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. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)
There are two things in the first phrase of verse 12 that I would like for us to think about today. Two very important aspects of the Christian life which Paul brings up regarding his own walk with Christ. The first is thankfulness and the second deals with strength.
Paul was, as is so clear in his writings, a very thankful man. He had much to be thankful for, but no more than what you and I have as Christians.
He was thankful to God for Christians around him. 2 Timothy 1:3 – “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.”
Paul was thankful for his eventual deliverance from his own flesh, his body, knowing that one day he will be with Christ in heaven. Romans 7:24-25 – “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
He was aware that all that he had, even the food on his table, was a gift from God, so he understood the necessity of taking it with gratitude. 1 Corinthians 10:30 – “If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?”
Paul knew that any and every victory that he experienced in life must be attributed to Christ who lived in him. 1 Corinthians 15:57 – “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
He was thankful that God would use him to spread the sweet aroma of the gospel of Christ to many people. 2 Corinthians 2:14 – “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”
Paul was thankful that God was at work in his fellow ministers to give them a same mind regarding those whom they served. 2 Corinthians 8:16 – “But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.”
Paul was thankful that God’s Spirit moved on many to generously give financially to the spread of gospel ministry. 2 Corinthians 9:15 – “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
Paul was a man who lived his life thanking the Lord for the blessings that he recognized all around him. This kind of thankfulness is one that necessarily acknowledges that there is one who is the giver of blessings, who is the giver of all that is needed in life. Paul was keenly aware that God was at work. He knew God was at work fulfilling His purposes, His plan. And so no matter what specific circumstances he was in, whether they seemed to be negative or positive, he could still be thankful.
We can live in a state perpetual thanksgiving. As I look at many of you this morning, and even as I consider some of my circumstances, it is easy to reject this theology of perpetual thanksgiving. It is easy to focus in on all that we want to change, and even the deficits that we feel we have: not enough money, not enough time, not enough cooperation from others, not enough energy, not enough compassion, not enough sympathy, not enough attention, not enough relief from pain. We can, if we want to, focus on these types of things.
Paul had learned, as we too must learn, how to throw off all of our laments of “not enough’s” and instead, in their place, embrace contentment. Contentment is a confidence in God. Or as Paul has said in one of my favorite passages – not a favorite because I have mastered it, only a favorite because I know I need its constant reminders – Philippians 4:10-12…
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Philippians 4:10-12)
A life of thanksgiving and one of contentment go hand in hand. Now, this only works, a life of true thanksgiving and contentment, in one who is in Christ and who is solidly convinced that God is truly in control of our circumstances. If He is, if God is really in control, then let’s be thankful and let’s be content!
If my bank account is running low, then I can be still be thankful for not just what I have, but what God can provide if He desires to. If my account is empty, then I can be thankful for what God will teach me through it, with how God will still meet my needs, I can be thankful that God still loves me and has not left me. I can be thankful that if I need money it will come, if I need shelter He will give it, I can be thankful that there is still a wise plan, and it will play out in God’s timing. I can be thankful that my success is not simply dependent on me, that God is on His throne, and if God is big enough to care for me, to watch out for me, and even to work all things for my good, then this was no mistake, and I can be thankful that God is still God and is on His throne ruling and reigning, even over my circumstances.
Complaining about what we don’t have is complaining against God. It is an indictment against God, accusing God of wrong. It is saying, “I need this and you [God] have not provided it!” I need something and God will not give it. It is either a failure to believe that God has the power to deliver or a failure to believe He is loving. Either He would give it if He could, or He can give it but He does not care for me enough to do it. God does not make mistakes, and He does not miss out on any detail on this earth or in your life or mine. And so we can be thankful, we can give thanks to God always.
We will face trials here. In John 16 Jesus is explaining this to His disciples. He is telling them that He is going away and that troubles are coming for them. As He speaks He comforts, as He tells of tribulation He speaks words of tremendous truth which deliver peace, peace during trial. Listen to this from John 16…
31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:31-33)
Trouble and yet peace, trial and yet a Savior who has overcome all that the world can throw at Him, and at you and me as well. When troubles come, and they will, we can be thankful. Jesus has overcome the world, He is alive, He is in you as a Christian, He is not absent, He is not aloof, He is not uncaring, instead He is guarding, protecting, and leading us through this dangerous place to a better place and one day to our magnificent heavenly home!
Paul could be thankful. He was thankful. We too are called to bow before our Lord in thanksgiving to Him. Thankfulness, I believe, is a mark also of humility. One who is thankful is one who recognizes that another is providing for him. We can glory in our own skills, talents, gifts, or we can humbly bow before the one who created us the way He did.
Paul said, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul in 1 Timothy 1:12 is expressing thanksgiving for something in particular. He is thanking Christ specifically for his strength.
The Apostle Paul needed strength, he needed the strength of Jesus Christ. We can observe in the gospel records the strength of Christ. If we read the gospels and don’t see Christ as strong, then we have missed an important part of who He is and how He ministered here. The emphasis of strength, of Jesus’ strength in the Bible, is not on His physical strength, though He was physically strong. He went without food and water, living in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. He endured a beating so violent that we read in Isaiah 52:14 that “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” He then, after such a violent and horrendous violation of His body, was crucified on a cross. Crucified, after such beatings, and yet He had the strength to minister to those around Him from the cross. He was strong physically, but His strength went way beyond the physical to emotional and spiritual strength. His mind was strong. He thought clearly in all situations and acted from a position of strength.
