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1 Timothy 1:12-20: The Gospel of Grace in the Life of Paul Print E-mail
1 Timothy
Sunday, 06 August 2006

We often struggle with the difference between treating symptoms and treating the real disease.  With physical ailments, like the common cold, we are limited in what we can treat.  We can get syrup for the cough, a lozenge for our sore throat, and even some vapor rub to clear our head.  Yet, at the end of the day, we cannot cure the real problem.  We are only treating the symptoms and not the sickness itself.

There is an obvious familiar analogy between our treatment of physical illness and that of spiritual illness.  My father-in-law speaks often of how we deal with the symptoms of sin in our ministries and political action, but fail to actually deal with the disease, namely the sinful nature that we are all born with.  We labor to make sinners act like Christians and are surprised and frustrated when they do not.  Granted, we have a social responsibility as believers, but we must never get completely distracted from our primary mission, which is to bring glory to the Father by spreading a passion for the Son by the power of the Spirit.  Rebellious sinners need a cure for their disease, not just some salve for its symptoms.

Last week we left off in our study of Timothy on a somewhat difficult note.  Paul has encouraged Timothy to continue his labor among the Ephesians and to put a stop to the false teachers.  Even though they want to be teachers of the Law, Paul stated that they do not even understand the Law that they want to teach.  In order to correct this, Paul reminds Timothy what the intention of the Law actually is, namely to make our sin painfully obvious.  So, the Law makes the problem clear, but what is actually the solution to dealing with the sin that the Law makes so painfully obvious?  Paul tells us in verse 11.  The only solution to our sin problem is the glorious gospel of the blessed God.  We may be tempted to view the letter of 1 Timothy as simply Paulís practical advice to a struggling Church and minister.  Yet, Paul never takes his eyes off of the real need, namely our need for the gospel.  These false teachers have all kinds of problems: focusing on myths, forbidding marriage and certain foods, seared consciences, etc.  But their main need is the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

In 1:12-20, Paul reminds Timothy and the reader the importance of understanding the grace of God.  Paul relates a bit of his testimony to teach us about Godís amazing grace in the gospel.  It is not just practical advice that Timothy and the false teachers need (although that will come).  No, they need (and we need as well) a right understanding of Godís grace.  True theology leads to true practice.  Thus, as we look at these verses, we need to see what we can learn of Godís grace.

First, Godís grace overcomes our ignorance and unbelief (v. 12-15).

In order to highlight the grace of God, Paul recounts what has taken place in his own life.  Look at verses 12-14.  Paul offers thanksgiving to Christ for giving him strength and calling him into service.  Paul says that Christ judged me faithful.  He goes on to say that he received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.  Is this Paul speaking highly of himself in the first instance and then excusing his own sin in the second?  No, we know from the entire paragraph that such an interpretation would fly in the face of all that Paul is saying.  Rather, Paul speaks of being judged faithful as overwhelming evidence of Godís grace.  It could not have been because he was good or worthy, for he tells us that he was not.  In the same way, he is not excusing his sin in verse 13, but pointing out his need to be instructed and given faith.  Paul is possibly contrasting his own sins with that of the false teachers who cannot claim ignorance concerning Godís plan in Christ.  But even so, he is not making excuses for his former sin.  Paul was a sinner.  He was a blasphemer against God, persecutor of the Church and of Christ, and an insolent opponent of the truth.  He was desperate for God to overcome his ignorance and unbelief.  Only the overwhelming grace of God could take a man like Paul and consider Him faithful and appoint him to service.

Yet, as verse 15 tells us, this is the very reason that Christ came.  Look at that verse with me.  Christ came to save sinners.  Even as we read to begin our service, Christ says in Luke 19:10, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.  Godís plan for redeeming a people for Himself involves the salvation of wicked, undeserving men.  We like Paul stood in need of Godís saving grace.  None of us have gathered this morning because we are good, or because we sought out God for ourselves, or because God needs our service.  No, we are the needy ones, desperate for God to forgive our sins and show us grace.  Paul takes no credit for his appointment into service and his calling to be a follower of Christ, and neither should we.  The only solution to the problem that the Law served to make so clear is the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  God, by His grace and His grace alone, has overcome our ignorance and unbelief.  As Paul says, the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  God, in His grace, gave us faith to overcome our unbelief.

