Paul explained the three essential responsibilities of the pastor and people in a local church. In Part 1, we saw the first responsibility: teach sound doctrine. Today, we will look at the next two responsibilities.
Proclaim the Gospel (1 Tim. 1:12–17)
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me trustworthy, appointing me to His service. Even though I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
The mention of “the Gospel” in the previous verse (1:11) moved Paul to share his own personal testimony. He was “Exhibit A” to prove the Gospel of the grace of God’s grace really works. When we read Paul’s testimony (see also Acts 9:1–22; 22:1–21; 26:9–18), we begin to grasp the wonder of God’s grace and His saving power.
What Paul used to be (v. 13a). He was a blasphemer because he denied the deity of Jesus Christ and forced others to deny it. He was a persecutor who used physical power to try to destroy the church. “Murderous threats” were the very breath of his life (Acts 9:1). He persecuted the Christian church (1 Cor. 15:9) and then discovered he was actually laying hands on Jesus Christ, the Messiah! (Acts 9:4) During this period of his life, Paul consented to the stoning of Stephen and made havoc of the church (Acts 8:1–4).
Paul was injurious, a word that means “proud and insolent.” A modern equivalent might be “bully.” It conveys the idea of a haughty man “throwing his weight around” in violence. But the basic causes of his godless behavior were “ignorance” and “unbelief.” Even though Saul of Tarsus (now Paul) was a brilliant man and well educated (Acts 22:3; Gal. 1:13–14), his mind was blinded from the truth (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:3–4). He was a religious man, yet he was not headed for heaven! It was not until he put faith in Jesus Christ that he was saved (Phil. 3:1–11).
How Paul was saved (vv. 13b–15). How could the holy God ever save and forgive such a self-righteous sinner? The key words are “mercy” and “grace.” God in His mercy did not give Paul what he did deserve; instead God in His grace gave Paul what he did not deserve. Grace and mercy are God’s love in action, God’s love paying a price to save lost sinners. It is not God’s love alone that saves us, for God loves the whole world (John 3:16). It is by grace we are saved (Eph. 2:8–9). God is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4) and grace (Eph. 2:7).
What did Paul’s “ignorance” have to do with his salvation? Is ignorance an excuse before God? Of course not! The fact of his ignorance is related to a special Jewish law (Lev. 5:15–19; Num. 15:22–31). If a person sinned knowingly and intentionally in Israel, he was cut off from the people; but if he sinned in ignorance, he was permitted to bring the proper sacrifices to atone for his sins. Jesus recognized this principle when He prayed on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Their ignorance did not save them, nor did Christ’s prayer save them; but the combination of the two postponed God’s judgment, giving them an opportunity to be saved.
Paul said it took “abundant” grace to save him! Paul liked to use the Greek prefix huper (meaning “an exceeding abundant amount”) and he often attached it to words in his letters. You might translate some of these as “super-increase of faith” (2 Thes. 1:3); “super-abounding power” (Eph. 1:19); “super-conqueror” (Rom. 8:37). This same prefix has come into the English language as hyper. We speak of “hyperactive” children and “hypersensitive” people.
Paul makes it clear this salvation is not for him only, but for all who receive Jesus Christ (1:15). If Jesus could save Saul of Tarsus, the chief of sinners, then He can save anybody! We admire Paul’s humility, and we note he considered himself to be the “least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9) and the “least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8). Notice, Paul did not write “of whom I was chief” but “of whom I am chief.”
What Paul became (vv. 12, 16). The grace of God turned the persecutor into a preacher and the murderer into a minister! So dramatic was the change in Paul’s life that the Jerusalem church suspected it was a trick and they had a hard time accepting him (Acts 9:26–31). God gave Paul his ministry; he did not get it from Peter or the other Apostles (Gal. 1:11–24). He was called and commissioned by the risen Christ in heaven.
God saw Paul was faithful, so He entrusted the Gospel to him. Even as an unbelieving and Gospel-ignorant Jewish leader, Paul maintained a good conscience and lived up to the light he had. So often those who are intensely wrong as lost sinners become intensely right as Christians and are greatly used of God to win souls. God not only entrusted the Gospel to Paul, but He enabled Paul to minister the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 4:13). When someone obeys God’s call to serve, God always equips and enables that person.
Paul not only became a minister; he also became an example (1 Tim. 1:16). In what sense is Paul an example to lost sinners who believe on Christ? None of us has had the same experience Paul had on the Damascus road (Acts 9). We did not see a light, fall to the ground, and hear Jesus speak from heaven. Paul is a pattern (“type”) to all lost sinners, for he was the chief of sinners! He is proof the grace of God can change any sinner!
