First Mennonite Church
May 6, 2018
Witnesses of An Overflowing Grace
Text: 1Timothy 1:12-20
Today and in the next few Sundays, I will be focusing on some passages in the letters of Paul to Timothy. 1 and 2 Timothy are among the so called “Pastoral Letters.” The Pastoral Letters also include Titus and the reason for this name is that these letters provide guidance for pastoral oversight of congregational life and contain the list of qualities and duties of church leaders. No other letter of Paul provides specific guidance for congregational life nor lays out explicit qualifications for church leaders as do 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Congregations most often go to these three letters when finding guidance regarding the qualities and character for their ministers. But these two letters also have some instructions, which do not reflect typical Pauline attitude and teachings as found in his other letters. At some point, however, we will briefly consider the issues of contention among Christians found in these letters. For our information we should know that many scholars believe 1 & 2Timothy were written by someone else other than Paul, but used Paul’s name to give these letters apostolic authority. There are other scholars who argue the contrary and believe these letters to be authentic Pauline materials. I will not enter into that discussion but will focus our attention on how these two letters continue to affirm and proclaim the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
In the beginning of chapter one, Paul addressed Timothy about the reasons Paul left him in the church of Ephesus. There were some in that church who wanted to be teachers of the law, but apparently were not properly trained to do so. It was, therefore, through these letters that Paul gave instructions to Timothy on how to handle himself as an exemplary, well prepared minister of the gospel.
Our passage begins with Paul’s word of gratitude to Christ Jesus for calling him into ministry. It is rather interesting how Paul describes the way he got into ministry. Paul on more than one occasion did not miss the opportunity to share about his conversion experience. But here, Paul does not give any hint of his Damascus experience. Rather, he states: I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service. First, it seems that the Lord judged Paul would be faithful to a future calling, then God strengthened Paul and appointed him to God’s service. Paul, however, admits the fact despite his having been a blasphemer, persecutor and a man of violence Jesus appointed him to be the Lord’s servant. Paul acknowledges that his fierce opposition to the early Jesus movement was out of ignorance. His zeal to preserve the religion of his upbringing, training and practice pushed him to persecute those who believed in Jesus as God’s Messiah. It is only here in this letter that we find Paul admitting he also blasphemed against God and that he was also a man of violence. Despite of all that, Paul says, “The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Paul humbly admits that his being a servant of the Lord was due to God’s overflowing grace and love, through the one Paul once wanted to destroy—Jesus Christ. But Christ appeared to Paul and it was then that Paul was given the revelation about the mystery of God’s working through his agent Jesus.
Paul, the Prime Example of God’s Redeeming Grace
In order to corroborate what was being said about the gospel, Paul used his own life as proof of it. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. This saying is simple, true and yet could be difficult to accept. Christ came to save sinners. That is the good news. The difficulty could be accepting or having to admit that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Paul used his personal experience as evidence of how great and endless God’s mercy and love could be for anyone who would consider himself or herself unworthy of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Therefore, having admitted who he was before his encounter with the living Christ, Paul gave testimony that God’s redeeming love is through Jesus. Paul’s message was: if I could receive mercy after having done great harm to Jesus’ disciples, then there is hope for everyone. We should remember Jesus’ prayer as he died on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Paul had acted out of ignorance.
Paul portrays his life as a living example of how far God’s grace can reach. Paul also believes the Lord’s patience towards him to be an example of how patient the Lord would be with those who were to believe in Jesus. So that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.
Paul’s attitude towards God’s favor of not only extending him forgiveness, despite his active pursuit of destroying the early Christian community, but also for calling him to be the foremost missionary to the Gentiles should be a mirror set before us as Christians today. Paul was fully aware of God’s great mercy for him. Paul did not compare himself to Peter nor with John. Paul knew how deep in sin he had been. He also knew that his being a minister of the gospel was due to nothing else but to God’s overflowing mercy and love through Jesus Christ. If Paul was indeed the one who wrote the letters to Timothy, the passage for today not only reveals how profoundly grateful Paul was for the grace shown to him even unto the very end of his earthly life, but would also reveal that he never forgot where he had come from. Paul never forgot that his authority, position of honor among the believers, and his great missionary achievement were all because God extended to him unmerited mercy and love. Paul never forgot that God’s righteousness revealed in his life was nothing he earned through works but that it was a gift of God. Paul was a living example of what he said in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8 and 9).
Paul was fully aware of who he was and of the great impact of his ministry. He knew how loved and admired he was. But he was also mindful of where he had come from. He took no credit for himself for the great success he had achieved. He did not see himself as holier than others. He saw himself as an example of what Jesus’ redeeming love can do for others. And Paul also prayed that God would give others the same experience of grace and love he had had. Paul prayed that Jesus’ patience for him would be an encouragement for others.
I said earlier that Paul used his own experience, both of who he was and who he became, as an example of what Jesus can do in the lives of those who believe. Anything and everything we are we owe to the Lord’s abundant grace to us. You nor I would be here this morning had it not been for God’s grace abundantly bestowed upon us. Yet, we could be tempted to believe that our being Christian/church goers, people who pray to God or read the Bible are better off than others who don’t do those things. We risk forgetting that our being here today and doing the “Christian” things we do come not out of our natural inclinations, but are the result of God’s Spirit working in us.
We live in a divided world. It is a world divided by “us” versus “them.” Extending grace, compassion, and sympathy to others are very rare virtues. Impatience and passing judgment upon others seem to be the norm. But as for us, let us never forget that we owe to God’s overflowing mercy who we are. We should be humbled by the fact that the Lord’s patience towards us is what has sustained us even until today. For that reason we should be patient with one another. We should refrain from comparing ourselves to others. Paul was the living witness of God’s power, mercy, and love to those who saw and knew Paul. We, also, should be living witnesses of God’s overflowing grace and power to everyone who knows us. Amen!