Second, Godís grace in our lives is an example to others (v. 16-17).

Paul goes on to give us a reason for Godís grace in his life.  Look at verses 16 and 17.  God gave Paul grace as an example to all believers.  All of those who have heard and believed the good news of the gospel as recorded by the Apostles, has been encouraged by the testimony of Paul.  And Paulís testimony has stood the test of time. Even today we read of Godís grace in the life of Paul and are amazed at what our God can do.  By grace, the number one persecutor of the Church was transformed into her number one proponent.  By grace, the one who stood by as Christians were killed for their faith was transformed into the one who suffers beatings, stoning, imprisonments, and everything else listed in 1 Corinthians 11:23ff.  By grace, the one who blasphemed against God is transformed into the writer of Godís very words under the inspiration of the Spirit.  Thus, we are greatly encouraged by the grace of God we see in Paulís life.

Now granted, we are not the Apostle Paul and we cannot claim that the grace we have been shown will be an example to all believers, but that does not mean that God cannot use the grace he has shown us to be an encouragement and example to others.  Of course, like Paul, in order for Godís grace to be displayed clearly, we must be willing to be honest with our sins and who we were before Christ.  As believers we need to freely proclaim to all who know us that we were wicked sinners before Christ, justly deserving Godís wrath in hell.  But, by His grace we have been given faith in Christ and are now striving to be faithful disciples of our Lord.  Likewise, as we consider Godís grace in the life of Paul and His grace in our own lives, we should be encouraged as we pray and long for others to be saved.  We should hope in Godís patience and grace as we see evidenced in our own lives and in the life of Paul.  And with Paul, we cannot help but burst into praise for our God and His grace: To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen.

Third, Godís grace is never an excuse to do nothing, or positively, Godís grace should spur us into action (v. 18-20).

Does Godís grace mean for Paul that we can sit back and relax as Christians?  No, look at the charge he gives Timothy in verses 18-20.  Here again we see the tension of Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility.  God saves us by grace through faith and we are called to continue to fight the good fight of faith.  Paul tells Timothy to wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.  Paul began our passage by thanking Christ for the strength that He gave him to fulfill his ministry.  Here, we see that Paul wants to encourage Timothy for the difficult days ahead.  The One who called him will give him strength to wage the good warfare.  Yet, Timothy still has to fight.  He still has to hold on to his faith and a good conscience.  He has to keep believing in the gospel of Christ and living a life that evidences such belief.

Paul also gives Timothy a warning here.  He reminds him of the shipwrecked faith of Hymenaeus and Alexander.  Look at verses 19b-20.  What is it that they have rejected?  They have rejected their personal faith in Christ and their good conduct, which has made a shipwreck of their faith and has impacted others in Ephesus.1  Since they have abandoned their faith, Paul tells Timothy that he has handed them over to Satan, probably referring to their excommunication from the community of faith (see 1 Corinthians 5).  Paul did this that they might learn not to blaspheme, thus at least ending on a note of hope.

It is important for us to see in this passage (and others in the New Testament) the call for us to persevere in the faith.  Do I believe that we are saved by grace?  Yes!  Do I believe that our perseverance is a work of God?  Yes!  Do I also believe that we still need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13)?  Yes!  We cannot just sit back because we prayed a prayer or because things have been good for a number of years, no, we need to wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience, we need to continue believing and living out our faith.  As Paul warns Timothy, we too need to heed such a warning lest we shipwreck our faith by deserting the gospel.  Yes, we are saved by Godís grace alone, but His grace is never an excuse for us to do nothing.  Rather, it should drive us to continually following hard after Christ, trusting in His strength to see us through.

If you are here this morning and have never believed in Christ, then I remind you with Paul that you are a sinner, the Law makes that painfully clear.  Yet, there is hope for you if you will repent of your sins and place your faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.  Stop trusting in yourself and flee to Christ for salvation.  If you are here this morning and you are a believer, then I challenge you to take hope in Godís grace and let it spur you on to action.  Do not neglect the fight to believe and hold fast to our gracious God.  He will give you strength you need and the grace you need.  Yet, neither is an excuse for us to do nothing.  By Godís grace, may we hold fast to the faith and a good conscience as the Day approaches.  Amen.

1 William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 67.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 15 August 2006 )

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