Wednesday, April 20, 2016

1 Timothy 1:12-17 “The Gospel is Able to Save the Worst”

Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus needs advice  from his mentor, the  apostle Paul. And so this letter  from Paul arrives,  filled with  God –inspired, apostolic wisdom. Paul was  an apostle of Christ Jesus  and as such he was uniquely endowed  and spiritually gifted  and  uniquely able to reflect the mind of Christ at a time  when there was as yet no written record of  the things that Christ  had  said and done. The apostles were called by Jesus  as  a  unique group of people, and a gift to the church of all the ages, to  be witnesses to  what Jesus  said and did, and to write this down  for future generations. And so,  today  we benefit much  from this  apostolic gift as we make constant reference to the apostles writings and doctrine.

The  first thing which Paul addresses   for Timothy’s benefit,  and for the church in all the ages , is the all too common  matter of  the problem  of false teachers and their different doctrines, by which they produced  speculation and therefore controversy and division. The matter of false teaching  is raised in almost all  the NT  writings,  just as we find  the proliferation of  false prophets of the OT. Satan  is committed to keeping  this world  in darkness, and this is one of the chief ways in which he works. And so too , in the ongoing  history  of the church we learn of many  false teachers and  heresies which had to be dealt with in the course of time, and they continue proliferate in our day.  Just this past week we had an influential American  preacher  here in Windhoek. He  was  invited by an influential company to   speak to  business  leaders of our city.  Tim Challies, a prominent  American blogger and an astute  commentator on spiritual and  social issues  provides us with the following information   concerning this man:  
He  is associated with several troublesome teachings including the prosperity gospel and positive thinking…. (he) has long been associated with Oneness Pentecostalism which holds to an unorthodox position on the Trinity. This position is known as Modalism or, historically, as Sabellianism.[1]  Modalism holds that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not refer to distinct persons in the godhead, but to different modes of existence of a single person. It teaches that in ages past God manifested himself as the Father, during the incarnation of Christ he manifested himself as the Son, and subsequently he manifested himself as the Holy Spirit. As one of its key tenets it states that God cannot exist in more than one mode at a time.  Hence the belief statement at the Potter’s House says, “There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The important word here is manifestations. Where historic Christianity affirms persons, modalism demands use of manifestations or modes.”[2]

To crown it, this  influential Christian leader  has recently  stated  that he comes out for ‘Gay Rights’ and ‘LGBT Churches’. He said that his position on this matter is evolving. [3]  We wonder how  he  would get past  the apostle Paul’s very  clear statement in  v. 10 of our text? Paul certainly was not evolving. He stood where the Bible had always stood in this matter.
But let us move on from there and follow the apostle Paul  as  he  presents us with the standard for all  his  writings and preaching, which  as he says,  is   sound doctrine  in accordance  with  the gospel of the glory of the  blessed God with which I have been entrusted ” (vv.10,11). It is this gospel that  Paul now applies  in vv. 12-17 to his own  experience, before he give Timothy  a solemn charge  to hold on to this gospel  in vv. 18-20, urging him  not  be swayed by the  different doctrine of the false teachers. 

Paul’s personal  experience  of the Gospel  (vv. 12-17)

Today we shall  we surprised  once more  by the fact that God chooses   even His enemies to serve Him.  In v. 12  Paul writes :  “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service…”. Paul’s experience of the gospel  begins with  an encounter  of the living Lord Jesus Christ. He says that it is Christ  who  has given him  strength to believe and  to be  the apostle that he is.   His testimony in Acts 9 confirms this. Paul was not self - appointed. He was  sovereignly called and commissioned and empowered by Jesus himself.  Then Paul says …. he judged me faithful… This does not mean that  Paul was faithful in himself  and that therefore Christ had trusted him.  No,  it is  because  Christ had first  given him strength, that Paul had also received the ability to be  faithful, and in particular with respect to this service[4] as an apostle.  

v. 13  “…though formerly  I was a  blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I  received  mercy because I had acted in ignorance and unbelief.”  Paul is astonished  that  God  had singled him out and that he had chosen him for this service, particularly when he considers his own background.   In  Acts 26: 9-11  he confesses:
"I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”
Paul confesses,    “I was once an insolent (violent) man”. The word means to be  arrogantly sadistic. It means inflicting pain for the sheer pleasure of it.  Now you can perhaps appreciate why he calls himself  the foremost of sinners.
Paul had  not  only  actively opposed and blasphemed  the Name of  Jesus (Acts 9:4),  but he also tried to force the Christians who he was persecuting,  to blaspheme (Acts 26:11). This is often the case  with those  who have  tortured Christians  over the ages. They always try  to make them deny and blaspheme the  Lord Jesus.  

The story of Polycarp (69 –155 AD), pastor of Smyrna  comes to mind.  
The Roman Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” “I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.” [5]

And then he says, “I had acted in ignorance and unbelief.” He is not excusing himself. Ignorance  is never an excuse  in the eyes of the law. But the fact is that in his blind zeal,  he did not know that he was actually persecuting the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Christians (cf. Acts 9:4). A question arises.   How then was Paul’s  sin  different from  Judas, who betrayed the  Lord?   Why did Paul receive mercy and Judas not?  The answer is that Paul did not know Jesus. Judas did know Jesus, and  he saw Christ’s glory and despite all  his knowledge of Christ  he chose to sin against him. That is  essentially the sin against the Holy Spirit.

