was to “fight the good fight.”  In the history of the pastorate, every single pastor understands exactly what Paul meant!  Sometimes shepherding God’s flock is as exhausting and taxing as a fight!  But it is a good fight; what pastor has not wrestled for the souls of his people?   Like all ministers of the Gospel before him, Timothy was a officer of the line, fighting at the forefront of the battle for Christ and the Truth at Ephesus.

To be triumphant in this spiritual battle, Paul urged Timothy to grab hold of two weapons:  faith and a good conscience.  Every soldier for Christ needs these two weapons!  Faith can move a mountain and a good conscience can fend off the subtle attacks of the enemy.

Sadly, when you lose your faith and your conscience hardens, you experience a shipwreck of faith.  Paul names two men who have been so shipwrecked:  Hymenaeus and Alexander.  To those who have traveled on the open waters, nothing is as threatening as a shipwreck.  Paul used the term to suggest the magnitude of the tragedy these false teachers had involved themselves in, and to warn Timothy that he would go that way if he let go of this faith and his good conscience.    It would do us well to heed the advice of Susanna Wesley to her son, John, during his days at Oxford.  She wrote:

Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things, in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind; that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.

Hymenaeus is mentioned by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:17 as being a heretical teacher.  Paul mentions two Alexanders in connection with Ephesus; one was a Jew the other was a metal worker who wanted to harm Paul (2 Timothy 4:14).  Likely this was Alexander Paul was speaking of.

These two trouble makers had been “handed over to Satan” by Paul.  This was not a punitive action on Paul’s part; rather, by letting them go in their sin, it was Paul’s hope that they would discover the error of their ways.  This kind of church discipline was in keeping with advice Paul gave elsewhere, namely to the Corinthians.  To that congregation, Paul advised that they turn a blatantly immoral brother over to Satan so that, in his sin, he may eventually come to repentance and be restored to the Body of Christ.

God’s church, done God’s way involves such things as discipline.  This kind of advice—handing someone over to Satan—is profoundly disturbing to some, in this age where proper, Godly church discipline has all but disappeared.  Many in the Church have come to accept standards of life and conduct condemned by the Word of God in favor of political correctness.  And yet, part of God’s commission to His servants is to:

2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  (2 Timothy 4:2)

One thing I have noticed is that it takes relatively no courage to preach against one sin or another from the behind a pulpit.  But it takes great courage to face an individual and rebuke them or correct them in a spirit of meekness and humility and, above all, in a spirit of love.

God’s church, done God’s way will be led by people who have experienced the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ and realize that they are where they are only by the grace of God.  A true man or woman of God knows that without the empowering of the Holy Spirit, they can do nothing.  God’s church, done God’s way involves leadership based on love, which is manifested in many ways, including encouraging the congregation, leading by word and example, and sometimes in correcting and rebuking.

When it comes to serving the Lord, all of us, pastors, elders, deacons, and laity, would do well to remember the words of J.H. Jowett:

The fear of a man is much more subtle than the fear of men.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd


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