If someone lives immersed in sin, a sin so terrible that even for a society far from God that person is seen as evil, is it worthwhile to try to evangelize that person? Or, would it be better to look for someone with at least some goodness or morality?
In reality, the question to ask is: to what extent can God’s grace forgive a person?
Today, we want to find the answer in what the apostle Paul writes to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 1.
We will consider Paul’s discourse, and we will see that Paul presents himself as an example that can be an encouragement to anyone seeking salvation, however profound and terrible their sin may be. God’s grace is deeper than a person’s sin can be.
Let’s start by reading today’s passage, which will be verses 12 to 17. I read from verse 11 to get some context:
11 according to the gospel of the glory of blessed God, which has been entrusted to me. 12 And I give thanks to him who made me strong, to Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me worthy of trust, placing me at his service, 13 who before was a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent one; but mercy was done to me, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; 14 thus the grace of our Lord has abounded all the more with faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus. 15 This word is sure and worthy of being fully accepted, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save the sinners, of whom I am the first. 16 But for this mercy was given me, so that Jesus Christ would make known in me, first, all his long-suffering, to be an example to those who in the future would have believed in him to have eternal life. 17 Now to the eternal, immortal, invisible King, to the one wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1: 11-17)
Notice in verse 11 that Paul declares that the gospel was entrusted to him. That is, Christ had chosen Paul as an apostle, which means that the gospel he was preaching was not from him, he had received it directly from Jesus Christ. The gospel does not belong to us, it belongs to God. God entrusts the gospel to us, and we must proclaim it faithfully.
But the incredible thing, and that’s Paul’s point in our passage, is that God entrusted the gospel to Him. When we consider who Paul was, this thing is extraordinary.
In fact, as I reread verses 12 to 14, you notice how amazing it is that God chose to entrust the gospel to Paul. Then, consider what this example teaches us about God’s heart:
“12 And I give thanks to him who made me strong, to Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me worthy of trust, placing me at his service, 13 who previously was a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent one; but mercy was done to me, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; 14 thus the grace of our Lord has abounded with faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus. ” (1 Timothy 1: 12-14)
The first thing I notice is that Paul declares here that he gives thanks to Christ Jesus. Paul’s life was a life filled with thanksgiving to God. Over and over in the Bible, we find commandments to abound in thanksgiving, to thank God always, and to be grateful. . Paul is an example of what it means to have a life full of thanks.
In these verses, Paul thanks Jesus Christ because he found him trustworthy, placing Paul, who was formerly an enemy of Christ, at his service.
Let’s consider the greatness of what Christ did for Paul, but first, let’s pause for a moment to assess whether our lives are filled with thanksgiving to God. Is it normal for you to thank God? And I’m not primarily talking about thanking Him for food, or health. Of course, it is also important to give thanks for food and health. However, it is infinitely more important to thank God for spiritual gifts that are worth outrageously more than food or health is worth. In Christ Jesus, we have forgiveness. In Christ Jesus, we have free access to God. In Christ Jesus, through his sacrifice and righteousness, we have God’s precious promises. Through Jesus Christ we have a living and sure hope of eternal life with God.
And therefore, as Paul abounded in thanksgiving, so too should we abound in thanksgiving every day. In whatever situation we find ourselves, having Jesus Christ, we have something to abound in thanksgiving. I pray that we will be a people who live by thanking God, because this is fundamental to having the joy of salvation and overcoming sin!
Christ made him strong
Returning to Paul, before saying that he thanked Christ because he found him trustworthy, I mention the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is the One who made him strong. I still read the first part of verse 12.
“And I give thanks to him who made me strong, to Christ Jesus our Lord …” (1 Timothy 1:12).
Paul knew very well that he was not able alone to live the Christian life, at least to perform the service for which he was called, and therefore, he recognized that his strength was from Christ Jesus. In fact, every true believer must fortify himself in Lord, as God commands us through Paul in Ephesians 6:10. I read it to you:
“After all, my brothers, strengthen yourselves in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” (Ephesians 6:10 KJV).