We see examples of this all throughout the pages of the Scriptures. He didn’t avoid trouble for fear of an inability to handle it. He faced crowds of people teaching an unpopular message, He spoke sharply with false teachers who wanted to kill Him. He slept peacefully in a dangerous storm on the sea; that too is strength, isn’t it? Emotional, spiritual strength, not falling apart from fear. In His strength He then calmed the sea, stopped the violent winds. In strength Jesus confounded religious leaders, answering their questions meant to trip Him up with such wisdom that they had nothing else to say. Jesus condescended to His ever questioning disciples with patience when most would have given up! That is strength, great patience takes great strength, strength to trust God rather than lash out sinfully in the flesh.
Jesus was a man of strength, we know that, we see that in the Bible. He did, of course, create the world and all that is in it. Colossians 1:16 – “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Oh, and He is not only the giver of life, all of life, but He also defeated death. When we think of strength we should think of Jesus Christ.
And so when Paul says, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord,” we should immediately think: the one who possesses all strength gives strength, He gives His strength to the believer. The one who has all strength gave Paul, and gives us, strength.
Paul knew that he needed strength that was beyond his ability. Paul expected for his life to be such, his challenges, his temptations, his trials, his circumstances, he expected that the life he had ahead of him would be such that he would need the strength of Christ to live it out for God’s glory. He did not expect that being in Christ, being Christian would mean an easy life with easy circumstances. If it were that, why would he need the strength of Christ?
I wonder if we don’t get up in the morning and think or even pray that today all things would go smoothly, go our way, be easy. I mean do we have some kind of expectation that life should be easy? Like, “God, fix this problem, fix this person, smooth out the bumps for today, please make life easy!” Do we sometimes think that this is what being born again should bring us? Or do we realize, as Paul did, that to live this life as a Christian, in this fallen world, around these sinful people, considering our own sinful flesh, that wow, to get through this will take the strength of Christ! To go through this life and to live it for Him, for His glory, with any spiritual success at all, we need the strength of Christ. I wonder how many of us are still living under an illusion that we can do this life on our own. Or that we expect it to go so smoothly that we can handle it in our own strength.
Here is the contrast, the contrast between thinking we can live on our own, between that and knowing that we cannot live even a day or an hour without the strength of Christ. Jesus tells a story in John 15 of a vine, or the vine and branches. He is telling of the importance of being connected to the vine, the branches being connected to the vine in order for fruit to be produced. You don’t find a branch lying on the ground by itself connected to nothing and still producing fruit. That would be crazy. The branch must be connected to the vine where it can grow and get nutrients to flourish. We get that, right? The branch on the ground, disconnected from the vine, it produces nothing. That is what Jesus says in John 15:5, but He relates the whole agricultural example that we can all understand to a spiritual truth. Here is what He says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
What does He mean “nothing?” He means we can do nothing spiritually good, nothing of spiritual significance, we cannot live the Christian life, pleasing our Lord. Without Christ we can do nothing. In contrast then we have Philippians 4:13 which says: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Without Christ, “nothing,” but with Christ, “all things.” Without Christ we can expect to miss the mark; with Christ, in His strength, we can live for Him. Our need for Christ does not end when we are initially saved, when we first believe. Our need for Him, dependence on Him extends to every moment of every day.
Here is some of what Paul faced and why he so needed the strength of Christ…
24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
Peter was imprisoned, facing possible death, John was exiled to Patmos, anyone who traveled with these men were risking their lives. Today Christians in the Middle East face beatings, abuse, even death for the name of Christ. Even here at home we are hearing more incidences of Christian persecution. For us even, we face the stress and strain of being different, of living in a world that is not quite suited for us. We stand with many who are suffering, we long for our heavenly home. And then there are just daily matters – seeing our children suffer in a hostile world, relationships that are strained under the pressures of sin, desires that go unfulfilled. How do we deal with all this, how do we handle these things? On our own? If so, we fail. We stay on the seemingly never ending treadmill of failure. Or we turn to Christ, we understand our need for Him in all things, we admit our weaknesses, we cry out to Him, we submit to Him and we say, “Yes, it is only in Christ, only through Christ, only in His strength that I can move forward trusting Him, living for Him as I have been called, living for His glory.”
Why do we expect for life to be such that we can do it on our own? It is good that we feel pressures that drive us to Christ. Paul did, and as he did he would say, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord.” Not, “I thank him who has taken away my trials,” or, “I thank him for removing temptations,” or “I thank him for making my life easy.” No, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Are we, are you resting in the strength of our Savior? These lives that we live are not meant to be lived apart from His strength. We are not designed for that.
Paul, after listing all his hardships and even more, ends with this in 2 Corinthians 12:10: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
His weakness left a void that was filled with the power of Christ. The power of Christ was made perfect in Paul’s weaknesses. We are weak. Let’s acknowledge that. But Christ is strong, we have seen that. Go to Him. He is near, He is our help. And let us say with Paul, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord.”