Oh What God Can Do!

Posted: September 29, 2008 in 1 Timothy

1 Timothy 1:12-20, “Oh What God Can Do!”

One of the (many) ironic things about so-called “reality” shows is that there is so little reality in them. This shows up especially in the casting. Generally there are stereotypes from every walk of life (the jock, the joker, the beauty queen, etc) – and every one of them “fits” in exactly how the producer of the show wants them to fit in. Imagine if the Apostle Paul showed up to audition for one of these things…the producer would have a meltdown! He simply doesn’t fit any stereotype.

By all reckonings, Paul (Saul) should have been a member of the Sanhedrin up until the day that the Temple was destroyed – enjoying the benefits of power and prestige among the Jewish community. And that seemed to be his career path in the early days of the church as he went around persecuting believers & increasing his own profile among the Jewish leadership. But when the Lord Jesus stopped him on the road to Damascus, everything changed! Instead of a zealous Pharisee, he became a loving evangelist – boldly taking the gospel to the Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Talk about blowing stereotypes away! 🙂

As Paul finishes out Ch 1 to Timothy, he’s struck by the ‘incredibleness’ of it all & left in awe that God would even choose someone like himself to take part in the Great Commission. Beginning the chapter, he exhorted Timothy to stay true to the doctrine that Paul himself had taught, using the law to bring about knowledge of sin & then providing the glorious gospel to those who understand their need for a Savior. As he pondered the magnificence of the gospel, he can’t help reflecting back on his own calling into ministry – breaking out in praise – and exhorting Timothy to keep following Christ alone.