There is a special application of this to today’s people of Israel, Paul’s countrymen, for whom he had a special burden (Rom. 9:1–5; 10:1–3). The people of Israel, like unconverted Saul of Tarsus, are religious, self-righteous, blind to their own Law and its message of the Messiah, and unwilling to believe. One day, Israel will see Jesus Christ even as Paul saw Him; and the nation will be saved: “They will look on Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10). This may be one reason why Paul said he was “born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8), for his experience of seeing the risen Christ came at the beginning of this Church Age and not at its end (Matt. 24:29).
Paul gave a third responsibility for the local church to fulfill besides teaching sound doctrine and proclaiming the Gospel.
Defend the Faith (1 Tim. 1:18–20)
Timothy, my son, I am giving you this charge in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
Again, Paul used military language to enforce his statement. The word “charge” (1:18) means “an urgent command handed down from a superior officer” (1 Tim. 1:3). It was not easy to serve God in pagan Ephesus, but Timothy was a man under orders and he had to obey. The soldier’s task is to “please his commanding officer” (2 Tim. 2:4) and not to please himself.
Furthermore, Timothy was there by divine appointment: God had chosen him and sent him. It was this fact that could give him assurance in difficult days. If you are God’s servant, called by the Spirit, obeying His will, then you can “stay with it” and finish the work. These assurances enabled Timothy to “fight the battle well” (1:18).
Paul warned Timothy the only way to succeed was to hold fast to “faith and a good conscience.” It is not enough to proclaim the faith with our lips; we must practice the faith in our daily lives. One man said of his hypocritical pastor, “He is such a good preacher, he should never get out of the pulpit; but he is such a poor Christian, he should never get into the pulpit!”
A good conscience is important to a good warfare and a good ministry. Some people define conscience as “the inner voice which warns us that somebody may be looking.” But a man with a good conscience will do the will of God in spite of who is watching or what people may say. Like Martin Luther, he will say, “Here I stand; I can do no other, so help me God!”
Professed Christians who “suffer shipwreck with regard to the faith” (1:19) do so by sinning against their consciences. Bad doctrine usually starts with bad conduct and usually with secret sin. Hymenaeus and Alexander (1:20) deliberately rejected their good consciences in order to defend their ungodly lives. Paul did not tell us exactly what they did, except their sin involved “blaspheming” in some way (2 Tim. 2:16–18; 4:14).
“Handed over to Satan” (1:20) implies discipline (1 Cor. 5:5) and disassociation from the local church. “To be taught” means “to learn by discipline.” When a Christian refuses to repent, the local fellowship should exercise discipline, excluding him from the protective fellowship of the saints, making him vulnerable to the attacks of Satan. The fellowship of the local church, in obedience to the will of God, gives a believer spiritual protection. Satan has to ask God for permission to attack a believer (Job 1–2; Luke 22:31–34).
Each local church is in a constant battle against the forces of evil. There are false prophets and false teachers, as well as false christs. Satan is the originator of false doctrines, for he is a liar from the beginning (John 8:44). It is not enough for a local church to teach sound doctrine and to proclaim the Gospel. The church must also defend the faith by exposing lies and opposing the doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1).
It is important our ministry be balanced. Some churches only preach the Gospel and seldom teach their converts the truths of the Christian life. Other churches are only opposing false doctrine; they have no positive ministry. We must be teachers of healthy doctrine (“sound doctrine,” 1:10) or the believers will not grow. We must preach the Gospel, keep winning the lost to Christ, and defend the faith against those who would corrupt the church with false doctrine and godless living. It is a constant battle, but it must be carried on.
Timothy must have been greatly helped and encouraged when he read this first section of Paul’s letter. God had called Timothy, equipped him, and put him into his place of ministry. Timothy’s job was not to run all over Ephesus, being involved in a multitude of tasks. His job was to care for the church by winning the lost, teaching the saved, and defending the faith. Any task that did not relate to these ministries would have to be abandoned. One reason some local churches today are having problems is because the pastors and spiritual leaders are involved in too many extracurricular activities and are not doing the tasks God has called them to do. It would be a good idea for our churches to take a spiritual inventory!
To think about and discuss
1. What encouragement does Paul’s description of his old life before he was a Christian give us for the work of evangelism?
2. Dramatic testimonies are often widely published and can be very effective, but sometimes there can be such an emphasis on them that God’s work in the lives of ordinary people gets neglected. What do you think Christian leaders and publishers should do to address this?
3. Think of instances where church discipline would be appropriate and inappropriate. How seriously is the subject of church discipline treated today?