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)
When you look into the mirror, what do you see? Probably no one being honest would say perfection! I hope you wouldn’t say perfection. We probably all looked in the mirror this morning, right? A mirror gives us a view of our outward appearance. We get to see how we look on the outside. Our hair, eyes, nose, or maybe you even have a full length mirror and can see your whole body. Sometimes we may become obsessed with outward appearance. That is what a mirror gives us, a look at how we look on the outside. But what if there were a mirror that would not give us a picture of our outward appearance, but of our inward character, a real picture of what we call the heart, the real person that we are on the inside? The Bible describes for us in a variety of ways the importance of what is inside a man, rather than what is on the outside. We are pretty good at analyzing the outside, but I wonder if we take the time to investigate what is in our hearts.
In Matthew 7 Jesus describes false teachers, and He does it in part by drawing a sharp distinction between what is seen outwardly and what is really in their hearts. He says in verse 15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Speaking of wives, God exalts inward beauty up against outward beauty. He does this in 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
If we had this mirror, a mirror into our hearts, into our inner being, what would we see? If God emphasizes the heart, not the outward, but the heart, then shouldn’t we above all want to please Him with our hearts, our inner man?
Here is the thing about the apostle Paul in our passage this morning. He seemed to be very aware of what had been, and from other passages like Romans 7 even, what still was in his inner man. What Paul does here is give us a look into his soul prior to his salvation. And what he describes is both encouraging, because of Christ, and disturbing, because of who he was prior to Christ. His view of himself was accurate.
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. (1 Timothy 1:15)
There is such good news for us in this verse. What we see is the extension of God’s grace, through Jesus, to even the most vile of sinners. Jesus came to save sinners. Paul calls it a saying, it was a common saying that was trustworthy, to be trusted and to be accepted. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. This saying requires a response. The response to this saying should be acceptance. It is true and it is deserving of full acceptance, or complete acceptance. Sinners need saving because the entrance into God’s kingdom requires a perfect, sinless record, and no one has one, no one except Jesus Christ. And so Jesus comes with His perfect life, sinless life and offers it to sinners. It is like He says, “You can have my perfect record.” That is salvation. Saved from our record of sin. And here is the thing: there is no sinful record that is too great to be wiped out by the record of Jesus. And what Paul does instead of pointing to someone else’s record of sin, like, “Well, so and so, look at him, he was the worst sinner ever,” no, he points right to himself, calling himself the foremost of sinners. That must have been a deep and painful gaze into the mirror that reveals the heart.
Our tendency may be to think, “Well, I’m not so bad.” Paul’s right view was, “I am really, really bad, the foremost of sinners.” Paul was in a category of sinners that had persecuted Christ and persecuted God’s people. We may look at Paul and remember his past as a Pharisee, a deeply religious man and think, “Well morally he wasn’t that bad,” but the reality is that he was one who tried with all his might to put down, to destroy God’s plan of redemption. Paul was not just an enemy of God because he sinned, but also because his sin was to try and destroy the church. Listen to how he puts it in 1 Corinthians 15…
9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)
Also, Ephesians 3:8, more self evaluation: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”
There is no boasting with Paul, there is no place for boasting. Paul clearly saw where his efforts apart from God’s grace and deliverance took him. He clearly saw what he was capable of without the intervention of God’s grace. He was a terrible sinner, miraculously saved by Christ. Paul’s past did not prevent him from receiving salvation, it qualified him for salvation. Christ came to save sinners.
Paul then goes on to explain why Christ showed this kind of extreme mercy to him. We see God’s purpose.
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. (1 Timothy 1:16)
Why didn’t Christ step in years earlier in Paul’s life and save him out of his sin? Why did God allow Paul to persecute, to reek havoc on God’s people, to recruit others to do the same? Why would God allow this? Well, we see here that there was a purpose. There was purpose in this trial that so many faced under Paul’s years of sinfulness. God had a reason for continued persecution of so many. God was not absent in this, He never is. God was not unaware of the suffering and of this man Paul who made it his work to oppose Him. God was not wringing His hands over Paul’s actions. No, God was allowing His will to be done, He was allowing Paul to, for a while, extend his reign of terror on believers for a good reason, even to reveal His character, His character which includes patience. The Lord put on display His patience in the life of Paul. In fact, Paul was so overwhelmed by this truth that he says it was Christ’s “perfect” patience!