1 Timothy 1:12-20 (NKJV)
12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry,
A. Jesus “enabled” Paul for the ministry. Gk is actually a compound word combing “in” & “power/strength” (the root is the same word used of God’s miraculous equipping power). The thought here is not that Christ sent Paul off with a diploma & a “good luck!” – but that He strengthened, equipped, and empowered Paul for everything he needed to endure in the apostolic ministry.
__a. Goes back to a fundamental truth: it is impossible to do the work of God without the power of God. Too many times, we try to “walk the life” in our own strength & we end up like Peter trying to walk on water by himself: over our head & gasping for air. It’s not that God’s power is recommended; it’s that it’s utterly necessary! We CAN NOT do this on our own!
__b. The good news is that He never intended us to do so. Acts 1:8 (8) But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” []
B. Jesus “counted” Paul “faithful”. Sounds fine & dandy until we remember the history. Previously, Paul had been completely faithless (see vs. 13). There was nothing good in the guy to count faithful at all – which just goes to underscore the incredible grace Jesus provided. Any faithfulness Jesus found in Paul was the work that Jesus was already doing in him.
__a. Some think that Jesus was looking into the future & saw that Paul would be faithful to the calling…but that introduces a huge problem: Jesus would be seeing some sort of righteousness that Paul had prior to calling him…and Paul (like all of us) have none outside of Christ!
C. Jesus put the 1st 2 into action by putting Paul into the ministry. Why was this so astounding? Because of Paul’s past! See vs. 13…
13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
A. We’ve all got our B.C. stories, and Paul was no different. In his B.C. days, Saul was anything but a nice guy. He was a:
__a. “Blasphemer”: Even though he thought he was protecting the name of God from being sullied by this new sect. …
__b. “Persecutor”: Even though he thought he was defending the true faith of God, he was actually persecuting it. He was actually surprised when Christ Jesus confronted him about it on the road (Acts 9:5). Note the escalation here from blaspheming…this goes beyond words to actions.
__c. “Insolent man”: Even though he thought he was operating within the confines of the law, he was a violent man. He consented to hold the coats of those who martyred Stephen (Acts 7:58), and got illegal extradition authority (from the Jews; not the Romans) to go drag Christians away from cities outside of Judea (Acts 9:2).
B. What changed? Paul received “mercy”. The common shorthand distinction between mercy & grace is that mercy = “not getting what we do deserve” & grace = “getting what we do not deserve.” For the Christian, both are absolutely necessary & exactly what we experience through Christ. We are given what we don’t deserve (new life, adoption by God, co-heir with Christ), but before we are given those things, we are shown mercy & not given eternal wrath & punishment.
C. Why? Because he did these things in “ignorance and unbelief”. As when Jesus prayed while hanging on the cross for the people who put them there (they know not what they do – Luke 23:34), Paul (Saul) didn’t know that he was actively working against God (he actually thought he was pleasing God!), and it was at this point that God showed him mercy.
__a. ‘But I thought we were without excuse?!’ Right. So was Paul…that’s why he needed mercy. You can’t deserve mercy – it’s not a “right” to be given us simply because we didn’t know better… It’s called “mercy” precisely because we don’t deserve it.
14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
A. Paul almost seems to fun out of words to describe the mercy and calling he’s received from God… God’s grace was “exceedingly abundant” – lit “superabounded” – he experienced an overflowing amount of the grace of God.
__a. Why does Paul write “grace” this time instead of “mercy”? Mercy kept Paul from being punished for his sin. Grace gave Paul a calling into the ministry of the One he persecuted (vs 12). Not unlike today when former Islamic terrorists become born again & start preaching the gospel of Christ [Walid Shoebat] – Jesus performs such an utter transformation in this person’s life that they’re virtually unrecognizable from whom they were before…a “superabounding” of His mercy.
__b. Spiritually, that’s exactly what Christ does with ALL of us! We simply don’t always walk in it…
B. What is grace coupled with? Faith & love…Paul was able to experience them for the 1st time once he was regenerated & refreshed by the grace of God. Once he had faith in God, he was no longer operating in unbelief – once he experienced the agape love of Christ, he no longer blasphemed, persecuted, or acted out violently.
__a. (Earle) “This is another of the apostle’s great trilogies. ‘Grace’ provided his salvation, ‘faith’ appropriated it, and ‘love’ applied it.”
C. Where do faith, love, and grace originate? Christ Jesus. People will try to fake these things all day long – but it’s impossible to truly love someone in agape love without being transformed by the Lord Jesus…He’s our very example! We can’t fake faith because the Lord knows our hearts & true faith is given to us apart from any works (Eph 2:8-9). And all of this is rooted in the grace of Christ, which He gives freely to call who turn to Him.
__a. Affirms once more the divinity of Christ. Jesus is not only the Son of God; He’s God the Son. How else can faith, love, and grace originate in Him? There is only one “originator” of anything – the Creator God!
15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
