Wednesday, December 16, 2009

1 Timothy 1:12-17

V12-17 – 12I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service. 13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

In this passage, Paul reviews his calling as a testimony to the power of the gospel at work in him. In other words, Paul himself serves as an example of the gospel at work. The first response to understanding God’s grace in salvation is thanksgiving. Notice again, thanking God and/or thanking Christ (and/or the Holy Spirit for that matter) are practically and doctrinally synonymous, much to the chagrin of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (I can’t help but mention that the Oneness Pentecostals don’t have the same problem, since they see God and Christ as one being in a modalistic framework.) Paul is thankful to Christ for strength, for considering him faithful, and for appointing him to His service (v12). Paul was the least faithful person he could think of, at least in regard to the gospel, and that’s why he acknowledges the mercy shown him, though he was “once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (as Saul of Tarsus, under the law). Paul attributes that mercy to the fact that he was an ignorant unbeliever (v13). Now this statement doesn’t work when you break the speed limit; you can’t say, “But I didn’t know.” And that’s not what Paul is saying either. Rather Paul is saying that his attempt to be righteous by law keeping was ignorant. He didn’t know Jesus, and so he was condemnable; the law didn’t help him, and he needed to abandon it. But he shown mercy under the gospel, not under the law, as God’s grace, “along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (v14), abundantly poured out on him in the fullest sense.

The fruit of grace is faith and love. This realization and self-reminder causes him to evoke a “trustworthy saying” (1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8), the truth that “Christ Jesus came into the world [implying His pre-existence] to save sinners (v15). There’s a six-point sermon in that part of v15. God’s grace has no limits in terms of the degree of sinner it can save. Early on, Paul called himself “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9), and then five years later, “less than the least of all God’s people” (Ephesians 3:8); and now towards the end of his life, he considered himself to be the worst of all sinners, yet he was saved. That means anyone can be saved by trusting Christ, for it is by grace that we are saved, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). And it also means that Paul’s estimation of himself decreased as his understanding of the gospel of grace increased. John the Baptist understood this, saying, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30); and that’s what we come to understand as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

Paul says in v16 that it was “for this very reason” that he was saved. The gospel came to him in order that he may be an example of the great patience and willingness and ability of God to forgive. Paul was a sincere false teacher prior to conversion, and the fact that God had mercy on him, again, means that God will save all, no matter what, who come to Him in faith. It is the gospel – welcoming the Person of Jesus Christ as Lord, believing specific truths about Him, and waging war unto holy living – that brings eternal life, that saves, and that transforms. And when Paul mentions eternal life in v16, he’s thinking not of the duration of that everlasting life, but the fact that it entails life in its fullness, which is both immediate and to come, both now and later. Paul was saved by the gospel to serve, and his gracious, dependent, and undeserved ministry service reveals that he was truly saved by the gospel.

Finally, in v17, Paul issues a brief but glorious doxology (similar to 1 Timothy 6:15-16). He can’t help but praise God when he reflects on the grace shown to him in the gospel, and that’s a sign of genuine conversion. He refers to God literally as “King of the universe,” “eternal” in the sense of “God of all ages,” thinking past, present, and future, “immortal,” or literally “incorruptible,” as in the ever-living and only self-existent One, “invisible,” referring to God as Spirit, and as “the only God,” referring to the culturally unique position of the day of monotheism. Paul chooses these magisterial characteristics to describe God, and then he rightly ascribes to God “honor and glory for ever and ever.” The honor mentioned here is akin to the Hebrew word “kabod,” also seen in v11 translated “blessed.” It refers to infinite value and weight and brilliance and worthiness. And then the glory mentioned is ambiguous; it could refer to God’s righteousness, holiness, perfect character and image, or even His splendorous presence.

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