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)
Last week we talked about how Paul was a thankful man for all that God had done in his life, and that he was acutely aware of his need for the strength of Christ. Though God had saved Paul out of a sinful, regretful life, and though that was a miracle for sure, he also knew that even after his salvation he needed Christ, the strength of Christ, to live under this new calling.
When we read in the Bible that we have been saved into a new position where it is our calling to live for Christ, we should understand that to live for Him will take His strength in us. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says it this way: “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” We are to live for Him. This means we are to do as He says, think as He would want us to think, love truth as He loves truth, represent Him in this world; we are to live for Him. To live for Christ means necessarily that we live in His strength. It means life will be hard, impossible on our own, but not impossible under the guiding strength of the creator of the universe. Paul was thankful that the strength of Christ was available for him, and he obviously relied on that strength as one of the greatest missionaries, preachers, teachers, and writers of all time.
In Ephesians 6:10 Paul also reminds all of us that this strength in which he lived is also for us: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Paul goes on to state some specific things for which he is thankful.
Now, he gets more specific in verse 12 by naming two things: that God judged him faithful and that God chose to put him into service.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service (1 Timothy 1:12)
The term “faithful” (or “trustworthy” as your Bible may read) is actually a reference to Paul’s worth in God’s sight. Now, let’s be careful here. Paul was a man of worth in God’s sight. We as Christians are of worth in God’s sight. We are for two reasons. The first is because God has chosen to love us, and secondly because of Christ who is in us.
We so want to be of worth to God and others just because we are who we are, because I am me. We so want people to think highly of us just because of who we are, our great personalities, or just because of our longing to be loved. “Just love me for me, because of who I am,” is what we may say or just think. But with God you will notice that our worthiness has nothing really to do with us as it does with who God the Father is and who Jesus Christ is. In other words, our worth is totally wrapped up in God. Outside of God we are nothing; with God we are of great worth. We can’t brag about our worth; our worth is in God, in Christ.
Yes, God judged Paul as faithful, trustworthy, but here is why: 1 Corinthians 7:25 – “Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.” Paul was not suggesting he had received the appointment to ministry because God thought so well of him. He was amazed that a man from his background would ever be entrusted with the gospel at all. He was overjoyed at God’s demonstration of confidence in him by placing him, a man of violence and a threat to Christians, in a place of service for God’s kingdom. His faithfulness was due to God’s mercy, God’s mercy that came to Paul, that rescued Paul, that made him a man of God. It was God’s mercy.
Knowing this truth ought to slap arrogance out of us. But sometimes God will choose to use us, you or me, in some positive or significant way, and we can be so prone to think in our flesh that somehow we are above or better than the next guy. Even when it is not our strength but God’s strength in us. We are so helpless without Christ. As we read last week, apart from Him we can do nothing.
When God spoke to a man named Ananias in Acts 9 and told him to go find Paul, here is how the Lord spoke of Paul: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” He speaks of Paul as a “chosen instrument” of His. An instrument is a material object used to meet some need in an occupation or other responsibility. It is also literally a tool used for precision work. God speaks of Paul in this way. He speaks of Paul as His chosen instrument, a tool used for precision work. The thing about a tool is that it does nothing on its own, in fact its usefulness is dependent on its user. The tools in my toolbox sometimes do okay in my hands, but in an accomplished mechanic’s hands they would be much more incredible.
We are in the process of building a house, and it is amazing to me to watch skilled craftsmen. I enjoy building things with wood. I know how to do many things regarding building a house. But knowing how to and actually doing the work is two different things. I see those guys spending an hour doing what it would take me days or weeks to do, and they do a better job. But we have the same tools. I can’t blame my projects on the tools, it is the one using the tools that makes all the difference.
When God used Paul and when He uses us, we are simply tools in His hands. We are instruments in His hands. When God spoke to Ananias concerning Paul, saying, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel,” we see that Paul was a particular type instrument. He was one that would go and speak to many people, teaching them about the gospel. He was chosen for a specific purpose. And so when Paul writes in our passage this morning, verse 12, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,” God judged Paul faithful as a steward, as one who has received the mercy of God, as one who is now worthy of God because of Christ in him, and the service would be specific to what God had called him to.