I wonder how often we may accuse God of being uncaring or unaware of our plight, when what is really happening is that God is putting on display for us or others some aspect of His perfect character. Maybe we are begging God to take away our trial but instead He chooses to show us His strength by upholding us in it, by carrying us through it. God is putting His glory on display, meaning He is revealing Himself all around us, but do we see it? Do we recognize it? Do we miss it because we want something other than what He is giving us? He is at work, He is showing Himself.
There are so many things going on around us that can really lead us to fear. Don’t let these things become so great in your mind that we fail to believe that God is at work bringing about His will.
There is, right now, the greatest number of Muslims being displaced from their countries and being scattered across the globe than has ever happened before. Don’t for one minute think that this is outside of God’s plan; it’s not. What all does God have planned through this? I don’t know, but I do know He is in control and we are not to fear it.
Terrorism is a real threat, not just in the Western world but all across the world. But God is not absent. How will He use this for His glory? What opportunities will we have as a result of this evil to make Christ known? People are getting a good, close up look at evil, and we know a God who is holy, we know the solution to evil. God is at work, God is making Himself known.
God did this with Paul, an evil man, a hopeless man, the foremost of sinners. God broke through at the right time, met Paul, saved Paul, transformed Paul, put on display His mercy, His perfect patience. No one is out of God’s reach. Don’t look at your neighbor as out of God’s reach or your spouse or your child or the terrorists or those in false religions. God’s grace is sufficient for them too.
Look at verse 17. Look at what Paul does in his writing here. He does this often as he talks of God’s grace through Christ, he just breaks out in praise. He begins to recall the person of God, His attributes, His beauty. It is like he can’t hold back, he is overwhelmed by Christ.
To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17)
Listen to other examples from Paul, how Paul breaks out in praise, praising God for who He is, His character…
because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:25)
To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:5)
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)
4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:4-5)
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:21)
To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:20)
Each of these are doxologies from Paul that recall God’s majesty and His glory. They are right responses to truth.
In verses 17 he begins with “the King of the ages.” Paul is saying that God is the everlasting, eternal King. God is ruling in every time period in all ages. His will is being accomplished. Yes, it is at times mysterious to us. We don’t see things from His vantage point, we don’t have all the details. And this is why we live by faith, by faith in God. He has ruled in the past, He is ruling today, and He will rule for all eternity. This would have been so important for Paul to embrace. Paul had an ugly past, he had a difficult present as he wrote this letter, and he would, in his future, face a martyr’s death. He needed to know, to remind himself that things were not out of control, that the King was still on his throne! We need to embrace and remember this as well.
Immortal, God is immortal. This means He cannot, He will not ever perish. God is not subject to destruction. He will not go away, there is no power that can defeat Him or take away His power. When a king was overthrown in days past, the new leader would show his power and protect his own kingdom by killing all the family members of the then-dead king. To be in a king’s family then carried some risks. Even to pledge allegiance to a king could mean death if that king was overthrown. The new, more powerful king would exert his power against the old regime’s family and loyalists. But with our King it can’t be so. Our King, the God of heaven, is immortal, He will never perish, He will never go away, He will always rule.
He is also invisible. God the Father is spirit. His attributes are seen, but He is not seen. God is not bound by a body. He is everywhere. But as believers we will see His character, His attributes on display through Jesus Christ.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Finally, He is the only God. God has no competitors. He is unique and incomparable. To this God, to our God, the one who has saved us, the one who redeemed the foremost of sinners, to Him Paul adds “be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” All glory and all honor to Him.
To see ourselves accurately, that is hopeless apart from God’s grace, to recall His calling us out of this hopelessness into this relationship of salvation, to see Him as the only one able to rescue us is to lead us into this kind of doxology of praise and to proclaim that to Him be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
If you are a Christian, then recalling your past can either lead you to despair or it can cause you to praise God as Paul did. Remembering your sinful past can lead you to question the King of Kings or to praise Him for His rescue. Paul chose to let his past lead him to praise, not to despair. It doesn’t mean anything sinful that we did is okay, only that God can and does take what is broken and make it whole. God’s work is to rescue, to redeem, to create newness out of what was lost. This is the story of salvation, this is the work of God in us! And so we praise Him for His good and gracious work!
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 1:15-17)