Our Response To God’s Grace

February 24, 2019 | Speaker: Pastor Jurem Ramos

1 Timothy 1:12-17

  In the center of this paragraph that we are looking at here in 1Timothy, we read one of the great gospel texts of the apostolic church and of the Reformation. The words of that text are familiar to many: "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. (1:15).   This single sentence has been used by the Holy Spirit to transform countless sinners, among them some were even considered to be the worst. One, who like Paul, felt himself to be the foremost sinner is 17th century writer and preacher, John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, the second best-selling book in history, second only to the Bible.   Bunyan also wrote one of the great classic autobiographies entitled, Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners, using 1Ti 1:15 as the foundation text.   Listen to part of his life story. John Bunyan lived in England in the 1600s. He was a tinker—one whose work was repairing pots and pans. As a kid he was a troublemaker. He lied, stole, cursed, and got into fights. He was addicted to reading Romance—medieval tales based on legend, chivalry and adventure, or the supernatural. When he was 16, both his mother and sister died within a space of three months. Two months later, his father remarried. Unable to deal with this tragedy, he began acting in what he would later describe as “wild and willful ways.” One Sunday afternoon with his friends, he heard a voice from heaven calling to him, "Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to Heaven, or keep thy sins and to Hell?" Bunyan looked up to heaven and it was as if he saw Jesus looking down upon him. Bunyan became severely depressed as a result of the vision. He was obsessed with doubts, fears, and weighed down by an overwhelming sense of guilt. He often had terrifying nightmares in which he was being stalked by horrible monsters and by Satan himself. Bunyan would wake up screaming in utter terror. He continued to live some six years in extreme inner torment. Through the influence of some godly women in the church, the preaching of pastor John Gifford, and the writing of Martin Luther (especially his commentary on Galatians), Bunyan came to understand the precious gospel of God’s grace and had a real and saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. When he was about twenty-five, he started preaching and teaching to others about the truths in the Bible. But he was put to jail for preaching without a license. He was unable to get a license because he had little education and disagreed with the Church of England. During his prison years, Bunyan wrote several books and among his most famous is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, an autobiography of his spiritual journey before he met Christ and was converted. The verse that became the basis for his book was 1Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”   What a monumental effect 1 Timothy 1:15 has had on John Bunyan and to many others. Note that the forgiveness of sins and the deliverance from oppressive depression came because of the gospel of God’s grace and particularly, because of this verse 1Ti 1:15.   One commentary says, that this is ”one of the most concise, clear, and compelling descriptions of the gospel in all of Scripture. It’s a powerful, pregnant sentence that encapsulates the gospel in just nine English words: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v. 15) (CCEC).   What I want to do is to show you Paul’s response to this wonderful grace of God. Often times we are preoccupied in pursuing our careers or businesses or distracted by social media or overwhelmed by our problems and concerns that we forget what we were before and how God has delivered us from our sins and the great privilege and blessings that we have in Christ. Because of that we fail to respond rightly to God’s grace.   Here in our passage we find three responses of believers to God’s grace:
  1. We should always thank Christ for His personal grace. vv. 12-14
  2. We should fully accept the gospel for its universal significance. (15-16)
  3. We should forever praise God for His incomparable character (17)
    Before we turn to our text, let’s not forget the context of this section.   Although this paragraph of 1Ti 1:12-17 contains Paul’s personal testimony about God's grace to him for his appointment in the ministry and his conversion as well as his utterance of praise, don’t forget that this is still a continuation of Paul’s words to Timothy in order to encourage him to deal with the the problem of false teachers in the church of Ephesus.   Don’t lose sight of what Paul is addressing here. In vv 3-7 Paul reminds Timothy of his assignment to stay at Ephesus in order to stop certain persons from teaching false doctrine and to devoting themselves to myths and endless genealogies that only promote speculations and controversies.   Then in vv. 8-11 Paul discusses how the false teachers were misusing the law, and in contrast he shows us the proper use of the Law. The law is not for the just but for lawless, disobedient, sinners, ungodly, etc. The implication of his words is that the false teachers were applying the Law to everyone and perhaps were using it as the way to salvation and a righteous life.   In addition to explaining the proper use of the law, which is to restrain sin and condemn sinners, Paul gives his personal testimony in vv 12-17 to argue that salvation is through mercy and grace, and not through adherence to Jewish myths based on the law. But as we read this section, we do not only have a better understanding of the gospel, but we are also instructed how we are to respond to the grace of God.   So today, let us look at the three responses we should have when we receive the grace of God.   First Paul says,