But  Paul received mercy. Oh,  how Paul glories in that fact, so much so that he repeats this in  v.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.  And here is the magnificent truth for us:  If someone like Paul could be saved then  who are we to say  that  some  people are beyond salvation? According to the Bible, people in the most endangered category are those  who have  once walked with Jesus, who have  experienced  Christian fellowship  and  who have tasted of heavenly realities  (see Hebrews 6:4-6)  and then fall away. But Jesus  showed much  patience to Paul who acted in ignorance.  

And so we see that Paul is  utterly amazed  at this great  mercy, and he is quite overcome by it all, so that he adds, …” and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  Grace  was  flowing  from God into Paul’s soul  like a waterfall… as the hymn says, “flowing like a mighty ocean in its fullness over me.”[6] It is the fee and lavish grace of our Lord. It is abundant grace, and to those who have understood the forgiveness of God, it is quite overwhelming. 
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. 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. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

What shall we say in conclusion ?
These are  grand words, and they portray the unique beauty of the Christian message.

These are true words. “Here is a trustworthy saying.”  Against the background of those that  teach false doctrines, myths and endless genealogies (vv. 3&4) and others that  have wandered away and turned to meaningless talk (v.6), these words  are utterly different words. They are totally trustworthy. They have the truth of God Himself behind them. The Lord Jesus who said, I am the  way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6) also said, “Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). The Bible is trustworthy.

These are words for the whole world to believe! Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners! (v.15). In I Tim. 2:4  Paul says, “God our Saviour…desires  all (kinds of) people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”.
This is a sobering thought.  Without the word of God the whole world has no knowledge of true truth. Historic Christianity, biblical Christianity, believes that Christianity is not just doctrinal truth, but flaming truth—true to what is there, true to the great final environment, the infinite-personal God." [7] Without the Word of God  the world is directionless and  lost. We see this happening wherever Christian capital  which has been gained by society is lost. As the world arrogantly unties itself from the influence of the Word of God, to that degree the world sinks into  stupidity, cruelty, selfishness. Without  the Word of God the world becomes unintelligent. It is not that mankind without the Word of God  cannot  advance in technology, but  the lack of spiritual and therefore moral intelligence destroys whatever man designs.  Wherever people cast of the restraint of the word, language becomes vulgar, manners become rude  and   sensual appetites run wild and  values become blurred.   Without the Bible the world would have perished long ago. It is the Word of God that sustains the world and keeps it going.  So let us remember then that the  word of God,  the gospel,  is not good advice,  or a choice to be made. It is essential! Without  this  Word taken serious and embraced,   the world , and you, will perish!

These words are particularly   helpful to those who are not yet Christians. Let me say it  as simply as I can. We all deserve eternal death because we are sinners who have torn ourselves loose  from the Word of God.  That is the bad news  for the whole world. But God who is rich in mercy sent us His Son from heaven.  God the Son came and died for us, that whosoever believes on Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  That is the  good news for the whole world. Have you understood that? Have you received Christ?   If there is one lost soul here today who has not heard and embraced this good news, then I  beg  that you should  hear this with  faith : Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!  

These words  are personal! “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am  the foremost.  This may sound like an exaggeration to you. Surely there must have been  worse people than Paul, but the point is that  for    Paul  it  felt as if  his sinfulness  was  the worst. And so it ought to be for you. When God shows  you the state of your own heart, then  bow your head and  cry out: “God be merciful to me the sinner.”

And please note this  too:  Paul had not modified his convictions over the years. He does not say that when he was converted he was the chief of sinners. “I am  ( present tense)  the worst of sinners ,” he says.
Those who know Christ as Saviour will know that they are sinners.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:3&4). That is the gateway to the Christian life. There is no blessedness without poverty of spirit and grief for sin. 

These words come to you from one  who has perfect patience  towards you : “ …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.  O what patience  the Lord Jesus displayed towards Paul,  that  angry crusader against Christianity  and  the sworn  enemy of Christ.  Oh the meekness and gentleness of Christ! After they had nailed him to a cross,  He prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Thank God for His divine patience.  Paul's testimony  is  a great example of the  great patience of  Christ for every other believer. What an encouragement! 

The proper response to this word is Doxology ( Praise ) (v.17) To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
That is Paul’s song of praise. Paul bursts into worship because it is fitting to do so. Just as  sports fans spontaneously burst into applause  when  a sportsman demonstrates great skill,  so all of us give praise to God for all that He is and everything that He has done. It is right and proper and appropriate. And it makes us happy.  In praising God  there is  happiness.  A man without praise is a miserable man. Paul  was a miserable  man until he met Jesus, and so he was able to say:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.”

Is there not somebody today  who has had enough of sin which makes you miserable? Is it not time you ended your miserable existence and began to truly live? Turn to the Lord  Jesus now! 

[4] Gr. diakonia
[6] Quoted from the  hymn  : “O the deep , deep love of Jesus” by  Samuel Francis ( 1875) 
[7] Francis Schaeffer: 

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