Our passage for study falls within the opening section of Paul's letter to Timothy where he discusses matters of concern between himself and his young minister friend. Paul's focus is on gospel ministry, as mirrored in his own life, v12-16.
v11. Having discussed the function of the law in relation to the gospel, Paul goes on to write about how the gospel reflects the glory of God and how wonderful it is to be entrusted with something so precious.
v12. Paul is extremely thankful toward Jesus for counting him worthy to undertake gospel ministry. The full title of Jesus is used and Paul adds the descriptive phrase, "my strengthener - Jesus, the one who has enabled my ministry." Paul is thankful twice over, first, because Jesus "considered me faithful", worthy to be trusted, and second, because Jesus "appointed me to his service", apostle to the Gentiles.
v13. This point is now expanded. Paul blasphemed by heaping reproach on Jesus' name. He was a persecutor of the faithful and a scorner of the faith. Yet, in all this Jesus showed mercy. It was "because I acted ignorantly", says Paul. The best that Paul could say of his actions was that he had failed to understand who Jesus was and so was without faith in Christ. Yet, as a seeker after God, his eyes were inevitably opened and God's mercy in Christ flowed to him.
v14. It was God's unmerited favour ("grace") which secured Paul's forgiveness and freed him to serve God. A "faith and love" which flows from God's grace seems a little incongruous. We would normally say, faith is the instrument to operate God's grace of forgiveness and that love is a fruit of the operation of that grace in our lives. Yet, faith in the rule of Christ, in our day-to-day life, is a growing thing, in the same way as love is a growing thing. So, Paul tells us that faith and love will grow in our life as a consequence of God's abundant mercy.
v15. Paul goes on to quote a commonly accepted statement of belief. There are five "faithful sayings" in the Pastorals. The saying here identifies Jesus' role to "save sinners", with the focus on his incarnation, rather than his death and resurrection. This is a very Johannine perspective. Jesus came from the Father to stand in the dust with us, that we might stand in eternity with him.
v16. Having admitted his sinful state, Paul goes on to say how his own salvation can be seen as a pattern for all arch-offenders. God's mercy was extended to him, the "worst of sinners", and can therefore touch all rebels. Mind you, only rebels who "believe on him ... receive eternal life."
v17. This focus on salvation leads Paul to burst into praise and adoration. His words are in the form of a doxology - a hymn of praise to God. God is the eternal king, he rules forever, cf. Rev.15:3. He is also imperishable. The first line of the hymn "Immortal, invisible, God only wise" repeats this verse, but follows the AV translation. The "only wise God" is best translated "the only God."
The first of Paul's "trustworthy sayings" in this his first letter to Timothy says that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Jesus did not come to stand in the dust of our age to reform our social structures, rather he came to "save sinners."
Jesus' service to the Father is also ours. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, calls this work to "save sinners" a "ministry". What he means is that it is a service to Christ. Mind you, not that Jesus needs us in this service. In fact, the service is for our own good, rather than God's good. Actually, Paul calls this service a "grace" of God. To be given the opportunity to perform such a wonderful task is a blessing from a gracious God.
As ordinary men and women who face a mighty challenge, we are not left in the lurch by God. Paul, in our passage for study, does not hesitate to identify the source of his strength in this service to God. God himself strengthens ordinary people so that they can overcome the challenge of a lost humanity. Paul says of his own ministry that Jesus "has given me strength." We are not alone as we face the foe; the might of God stands beside us.
The great challenge we face is the rescue of lost humanity - mankind lost in sin. We find ourselves as ordinary people caught in the circumstances of life and facing this great challenge. We may wonder if anyone can overcome the lostness of all that is around us. Yet, we shouldn't worry. Paul uses his own example to encourage us in the task. As he said of himself, he was the "worst" of sinners. He persecuted the church, defamed Christ and so stands as the arch-rebel. Yet, through the gospel, God's forgiveness was "abundantly" poured out on him. This, says Paul, can serve as an "example for those who would believe." It displays the "unlimited patience" of God.
So then, we who seek to make known the mercy of God to a lost humanity, can do so in the sure knowledge that the worst sinner can be forgiven. We have the right to announce the forgiveness of God to all.
What then is the message we are privileged to proclaim? Jesus Christ came to this earth and stood with a lost and broken humanity. He stood with us here that we might stand with him in eternal glory.
1. In what sense did God consider Paul "faithful"? How did he act in "ignorance"?
2. Discuss the relevance of Paul's "trustworthy saying" as a framework for a gospel presentation.