I.           We should always thank Christ for His personal grace. (vv. 12-14)

  1:12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord,   The phrase, “I thank him,” is in the Greek present tense which literally means, "I continually thank him." This emphasizes Paul's continual practice.   While it is more common for Paul to thank God for what he has done for him and for others, but here, he thanks Christ Jesus our Lord instead. Paul is showing that God the Father is not the only source of grace, His Son Jesus also is. The implication of course is that this Jesus is not just an ordinary human being.   Illustration. A few weeks ago, I was talking with a taxi driver who was a Moslem. He was watching a Youtube video of an Imam reading the Koran in his cell phone. I asked him about his view about Jesus and he said that Moslems believed that he was only a prophet.   This statement of Paul in v. 12 contradict the view of Moslems regarding Christ. Jesus is the Christ and our Lord. Christ Jesus and Lord shows us the two natures of Jesus. He is both human and God at the same time. This long awaited Messiah of the OT who will come to earth has the nature of man and God. He is true man and true God. 100% man and 100% God. He is also both Savior and Lord. He is king of kings and Lord of lords. He came into the world to save sinners and to rule the world.   For what does Paul thank Jesus?   I thank him who has given me strength,   Paul is not referring to his having received daily inward strength of some kind (as in Phil 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”) but rather to his initial call to the ministry when he was on the road to Damascus and the gifts that he received that enabled him to perform his apostolic tasks (WBC).   In 12b-13a Paul explains in more detail why he was thankful to Christ for this appointment to service:  
  • First, Paul was thankful to Christ because He considered Paul to be worthy of divine trust: because he judged me faithful,
  • To be “judged faithful" means that God considered Paul to be worthy of divine trust.
  • UTB: Paul does not mean that he received appointment because God thought so highly of him since he was already a trustworthy person. This would be contrary to what Paul was trying to tell us in this paragraph.
  • Paul probably meant that God knew that he would be trustworthy in the future as a result of his enabling grace and therefore appointed him to service in the present.
  • Listen to the words of Paul in 1Co 15:10: 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.
  • Secondly, Paul was thankful to Christ because despite his past, he still appointed him to His service.
appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.  
  • Paul understood that his appointment to ministry was especially an expression of God’s amazing grace.
  • UTB: The wonder for him is that Christ should ever have considered him at all (v. 12), since at the time of his call he actively was a “blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent."
  • WBC: The descriptions—blasphemer, persecutor, insolent—intensifies from bad to worse:
  • As blasphemer, he spoke offensively and abusively against Jesus and the Way
  • As persecutor, he put these words into actions by persecuting the church (which in effect was a persecution of Christ)
  • And "insolent person," is the strongest of these three terms, climaxing the three sins. It describes a person with excessive pride, arrogance and violent character. CWSB: “An insolent persecutor of others who mistreats them for the pleasure which the affliction of the wrong brings him.”
  • Paul's personal biographer, Dr. Luke, described him as a frightening and violent enemy. Acts 9:1-2 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
  • Listen to Paul’s own recounting of his conduct previous to his conversion:
Acts 26:9-11 “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.”  
  • PTW: He was a callous, pious, self-righteous, bigoted murderer hell-bent on a full-scale inquisition.
  • These three terms are strong and in effect, he is associating himself with the sinners that he described in vv. 9-10
   9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,  
  • All this serves to highlight the general purpose of vv 8-17: to show the contrast between the law and God’s grace. What the law could not do, God's grace could. Verses 13 and 14 emphasize that Paul's call to ministry was not merited but was given because of God's mercy and grace, and stands in contrast to the opponents' devotion to the law.
