1 Timothy 1:12-17 Common English Bible (CEB)
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So he appointed me to ministry 13 even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and without faith. 14 Our Lord’s favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all. 16 But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So I’m an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. 17 Now to the king of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, and only God, may honor and glory be given to him forever and always! Amen.
The Pastoral Epistles stand out from the other epistles (letters) in that they written to a person, yet they have a universal application to the church. The Pastoral Epistles are I & II Timothy and Titus. The setting for these letters is that Paul is in midst of helping Timothy deal with false teachers. He himself is in prison in Rome and is nearing the end of his life.
Unlike his normal pattern in a letter, he begins with a very formal salutation (indicating that the letter is to be circulated to the churches), but then launches directly into the purpose of the letter. Then, suddenly, he bursts into thanksgiving! This is a personal thanksgiving as opposed to a thanksgiving for the people to whom he is writing. It really is a witness about himself to make a point. Read .verses 12 -14 again. Paul speaks about the abundance of Jesus blessings on his life. We find him caught up in a deep personal moment of thanks for all God has done in his life.
There is a radical nature to that blessing. Paul says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all.” That he intends to instruct us with this testimony is clear by the preface, “This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance.”
I love the way The Message (by Eugene Peterson) puts it: “Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off—evidence of his endless patience—to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever.”
Paul is shown mercy so that God could show his endless patience first. But beyond that, God shows his endless patience as example for others – an encouragement for them to believe. Peterson describes those persons as “those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever.”
So why does Paul take time for this very personal witness? To be a faithful follower, we need a constant awareness of God’s grace and mercy – God patience. What better backdrop for highlighting God’s grace, mercy and patience than our own need for that grace and mercy. We continue to be human even after God has saved us, and we are prone to sin and mistakes our whole lives. Only Jesus was perfect. But, even in light of our weakness, God’s grace is bigger. His renewing power is stronger.
Think about Paul for a moment. We get a clear picture of who he was in Acts 8 and 9 The first mention of “Saul” who is Paul is in Acts 8 at the stoning of Stephen. Acts 8:1, falling on the end of 7:60 where Steven is recorded to say, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!”, the text says, “Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder.” Acts 8:1-3 goes on to describe what Paul was doing. “At that time, the church in Jerusalem began to be subjected to vicious harassment. Everyone except the apostles was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. 2 Some pious men buried Stephen and deeply grieved over him. 3 Saul began to wreak havoc against the church. Entering one house after another, he would drag off both men and women and throw them into prison.” And, later, in Acts 9:1-2, the preface to his conversion, it says, “Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest, 2 seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus. If he found persons who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, these letters would authorize him to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” The picture is of Public Sinner Number One! Paul saw himself, at that point in his life, as one of those false teachers he wants to help Timothy deal with! But he was saved for a purpose. Paul speaks of it himself on many occasions, including here. It is his way of keeping himself aware of where he came from.
So how do we function as “Faithful Sinners?” It begins with an awareness of our own history. In speaking about Jesus’ post resurrection appearances, he says, “Then he [Jesus] appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Paul did not ever forget where he had come from. But he didn’t let it hold him back, either.
I remember when I was in High School. We lived 15 miles from our church (which in Wyoming terms is nothing, but in the Denver Area it was 15 miles of traffic and congestion). We were always there on Sundays, and my parents were there on Thursdays for choir practice. Beyond the occasional event, we seldom participated in other church activities. An announcement came about a youth sledding party in the mountains and I asked my parents if I could go. Of course, they agreed. There were probably 20 of us on the trip. For some unknown reason, probably my own insecurity at being with a group I didn’t know, I began joking about one of the girls on the trip. I made her day miserable! I was constantly poking fun at her looks, her coordination, any little thing I could pick on. I was a bully! It was only after the trip was over and I was back home that the magnitude of what I had done began to sink in. I never saw that girl again. But the memory of my sin still takes its place as a part of who I am. I am not held back by that memory, but I am constantly aware of its impact and how it informs who I am even to this day.
In an odd way, that awareness and sensitivity to our own mistakes – our sins and history - is important to our gratitude. Jesus made this plain in an encounter in the home of a Pharisee. Upon taking his place if the table a woman from the city came in. She brought with her a jar of perfumed oil. Standing behind him she began washing his feet with the tears she was crying. She dried his feet with her hair and anointed them with oil. Upon being challenged by the Pharisee’s prejudice, Jesus told him a parable about two debtors who had their debts forgiven. After agreeing that the one with the largest debt forgiven would love the lender more, “Jesus turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your home, you didn’t give me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. 46 You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has poured perfumed oil on my feet. 47 This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.”
For Paul his awareness of his history and the human condition kept him both humble and strong. Both of which are powerful witnesses to our world. And gratitude shines out for all to see. In all of Paul’s letters he gives thanks for those to whom he is writing. Here in 1 Timothy 1:18 in a warm address to Timothy he talks about how Timothy can wage a good war (against false teachers) “because you have faith and a good conscience.”
In our life in Marriage Encounter we know a fantastic couple named Gary and Lisa Morris. They are a couple filled with gratitude. They never miss an opportunity to give thanks for their Savior Jesus Christ. They often speak about what Marriage Encounter has done in their relationship. They are an inspiration! But that gratitude goes beyond that. It shines into the lives of every person and couple they meet. We had the pleasure of working with them. They were the National Executive Lay Couple when we first took our position as National Executive Clergy Couple. They also have workshopped our Deeper writing so we can become trainers of couple who want to become presenting couples in Marriage Encounter. We cannot say enough about how their gratefulness has impacted us. Their encouragement has meant the world to us. It has kept us strong and blessed us in ways beyond words.
To be a “faithful sinner” we need to live that awareness of our own shortcomings and of God’s abundant forgiveness – grace and mercy. In Paul’s closing Doxology he says, “Now to the king of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, and only God, may honor and glory be given to him forever and always! Amen.” When we show others how “our Lord’s favor [has been] poured all over [us] along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus” we are living that doxology! Amen!
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Pastor Paul Grossman