We are in a series called Faith Foundations where Paul is telling Timothy what he must do and teach to the church in Ephesus. After Paul describes the goal of our instruction, he begins to give thanks to the Lord for what the Lord has done for him. Paul is going to share his life perspective which is going to help us have the right life perspective. Consider how he looks at himself and how he looks at God.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:12–14 ESV)
Paul pours out his soul about how undeserving he is for what God has done for him. He was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But Jesus has made him a servant in spite of my sins. He has shown him mercy. His grace overflowed for him. Paul understands who he was and what the Lord has done for him. It is truly amazing when we read in the book of Acts what Paul was doing against Christ. Listen to what Paul says he did:
I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 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. 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. (Acts 26:9–11 ESV)
But as grievous of a sinner that Paul was, Jesus showed him mercy, overflowed with grace toward him, and appointed him to be an apostle. Why does Paul want to talk about all of this? We already mentioned that it is important to see Paul’s perspective. We need to see our sins. We need to see how we resisted the will of the Lord. But Paul wants us to see something else. Read verses 15-17.
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. 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. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15–17 ESV)
Here is the critical truth of the scriptures: Christ came into the world to save sinners. We can lose sight of this very important message. Jesus came to save. He did not come to save the righteous. Jesus came to save sinners. This is the most precious sentence in scripture: Jesus came to save sinners. Paul goes even further because he wants you to know something. He tells us that he is the worst. He is the worst of sinners.
Now in our culture we might want to argue with Paul. We might want to tell Paul that he was not that bad. We might want to tell him that it is not healthy for him to think of himself in this way. We may want to tell him that he is doing so much better now. But notice Paul will have none of that. He does not say that he WAS the worst of sinners but that he IS the worst of sinners. He does not say he was the worst but is doing so much better now. He does not deflect his sinfulness. He does not excuse his sinfulness. He does not blame others for his sinfulness. He does not minimize his sinfulness. He does not say this with false humility so that people will pay attention to him and try to make him feel better. Paul means it. Jesus came to save sinners and I am the worst. On the list of sinners, Paul says that he is number one.
Now why is this so important? Verse 16 is the answer. The saving of Paul was a picture for all who believe in Jesus for eternal life. Christ’s extraordinary, perfect patience was on display with Paul as an example for us. What is the example? If Jesus can save Paul, he can save you. No one is beyond Jesus’ saving grace. You cannot “outsin” God’s forgiveness. Jesus came to save sinners and Paul is the proof. Look at the life of Paul and Jesus even saved him. Not only did Jesus save Paul, he put Paul into his service as an apostle. No one is beyond the grace of Jesus. Jesus saved Paul, and if he can do that for Paul, he can do that for you. No wonder Paul would write to the Romans these words:
But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20–21 ESV)
You see in Jesus there is hope for the worst. Even the worst of sinners have hope in Jesus because he has perfect patience with us. You cannot discount the power of God’s forgiving mercy and grace. It is unfathomable. Paul said it like this:
I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17–19 CSB)
We live in a culture that cannot understand this. Our culture says that if you do something wrong, there is no forgiveness. You are branded. You are shouted down. You are destroyed, even if you are repentant. There are no second chances. There is no forgiveness. But this is not true with Jesus. Our God is a God of second chances. Jesus will forgive you. Jesus will not brand you with a label. Jesus will not give up on you. Jesus has perfect patience toward you and wants you to come to him. Jesus wants your repentant heart and humbled life.
So what is to be our response? We cannot stay with just simply thinking about how God has forgiven us. There is to be a response. Paul was put into service and responded to Jesus. We are also put into Christ’s service. So what should be our response? First, praise the Lord (1:17). See your king: eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God. Praise him with honor and glorify him forever and ever. We must praise the amazing grace of God.
Second, fight the good fight (1:18). Understand that you are in a spiritual battle and you need to fight well. Your soul is a battle ground. You do not become a Christian and have those sins forgiven just to be on cruise control spiritually. If you go into cruise control, you will lose your soul. Paul says to hold on to faith and a good conscience. Know God, know what he is doing for you, and hold on to that as your saving life line. If we do not, then we will shipwreck our faith.
Paul brings up two people to whom this has happened. Here are two people whose faith has shipwrecked. I cannot imagine how painful it was for Paul to think about the people who have shipwrecked their faith. It is so painful to watch people do this. It is so painful to watch people no longer hold on to the faith and no longer maintain a pure conscience. How horrible when you see people receive the mercy and grace of God only to see them destroy their faith.
Not only had these two wrecked their faith but Paul had to hand them over to Satan (1:20). Paul does not explain the meaning of this statement here. But he used this sentence in an earlier letter when he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 5:5. What it meant was confronting rebellious sin and not allowing those who remain in knowing sin to think they are in fellowship with God. Your actions show that you are not in fellowship with God but are in fellowship with Satan. That is how you are living your life and we are acknowledging this truth. When the church as to declare the rebellious sin of a Christian, it is not excommunication. It is not disconnection. It is not punishment. It is trying to tell the person that they are grievously sinning. We see this at the end of verse 20. Paul was trying to teach these two not to blaspheme the Lord. He is not punishment. He is teaching them by confronting their rebellious sin. We are trying to generate repentance in the person’s heart. We are not willing to act like their sinning is acceptable to God.
Now I want us to think about the whole of this scriptures as we end the lesson. Paul declares himself the worst of sinners who was saved by the grace of God to show the perfect patience of God. Christ came to save sinners. If Jesus saved Paul and put him into his service, then Jesus can save you and put you into his service. There is hope for the worst. Now that Jesus has saved us, we must fight the good fight of our faith. We must hold on to faith and a good conscience. We must watch out for our faith can be shipwrecked. Do not let go of Jesus who has saved you! Do not let go of the faith that you have in Jesus! Do not give up your faith. Do not walk away from your savior. Stay vigilant with your faith and fight for your soul. Do not spiritual coast. When we lose our awe of what Jesus has done for us, then we will be tempted to coast and shipwreck our faith.