1 Timothy 1:12 to 17 The Gospel of Jesus Christ

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

This passage is a deviation from Paul's intent in his letter. These words are in direct contrast to what we heard last week. To give a brief recap - I trust, last week was of the false teachers, people teaching a "different doctrine" (v3), "teachers of the law without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions" (v7). Paul in this preceding passage is warning Timothy of dangers within the church, by people who should have been leading the flock in the paths of righteousness, rather than dragging people back to legal imposition, often of man imposed laws, thinking that he was helping God! As an aside, it is interesting that this is one of the Muslim's greatest internal strife creator, that of Sharia law being imposed. We can in this modern day draw great parallels with this political religious power play within the Muslim world, there is much in the papers lately about Palestine bringing in this law, and the various interpretations of just what Sharia law should impose, for example, how much a woman has to be covered. If we take these modern examples (though not Christian) and apply this to how the false teachers were applying Judaic law, we can understand this first passage in its context. Man loves to meddle in God's affairs, even when it is a false god.

So, the deviation, we see that Paul starts with these warnings, and suddenly in verse twelve he adds a passage of praise, a completely change in topic really. This appears to be triggered by his thoughts in the end of verse 10 into 11: "and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust." Paul says these words, then sits back and says Wow!! God has committed to my trust His glorious gospel!! You can see him writing these words, sitting back and looking up towards heaven and saying Thank You Lord! He must have done something like this otherwise he could not have written the beginning of verse 12, "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord".

So what is Paul thanking the Lord for? For his own great ministry across Asia and into lower Europe? His writing skills, and ability to express God's Word on the page that would one day become our scriptures, the Word of God in our lives, in these pages of the New Testament. This is the crux of this passage, the lesson for us to learn. The thanks is for the Grace God has for him, despite who he was, despite who he still feels he is, and none of those other reasons I just mentioned.

We can read many times Paul's acknowledgement of sin, and his total experience of knowing God's Grace, for example we can read in a very similar verses to this passage we are studying in 1 Cor 15:9 "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am,". To Corinth Paul noted that he persecuted the church, however he writes to Timothy that: "I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man;" MacDonald and Farstad note "As a blasphemer, he spoke evil concerning the Christians and their Leader, Jesus. As a persecutor, he sought to put Christians to death because he felt that this new sect posed a threat to Judaism. In carrying out his evil plan, he took delight in committing insolent, violent, and outrageous acts against the believers. Although it is not as obvious from the English words, there is an ascending scale of wickedness in the three words blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent. The first sin is a matter of words only. The second describes suffering inflicted on others for their religious beliefs. The third includes the idea of cruelty and abuse." [1]

Paul is incredibly willing to confess his sins in this letter to this younger preacher, despite the fact that he has been doing an incredible ministry for a number of years, and to us the retrospective reader, is doing pretty well in the spiritual stakes. However, he struggled and these struggles are presented in Rom 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice." We would do well to have the same insight into who we were, and into who we still are, (hopefully) moving towards perfection, towards holiness, humbleness and thankfulness as Paul did, he being an example, not just for his flock, but for us as well.

We may at this point think on the verse from 1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I would like to highlight the interesting line Paul is taking, as he is not going down this thought path of John at all in this passage in Timothy. He says instead: (v13) "but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." Paul is noting the mercy in which his conversion took place, it wasn't at the end of a confession, it was on the way to more murder and mayhem. John notes that we need to confess our sins, and through confession we obtain forgiveness, and I take nothing away from these instructions. In fact, we often loose sight of this instruction. We need to ensure that when we pray we don't thank the Lord for forgiving us our sins, before we have taken the time and honesty to confess them to Him, our great Advocate first. Then we can be more than thankful, to the point of joy and praise for the forgiveness that follows confession. Psalm 51 is a good example here. Here is a little of that great confessing Psalm, noting it starts first with a plea for mercy, then confession, then request for cleansing:

"Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight... 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."

