It is with a great deal of spiritual joy that I pen these lines in attempting to give some explanation of this beautiful section from this first Chapter of first Timothy.
It is simply this: here Paul shows us how in his own life the great truth of the gospel of free and sovereign grace is exemplified! Salvation is not of works. It is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God who showeth mercy. Rom. 9:16. Paul is a vessel of mercy, and, as such, a chosen vessel of God, formed by God’s grace alone, to be a ground-type of all who would afterwards believe. God chose the chief of sinners to show, to demonstrate clearly, once and for all, the greatness of his matchless grace and longsuffering.
That is a powerful argument against those who would be “teachers of law,” and who confidently affirm that of which they know really nothing.
I am glad with this truth of the gospel; it gives hope also to me, poor sinner that I am. This is not a terrifying theme concerning which to write. It is full of that so often repeated assurance of Jesus, “fear not ye, for I know that ye seek Jesus who was crucified.” Matthew 28:5.
Paul speaks here of the grace of God as it was experienced by him. And what Paul has experienced is the death-blow to all attempts to be justified by works of law. The great apostle evidently never grows weary of speaking of this great mercy of God to him; the mercies of Christ are his all in all. It is because of the mercy of God that Paul is accounted faithful. Nothing else makes man faithful; old things then pass away and all things become new, and all things come to stand in their proper God-ordained place and relationship.
Let us then attend to what Paul here tells Timothy and through him to the church of the ages.
Concerning this entire section, verses 12-17, we may state the following:
1. That it is a description of the great grace of God, by which Paul is enabled; and for this alone Christ, the Lord, must receive all the recognition. Paul evidently refers to all that he has received from Christ, both in his personal subjective life as a believer and as an office-bearer in the church, apostle to the Gentiles.
2. Special attention is called by Paul to the divine purpose of God in empowering a man like Paul to preach the gospel, and, in fact, to write a great share of the New Testament Scriptures. God chooses the worst possible specimen to show the real nature of salvation, namely, that the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost.
3. Small wonder that Paul ends in a grand doxology, which reads: “Now unto the king eternal, the immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.” Verse 16.
4. And Timothy must take this all to heart as a young preacher. Only thus shall he be able to fight the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, so that the end of the law is realized in him. Verse 18.
Permit us to say just a few things about the verses 12214 in this essay, which read as follows: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
We would call attention to the following salient points:
In the first place, Paul says that he thanks Christ Jesus our Lord. The construction in the Greek text is peculiar. Literally he says: “I have thanks, or grace” to Christ Jesus our Lord. This is for him a conscious and an ever-present reality. See for this also II Tim. 1:3. Never was there a time when Paul was not filled with the beauty of gracious thanks to Christ. Him he worships and before him he labor as a servant of loving gratitude. For gratitude in Scripture is more than a “feeling,” a sentiment. It is composed of both justice and truth. It is “justice” in that it gives honor where honor is due. It recognizes Christ, the Lord, as being worthy of this honor for what he has performed in Paul and through him. On the other hand it is also truthfulness; it also expresses what Christ in justice has coming to him. That such is the nature of “thanks” here is evident from the doxology in verse 17: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever, Amen.” Well may one have a continuous and ever-present thanks to such a God in Christ Jesus.
In the second place, it should be noticed that Paul’s thanks is to Christ from the viewpoint of his being the one “who has empowered me.” He is the “me-having-empowered-one.” Thus the Greek. Did not Jesus say to his disciples on the mount of Olives that “the powerof the Holy Ghost shall come upon you”? Acts 1:8. And this power is really “ability,” that which makes one able. It is not simply the power of “right,” authority, but it is the inner ability in the inward man which is from Christ, making the helpless strong and able. And for this once-and-for-all enabling gift of Christ Paul has thanks in justice and in truth.
