The Lord's Grace
Date: 07 Apr 2019
Text: 1 Timothy 1:12-20
When we last looked at 1 Timothy a few weeks ago, I intended to look at 1 Timothy 1:1-11, although I actually finished at 1:7 and ignored 1:8-11. In those four verses Paul talks of the Law and those to whom it applied. He then lists all those who will fall foul of God’s wrath if they don’t desist from their sinful ways and repent and he makes clear that such people are all those whose behaviour is unacceptable to God plus “whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine” (1:10). I’m not going to dwell on those verses other than to say there is a great need for repentance lest we also join those who appear in that list and are subsequently condemned. That applies in 2019 just as it did during Paul’s time, perhaps even more so!
This morning though I want to concentrate on 1:12-20; verses which talk mostly of the grace of God, even though the word “grace” only appears once! In these verses there are also some personal comments from Paul about himself, some perhaps self deprecating, together with some personal comments for Timothy.
I hope that you join with me in constantly giving thanks to God for what He does for us. Hopefully we say grace before a meal to give thanks to God for our food. We also gather together regularly for prayer and worship and give thanks for all the other things that He does for us. Paul spends 1:12-14 thanking God for what He has done for him; giving him strength; appointing him to His service; pouring out His grace on Paul “abundantly” together with “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”. Do we thank God for those things or do they just pass us by as being the sort of things that God does all the time? In Philippians 4 Paul talks of what he does in the service of the Lord and then says, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13). Paul always relied on the strength that God gave him and without it he knew that he could do nothing that was of any use to God. Do we do the same or do we always try and serve Him in our own strength?
In these few verses Paul touches on three of the great gifts that God gives so freely: mercy, love and grace. He shows us great mercy even though He could condemn us for all that we have done wrong. Of all people, Paul felt that he should have been condemned since he was “once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man”. Don’t forget that at the time of his dramatic confrontation with the risen Lord and his subsequent conversion, he was on his way to Damascus to root out, and perhaps even kill, followers of “The Way”; that is, those who followed Jesus Christ in the fledgling Christian church. We know from Acts 7:54-8:1a that he was present when Stephen was stoned to death. Now in 1:13b he admits that he “acted in ignorance and unbelief” since as a devout and zealous Jew he didn’t believe that Jesus Christ was the long awaited Messiah.
Despite all that, God forgave him. Paul came to faith in Jesus and “the grace of our Lord was poured out ... abundantly” (1:14) upon him. It is vital that we understand that grace is that totally undeserved gift of and from God; only He and Christ His Son are able to dispense this grace. We certainly can’t earn it and we most certainly don’t deserve it; but God gives it anyway. Just look at Paul’s background which he describes in those early verses of this passage; they don’t paint a pretty picture and yet he was “shown mercy” (1:13); that is God’s grace in action.
In 1:12 Paul has told us that Jesus considered him “trustworthy”. Now in 1:15 he wants to share with us a “trustworthy saying”. It’s a very important saying and well worth committing to memory: “Christ came in to the world to save sinners” (1:15). Wow! He didn’t come to earth to save the good guys, quite the opposite; He came to save the bad guys, people like Paul and people like us: sinners – all those who were disobedient; blasphemed; denied God’s existence; ignored His commands and wishes. Paul goes on to add that not only did Jesus come to save sinners but that he, that is Paul, was “the worst” (1:15) and just to make sure we get the message he then calls himself “the worst of sinners” (1:16). Despite all that; despite Paul’s background of persecution; despite Paul’s early disbelief; God exercised His great mercy towards him and Jesus showed “immense patience” towards him; patience that the Lord shows to us all. Peter also recognised that and commented on this in 2 Peter 3:9 when he said of Christ, “... He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.
Grace may only be mentioned once in this passage but it is the underlying theme since Paul is always at pains to remind us that it is by grace that we are saved. Paul told the Ephesians exactly that when he said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Paul knew that he himself didn’t deserve all this and yet because of God’s grace he had been forgiven and had become a member of God’s family. Having persecuted followers of Jesus he now joined their number. I personally find that the issue of grace is the crux of the gospel; God could easily have left everyone to their own devices but He chose not to. Why did He do that? Why didn’t He just condemn us and say “be off with you, I don’t know you”? God didn’t do that simply because of His grace coupled with His love and mercy, and so He decided to send His Son, Jesus Christ to live among us and then die for us on the cross of Calvary. Jesus most definitely didn’t deserve to die but He did so to pay the price of the sins for those who accepted Him as Saviour even though they were the sinners. It was by the grace of God that Jesus suffered and died in our place. Paul wrote to the Romans and said, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8) Let me say again, God did that because of His love for us. We certainly didn’t deserve such a gift but God was prepared to sacrifice His one and only Son for us even though we were sinners and I’ve no doubt that some of us can identify with Paul’s statement in 1:16 where the Apostle says that he is “the worst of sinners”.
