Have you ever hung something on the wall only to find out later that the nail didn’t actually penetrate a stud. That meant it was not anchored into anything. You normally get the message by a loud crashing sound in the middle of the night. We had trouble with this at our last house because it was old and the walls were made of plaster and lathe and could be hard to find the stud. Once we used these sticky strips that would adhere to the wall and hold pictures up that way. We heard a crash and came out to find our wedding pictures had fallen. The sticky stuff worked great but the layers of paint from 100 years of painting had actually pulled away from the wall. There was the sticky strip with a four inch radius of paint pulled off the wall.
To anchor a picture it has to go deep into something of substance. I think the same can be said of the gospel. If it is really going to make a difference, if it is really going to affect the way you live then it has to penetrate deep within you. An anchor that doesn’t go into the studs is not an anchor and a faith that does not go deep into the heart is not faith.
Today we are studying a passage that shows us how the gospel impacts us deep and internally. We see God’s overflowing love pierces us and changes us in the core of our being. It starts internally and overflows outwardly.
We are in our charged series and are studying a section of Scripture where Paul gets real personal about God’s work and the gospel. We see how deeply he was pierced by the gospel and God’s grace.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 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. 16 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. 17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17 ESV)
The word of the Lord... Thanks be to God!
In the preceding verses Paul addressed Timothy and gave him a charge. He mentioned the glorious gospel in v 11 and now he gets real on why it is so glorious to him. He retells the story of his conversion and commissioning. Paul told this story twice in the book of Acts. He touches on it in his letters. He freely and naturally shared what God did in his life with other people. He was pierced by it and gratefulness overflowed. This is his story, but it is our story too.
● Transformed by Grace
Paul starts this passage by thanking God for giving him strength, and then he moves to talking about the deep change in his life. God strengthens us in different ways. Paul likely drew on God’s grace demonstrated in his conversion to encourage him in present difficulties. Grace to change and grace to sustain. Confidence for God to change your present circumstances often comes from remembering how God’s power changed past circumstances.” Don’t just dwell on history. Dwell on God’s past actions. Remember the one who is in you is stronger. “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1Jo 4:4 ESV)
Paul was appointed to ministry despite his past. He didn’t earn this role. Mercy is the reason. He says he was v13 “formerly a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” He was one who persecuted the church. He was going against God’s plan for the world.
There is a rising effect of his list. A blasphemer is one who speaks wrongly of something. A persecutor one who causes others to suffer.
Violent person is an insolent person, violent aggressor. The word is Hubristns, which is means proud and arrogant, but here it is especially of one who takes a superior attitude and mistreats others. For Paul he did this out of his own revolt against God's revelation of truth. Hubris here is more than merely an attitude of pride or superiority but that which results in mistreatment of and violent acts against others. Finding satisfaction in insulting and humiliating others. He did all this thinking he was serving God.
If I could connect Saul to someone in the news this week it would probably be someone in white nationalist movement. Blasphemous. Bigoted. Violent. That’s Paul and he was destroying the people following God.
He makes no excuses or blameshifting--he owns it! He didn’t say his parents didn’t nurture him enough. He doesn’t say it was temporary insanity or he was low on his medication. He owns what he did.
People want to hide from their mistakes. They flee owning their wrongs. Part of being changed by grace is acknowledging who you are. It is giving up on self preservation. Its being freed to reveal your true self. Paul can do that because of God’s grace. It’s not being real just to be real, it’s being consumed with grace.
What happened?? How did he become a pastor, a preacher of the gospel? Did he get it together? Get more education? Did he dig down deep in himself and find who he really was. No, God intervened.
“But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” God’s grace came to him at the height of his rebellion. God spoke and Paul believed in Christ. He began to serve Jesus.
Was shown mercy. Passive. He is not the one doing the action. It is God. Receiving mercy is not something you earn. Grace is the undeserved, unmerited favor. He didn’t deserve it. He didn’t merit it. Mercy abounded.Where pride and arrogance rose, God’s mercy triumphed. Grace changed him!
Love is to abound. In the greek the prefix hyper is added to the word to give emphasis of abounding. Where Paul’s arrogance and sin abounded God’s grace abounded more. God grace is able to cover us. He was changed by grace. By mercy. God acted in his life to change him and that is how he became what he was.
u`perpleona,zw, literally, as a measure of quantity of a container fill to overflowing; figuratively be present in great abundance, abound exceedingly. For this blasphemor. Persecutor. Religious zealot.
Why are you a Christian? Did you just want to be different from others. Did you something to justify the moral life you were living. Have you been pierced by the transforming grace of God? If you have it altogether then you don’t need grace. Your cup is full and you don’t need anything from God. We have nothing for you at this church. Paul was a broken sinner that needed something to make up for all of his faults and failures. He found it in Jesus Christ his savior. He was changed by Jesus.
He didn’t hide his need for grace! We often hide where we are hurting and broken. We don’t like to admit we need grace, and the only thing that keeps us from grace is the pride that won’t admit it! Grace transformed him. Grace continues transforming.
● Amazed by Grace
Paul tells his experience and then applies it to every Christian. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the foremost.” It’s like a repeat after me. Could have been a motto of the early church.
His words are amazing. We know Christ came into the world to save sinner. But Paul identifies himself as the foremost sinner. Chief, foremost, greatest, worse.
Notice it is in the present tense. He doesn’t say used to be chief of sinners. He doesn’t say the title went to another once he trusted in Christ. He says he is the chief, the foremost sinner. He still carries the title. It is one thing to say it prior to your change, but now you are a pastor, evangelist, a minister of the gospel. You had the Lord speak to you and you wrote Scripture!
How could Paul really mean this? A man caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2). Come on! I do think he meant this.