In the third place, we should notice that Christ has a good reason for empowering Paul, and placing him into the ministry in the church. He “accounted me faithful, placing me into the ministry.” Christ had confidence in Paul. Now Christ certainly could not have had confidence in Christ in his church based upon his past record. That was very bad prior to Paul’s conversion from being a Pharisee to a humble penitent at Christ’s feet. Yet, the text says that Christ counted him faithful and this trust is evidenced by placing him into the ministry. Now how are we to understand this? We believe that this either refers to the divine reckoning of Paul’s qualities, a preordained vessel, destined to the ministry from his mother’s womb, Gal. 1:15, or that in God’s divine reckoning he saw that Paul would be faithful by God’s grace. I Cor. 15:10. Possibly Paul does not exclude either one of these alternatives. Looking back Paul sees that it was all divine reckoning of grace. And this was not based upon works of law which he had performed.
In the fourth place, it is emphatically a matter of pure mercy when Paul is empowered both to faith and to the ministry. These two, faith and the ministry, cannot be separated. For it is a historical fact that when Paul is called to the ministry he is also called to faith; he is baptized in Damascus. It was here that God revealed His Son in Paul. Acts 9:18; Gal. 1:15, 16. And what a man in whom to reveal His Son! Did not Ananias say: “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to the saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind, all that call on thy name”? Of this conduct during that time Paul says of himself in Acts 22:4: “And I persecuted this way unto death, binding and delivering unto prisons both men and women, as also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.” And in Gal. 1:13 Paul writes concerning his former conduct toward the church: “For ye have heard of my conduct in times past in the Jew’s religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it,” and inGal. 1:23 he writes: “But they had heard only that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me.”
In this passage here in I Tim. 1:12-14 Paul speaks of himself as having been placed in this ministry and accounted faithful notwithstanding that he was ablasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent man. Paul did not simply speak evil of the Christians, but he spoke evil of the way of faith, attempting to uphold salvation by works. Compare Phil. 3:4-7. He had been more confident concerning salvation by the law than any teacher of law could ever be. He rang the bell one hundred percent in that respect. He was second to none; he needed not to be outdone by anyone in blasphemous and calumniating speech. See Gal. 1:14. Paul had pressed forward beyond many in his day in the Jew’s religion. Then he is arrested by Jesus Christ. In the midst of his persecution he is stopped in his very tracks. He an insolent man is converted by Christ. It gave him pleasure to see a Stephen stoned. It was the mere pleasure of seeing the believers wince under his dominion. And to this one mercy is accorded. He is delivered from all his helpless, self-righteousness, and placed in the service of Christ as a thankful, redeemed believer.
In the fifth place, we should notice the reason why Paul received mercy. The reason is ignorant unbelief! Says Paul: “I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” Paul had a zeal for God when he persecuted the Christians. It was “sincere” misplaced zeal. It was an attempt to maintain the necessity of keeping the law perfectly to be justified. It conceived of God’s covenant as a contract; a pay as you go proposition. It was the Pelagianistic conception of salvation: the freewill of man. And attempting to maintain that status quo of Jewish religion in the synagogue he was ignorant of the true faith. He did not willfully sin against God. He did it ignorantly. In his ignorance he subjectively was sincere. Truly this was unbelief, that is, it was not-believing. It was unbelief evidently in the negative sense: not knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection, being conformed unto his death. All he knew was law; he did not know that the end of the law is love from a pure heart, good conscience and faith unfeigned! And so Paul fell in the category of those who receive mercy, the thousands of generations of those who love God and keep his commandments. He is not in the class of those of whom Heb. 6:4 speaks: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and having tasted the heavenly gift . . . if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.”
In the sixth place, we should notice that, therefore, the grace of God is magnified exceedingly in the case of Paul. What a faith and love this grace wrought in Paul. It was a faith working by love. And so the end of the law truly is attained in Paul, the law of God written in his heart. Gone is all his self-righteousness. He died. Sin revived. And what he now lives he lives by the faith of the Son of God, who loved and gave His life for him.
Such is the grace of God. Where sin abounds grace does much more abound.
Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!