In 1 Timothy 1:6-11, Paul speaks of the misuse of the law by false teachers. But notice that at the mention of the gospel, Paul immediately breaks out into thanksgiving, in verse 12. As Paul is urging Timothy to guard the true gospel, he cannot help but stop to celebrate the gospel.
Paul gives a little of his personal testimony starting in verse 12. He celebrates the power of the gospel and the incredible grace of God, by pointing to himself as more or less the ultimate example of God’s grace. Paul persecuted the followers of Christ before he was saved. Paul was a devout Jew. He was one of the Pharisees. He followed the law strictly. He hated the Christians, and passionately hunted them down and killed them. Remember that the first time Scripture mentions Paul, he’s standing, basically presiding over the murder of Stephen — the first recorded Christian martyr.
Acts 9:31 also says that when Paul got saved, the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria finally enjoyed a little peace, and was strengthened, and grew in number — because Paul wasn’t persecuting them anymore! In verse 13, Paul says that he used to be a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and a violent man, but that because he was doing it in unbelief, without an understanding of who Jesus is, he was shown mercy. (There are a lot of theological questions raised in that one verse, but we’re not getting into that right now=)
Paul’s point is that although his need for grace was great, the power of God’s grace was greater. Paul was living proof of the truth in Romans 5:20, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” And so Paul gets to the point of his testimony in verse 15 — “This saying is trustworthy, and worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” The Holman translates it, “and I am the worst of them,” but its actually worded like a positive: “I am the foremost,” or “chief.” Paul is saying, “I am the most highly qualified person to point to as a depraved and lost-beyond-hope sinner, and Christ saved even me!”
There’s a story that one day, during an evangelistic campaign in a church where the great American businessman Samuel Colgate was a member, a prostitute came forward and confessed her sins. She was broken-hearted and wept openly. She asked God to save her soul and expressed a desire to join the church. “I’ll gladly sit in some back corner,” she said. The preacher hesitated to call for a motion to accept her into membership, and there were several long moments of awkward silence. Finally, a member stood up and suggested that action on her request be postponed.
At that point Mr. Colgate stood up and said, with an undertone of sarcasm, “I guess we blundered when we prayed that the Lord would save sinners—We forgot to specify what kind. We’d better ask Him to forgive us for this oversight. The Holy Spirit has touched this woman and made her truly repentant, but apparently the Lord doesn’t understand she isn’t the type we want Him to rescue.”
Many in the audience blushed with shame. They had been guilty of judging like the Pharisee in the temple who exclaimed self-righteously, “God, I thank You that I am not as other men are… or this tax collector.”
Another motion was made and the woman was unanimously received into the fellowship.
I think that we forget sometimes, that the good news of what Christ did for us on the cross is good news for everyone… Well, anyone who accepts and trusts him as Savior. And its because we lose sight of the gospel, that we lack in love — which should be the ultimate goal of our instruction. Paul says in verse 16, “But because of this, I was shown mercy: in order that in me — the foremost — Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
You see, if there’s one thing to take away from this… it’s that you should never make the mistake of thinking that your sin is bigger than the grace of God.
Verses 12-16 contain some very good news for anyone who has ever thought, “God wouldn’t save me. I’ve hated Him. I’ve turned against Him. I’ve fought Him at every point in my life.” If you think you are beyond the mercy and grace of God, even if you’re a Christian… because we as Christians still struggle with this at times too. We think “not that one… God can’t possibly forgive me for that sin.”
But God chose to take the chief persecutor of the church and make him the chief missionary in the church to display His unending grace, and to show that He is patient; He loves, and He calls sinners to trust in Him for eternal life. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, these words are worthy of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
Not only does God’s grace demonstrate His patience, it also leads to God’s praise. Paul ends this section — this celebration of the grace of God — with the exaltation in verse 17: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen.” Paul was overwhelmed that he would receive mercy from such a King. And I think we can all say with Paul to that… amen!