Today we are in 1st Timothy chapter 1. If you were with us last week, you know that Paul is writing this letter to Timothy to give him instructions on how to lead the church in Ephesus, where he was serving. And Paul doesn’t waste any time in this letter. Last week, he jumped right into how to deal with false teachers.
So, it’s interesting today that Paul takes a moment to digress. In verse 11, last week, he mentions the “gospel of glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” And that’s all it takes for Paul to want to take a moment to reflect on the gospel and the personal impact of the gospel upon his own life. That’s what we have in today’s text. I’m going to ask Tim Martin, one of our deacons, to come forward and read for us, 1st Timothy 1:12-20. If you’re able, please join us in standing for the reading of God’s Word:
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 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. 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. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
This is the Word of the living God, amen? You may be seated. I so love this passage because at first mention of the gospel of glory, it’s like Paul is overwhelmed and has to take a detour. He’s been so quick to jump on his main purpose for writing Timothy. But now, he has to digress and get personal. And so that’s what he does. What we have here is a personal testimony from Paul. An easy way to understand what a testimony is is chronologically: 1) what life was like before Christ, 2) how you met Christ, and 3) what life is like after Christ. And that’s exactly what Paul gives us here. And so that’s also how we’ll organize our time. Three chapters of the Christian’s life, and one major response. And these are characteristic of not only Paul’s life, but all Christians’ lives. Three chapters, one response.
Chapter 1: Before Christ, we were enemies of God.
That could quite literally be the title of our chapter before we met Christ. Enemies of God! We see this in several places in the new Testament, including Romans 5:10 and Colossians 1:21. In those texts, Paul uses similar language as here, but specifically calls us enemies! And that certainly is what Paul getting at in verse 13: “though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” Ha! “Insolent” means kind-of like “mockingly defiant.” That’s particularly true Paul, knowing his history. His main goal in life it seemed, before he met Christ, was to persecute Christians! And there’s no doubt that he was quite successful in this endeavor. So certainly, this is true of Paul, but it’s also true of all of us.
We may never have seen ourselves as enemies of God, but the heart of sin, and the reason for the fall, is wanting to have all the power and authority of God, even though we are not God. In sin, we try to dethrone God and set ourselves up as King of our own life. That makes us enemies of God, according to Romans 5:10.
But this is also why Paul is so overwhelmed. Even though he was an enemy of God, and even though was particularly so an enemy—God chose him to use in a special way for the building up of his church. That’s what starts this detour, verse 12: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”
He’s thankful to God for choosing him of all men. Why would God choose him? He was the “foremost of sinners”—that’s what he called himself in verse 15. Some of your translations say, the “chief of sinners.” God chose this chief of sinners not only in the same way he chose all of us, but also in a very special way. God revealed to Ananias in Acts chapter 9, that Paul, of all people, was “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the child of Israel.” Ananias already knew about Paul and his murderous occupation of persecution against Christians, and yet God had chosen Paul for a particular task.
Why? Why would God choose Paul to use him in such an extraordinary way? Here’s chap. 2:
Chapter 2: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Let me read the second part of verse 13 through verse 16 again: “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 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. 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.”
Why did God choose Paul, of all people. And why did he choose each and every one of us, of all people? Well, it’s clear in these verses. Paul said it twice: “But I received mercy.” It’s MERCY! Mercy, we receive something we, in and of ourselves, did not earn. In fact, we earned quite the opposite based on chapter 1. We were all enemies of God, and now instead of receiving God’s wrath, which is what we’ve all earned. We, by God’s grace, receive mercy. How, specifically, did God show us mercy? Because God is a just God. He’s not going to flippantly show mercy and contradict his just and pure character. So how did God show us mercy? Verse 15, let me read it yet again, because it’s so good: “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.”
