Rev. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
We ought to keep in mind that our task is to ascertain the instruction of the Holy Spirit in this section of Holy Scripture. It is abundantly clear that Paul is addressing these words of instruction and exhortation to Timothy, Paul’s faithful, true son in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit addresses these words to the church at Ephesus and also to the church that is gathered, preserved, and defended by the Son of God through His Spirit and Word until Jesus comes upon the clouds of heaven. It is the word of Christ that resounds to all His elect from the beginning to the end of the world which Paul speaks to Timothy as Christ walks between the candlesticks in the church at Ephesus (cf. Eph. 1:1 ff.).
More particularly, Paul is underscoring the great truth of the Gospel that we are saved not by the works of the Law, but by faith in Christ. This is the unchangeable truth of the Gospel, namely, that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus, even as we were elected in Him from before the foundations of the world. In this way we are holy and unblamable in Christ.
In I Timothy 1:12 ff. Paul, guided by the Spirit, demonstrates the great gift of the superabounding grace of God as this is evidenced in Paul’s efficacious calling. And this efficacious calling happens in God’s own time and manner. This was especially true for Paul the apostle who in a specific and peculiar way was God’s son. God counted Paul faithful and put him into the ministry to the Gentiles. This calling to bean apostle to the Gentiles had happened when and how it pleased God (cf: Gal. 1:10-17).
It should be noticed that the account of Paul concerning Hymenaeus and Alexander is very practical. This account emphasizes the solemn duty of the preacher. He must not fail to preach the whole Gospel of the blessed God.
Like a golden thread on every page of Scripture we read the meaningful phrase: “to save sinners.” When I look at this term “sinners” I notice that every member of God’s elect church is such a sinner. The term “sinners” causes me to think of the response of one of my esteemed professors. When I requested a suggestion for a fitting text for a particular sermon he said, “Oh, George, just preach on the very simple but profound text in Luke 19:9-10, This day is salvation come to this house, for as much as he (Zacchaeus) also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Yes, on that day Zacchaeus, chief of the Publicans, stood there as sinner number one. He was a prime example of all the elect sons and daughters of Abraham, who, according to the elective grace of God, are God’s heirs.
A few days after this profound and life-changing statement to Zacchaeus, the Son of man would be hanged on the accursed tree. He, the Emmanuel Child, who was named fl Jesus,” will be hung on a, cross suspended between two sinners — murderers – and to one of them, a son of Abraham, Christ uttered the well known words, “Truly, I say to you, today thou shalt be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
It is this cross-word that Paul recalls in I Timothy 1:15 when he says, “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.”
Do you believe that faithful word? Do I? O, matchless grace which knows no measure! The eternal Son of God, who loved all ‘His own, and loved them to the end, came into this fallen cosmos. Christ came into the world which had been harmonious and perfect but which was now steeped in the sin of the world, and He carried away the sins of all those sinners ordained unto life everlasting.
Listen to the music of the innumerable multitude in the heavenly choir- those sealed unto eternal life. Who are these in this heavenly choir standing in heaven before the throne of God and of the Lamb, clothed in white robes? Hearken to these sinner-saints as they sing in one melodious fortissimo: “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb of God, who came to sanctify both heaven and earth.” Hear the great Amen before the Throne of heaven, the thank-offering of those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (read Rev. 7:12-13). And the miracle is that all creation shall share in the glory of the redeemed saints (cf. Rom. 8:19).
Paul says that the faithful saying that is worthy of all acceptation includes him as the chief of sinners in this host of redeemed saints in the heavenly choir.
The term “sinners” is derived from a Greek word that specifies habitual and notorious sinners. Yes, they were preeminently sinful, especially wicked. Paul puts himself in the worst class of sinners, and in this class he is the number one sinner! If ever, it was here clearly an acceptable word that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. For Paul’s record stands out as the worst. Paul does not boast or glory in his shame. He glories in grace. He glories in the deep contrition which knows only of the superabundant and matchless longsuffering of Christ. Fact is that the matchless longsuffering of Christ toward the apostle Paul was designed by God in such a way that all future sinners who believe in Christ to everlasting life might have a divinely appointed pattern of this matchless superabounding grace of God.
Notice too that Paul writes in Romans 3:23-24 that Christ came into this world to save sinners. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Although all have sinned, Paul singles out all who are justified by the great gift of grace. Hence, Paul writes that all of the elect are sinners. According to the measure stated in Ephesians 1:3-14 not one of these sinners is a proper citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. When elect sinners are measured according to this standard, all fall short. The one in the numberless throng that fell farthest from the standard was Saul of Tarsus.
What are his credentials? Read these credentials recorded in verse 13. The deeds he mentions are “burning” in his sanctified conscience: “blasphemer, persecutor, and injurious.” In Galatians 1:14 Paul speaks of himself as a persecutor “exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”
Yes, it was zealous Paul who enumerates his sins as one who has obtained mercy. He preached always as one who worshiped God with a good conscience. Before his conversion he speaks of his exceedingly zealous attitude concerning the traditions of the fathers. After his conversion he can say, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). Here Paul really swears by the God of truth. He does this in a Jewish court where men knew Paul both as Jew and as one who had left Jewry.
Now Timothy is called by this same Paul to run the race, to fight the battle of faith out of a pure conscience because the end of the command was “love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned.” Timothy must not do as Hymenaeus and Alexander did. Both of these were cast away, and that knowingly. They did not have a good conscience; and they had suffered shipwreck in the faith. Both were given over to a willful existence in the midst of the Synagogue of Satan (Rev. 3:9). Here is the gathering of the blasphemers. They claim to be the true sons of Abraham, but they are not; instead they are liars. Here these teachers of law can taste the ultimate of an evil conscience which has never been cleansed from dead works to serve the living God. Did these two men learn the lesson and return as penitent sinners? We are not told.
Let all the apostles, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers flee the great temptations which beset us (Heb. 12:1).
1. Paul speaks of the “conscience” six times in I and II Timothy and in Titus (I Tim. 1:5, 19; I Tim. 3:9; I Tim. 4:2; II Tim 1:3;Tit. 1:3). Did you know that the term “conscience” is nowhere found in the Old Testament Scriptures? Although the word “conscience” is not used in the Old Testament how is the idea of “conscience” implied inPsalm 139:1-24?
2. The New Testament speaks of a “good” conscience in I Timothy 1:5, 19; and of a “pure” conscience in I Timothy 3:9and II Timothy 1:3. What is a “good” and “pure” conscience?
3. It is quite obvious that the function of our conscience is “to know,” and then n to know with” the all-knowing God, who knows the hearts of all men and the secrets within. The English term comes from the Latin con-scire. The Holland has the term Geweten and German Gewissen. They are the past participle, “to have known.” Deep in our memory are hid the past deeds, thoughts, and intents of our heart as judged by the law of God. Look up the term “conscience” in I Timothy 1:5, 19;Hebrews 9:21 and attempt to determine the meaning.
4. Is a good conscience part and parcel of the heavenly gift of salvation merited for us on the cross in the same sense that faith is merited for us? SeeEphesians 2:4-10. Is a good conscience an infallible earmark that we have a great certainty that we will inherit salvation? How does the Heidelberg Catechism connect a “good conscience” with the reality of our being called a Christian? (Cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 12, Question and Answer 32.)