Paul's credentials are worth remembering here at this juncture. We read them in Philippians 3:5 "circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." Paul was a scholar of the highest order. He knew his stuff. He believed in the God of Israel with all his heart. He also was well and truly separated from the truth of being a child of God, and understanding who God's son was. Paul was so far from this truth, that he persecuted Christians, as he believed them to be anti-God. He did it ignorantly, he did not know any better. We can ask: Why? He would have heard the Christian message. I suspect this is why he is so hard (righteously so) in delivering God's verdict to false teachers. Although he was a victim himself through how he was taught, he had become a false teacher as well, not knowing the truth of the falseness of the doctrine he believed in, he had become an enemy of God.

If we take this background, we can understand better what Jesus said to Paul on the road to Damascus as we read in Acts 9:4: "Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." This is why need to be so careful. We too can become persecutors of the truth, if we let false teachings slowly permeate the truths that we know, to the point where the truth is shipwrecked, and we are in the state Paul was in, thinking we knew what God wanted, and not knowing at all. I feel I am deviating from the text here a little, but this is the state of affairs. We need to be so careful, that no matter who is out the front here, leading a Bible study class, talking to you about things of God, we must at all times be communicating with God, is this what the Word has to say, God, are you teaching through the Holy Spirit or is something being lost? Are we making a big thing about something God does not mention in His Word, or even easier, the act of omission, are we ignoring what God has emphasised in His Word?

Back to John and Paul and why these are two different emphasis confession and praise. At verse 14 Paul writes these words: "And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." His focus is on what Christ Jesus did for him, a person who was not worthy of salvation. This is pure gospel, Christ Jesus entered the world for a single purpose, to enact the solution that was set up before the beginning of the world. God created man, and gave man free will, and gave man the way back to Himself, and God did it just for Paul (as it were). Paul's emphasis is on the grace, faith, and love of Christ Jesus our Lord. Commentators bring up here the point that the structure of the sentence, "Christ Jesus came into the world" as being significant. It is not a key concept of the passage, but, to quote Gordon Fee "To say he came into the world, of course, does not in itself necessarily imply pre-existence, but such an understanding would almost certainly have been intended."[2] This reference adds to the Biblical proof that Jesus Christ existed before the world began, in eternity with His Father.

So what is Grace? Romans 3:23 adds to what Paul is stating here: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 5:1 adds to this: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." And then to Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God," Grace is something God has, and God gives, and because God is in charge of grace, we can have salvation without having to do a thing - works. We can reach out our hands, and God will give us peace, through forgiveness, because of His grace - the ability to provide for someone, something that they could never ever have had, ever.

So, why is this written by Paul. He was wanting to point out that even he, a person he considered to be the chief of sinners, harming the work of God directly and deliberately, but, in ignorance, was still able to have the Grace of God lavished on him. We, or maybe its me, don't understand grace really. We think that if we turn the other cheek, we are giving grace, and yes, to a point, we are. But our grace, versus the grace God shows us, is like us picking up a grain of sand and handing it over, God, well he takes the whole universe and hands that over, and says to us, here, you can be part of this, kings and priests of mine, co-heirs with Christ, the Bride, the Church, my children.! So, I guess if we think our grain of sand is real grace, we need to think again.

What about with faith and love? There is a great verse found in 2 Tim 2:13 "If we are faithless, He remains faithful;" Grasp the truth, allow God's grace to save, and with it comes remarkable attributes of God, grace, love, and gifts beyond measure. He is faithful, even when we are not. He maintains His promises to us, always. And we, the believer are a faithless lot, and, God maintains His promise to the whole world of free (to us) salvation, no matter your background, as in these verse of today's lesson, and of course John 3:16. Why? I guess it comes from God's love for us, as John 3:16 tells us. However, don't be forgetting, this verse has the reverse image as well, God is faithful in all things he has promised, God promises judgement on all those who reject Him. He will be faithful on that promise as well.

However, for the believer, God's love eclipses all boundaries, all the rubbish we throw up. I think that 1 John 4 starting at verse 7 says this well: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." Paul felt that love, and he gave that love across the new Christian world, with letters, with visits, with sending the faithful to spots that needed them, like Timothy to Ephesus.

