Sermon on 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Text: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
There is an old saying that goes, “Don’t judge another man, before you walk a mile in his shoes.” What we learn from this is that you have to place yourself in someone else’s situation, before you pass judgement on them. The truth is you just might learn something about yourself in the process, as well. This morning, let us do exactly that. I encourage you to SEE YOURSELF IN PAUL’S STORY 1. Chief Of Sinners, 2. Chosen By Grace, 3. The Object Of Christ’s Mercy and 4. Grateful In His Service.
This morning, our text comes from an epistle of Paul to his worker, Timothy. Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus, which is in modern-day Turkey, while he went to Macedonia, or northern Greece. Timothy was to serve as this congregation’s pastor. Paul heard some disturbing news about the congregation in Ephesus, that some false teachers had begun to show themselves. Timothy had to counter their false teachings. In order to encourage Timothy as he set about this difficult task, Paul wrote two letters, or epistles. In his writing, Paul tells Timothy not to look to himself for his strength, but to place his trust in God.
To show the extent of God’s power, Paul offers his own life as proof. In verses 13&15, Paul refers to his life, before his conversion. In verse 13, Paul says, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” This is just a capsulized version of his life. He went into more detail in his trial before King Agrippa. We read in Acts 26:9-11, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.” Paul didn’t hold anything back. You can also tell that this former way of life still bothered Paul greatly, because twice in our text he calls himself “the worst of sinners.”
We are tempted to second Paul’s opinion. After all, what could be worse than conducting an all-out war against Christianity, indeed, against Christ, himself? Surely, Paul is right when he calls himself, “the worst of sinners.” However, before we point too many fingers at Paul, let’s take a good, long look at ourselves. Paul said that he was doing this out of ignorance. He thought he was doing the right thing in trying to get rid of this new religion. This does not excuse his actions or make them any less wicked, but his actions were done out of ignorance.
How often doesn’t it happen that we know something is wrong, but we go ahead and do it anyway? We know it’s wrong to speak evil about someone else, but we do it anyway. We know it’s wrong to want something that we are not to have, but we do so anyway. The list goes on and on. We try to cover it up and excuse it by calling it a bad habit. Let’s be honest. Call it what it really is — sin. God knows all of the sins that we commit. They may not be a public as Paul’s persecution, but God knows about them. Before we condemn Paul so quickly, let us also realize that we have rebelled against God in our thoughts, words, and actions. We deserve God’s wrath against our sins. When we honestly take a look at ourselves, we might even feel tempted to say that Paul wasn’t the worst of sinners. I am. I have sinned against God every single day of my life. I deserve to be punished for my sins.
It is here that the grace of God shows itself. Paul writes of his own situation, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy . . . The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 13&14) Paul knew that he didn’t deserve anything good from God, yet, he was shown mercy. Paul speaks of the “grace of our Lord.” Grace, as you recall, means God’s undeserved love. Paul describes it as having been poured out abundantly. This is the picture of a cup that has been filled to the overflowing mark. Yes, Paul’s needs were great, but God’s grace was even greater. The well of God’s grace does not run dry. A whole world of sinners cannot exhaust it.
What beautiful words those are to our ears. God loves me. God loved me so much that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice on my behalf. God knows who I am and what I have done. His grace shows itself in the fact that God took care of my situation. He did for me what I could not do for myself. God saved me from my hopeless situation. Jesus Christ showed his love for me in sacrificing himself. All of my sins were paid for on the cross. God forgave the sins of the whole world, when Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross. He showed his approval of Jesus’ work, by raising him from the dead. God further showed his love, his grace, in sending the Holy Spirit into my heart to create the faith that accepts the forgiveness of sins that Jesus accomplished. I have been saved by the grace of God. It is this sure knowledge that quiets our troubled consciences. Paul states very empathetically in verse 15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Paul is telling us that there is one fact that you can count on. You can trust that it is true, and by God’s grace, we have accepted it as true.
Why did God do this? Why did God show his grace and mercy to us and to Paul? Paul gives the reason in verse 16, “For that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” Paul said that one of the reasons that he had been chosen by the mercy of Christ was so that he might prove to be an example for others. Imagine the news that must have spread throughout Palestine and beyond, that Saul, the great persecutor, had changed and was now a leading spokesman for the group. Very likely, this caused some people to want to know more about this Christianity that can so completely change a person. Very likely, there were people who came to faith as a result of it. Again, Paul takes no credit for himself. He knows that he was the object of Christ’s mercy, and he wanted others to know it, as well.
May we also show the change that Christianity has made in our lives. We show our Christianity by the way that we act toward and speak about others. May our lives be an effective witness for Christ, because when others see the way that we act, we show our faith. Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” When we act like Christians, we bring praise and glory to God. When we do not act like Christians, we bring shame and dishonor to the name of God. Don’t forget your motivation in living as Christians. We want to live as God would have us live in response to the love that he has shown us. May our entire lives be ones in which we show our thankfulness to God in all that we do. May our lives clearly reflect the love that God has shown to us.
Paul, also, realized that when Christ had called him to faith, he had a special mission for Paul. Paul writes in verse 12, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.” Paul was thankful for having been appointed to serve Christ as one of his apostles. He was especially directed to go to the Gentiles with the message of Jesus Christ. He was thankful for the privilege to serve Christ in this way. This doesn’t mean that Paul’s life was always easy. As a matter of fact, by the time Paul had written this letter, he had been imprisoned a number of different times, beaten, whipped, stoned and left for dead, and shipwrecked. Yet, he was thankful for the privilege of being appointed to Christ’s service. The reason was that he knew what lay ahead of him, namely eternal life. He also knew that this was what God wanted him to do.
May we also be grateful in God’s service. We all have been appointed or chosen by him to serve him in various capacities. Whatever our social or financial situation, it is there that we have been called to serve. This doesn’t mean that it will always be easy. As a matter of fact, it will be difficult, at times. However, we have a source of strength we can lean upon. Paul speaks of “Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength.” (Verse 12) We can come to Jesus for the help and strength we need to face whatever situation we find ourselves in. Jesus makes it possible for us to act as Christians, even in the most unfavorable of all situations. As Paul writes in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Paul was living proof of what a sure confidence in Christ can do in your life. May we gratefully serve the Lord, because he has given everything to us.
The Apostle Paul was a great man. We admire his zeal in carrying the gospel to the nations. He truly was a man of great faith. May we see ourselves in Paul’s story — Chief of sinners, Chosen by grace, the Object of Christ’s mercy and Grateful in his service. When we see ourselves in Paul’s story, we too join in the hymn of praise that he wrote in verse 17, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
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