Jesus Christ came to save sinners. This is the whole gospel, isn’t it! Jesus came, that’s the incarnation. To save sinners, that’s his death and resurrection. This was likely some sort of song or catechism, that’s why Paul calls it “the saying.” And so, Paul is writing, “yes! This common saying or song is true and worthy of full acceptance. This is the heart of the good news! This is our only our only hope in life and in death. Jesus Christ really did come to save sinners.
And notice Paul said, “of whom I am the foremost.” This really should be the heart attitude of any born-again Christian. Why? Because we are all uniquely aware of our own sin and shortcomings. Unless we’re totally clueless, which happens sometimes, generally speaking—we know our own sin better than anyone else other than God. And after coming to faith, we are uniquely aware of our sin, and daily need for Christ. That’s part of the purpose of the Lord’s Supper, is for regular, consistent reminder that we need Christ, not only once when we first believe upon Him, but daily and throughout all of life!
There is no greater truth in all of Christianity, and you’d be surprised how questionable this is in a lot of Christian circles. Did Jesus come to save sinners, or did he more come to show us how to live, and how much God loved us. That is a surprising trend even in evangelical and Bible-believing churches. Downplaying the atonement. Downplaying this truth, that Christ came to save sinners.
But listen, here’s the reality. There’s a difference between acknowledging that Christ came to save sinners and trusting in Jesus so save you from your sin. Did you catch that? There’s a difference between acknowledging this to be true and trusting in Jesus yourself to save you from your sins. We do realize Satan himself acknowledges that Christ came to save sinners? He knows that! Why do you think he fights so hard to keep others from knowing that?
But saving faith is not mere acknowledgement. And that’s a lot of times what we mean when we use the word “believe.” As long as you “believe,” as in you affirm in your brain, that Jesus died for the sin of the world, you’re saved. No! That could not be further from the truth. Saving faith means trusting in Jesus alone to save you from your sins.
You must first be aware of your own desperate need for a Savior, much like Paul. We’re not here as pastors to tell you how great it is to follow Jesus, and that you should considering following him because this is the best life. Even though that might be true! That’s not why we’re here. That’s not why the church exists. We’re here to tell you that there is a massage canyon separating you from God. That canyon is sin, and it makes you an enemy of God!
But there is hope, the only hope in all the world. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, like you and like me! Repent from your sin and trust in Jesus alone to save you. Because only He can. He died to take our sin upon himself and rose again defeating death and sin altogether. There is no other hope. Repent and believe upon Christ. Listen, if God can save Paul, he can save you! That’s what Paul is getting at in verse 16: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
In other words, if you think you’re unworthy of God’s love, that’s the whole point! Yes, you are unworthy of God’s love. Yes, I am unworthy of God’s love. And yet, he loves us anyway! That’s what mercy is! Receiving something we do not deserve. And so if you’re here and think you’re too far gone for Christ to save you, Paul is here using himself as an example. 2000 years later, he says, “If God can save me, he most certainly can save you.” Repent and believe upon Christ.
And when you do, that’s when chapter 3 begins. Chapter 3 of the Christian life, and then we’ll look at the most fitting response to all three chapters.
Chapter 3: Grace Continues and we protect the gospel.
I love verse 15: after having received mercy, Paul writes “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” This grace that God lavishes upon us is not just salvation from sin, but also faith and love. God is the one to give us faith and give us love! God’s grace continues and is mark of a genuine believer’s life. And it’s all because of the cross. Grace abounds. We see that everywhere in the New Testament. God’s grace toward his children is abounding. It is overwhelming and flows from the Cross of Christ.
And this is why Paul is giving Timothy this charge. In verses 18-20, Paul is stepping back out of his personal testimony—his own life. He’s now returning back to his original charge. What was his original charge from last week? That we protect sound doctrine in accordance with the gospel. That’s in verses 10-11. Because of how crucial God’s mercy in Christ is. Because everything depends upon Christ who came to save sinners- we must now protect that gospel. We must do everything we can to protect sound doctrine.