It is also interesting to deviate again, but for good purpose. Note the following passage about the armour of God in the same context Paul uses here in verse 14 "the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love". We read in 1 Thes 5:8 "But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation." The part the protects the heart, is the breastplate of faith and love. The grace of God was given to Paul with all abundance "with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus", so when we wear the armour, Christ Jesus protects the heart. Ephesians 6:14 tells us "having put on the breastplate of righteousness". The two go together. Without love for God, complete, deep, total commitment type of love, and faith in Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we cannot have righteousness - not our righteousness, as we have seen and heard already today, but the righteousness impute to us as in Romans 4: 4 "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works". What is reinforced here is that all comes from above, faith, love, righteousness, salvation, all through the grace God lavishes on us. We can do nothing for any of these things, not a skerrick. However, we can follow Paul's example and do plenty after that moment of light, the period in our lives that equate to the road to Damascus. None of these excuses us from works, in fact, it demonstrates that we have an obligation to hold out more than a grain of sand of our own.

Let us move to verse 16 "However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life." Kelly wrote that Paul is a living example of "divine love rising above the most active hostility, of divine suffering exhausting the most varied and persistent antagonism."[3] Paul therefore can quite rightly claim to be a pattern. I refer you to verses we studied a in August last year, in Philippians 3:17 "Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern." Paul uses the word 'pattern' in this passage, again noting the example God is making of his (Paul's) life, in Philippians regarding using Paul's life as an example for us in our living a Christian life. Paul, in this weeks lesson, is saying that no-one can say that God won't have mercy on them, that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Saviour is not enough to get them over the line. Here was a man who was killing, or giving permission for Christians to be hunted down, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed. He had a campaign against God. As I said earlier, this is Paul's point, he is able to see how longsuffering the Lord Jesus was in the case of bringing him, Paul, to repentance.

Some commentators point to a prophesy here as well. Paul, as we have already noted, was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, an Israelite. Let us deviate (yes again - biblical text takes us places sometimes we never expected to go) We have time (I hope), to read a few verses out of Ezekiel - grand verses of God's intent. Ezekiel 37 starting at verse 4:

"Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 `Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 "I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD."'" 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. 9 Also He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, `Thus says the Lord GOD: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live."'" 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. 11 Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, `Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!' 12 "Therefore prophesy and say to them, `Thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 "Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. 14 "I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it," says the LORD.'"

What amazing verses - I am always stunned by these verses. The Lord is going to take the dried bones of a missing Israel, and breath life into them. God took the unbelieving, persecuting, hardline Pharisee and turned him into the world's best known evangelist of the 1st century, and used his letters, obviously inspired by God, to provide us with the Word of God we know today. Paul is telling us, that his example, shows us the path to everlasting life, even for Israel. I am not sure how far this connection can be made, some have made it, but, it gave me a reason to get the glimpse into Ezekiel, and both are written in His Word. Take this and decide for yourself, whether these words were prophesy to this extent, or more an encouragement for those who feel that they are in to deep to get out. Think on it though, the bones.

Paul concludes his sidestep with a doxology. 17 " Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen."

Here we see the outpouring of praise, praise to a God, and his Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus for the amazing grace, amazing patience, incredible sacrifice, that brought Paul to Christ. He starts with the King eternal, but then ties the Son with the Father as one in this praise, For Jesus Christ is indeed king, but he not the invisible God, that is God the Father. Note the words, he tells us to whom he is pouring his praise, then an attribute - wisdom, then the eternalness of the praise that he wants to pour forth, that of honouring God, that of, in the words of that old hymn, 'To God be the Glory', for ever and ever Amen. This is praise at its best, as all the doxologies are. I found this old hymn, that bases its words on the doxology, let us finish with this.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish-but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

All laud we would render; O help us to see
'Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

Words: Walter C. Smith, Hymns of Christ and the Christian Life, 1876.
Music: "St. Denio (Joanna)," Welsh melody; from Canaidau y Cyssegr, by John Roberts, 1839.


[1] MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. 1997, c1995. Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

[2] New International Biblical Commentary, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 1984, p. 53. Henrickson Publishers

[3] William Kelly, An Exposition of the Two Epistles to Timothy, p.22

Stephen B Simon (30 August 2009 CCC)