The Expository Files

Personal Gratitude

1 Timothy 1:12-17


The apostle Paul never forgot his past, his sin and who delivered him from all that he used to be. He believed he was forgiven and did not let remorse paralyze him. But he spoke and wrote openly of his past life of sin and the grace and love that reached him.

In his first epistle to Timothy, his first concern was to address the alarming conditions in Ephesus. Ambitious but ignorant men were teaching different doctrines, promoting their own agenda, tearing down the church in Ephesus and mis-using the law (1 Tim. 1:3-8). Timothy was charged to remain at his post and charge these men not to teach a different doctrine.

After that Paul writes very personally with these words:

“12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” {1 Tim. 1:12-17}

This is about Paul. It is much like a prayer (it begins with gratitude, includes praise and expressions of reverence to God, and ends with “Amen.”). The apostle is grateful when he considers that “Christ Jesus our Lord enabled me.” We actually have something similar to this in modern vocabulary, when we talk about “enabling” a person; helping someone, giving someone an opportunity or power to do something. Well Christ Jesus helped Paul; gave him the power and opportunity to do right, to preach the gospel, to influence young men like Timothy and fight the good fight of faith. In the NEB, Christ “made me equal to the task.”

The apostle was humbled and grateful that the Lord considered him worthy of this trust (the gospel being entrusted to him). Now “Christ considered me faithful” cannot mean that Paul demonstrated faithfulness before he obeyed the gospel – and because of that, he earned the right to serve as an apostle. No. Instead the idea is, it was an amazing thing to Paul that God would ever entrust him with such a great message – the greatest message of all time, the gospel! This is not a claim of personal merit, but a statement of amazement.

Especially so since Paul had not lived worthy of such a trust. “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent man.” In these verses we continue to hear the tone of gratitude and amazement. It is like someone saying, “Wow. This is really something. This is incredible!” Paul wrote, “I was a blasphemer, a persecutor … an insolent man.” Even though he did these things ignorantly and in unbelief – yet he did these things. God showed mercy on an ignorant man.

Paul is not claiming ignorance and unbelief to excuse his sin; later in this passage he calls himself the worst of sinners. He doesn’t claim to be less guilty because of his ignorance and unbelief. He is just amazed that he became an object of God’s compassion rather than his wrath. {That ignorance does not acquit is affirmed by the apostle in 1 Cor. 4:4}.

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” Here is a formula repeated throughout these two epistles, “this is a faithful saying.” It simply means, here is something you can count on! Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Two great truths are set forth here: the incarnation and redemption.

Christ Jesus came into the world – that’s the incarnation. “To save sinners” is a reference to His work of redemption. Notice how Paul personalizes the truth of redemption: he uses the expression “sinners,” but then adds, “of whom I am chief.” Like Paul, Christians today need to personalize the truth of redemption; Jesus died for ME. This is reflected in one of the songs we sang as little children: JESUS LOVES ME!

“However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” Something was shown or demonstrated in the conversion of Paul and his appointment as an apostle. What was shown? The longsuffering of Christ. In Paul we have a living example of the worst of sinners being saved, responding to the grace of God by being baptized (see Acts 9:18). The effect of all this in the heart of the apostle? “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

May it be so with us.


By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 7.1; January 2000


 

 

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