Timothy, especially, was tasked with this. He had a commissioning ceremony of some kind. We see more evidence of that in 1st Timothy chapter 4. And so, this was something prayed over Timothy when he was ordained to ministry. So, he’s saying wage the good warfare, or fight the good fight. Implied there is the fact that there are bad fights. There are fights that are not good fights. Not worthy fights. And we need God’s grace to help us know the difference. I have to share this example I read this week, because I think it shows how easy it is to become distracted by things that just don’t matter. This is Craig Barnes, who pastored in Washington D.C., sharing about a controversy he dealt with as a pastor:
Last spring the hospitality committee put a little coffee stand in the foyer. The next day the head usher of twenty-five years quite in protest, saying this was a sacrilege to the church sanctuary. All the ushers quickly became upset. Since a committee had put the coffee there, the church had to decide on the issue, so they set up a task force that met for eight weeks to listen to the ushers and the hospitality committee. One Sunday a bunch of ushers decided not to show up to usher because we hadn’t brought back the head usher yet. So then the elders were ticked off at the ushers. In the middle of that, I’m not talking to Jesus about anybody. I’m not making hospital calls, or shepherding people through grief. I’m trying to figure out whether we should serve coffee in the annex.
Oh, how easy it is to become distracted. Paul says, “wage the good warfare,” meaning there’s bad warfare. Some fights are not worth fighting. And how can we tell the difference? Two questions: 1) Will this matter a year from now? And 2) will this distract us from the gospel of Christ? We fight the good fight; we protect the gospel—not our selfish desires or preferences.
We hold faith and a good conscience, that’s verse 19. We cling to Christ and a good conscience. This is the opposite of what the false teachers were doing last week. Verse 5: these false teachers let go of a “good conscience and a sincere faith.” This is the quickest way to “make shipwreck” your faith, is by clinging to anything other than Christ Himself and the sound doctrine that He passed on to us through his own teaching and the teaching of his apostles.
It’s so important to protect sound doctrine that Paul names two individual, Hymenaeus and Alexander. We know from 2ndTimothy 2 that Hymenaeus that rejected sound doctrine; he was teaching that the last resurrection had already happened. The resurrection that is to occur when Christ returns. We don’t know much about Alexander, so maybe he too had fallen in with Hymenaeus.
So, what did Paul do with these two? You may think he completely given up on them, but that’s actually not what happened. He “handed them over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” Paul used the same language in 1stCorinthians 5:5. The goal here is restoration. The “handing them over the Satan” language refers to excommunication. They were put out of the church fellowship so as to not cause division. But his hope is they “they learn not to blaspheme” according to verse 20.
Again, you see the importance of protecting the gospel. This is part of our jobs after having come to know Christ. Grace continues, we grow in our faith, and of course, we cling to the gospel of Christ. We cherish it so much that we never let it become corrupted or warped. Those are the three chapters of every Christian life. Before Christ, how we met Christ, and after Christ. Much like Paul, this is how we tell our stories.
And listen, church, we each have a story just as dramatic as Paul’s. Perhaps Jesus didn’t appear to you physically while travelling. But each of us has been brought from death to life. Each of us, in Christ, has been brought from lost to found. Each of us, in Christ, has been brought from blind to seeing. We each have been brought from out on our own to part of the family of God. There is only one fitting response to this. And we see it in verse 17.
Right after Paul writes of Christ Jesus coming to save sinners, and the mercy that he received from God in Christ—it’s like he can’t help but take a moment to worship. He has to stop an express praise to God. And so he does, verse 17: “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Nothing else can save us from our sin. No one else can use wretches like me for his glory. No one else will show such pity on me for being ignorant and insolent. No one and nothing else can save us from our sin. To the King of ages—he’s God from before creation to the end of eternity. Immortal- He doesn’t decay or age. Invisible- He’s so glorious that we can only see glimpses of his glory. The only God- He alone is what He is. To this God be glory and honor forever and ever. Why? Because of who He is, and because of what He’s done. He sent Christ, who came into the world to save sinners.