Study 2 AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL PEN-PICTURE
PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: 1 Timothy 1:8-17
In 1 Timothy 1:12-17 the Apostle Paul gives us a piece of spiritual biography. What he says is in the form of a personal testimony, and the key to the passage is Paul’s thanksgiving which he begins in verse 12. Literally the words might read, “I am deeply grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord…” Whenever Paul thought of all that the Lord had done for him he was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and deep thanksgiving. He never forgot the wonder of it all. Whenever he thought of the saving miracle that God wrought in him, his heart was thrilled. The trouble with many Christians today is that they have lost the wonder of all that the Lord has done for them. They have grown used to the idea of being saved, and in consequence they have grown cold and careless. Why was it that Paul was so thankful to his Lord? What does the apostle say by way of personal testimony in his expression of thanksgiving? Notice these five things:-
1. “I thank the Lord Jesus that He saved me, although I was a wretched sinner.”
In verse 13 we have a vivid description of Paul’s past life before he became a Christian. Here he tells us of three outstanding ways in which he sinned against the Lord. Before God saved him:-
- (1) He was a blasphemer. This is a very strong word. It means that he was a profane person and that he simply delighted in ridiculing the Name of Christ.
- (2) He was a persecutor. He not only blasphemed the Name of Christ but he rounded up Christ’s people and persecuted them “mercilessly” – compare Acts 9:1, 4 and 5; 22:4 and 7; 26:10; Galatians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; and 2 Thessalonians 1:4. In persecuting the Christians he also persecuted Christ.
- (3) He was violent. This means that he was a ringleader among the enemies of Christ and he actually damaged the cause of Christ.
This was the man who was saved by the Lord, a man who describes himself as “the chief of sinners” (verse 15, KJV). The thing that filled Paul with deep thanksgiving was the fact that in spite of his wickedness the Lord had had mercy on him and had saved him (verse 13). And does not this same glorious truth fill our hearts with gratitude? If we think we are less sinful than Paul was we had better look up Jeremiah 17:9. How wonderful that the Saviour should save us, in spite of our sin! Thank God for it!
2. “I thank the Lord Jesus Christ that He saved me completely, without my own efforts and trying.”
How was Paul saved? What made him a Christian? How did he become a converted man? Was it by turning over a new leaf or by resolving to be better? No! – look at verse 13, where he tells us that he was shown mercy. The word here in the Greek is passive, and quite literally it reads, “I was mercied”. The mercy given was not bestowed in response to any act of his own. He was altogether undeserving and unworthy, but God had mercy upon him. The same truth is stated in verse 14, and of course this is the only way of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10 ; Titus 3:5). Christ does the saving from start to finish – see verse 15. How grateful we should be that our salvation is not by works, by human merit, by prayers, nor by pilgrimages! We are saved by Christ Himself, quite apart from any effort or supposed merit that we might have.
3. “I thank the Lord Jesus Christ that He entrusted me with the preaching of the Gospel.”
Paul tells us this in verse 11, where he speaks of having had the Gospel entrusted to him, and in verse 12, which literally means, “He trusted me enough to appoint me His minister.” Not only had the Lord forgiven and saved Paul, but He had actually made him His servant, His minister, His representative, His ambassador; and of course the personal application of this great truth is that the same Lord has put us in trust with the Gospel. We have been trusted by Christ with the holy task of making Him known to others. Are we discharging our responsibility? Are we seeking to make Christ known? Think of it: He represents us in Heaven, but we are to represent Him down here on the earth! He has entrusted us with the preaching of the gospel of redeeming grace.
4. “I thank the Lord Jesus Christ that He enables me, strengthens me and sustains me for and in every holy task.”
Look at verse 12, and notice the words, “Who has given me strength”. This truth is illustrated throughout the Bible. He called Moses to do a task, but He promised to be with him to strengthen and enable him (Exodus 3:7-12); He called Joshua to work for Him, but He also promised to be with him, to enable him and empower him (Joshua 1:1-7); the same was true of Gideon (Judges 6:11-14); and compare Matthew 28:19,20 where He not only says, “Go…” but “Surely…”; and Acts 1:8, where He tells us we are to be His witnesses, but only after the Holy Spirit has come upon us. Thus, the Apostle Paul thanked God that he was equal for any and every task. What he really says in verse 12 is – Philippians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:9; and what was true for Paul is true for us, for our preaching, praying, teaching, visiting, testifying and daily living. This is what Paul meant when he said in another place – look up Acts 26:22. Thank God, He not only commissions us but He empowers us!
5. “I thank the Lord Jesus Christ that He can do for others what He has done for me.”
Paul tells us this in verse 16, where he says he was an ‘example’ of what Christ can do in saving people. If we ask the question, ‘How does Christ’s salvation save us?’ we answer, ‘Look at Paul and see for yourself.’ The word “example” in verse 16 has the idea of ‘an artist’s outline sketch, an example of what’s to follow.’ It was just like that with Paul. When we look at him we see what God can do with a man when He saves him by His grace; so, as C. H. Spurgeon once said, ‘The idea that Paul’s conversion was exceptional is flatly contradicted here.’ Paul’s conversion was not exceptional; his was only the first of many similar conversions. What God did for Paul He can do for you, for all; so do not despair, and above all recapture and keep fresh the wonder of God’s saving grace in your life.