Calvary Road Baptist Church

“TO SAVE SINNERS”

First Timothy 1.12-17

 

Many, many times in God’s Word we learn a great many surprising lessons from passages that are written by the human author to support another idea altogether. This morning’s text is a beautiful example of just such a thing. Please make your way to First Timothy 1.12-17, and stand when you arrive at our destination for the reading of God’s Word:

 

12    And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;

13    Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

14    And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

15    This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

16    Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

17    Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 

To provide some context for this morning’s message from God’s Word, it is good to realize that the main thrust of First Timothy chapter one is Paul’s charge to his young colleague Timothy to begin exercising pastoral authority in the church in Ephesus where he was serving when Paul wrote to him. In the process of accomplishing his goal with Timothy, when the Apostle Paul explains why pastoral authority is needed so much in the church at Ephesus, to combat legalistic false teachers, he brings up the subject of the Law of Moses in First Timothy 1.7-9. Then, after bringing up the Law of Moses, Paul, building on his realization of how great a sinner he really was as an unsaved Jewish man who had been zealous for the Law prior to his salvation, begins to give his testimony of how he had come to faith in Christ.

As an aside, do you realize that there are at least six different places in the New Testament where Paul gives his salvation testimony? And this is besides the record Luke provides in Acts chapter 8. While Paul’s testimonies in Acts tend toward a recitation of events, this testimony is far more theological in nature, as you shall see. Do you like to give your testimony? It seems as though Paul enjoyed rehearsing his testimony. I know I like to give my conversion testimony. And though admittedly not everyone knows a lot about theology, everyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ can relate to other people how he came to know the Lord as his personal Savior. Apparently, Paul did that a lot.

So this morning we will digress with Paul’s letter to Timothy and look at his testimony, written not so much for Timothy’s benefit you understand (Timothy no doubt having heard Paul’s conversion many times from the apostle prior to this letter being received), but for the benefit of the Ephesian church congregation and for our benefit, as well. As we look through verses 12-17 we will discover what the apostle wrote about why the eternal Son of the living God came to earth, and why He picked Saul of Tarsus to be an apostle.

This we will do as we wind our way through Paul’s four-part testimony:

 

PART ONE OF HIS TESTIMONY IS WHERE PAUL TELLS OF HIS SALVATION.

 

Verse 12: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.”

 

Notice, first, the thankfulness of the apostle. I am continually amazed as I read through his New Testament letters by this man’s thankfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet it must be admitted that gratitude by Christians to and for their Savior is really not that uncommon. The funeral service I conducted yesterday featured several remarks by family members of that aged Christian’s thankfulness to God and for the Savior. I was blessed when I heard those comments. Ask yourself why Paul (or any child of God, for that matter) would be so tremendously thankful for his salvation and for everything else that the Savior’s mediation had brought about in his life. Forgiveness of sins, removal of guilt, imputation of righteousness, regeneration to eternal life, favor with God, future glorification, etc. In short, real reasons for gratitude. Was Paul the kind of man to go overboard and exaggerate anything? Or did he, more than any other man who has ever lived, truly understand the heart and mind of God, and comprehend the great price Christ paid for our salvation? Though I am persuaded Christians tend to be very thankful to and for their Savior, we can certainly agree that there is little evidence in scripture that Paul was an exaggerator. Therefore, he was in reality a wonderfully thankful Christian.

The last three phrases of verse 12 proceed to tell us of certain aspects of Paul’s salvation, listing for his readers the reasons for his gratitude:

 

“. . . who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.”

 

To enable someone is to provide ability to someone, to empower, to give strength, to enable.[1] Paul did not have the capacity to please God until Christ graciously put within him the ability to serve. You see, only Christ has the ability to please God. When Christ counted Paul faithful, He wasn’t rewarding him with eternal life for being a faithful man. We already know from Ephesians 2.8-9 that man does nothing to merit salvation. Therefore, this phrase must mean something else. And it most certainly does mean something else. What Christ is doing here, is reckoning the Apostle Paul to be faithful before he ever became a faithful Christian. Listen carefully you who feel like failure Christians because you feel overwhelmed by your struggle against sinfulness. Just as we have all been declared righteous before God at the instant of our justification, in Romans 5.1, Paul here declares that faithfulness is reckoned in similar fashion. What we should therefore learn from this is the necessity to strive to become what scripture has already declared us to be who are in Christ. Do we not struggle to be righteous acting and righteous living? So ought we struggle to be faithful servants of God. Not to become Christians but because we already are. The final phrase of the verse, “putting me into the ministry,” is frequently misunderstood. Paul here refers to his life as a believer in Christ, not his calling as an apostle, specifically. The word “ministry” translates the Greek root word for deacon. Paul is pointing out that when a person comes to Christ, when any person becomes a new creature in Christ, he is saved for service. Do we not learn this from Ephesians 2.10?