A. Why did Jesus come? To be a good moral teacher? To be a mystic philosopher? To be a prophet or miracle worker? No! He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He came to make dead people alive again… He came to “save sinners”. We dare not water down this truth! People are often offended to be called a sinner…and rightfully so! … To have sinned against the eternal God is a terrible offense, worthy of eternal punishment. But simply because it can be offensive doesn’t mean it’s not true. It IS true – we have all sinned & fall short of the glory of God – we ALL deserve death…but that’s exactly why Christ Jesus came into the world: to offer salvation to those who need a Savior!
B. This isn’t some sort of secondary truth or minor point of doctrine. This is “a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.” If we can’t agree on this point about Jesus, then we’re not talking about the same Jesus.
__i. There are many theological debates I’ll engage in with people, but who Christ Jesus is & the purpose of His death on the cross is not one of them. Those who don’t understand these basic fundamentals won’t understand the debate – it’s foolishness to them (1 Cor 1:18)…they can’t understand it if they tried because they’re not born again (1 Cor 2:14). At this point, they don’t need a debate; they need the gospel!
C. Who qualifies as a sinner? We all do! And if there’s one point on which I disagree with Paul, it’s that he was the chief sinner…because I know that I am. … But I suggest that this is his point. Once we come to grips with the sinfulness of sin (through the law) and the greatness of grace (through the cross), then we can’t help but see ourselves as the chief of sinners…because at that point we understand what Christ saved us from and what He’s saving us for…
16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
A. What reason? Paul’s salvation. If Saul the persecuting Pharisee can be saved, then anyone can be saved. In the middle of all his persecuting, blasphemy, and insolence, Christ Jesus patiently dealt with Saul, bringing him to the point where he was ready to receive the shock of his life on the road to Damascus…
__a. That’s the way God deals with all of us. In our sin, God has every right to wipe us out every day. But He doesn’t! He patiently gives us day after day to repent & respond to His offer of forgiveness and grace. As Peter writes, this isn’t laziness, this is a demonstration of God’s longsuffering & kindness with us. 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. []
B. Paul’s salvation becomes a pattern to us. Ultimately the rest of us experience the same thing he experienced – even if we don’t all have a visual encounter with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus…every Christian still has an encounter with the Lord Jesus & He does the same work in us… We went from death to life – from condemnation to exaltation – and we are called by God to serve Him in the gospel…using whatever means by which He has equipped us.
C. How is “everlasting life” given? By believing on Jesus Christ! When we place our trust in Jesus as the Son of God risen from the dead – when we have faith in His work on the cross for forgiveness of sin – He saves us! There is no other work that can be done: we can’t buy it (it’s already been purchased) – we can’t negotiate it (Jesus is the only Mediator) – we can’t earn it (our righteousness are filthy rags) – we can’t rely on religious piety (Jesus is the only way). We simply believe on / trust in Jesus as Lord! Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. [] That’s a promise from the word of God!
__a. ‘Isn’t that kind of easy?’ It depends on how you define easy. Nothing about our salvation is easy or cheap – evidenced by what Jesus endured at the cross. But at the same time, it is a free gift. God knows our hearts – if we truly turn to Christ, trusting Him alone for salvation, He will save us & transform us from the inside out. But good works follow salvation; they don’t earn it. It begins with belief.
17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
A. Coming to the end of this thought of how he was saved through the grace of God, Paul basically breaks into song… Doxology.
__a. God is King: He reigns! There is nothing in all of creation over which God does not have ultimate authority – He is the King. Even though there is a spiritual battle that wages on, Christ is already victorious. All authority in heaven & earth has been given to Him – and He has already been proclaimed King of Kings & Lord of Lord!
__b. God is eternal: In the Greek, “eternal” actually modifies “King” – God is the King of the Ages; the eternal everlasting King. Underscores the fact that God is beyond time. Genesis tells us “In the beginning God”…and provides no history beyond that because nothing else can be said. God has always been King; God will always be King – and in that we can rejoice & glorify Him!
__c. God is immortal: Just as there was no beginning to God, there will be no end. God never dies; He vanquishes death! Through the Resurrection, God has already taken away the sting of death – and in the future, Death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). We serve the immortal God!
__d. God is invisible: When speaking with the Samaritan woman, Jesus affirmed that God is a spirit & those who worship Him must do so in spirit & in truth (John 4:24). The reason that God commanded that we make no “graven images” is because no image we could create can possibly capture the invisible God…but God provided His own image in Christ Jesus! (Col 1:15)
__e. God is wise: This actually isn’t found in many Bible translations – the critical text does not include it; but the Majority Text (total # of manuscripts) does. To those who follow the critical text, Paul is interpreted as affirming monotheism (God is God alone – Deut 6:4). To those who follow the Majority Text, it’s both a testimony to His character, and a bridge to the context of what Paul’s been talking about…that although it would be foolish in the eyes of the world to take a persecutor of the church, save him, and call him to the ministry – to God, this is an act of supreme Divine wisdom! 