It is not as though Paul was faithful as a man and then chosen. He was not faithful before he met Christ on the road to Damascus. He was not faithful as a man before becoming a Christian. Paul is very clear about this, and wants his readers to be clear on this too. He makes it clear with these words in verse 13 about his horrific past: “though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”
It must have pained Paul some to speak these words and remember some of his past. There are things in my past that I really don’t want to remember. Paul’s past sins were very public, and many would have known about his past, and I’m sure there were those who may not have really trusted Paul because they knew his past. Maybe some who had suffered tremendously because of what Paul had done to them or to one of their family members. Paul, bringing up his past, he does so by telling of the grace and mercy of God. His point is not to focus on his past but to focus on the grace and mercy of God who can redeem a person who has done such things and save him out of such things. He didn’t use his past as an excuse for idleness in Christian living or ministry, rather he uses his past to paint a vivid picture, a wonderful real life expression of the glory of the grace and mercy of our God. Let’s see how he does this.
He was a blasphemer. Paul shows gratitude to the Lord as one who had been one of His most vicious enemies. His preconversion state was that of a blasphemer. A blasphemer is one who defames, denigrates, and demeans. In this case Paul was a man who would defame God. In Acts 26 we see this type of description of Paul’s preconversion work and passion…
9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:9-11)
Paul not only told lies about the character of God and misrepresented Him in his passion to stop the Church of Jesus Christ in its tracks, but he also encouraged others through torture and imprisonment to join with him in his blasphemous work. It is an evil thing to misrepresent the character and person of God. And yet this happens constantly. It was Paul’s life to do this, he gave his all in this effort prior to his dramatic salvation. He was not a sideline enemy, he was an open, public, and fanatical enemy of Christ. And so when Paul wrote in Romans 5:10 about enemies of Christ who were reconciled to Him, he includes himself. This is the glory of salvation. This is the essence of love. That God would save His enemies. Everyone who has ever been saved has been an enemy of God. Paul certainly was as well.
Paul doesn’t stop there, he also says he was a persecutor. Persecution was the key issue in Jesus’ confrontation of Paul. In Paul’s hostile interaction with Christians he was actually persecuting Jesus. On Paul’s journey to Damascus when Jesus confronts him, Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul said, “Who are you Lord?” And Jesus said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
He was an insolent opponent. This describes one who had utter disregard for other people’s rights. Paul didn’t care if his work separated families and friends or landed a person in prison or even meant death to many. He was not concerned with those whom he opposed. He did his work at the expense of those who chose to follow Christ and Paul had no regret or feelings toward them. He was single minded in his persecutions.
This is who Paul was. He was clearly an enemy of the Lord. And in this evil and yet pitiful state the Lord met him. The Lord did not meet him to give him what he deserved, but met him to give him what he could never deserve.
But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:13b-14)
Paul never gave mercy, but he received mercy. He received a pardon for his terrible acts. He was set free from his debt to God. The death of the one he hated was the price paid for his sins. He hated Jesus, and yet Jesus reached out to him in love and saved him. Jesus was his enemy but became his Lord. This is the gospel, illustrated in Paul’s life. This is mercy. This is how we should see our salvation.
When Paul said that he received mercy because he had acted ignorantly in unbelief, he was not minimizing his sin as sin. It is not as though his ignorance made him worthy of salvation. I think he says this so as to differentiate between his sin and the sin described in the Old Testament and the New Testament as blaspheming the Lord or blaspheming the Holy Spirit. In these cases it is done with full knowledge and defiantly. He was not a hardened apostate having heard and known the revelation from God and rejecting it. He was not as those described in Hebrews 6…
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
Sinning willfully with blasphemy of the Holy Spirit after knowing the truth can result in a permanent judgement.
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)
The sinning here meaning a chosen lifestyle of sin, a chosen sinful way of life, deliberately living against our Lord. That is a dangerous place to be.
And so Paul says in verse 14, “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Abundant sin in Paul’s life was replaced by abundant grace! Grace that overflowed in his life, overflowed with faith and love, the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus. It is a miraculous thing. It is a radical change, Christianity is. This is why it is described as new life. It is the passing of the old life and the introduction of life that is new. If you are a Christian, this is you.
No one qualifies to be used by God, to be used by Him in this world as His ambassadors. No one does, no one ever has. So God takes the unqualified, He takes sinners, and He makes them into those who are capable then of love, love for Him and love for others. He puts that in them, in us, for His glory. This is the only way anyone would ever be able to serve God; He makes them new, He makes us new.
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
If you are a believer, that is your story!
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. (1 Timothy 1:12-14)