 

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

 

The Lord Jesus Christ did not shed His blood to provide for the salvation of sluggards. He came to make of us servants of God. And when Paul writes “Christ Jesus our Lord,” he is reminding you that you are every bit as called to serve Christ as the apostle was. There is no one in this room who knows Christ as personal Lord and Savior who is not called to serve Christ through this church. That is what “putting me into the ministry” actually means, rather than being any kind of reference to an office or a position.

 

PART TWO. AFTER TELLING OF HIS SALVATION, PAUL, AS SO MANY OF US DO, RECOUNTS THE SINFULNESS OF HIS FORMER DAYS.

 

Verse 13: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.”

 

Consider with me these three words Paul uses to describe himself as an unsaved religious zealot:

A blasphemer is someone who intentionally injures the reputation of someone, or reviles someone, or defames, denigrates and demeans someone.[2] A blasphemer is a slanderer, whether it be of God or man. Saul of Tarsus, his name as an unbeliever, was a man who blasphemed men and God with his vehement denial of the Messiahship of Jesus Christ, all the while being a strict follower of the Law.

Next, Paul the persecutor. Persecutors are people who hound others for no good reason, pursuing them as a hunter.[3] Paul certainly did this when he had Christians cast into prison for their faith in Christ. He even headed into other countries to persecute the church. He was among those who persecuted Stephen to his death, Stephen being the first martyr to die for the cause of Christ.

Finally, injurious. The word injurious may not sound as bad as blasphemy or persecution, but it most certainly is. In translating that Greek word, Rienecker writes,

 

“sadist, a violent person. The word indicates one who in pride and insolence deliberately and contemptuously mistreats and wrongs and hurts another person just for hurting sake and to deliberately humiliate the person. It speaks of treatment which is calculated publicly to insult and openly to humiliate the person who suffers it. The word is used in Romans 1:30 to describe a man of arrogant insolence, and pictures one of the characteristic sins of the pagan world.”[4]

 

Thus, all the while being a meticulous keeper of the Law of Moses, Paul selects a word that reveals he was an injurious person who had outrageous outbreaks of violence against those he held in contempt. To speak bluntly, Paul shows us that he was a bully who liked to throw his weight against those who were powerless to resist him.

May I point out that many of us here in this room, though thankfully not all, once had a sordid past history that can be useful as a great testimony to the saving grace of God? Paul certainly recounted his past life’s sins. However, we need to ask ourselves why. Certainly not to glory in past sins. Paul rehearsed his past for a single reason, in my opinion; to show the wonder of God’s grace. Therefore, let us always be careful to rehash the past with that very thing in mind, and not to savor the sins of the past. What we might have done before knowing Christ is a testimony of nothing besides our insane depravity. How sad it is to see some who seem to be proud of what they were before Christ saved them. Therefore, while it is always wrong to recount past sins as a means of wickedly glorying in wrongdoing, Paul’s example shows that we should not be so careful to avoid glorying in past sins that we inadvertently deprive our Savior of the glory and public display of gratitude that is due Him for rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying.

 

Third, PAUL TELLS OF HIS SINCERITY, BOTH IN UNBELIEF, AND AS A CHILD OF GOD.