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 (26) For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. (27) But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; []
__f. God is worthy of honor: Anything of any value or any price pales in comparison with God. His gift of grace is inestimable in its worth because God Himself is beyond measure. Anything (and everything) is worth giving up for God, because He holds our souls in His hand – and what would it profit to gain the whole world & yet lose our souls? (Mark 8:36)
__g. God is worthy of glory: He is supremely worth of glory! If God had done nothing at all, He would be worthy simply because He is God. If God had only created the universe, He’d be worthy of glory. But He went far beyond that – He created the universe, provided for those who sinned against Him, showed mercy on a daily basis for thousands of years, provided the propitiation for sin at the cross of Jesus Christ, provided the victory over sin at His resurrection, saved all who call upon Him, gave us new life, gave us undeserved righteousness, empowered us through the Holy Spirit…and on & on. Glory be to God!
__h. Forever! And ever! For all eternity we will join with the angelic chorus in singing “Holy holy holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” It’ll never grow old – it’ll never become boring – there will never be a day when we say, “Can’t we stop praising the Lord now?” – because we will always be in awe of His goodness & love & mercy & grace…all for which He will forever be praised.
B. Glory be to God! What other response could we possibly have to the gospel?
18 This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,
A. Because Paul had been called by God to the ministry (as had Timothy), he charges Timothy to stand firm and persevere in the ministry. Timothy’s calling had been verified by the church (through prophecy) – and Paul’s exhorting him to hold onto whatever those prophecies & promises were, in order to fulfill the ministry.
__a. Rely on the promises of God!
19 having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, 20 of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
A. How to wage the good warfare?
__a. Have “faith”: Like the exhortation in vs. 3, Timothy was to have faith in the good doctrine that Paul had been teaching. He was to hold fast to the truth of the Scriptures, and the promises of God. Christ Jesus had also enabled Timothy & placed him into the ministry – so he needed to keep the faith.
__b. Have a “good conscience”: Few things will deter someone faster from the calling Christ has for them than sin. Timothy (and all of us) needed to strive to keep his conscience clean before God. … That’s not to say Timothy wouldn’t mess up along the way & sin; but when he did, he needn’t live with the guilt – simply confess it to God & receive God’s cleansing & forgiveness (1 John 1:9)
B. Why this exhortation? Because some who were called do reject the faith…they shipwreck along the way and lose everything. Hymenaeus (also mentioned in 2 Tim 2:17) & Alexander (don’t know exactly who – it was a common name…could have been the coppersmith, but we don’t know) were two examples of this. Apparently these guys had been ministering in some fashion, but had fallen into false teaching & blasphemy.
__a. “shipwreck”: Is this a reference to a full apostasy & denial of the faith? Or someone who’s backslidden? Scholars are divided – Paul’s method of discipline is a method used for believers, but an apostate unbeliever would also be excommunicated from the church. Considering the definite article “the” (or “their”) – it seems to refer to their whole faith, rather than simple doctrinal error.
__b. If they were indeed apostates, were these guys saved to begin with? That’s also a matter of debate. Regardless of the theological reality concerning their salvation, these guys plainly thought they were ‘Christian’ at least at a surface level…and then later rejected it. [D.F.] It behooves us to examine ourselves & see if we’re in the faith (2 Cor 13:5).
C. What does Paul mean by having “delivered them over to Satan”? Simply part of church discipline… 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 (4) In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, (5) deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. [] The idea isn’t so much one of condemnation, but restoration. By being cast into the world, they leave the protection of the church in the hopes that they come to their senses.
Once Paul started thinking about the gospel, he couldn’t help reflecting back on what God had done in his own life – and it was amazing! God took a former persecutor & not only saved him, but turned him into a minister of the gospel. He who was once the “chief of sinners” was now born again & the apostle to the Gentiles…utterly amazing & God gets all the glory!

But that’s not the end of the story. If you believed on Jesus Christ, then Jesus Christ saved you too! Amen! You once were _____, but now you’ve been called by Him to give God glory through the gospel. … Don’t give that up for anything! Stay true to the calling and promises of God through faith and a good conscience; trusting in Jesus’ finished work at the cross. The shipwreck isn’t worth it.


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