Think about others in the Bible that Paul may have thrown in as the chief sinner. It could have been the guy from 1 cor 5 who was sleeping with his father’s wife! It could have been the guy from 1 Corinthians 7 that abandoned his wife. It could have been those ministers preaching the gospel out of their own selfish ambition (Phil). Elymas the magician (Act 13:8 who sought to turn people away from the faith and Paul rebuked “” You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? (Act 13:10 ESV). Felix, the ruler who left Paul in jail in order to do the Jews a favor (Act 24:27 ESV). Hymenaus and Alexander who later in this chapter we see did Paul a great deal of arm and left the faith?
He knew the many ways he resisted God. The many thoughts he had contrary to God’s word.
His sin was great. God’s grace was greater. While it could be argued people were doing worse stuff than him, I think he knew his own shortcomings. Like when people argue about who the greatest baseball player of all time. They know their every stat, every clutch hit, game saving play. Paul knew the stats on himself better than any other. Knew his thoughts, his failures, his shortcoming, the benefits given to him that he was not faithful with.
What is said here is similar to the parable of the pharisee and tax collector. Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
Or perhaps like the sinful woman who anointed Jesus. Luke 7:47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven--for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." (Luk 7:47 ESV)
If forgiven little the we love little. Are little amazing. Have little to offer others in the world who are hurting and broken. The wickedness of our hearts.We squander opportunities each and every day. We are not impressive.
John Newton’s amazing grace “grace that saved a wretch like me” has been changed to “that saved and strengthened me.” That is more palatable to some. It is less abasing. Let’s be distinguished Christians. Funny when Paul is the one who says chief wretch. Its an Christianity where grace is not grace. It’s foolish, like a man lost at sea for weeks and when saved says I just needed a little more strength and I would have found my way back. Paul’s words ought to fall hard on us and color all we see.
John Bunyan’s autobiography “Grace abounding in the Chief of Sinners” barrows from this verse and the last.
Grace changes us. We should be amazed. It should pierce us deeply!
Who is the greatest sinner? Is it Paul. No, no. That is to not let the gospel pierce you. Is it that woman you gave me who never cooks what I want? Is it that husband keeps working late, leaving his tools on the kitchen table, and doesn’t listen to me when I’m talking to him. Is it the teenager who rolls his eyes everytime I ask him to do something. Is it your annoying little sister who is always messing with your stuff! No, its should be none of them.
It is not that liberal leaning democrat who just wants give everyone a handout even if they don’t deserve it. It’s not the uptight conservative that belittles everyone who disagrees with him. It’s not that jerk boss who is so arrogant he doesn’t even notice all that I do for him.
It was none of them. Paul views himself as the chief sinner. The foremost scorner of God’s grace. The greatest rebel. This is a saying we should live by. “Christ jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
Let this truth change you!! This will transform your life. It will sustain marriage. Give you strength to keep raising those kids.
Every argument or conflict Amanda and I have ever had were started by something she did. I’m telling everyone started because of what she did. It was all on her. And I think everyone of those disagreements caused by her, about mid-way through it became more apparent that I contributed to the disagreement in different ways. Pride hardens you from hearing others, cuts you off. Humility brings together. It tells you to bow up rather than listen in. It is so easy to assume you know everything and think that you are simply a bastion of righteousness.
Does this mean we curl up into a ball and shrink back from the world because we are so bad? No! That is not what Paul did. “The Minister in order to be useful to others must be emptied of himself.” John Newton.
It doesn’t mean you cease to teach, to correct, but it changes the way you go about it, and as Christians, the way you go about something is as important as what you choose to do. Paul was broken by the gospel and it propelled him to teach, to correct. We don’t just collapse on the ground saying woe is me. I’m no good for anything.” God’s grace moves us to know him and lead others to him. It doesn’t keep us from pointing sin out in others, but it does change how we go about it! “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Mat 7:3).
Need for humility. If your marriage is going to make it you have to have humility. Christ is the true image, the perfect image of God. He is the one we should be like and his work enables us to be more like him. God calls us to have humility before him. The gospel shows just how humble we should be. He knows all of our thoughts. He knows all that we do. He knows the opportunities we have squandered.
Many business and leadership journals have written how important it is for leaders to be humble. Its paradoxical. But it’s true. No one likes to work for a proud and arrogant person. Arrogance cuts us off from others. It separates and destroys. Humility brings together and helps others. But how do you cultivate. I’m going to be the humblest guy out there. People can give you tips for cultivating it, but here Paul shares the greatest reason. Because you have much to be humble about! The gospel makes us better servants of God, whether it be in the church, in the office, in the home.
If we really understand the gospel it pierces us deep. If we really understand it will change the way we relate to other people. It prevents arguing. It changes the way you argue. Not two people trying to attack the other, but two sinners trying to see where their sin may have hurt the other. That’s a game changer. So many marriages end because one is blind to their sin. Changed by grace. Amazed by grace!
I’m not what I ought to be. I’m not want I want to be. I’m not what I hope to be. But I’m also not what I use to be! God’s grace is alive. Its active. It’s changing me. Tomorrow I won’t be who I am today. There is strength in that. Strength that is transparent.
3. Celebrating Grace
A spontaneous doxology. See you for who you are: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” He is the king everyone bows to. Not you. He is You are not eternal, immortal, invisible. If you were you might should fight for your glory and honor. But you are not. Paul can be humble because he knows who he is. He can only do what God allows him and so he does these things. Beyond the fluctuation of time. Beyond ravages of decay. Beyond limits of the horizon. Uniqueness of God’s being. Not simply his wisdom or intelligence. Who he is. When you see who God is and your relation to him it humbles you puts you in your place.
Are you quicker to share about the faults of another or are you quicker to share about God’s amazing grace that is transforming you.