In this series through Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus I’m exploring Paul’s message to the church and I can’t think of a better time of year to bring you these thoughts. It’s Easter and as I was reminded by a friend of mine this week – “it’s the best time of year to celebrate God”. So let’s do that together as I share some thoughts from 1 Timothy 1:12-17:
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul starts this section with a personal testimony (vs12-14) and ends with triumphant praise (v17). In the middle is one of the most powerful statements that you will find anywhere in the New Testament (vs15-16). Let’s look at the three sections:
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Paul was very clear about who gave him the ability to minister – Jesus. Paul was enabled for ministry because he was judged, or counted as faithful. So there is a glorious partnership that is taking place here: Jesus strengthen Paul, and Paul gives Him credit for this but Paul also says that I’ve had to put in a little work myself. the work is faithfulness. God called me, strengthen me and saw that I was faithful.
Here’s two important lessons for us:
1) Volunteer or Slave? Sometimes the tendency can be to see Christian service as the rota we’ve signed up to: “I’m serving this weekend”. This is the wrong way to view Christian service. We’re not volunteers on a rota – we’re bond slaves of Jesus. We are duty bound servants of Jesus, and faithfulness is expected of us.
2) Faithful trumps Smart. Did you ever play the card game “Top Trumps”? As a boy I used to love it! Well, look … faithfulness trumps intelligence every single time. To serve God you don’t have to be clever, you just need to be faithful; you don’t have to be talented or gifted, you just need to be faithful. Start by being faithful in the things that God has given you to do for his name today and see what else He will give you to do for Him.
Although Paul was formerly someone who blasphemed God (lived in such a way as to discredit God), persecuted Christians and opposed Christ, this didn’t disqualify Paul from serving God. Paul understood that the mercy he speaks about in verse 13 was sufficient to completely forgive him of these things. Can you imagine? Paul was a terrorist. He killed people who followed Jesus. He was vehemently opposed to Christian and yet, he says, God’s grace completely transformed him to the degree that he was enabled to serve God. This reminds us that our past mistakes never stop us from being used by God.
What was it that really helped Paul’s life to be transformed in such a radical way? Verse 15-16 …
15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
In just nine words Paul crams in one of the best summaries of the gospel anywhere in the New Testament. What do we learn?
1) The Gospel is incarnational
Paul doesn’t say that Jesus was born into the world, but CAME into the world. Jesus, the Son of God, already existed before his birth. He is the preexistent Second member of the Godhead who was with the Father and the Spirit before the foundation of the world.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
2) The Gospel is Undeniable
The fact that Jesus came into the world, claimed to be the long awaited Messiah, performed miracles, taught with authority, was executed for blasphemy, with followers who transformed the Roman Empire through charitable deeds are just some of the reasons the Easter Story is true. Earlier in the chapter Paul had written about “myths” and “speculations”. The gospel “is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance”.
3) The Gospel is Universal
Paul says that Christ Jesus came into the world. He didn’t come to a select group of individuals who were hidden away somewhere. He came into the world for all to see, so that all sinners (of who, Paul says, he is the foremost), would be saved. it’s not that He saved everyone, but He came to everyone so that they might be.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
4) the Gospel is Personal
The gospel is universal, yes, but it’s not impersonal. Note that Paul says that Jesus came to save sinners, and he includes himself in that large body of people. Jesus came to save you and me, personally.
5) The Gospel produces faith and love.
Paul writes in verse 16 that he had received mercy so that in him the life of Jesus might be made known. This means that the good news that jesus came to save sinners is transformative. It actually changes us. When you believe that Jesus has actually done this for you personally, and you change your mind about the old ways and habits and sins (and now you have your own testimony), the Holy Spirit then enables you to change. The gospel, then, isn’t only something that happens to you, it happens inside of you too.
Where does the gospel ultimately lead? To greater praise of God. Paul ends his thoughts about how God has changed his life and the beauty of Jesus’ personal love for him, in an eruption of praise.
17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Ever have troubled praising God? Get back to the truth of the gospel. Discover again his great love for you and allow the Lord to “overflow” for you into a bounty of thanksgiving.