Paul’s comment in 1:17 may seem a bit strange at this point. Paul’s words are known as a doxology; which my Concise Oxford Dictionary defines as being “a liturgical formula of praise to God”. When you read those words there can be no doubt that they are words that sing God’s praises. Just look at those words, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Those words “King eternal” may also be translated as “King of the Ages”, or “King of All Time” (The Message). Whichever phrase we choose they all mean the same; this is a God Who will live forever and will never die. That takes a bit of thinking about given that He is the Creator Who existed before time and Who we now read will last for all time. In case there is any doubt, Paul adds the word “immortal” which simply means “living for ever”. He is also “invisible”; no one has seen Him since He is Spirit. We have seen His work and we still see it every day as we look around at His creation. Anyone who doesn’t look at the natural world without seeing God at work simply isn’t looking properly. Most importantly He is “the only God”. Given that the earlier verses in 1 Timothy 1 talked about false teachers and what they claimed and believed, it is very important for us to understand that there is but one God; one true living God. Paul knew that and Christians the world over know that. We then come to those very important words of praise where Paul offers “honour and glory for ever and ever”. Paul knew what God had done for him, and he also knew that he didn’t deserve any of it. What else could Paul do but to offer his praises to this great loving and merciful God? I suggest that we should all read those words very carefully and consider what we think about God. Do we agree with Paul or do we just shrug our shoulders and treat those words as just another verse? Given all that God did for us at Calvary and what He does for us each and every day we too should bring Him our praises and give Him all the glory and honour that He deserves.
Generally speaking, a doxology ends a period of worship. However, on this occasion Paul continues with his letter by talking directly to Timothy. In the next three verses he gives some very clear guidance to Timothy to help him in his ministry.
Timothy had been appointed by Paul to be Pastor in Ephesus and we know from 1:3-7 that he faced lots of problems with false teachers. Consequently he needed encouragement and strengthening. Paul knew that Timothy could cope with this and work “in keeping with the prophecies made about you” (1:18). Those were presumably the comments that Paul had previously heard about Timothy and which helped him decide to appoint his young protégé in the first place. After all, Paul knew that Timothy had a solid Christian background and was well versed in the scriptures. We all, including Pastors, need reminding of that from time to time. In Acts 14:23 we read that Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders” to look after the churches and although Timothy isn’t mentioned by name he may well have been one of them. Paul’s comment in 1 Timothy 4:14 seems to suggest that that may have been the case when he says, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” The laying on of hands was, and still is, a way of setting aside or ordaining someone for ministry. That verse also suggests that some had prophesied about Timothy’s gifts and strengths on that occasion. However, just like most of us he may have needed reminding of all that. No matter who you are, doubts can creep in when we come face to face with problems. Thinking back and remembering special moments can be a helpful and strengthening experience and that is probably what Paul was trying to achieve here. In 1:18b Paul talks of fighting “the battle well”. He knew from experience that dealing with false teachers was indeed a battle and that in that battle Timothy would definitely need encouragement. As part of that encouragement Paul added that Timothy needed to keep a strong hold on his faith and have a good conscience. Setbacks in battles such as Timothy faced can knock our faith and make us wonder if we are doing the right thing and these words of Paul’s were intended to help Timothy overcome that feeling. Paul knew that some had already rejected their faith and in a wonderfully descriptive phrase says that they “have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith” (1:19). Has that ever happened to us? Do we ever have a crisis of faith? We need to be honest and seek God’s help in such situations. I’ve no doubt that in writing these words Paul was trying to prevent that happening with Timothy.
He concludes this section by informing Timothy that amongst those who had rejected their faith were two men by the names of “Hymenaeus and Alexander” and both had been ejected from the church by Paul. We have no real idea who Alexander was although there is a coppersmith mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:14 who did Paul “a great deal of harm”. However, we know from 2 Timothy 2:17-18 that Hymenaeus on the other hand had weakened people’s faith by teaching that the resurrection of the dead had already happened. In 2 Timothy 2 Paul spoke of those who indulged in “godless chatter” and he added that their teaching “will spread like gangrene”. In 2 Timothy 2:17-18 Paul adds, “Among them [that is, the ‘chatterers’] are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.”
Paul ends 1:20 by confirming that he “handed [them] over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme”! What this means is that he had them removed from church membership and sent back into the world which is Satan’s domain. Paul did this in the hope that they would see the error of their ways and repent. We all need to ensure that we avoid a similar fate, a thought which reminds me of Paul’s comment to those partaking of the Lord’s Supper when he said, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:28). Whilst that verse applies to Communion I believe that it can also apply to our spiritual lives in general and we would do well to follow Paul’s advice.
Timothy was a young Pastor appointed by Paul to do a difficult job. Consequently he needed help and encouragement. Timothy undoubtedly had a sound, strong faith and a good knowledge of the scriptures. Despite that though, it is easy for anyone to have doubts as they battle against the evil of those such as false teachers. Paul knew that which is why he wrote to him in the way that he did.
Paul opened the passage with thoughts that could help anyone in their faith since they remind us all of God’s grace, love and mercy; and it is good to be reminded that it is only by the grace of God that we are saved; there is nothing we can do of our own volition; it is all down to God and His grace.
Finally Paul offers Timothy some personal encouragement; some well meant and no doubt loving comments to help him in his ministry and his faith. Those comments may have been meant for Timothy but I believe that they can apply to us all and so we should read them carefully and take in just what Paul has to say; his words may help to strengthen our faith just as they no doubt did Timothy’s.