Paul always remembered that his strength came from God, and this thought kept him humble. Furthermore, remembering this truth helped Paul to always thank God, and also to have faith in God. And therefore, the question for each of us is whether we are fortifying in the Lord, and whether we are recognizing that our strength is in the Lord, and not in ourselves.
It is important that we seriously consider why Paul gave thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord. In fact, when we remember what Paul’s life was, and that Christ not only forgave Paul but also made him an apostle, we begin to understand God’s heart, and the greatness of his grace. Furthermore, it shows us something of the infinite value of God’s sacrifice, and that it is his righteousness that is credited to our account. I read verses 12 and 13 again, and as I read you notice what Paul’s life was like before his salvation, considering then that he was called to be an apostle.
“12 And I give thanks to him who made me strong, to Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me worthy of trust, placing me at his service, 13 who previously was a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent one; but mercy was made to me, because I did it ignorantly in disbelief; ” (1 Timothy 1: 12,13)
Before his salvation, Paul was a blasphemer, that is, Paul blasphemed the name of Jesus Christ, speaking harshly against Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Paul persecuted the Church of Jesus Christ. When Christ Jesus appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus, he told him what we read in Acts 9: 3-5. I read it to you:
“3 Now it happened that, as he was on his way and was approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And when he fell to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you persecute; it is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 9: 3-5 NIV).
Paul was an enemy of Christ, and he persecuted the Church. Indeed, by persecuting the Church of Jesus Christ, Paul was persecuting Jesus himself. This is because what we do against a child of God, we do against Christ himself. And so here in Timothy, when Paul describes himself, he declares that he was a blasphemer and a persecutor. Furthermore, he adds that he was violent. Paul used violence against believers in Jesus Christ.
In light of all this, in a sense, Paul’s sins were far worse than the sins of others, because he was committed with all his might against Christ. With his words, his actions and his commitment, Paul was fully dedicated to opposing Jesus Christ. Paul was a terrible sinner.
But incredibly, Christ used mercy towards Paul, showing him his sin, and then forgiving him when Paul repented. In the passage I read in Acts, we see that Christ highlighted Paul’s sin. When Jesus Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman, he pointed out her sin. When Jesus talked to the rich young man, he pointed out his sin. To receive salvation, a person must acknowledge their sin, to be able to repent and ask for forgiveness and believe in Jesus Christ as the One who can save.
When Paul recognized his sin, he repented and believed in Jesus as Christ, Lord and Savior. Christ not only forgave Paul, but found him worthy of trust, placing him at his service as an Apostle.
There is no greater privilege in life than serving the living God! This is true both for a full-time ministry, but also for any ministry that God calls us to. Living for Christ day by day and being the perfume of Christ is an immense privilege. There is no privilege in all of life comparable to living for the glory of God, in other words, to serving God in some way. Everything we do that is linked to earthly goals will end, and will lose all its value. Of course, we must live in this world and we must have earthly goals. But every earthly milestone will lose its value. Instead, when God puts us at his service, and uses us to lift Christ up before others, using us to help others see more of their sin and more of Christ, that service is worth more than any earthly treasure, and lasts for all eternity! Therefore, it is an immense privilege to be used by God to serve Him.
I want my life to count for the glory of Christ, because I want a life that matters. Do you have a deep desire to have a life that matters? Do you want to live in the service of Christ?
When we consider the depth of Paul’s sin, who was really an enemy of Jesus Christ, and then we consider that not only was he fully forgiven, but that he was also chosen as an apostle, that God used Paul more than anyone else apostles, then we begin to understand how immense was the mercy that was done to Paul, and how immense is God’s mercy towards us.
Throughout his life, Paul stopped giving thanks to God for the grace and mercy he had received from God. And we too must have the same heart, because we too have received similar grace. We too were sinners, sinning day by day against God. We too were saved from darkness, and brought into the light of Jesus Christ. And we too have been deemed trustworthy, and Christ has also placed us at his service. We are called the light of the world. We are charged with bringing the gospel to each person. Like Paul, we have received great mercy through Christ. We too must thank God for life.