  In 1:13b Paul explains further why he received mercy.   But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,  
  • The first impression that a person gets when he reads this is that Paul seems to be saying that he received mercy because he deserved it. But Paul was not saying that his acting "in ignorance and unbelief" had earned him mercy. To say that he deserved mercy is a contradiction in terms.
  • What Paul simply meant was that when he blasphemed, and attacked the followers of Christ violently, he did this out of ignorance, not knowing about the real nature of Jesus Christ. As a Pharisee, he truly believed that he was serving God by stamping out the false messianic sect called "Christians." But he did not knowingly defy God in what the OT calls sins of a ”high hand” or purposeful defiance.
  • For this basic concept see, for example, Numbers 15:29, 30.
29 You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. 30 But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”   Paul’s sin was not like the sin that will be committed by the antichrist in the book of Revelation who rebelled against Jesus with full and clear understanding of the nature of Christ. Like the devil who will empower him, the antichrist opposes Christ with murderous hatred.  
  • So, Paul is not saying here that he deserved mercy because he was ignorant. Paul is not minimizing the seriousness of his former conduct. But for him this distinction at least explains why he became an object of God’s compassion rather than his wrath.
  Paul adds,   14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Paul recognized that faith and love were gifts given to Paul by a gracious God. Formerly, Paul had been a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent because he acted in "unbelief" (v 13). Faith is a gift given by God to counter Paul's lack of faith. Love would then also be God's gift so Paul could love those he formerly persecuted, Christ and Christians   Here Paul stresses that the gifts of God are only available for those who are "in Christ." Within the Ephesian situation the opponents are teaching adherence to their mythical reinterpretations of Jewish law that downplay the role of Christ.   Application: Paul in these verses is emphasizing how Jesus applied grace to his his personal situation. He was a blasphemer, persecutor, an insolent opponent and yet the Lord appointed him to service. He became an apostle despite his past. Not everyone is called to be an apostle and God doesnt call apostles today because Eph 2:20 says, that members of God’s household “are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets.” Apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church and are built only once.   The Lord Jesus also wants us to be ever thankful to Him for the application of His grace to us in a very personal way. Some of you may have been called in ministry today although you had a terrible past. Don't forget that. Always bring to remembrance what Christ did in your life. You would not be in that particular ministry if not for the grace of the Lord.   Perhaps God healed  you of seriouis illness, thank him for it. Some have been propered by God from deep poverty. Before you were in great debt, perhaps you even stole money or committed forgery and swindling. and by God’s personal grace you were released from them. thank him.   Perhaps you are talented in some particular area and before you only used it to entertain the world, gain popularity and wealth. You acted in pride, but then one day you realized your life was being put to waste. And now you are in the ministry, using your talent to edify the church. Praise him.   I remembered before that couldn’t stand in front of people to speak to them. I so so self-conscious and shy. I was always afraid to speak publicly. God’s gave me special grace to deal with that and God helped me overcome my weakness and now here I am before you sharing God’s Word. I should not forget that and should thank God always.     Still caught up in the wonder of it all, Paul now shifts from his appointment to the ministry (vv. 11–14) to his call to salvation (vv. 15-16)     Here in vv. 15-16, we find the second response we should have to God’s grace.   First, “We should always thank Christ for His personal grace.” Next...