 

13b  . . . but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

14    And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

15    This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

16    Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

 

Paul describes the mercy of God toward him, beginning in the last phrase of verse 13:

 

13    . . . because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

14    And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

 

Do you think Paul is telling us that ignorance due to unbelief is a mitigating circumstance? Not at all. Ignorance is never an excuse with God. Paul is giving an illustration of the only direction any unbeliever can go. The unsaved do always displease God. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Solomon wrote that the plowing of the wicked is sin, Proverbs 21.4. An unsaved man cannot even plow a field without sinning against God. So saith the Word. Notice that in verse fourteen Paul refers to the grace of our Lord being “exceeding abundant.” Notice also the change in Paul’s life. Whereas before he was a blasphemer, a persecutor and injurious. Now there is faith and love in Christ and only in Christ. That grace which is “exceeding abundant” is a grace that is so infinitely more powerful than what is needed to save, that there is no way salvation is not to be consummated. You don’t need much faith, because God’s grace is so abundant. Your faith will grow, as will your love, because and by God’s abundant grace. No matter who you are, or how evil and undeserving of salvation you think you are (and you are right about not deserving it, as we all are), the grace of God is deeper than the deepest ocean and taller than the tallest mountain. Should Christ not be able to save someone then He would cease to be who He is. No, there is enough grace to go around. If there was enough for Paul’s sins to be forgiven, there is enough grace for your sins to be forgiven.

Next Paul describes the purpose of God’s grace through his life and example, verses 15-16:

 

15    This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

16    Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

 

Lest anyone think Paul is being overly modest by calling himself the chiefest of sinners, he points out that his words should be accepted as fact. Paul was to serve as a prototype of Christ’s salvation. He was a demonstration model by which Christ patiently showed that He was willing and able to save anyone, bar none, verse 16. We already know why the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, do we not? He didn’t come to live a good life, primarily. He didn’t come to recite beatitudes on a hillside, primarily. He came to save sinners, verse 15. Therefore, you can have any kind of Christ that a theologically liberal or Bible-denying little old pea-pickin heart desires at First Church of Hobnob Hill, but we here at Calvary Road Baptist Church will ever and by God’s grace always preach the Christ Who came to save sinners until He comes again in power and great glory.

 

Verse 17: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

THIS, BELOVED, IS PAUL’S SONG OF PRAISE.

 

Once you realize that your Savior will save anyone, you want to shout Hallelujah. When you realize that the King of all glory is your personal Savior, you’d better want to rejoice! Glory to God. When you realize that heaven is yours at no cost to you except dying daily as a Christian, you’d better want to say a good loud Amen.

 

Two parts to this song of praise and we will conclude:

First, the apostle is so grateful for God’s grace through Christ that he breaks forth in this description of his great God Almighty!

 

“Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God”

 

He is the King. The King is the ruler, but not any ordinary ruler. No, this King is eternal, invisible, and the only wise God. Eternal, of course, has to do with the timelessness of God, existing as He has from before the universe came into existence by His spoken Word. Immortal, then, refers to Him being alive and utterly incapable of lifelessness, incorruptible. Invisible has to do with the fact that since He is not material but spiritual, light does not impinge upon Him and then bounce back into our eyes enabling us to see Him, like we would see a tree or a car or another person. That He is the only wise God means that He alone is God, He is unique, and that He is the ultimate source of all wisdom. Of course, this demands that He is also the ultimate source of all knowledge, since wisdom has to do with the right use of knowledge.

What, then, is a creature’s proper relationship to such a One as our God is? It is really quite simple:

 

“honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

Does an action or an attitude honor Him? Then do it. Don’t hold back. Does an action or attitude dishonor Him? Then do not do it. Does an action or an attitude glorify Him? Then do it. Again, don’t hold back. How about an action or attitude that dishonors Him? Do not do it. Pretty simple. Right? Not really complex at all, when you think about it. In truth, it is sin that complicates matters, that brings confusion to life and existence. How wonderful your life would be if you simply honored God and simply glorified Him. Paul then wraps up his testimony of salvation through faith in Christ with a simple Hebrew word; Amen. So be it.

 

Why did God save Paul through faith in Christ? He dispatched His risen and glorified Son Jesus Christ to the Damascus road where he met Him and then saved Paul to prove to all mankind that He was willing to save anyone. Saul, who had been the greatest enemy of Christ became the greatest Christian, Paul.

If God could through His Son Jesus Christ save Paul and wash away his sins, don’t you go thinking that He can’t do the very same thing for you. Why did Jesus Christ come into the world? To save sinners. Are you a sinner? Well, then. Do you think that He failed in His mission? I do not think He failed in His mission.

Therefore, if you are a sinner you are qualified for the salvation Jesus Christ alone provides. I urge you to consider the claims about Jesus Christ made in the Bible. Then, I urge you to trust Him and make Him your own.



[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 616.

[2] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 178.

[3] Rienecker, page 617.

[4] Rienecker, page 617.


Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org