II.       We should fully accept the gospel for its universal significance. (15-16)

  Here in verse 15, Paul mentions the first of the faithful sayings that we find in the Pastoral Epistles. The saying is "15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,"   UTB: In the saying itself, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, two points are made: Incarnation and Redemption, with the emphasis on the latter. ... Here the reason for his coming, and Paul’s reason for including it, is emphasized—to save sinners.   The belief that Jesus came to save people from their sin is part of the very fabric of Pauline and NT proclamation (1 Cor 15:3; cf. Mark 2:17; 10:45). He did not just come to bless us, to heal us, to counsel us when we are depressed, to supply for our needs, to give us wisdom, etc. He came to save sinners. He came to deliver us from our sins and from the wrath of God.   UTB: The emphasis in Greek lies on the trustworthiness of the saying. This is emphasized further by the addition that deserves full acceptance. The emphasis is on its being worthy of universal acceptance.   Paul adds a personal phrase to the trustworthy saying. He adds, "of whom I am the foremost."   He is not saying this as a form of hyperbole. Some may think that Paul was projecting false humility. “The worst of sinners? Come on, Paul! There are far greater sinners than you! You never even dreamed of the sins that I do.” But Paul was utterly sincere.   What he says here is in perfect accord with what he says elsewhere of himself (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8).  
  • 1Co 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
  • Eph 3:8 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,
  Paul considered himself to be the foremost sinner because he knew his previous acts of persecution, and certainly this would have produced a continual amazement at the awesomeness of God's mercy and grace that had been so undeservedly bestowed upon someone like him.   Now comes the great hope:   1:16 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.   Paul gives the main reason for God's mercy in saving him: Paul was to be an illustration of God's grace and mercy in salvation for all who would believe.   It is the Jewish rabbinic argument of the harder to the easier: if God's mercy can extend to someone as sinful as Paul, surely it can reach anyone. PTW:   If God could and would do this for a man who put Christian believers in prison and cast his vote for their deaths - a man who provided the prototype of the Inquisition - there is hope for all of us! Paul calls to us across the centuries, "Don't despair. He saved me, the worst of sinners - a religious sinner who persecuted Christ himself (cf. Acts 9:4) - and he can save you!"   Share the story of the taxi driver with whom I shared the gospel.   So that is our second response to grace. “We should fully accept the gospel for its universal significance.” Now let’s come to the third response to God’s grace that we find in this passage:

III.    We should forever praise God for His incomparable character (17)

  17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God,   UTB: What began as thanksgiving and then moved on to testimony of God’s abundant grace now concludes with doxology.   It is fitting and usual for Paul, having reflected upon God's grace and mercy and what He has done for him, to burst into a doxology of praise. While this doxology stresses the transcendent nature of God, this only serves to heighten Paul's amazement that God would, in his mercy and grace, stoop to save a sinner such as Paul.  
  • King of the ages = God is eternal in that he rules in and over all the ages forever.
  • immortal= the idea is that God is immortal and does not change.
  • Invisible = describes God's nature as in Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God.
  • the only God This is the central affirmation of Judaism as the Shema so states: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord" (Dt 6:4). The Shema was repeated every day at the synagogue and is still part of the daily prayer life of the pious Jew.
  Paul began this paragraph by thanking Christ. He closes it by ascribing to God honor and glory forever and ever. What Paul is saying is that God should be treated with the respect and the esteem he rightly deserves, not only because He is incomparable, but also because of He is gracious (which is implied).   Paul concludes the doxology with "amen," inviting congregational assent with the meaning "So be it!"   Closing Words:   If you cannot do the following:  
  • Always thank Christ for His personal grace. (vv. 12-14)
  • Fully accept the gospel for its universal significance. (15-16)
  • Forever praise God for His incomparable character (17)
  then it means that you have not yet received the grace of God for salvation, or for some particular application in your life. You have to receive Christ. His grace is reaching out to you. Open your heart. If God saved a blasphemer, a persecutor, and insolent opponent, then He can save you.   Do you feel to be the worst of sinners? Come to Him. Remember one of the criminals who was crucified beside Jesus. He too was the worst and Jesus told him, Today, you will be with me in Paradise.