Amazing Grace

(1 Timothy 1:12-17)

INTRODUCTION: Please turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Timothy 1:12-17. Today I want to talk about grace and God’s amazing grace extended to us in Jesus Christ. As Paul writes to Timothy in today’s passage, Paul focuses on God’s grace to him as an individual and to all who choose to trust Jesus as their savior. Even as he writes, he can’t help but break into thanksgiving and praise to God for extending grace to sinners such as himself. And so, this morning I want us to talk about praising God for his amazing grace. This is something that we will be doing throughout all of eternity, and something that we should be doing now, too. (Read 1 Timothy 1:12-17 and pray)

Most of you are probably familiar with the song “Amazing Grace,” written by John Newton, especially the first verse that goes like this: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Newton had it right. If you are going to use any adjective to describe God’s grace, it may as well be the word “amazing.” God’s grace is amazing, and I believe that when we truly understand the meaning of God’s grace, we will respond by praising God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The apostle Paul understood God’s grace, and it caused him to praise God with his whole life.

So, this morning I would like us to look at God’s grace as described for us here in 1 Timothy 1. And there are three things I want you to understand about God’s grace this morning.

   1) God’s grace is greater than your past.
   2) God’s grace is greater than your sin.
   3) God’s grace displays his unlimited patience.

And my prayer is that as you grow in your understanding of God’s grace, you will also grow in your praise of our great God who gives us such grace through Jesus Christ.

I. God’s grace is greater than your past (12-13)
   – Numbers 15:20-31; Acts 9:15, 22:4,19, 26:9-11

First of all, God’s grace is greater than your past. Look at verse 12 with me. Paul writes: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.” (1 Timothy 1:12) In verse 11 right before this, Paul speaks about how God had entrusted him with the gospel. Now he thanks God for considering him faithful and appointing him to his service. Specifically, he thanks “Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is a full title that proclaims Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and which reminds us that we too share in Christ – he is “our Lord.”

Paul is astonished and grateful that Christ would consider him faithful. In Acts 9 when Christ called Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul was anything but faithful. He was opposed to Christ and Christ’s people. But God called him into his service anyways, saying, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) God’s grace was greater than Paul’s past, and God chose him for service in the kingdom of God.

This is all the more astonishing when you look at how bad Paul’s past actually was. Back to 1 Timothy 1 look at verse 13: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” (1 Timothy 1:13) Paul describes himself here as a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.

The word “blaspheme” means to slander God or God’s name. In Acts 26, Paul speaks of how he was convinced that he “ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus” and how he “put many of the saints in prison and … tried to force them to blaspheme (Acts 26:9-11) Paul was a blasphemer.

The word “persecute” comes from a word meaning to pursue or follow after. Paul writes in Acts 26:11: “In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.” (Acts 26:11) Paul was a persecutor. In his zeal for the Jewish law, Paul hunted Christians down from Jerusalem to Damascus in order to persecute them for their faith.

Paul also says that he was a violent man. He uses a word that means someone who deliberately harms or humiliates another person out of pride and contempt. Paul says in Acts 22:4: “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison.” In Acts 22:19 Paul says, “I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who [believed in Jesus].” Paul was a violent man. He didn’t just want to stop these believers from following Christ. He wanted to hurt them. He wanted to humiliate them publicly.

And yet even though Paul was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, Paul says he was shown mercy, the exact opposite of what he showed to the believers he persecuted. Paul says that he was shown mercy because he acted in ignorance and unbelief.

This does not mean that Paul was not responsible for his sin or that he was not guilty before God for his actions. Paul is not excusing himself for his actions. In fact, in verse 15 he calls himself the worst of sinners. Paul is most likely appealing to the Old Testament concept of intentional and unintentional sins. (Numbers 15:20-31) Paul thought he was serving God when he was persecuting the Christians. He acted in ignorance and unbelief. He was still not deserving of mercy. He had a terrible past, but God showed him mercy anyways.

This was Paul’s past, and yet God still turned Paul around, gave him strength, and considered him faithful, appointing him to his service. That is simply amazing. That’s the first aspect of God’s amazing grace. God’s grace is greater than your past.

II. God’s grace is greater than your sin (14-15)
   – Luke 19:10; John 3:17; Acts 9:1-6

God’s grace is not only greater than your past. It is also greater than your sin. As we’ve just seen Paul’s past involved plenty of sin, but when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, Paul learned how great his sin really was. Paul learned that he was not only persecuting Christians, but he was actually persecuting Jesus himself. Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:1-6)

And yet as bad as Paul’s sin was, Paul is still able to say in verse 14: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:14) Paul had sinned against Christ and his church, and yet God poured out his grace on Paul abundantly. This is a word that means extravagant, to overflow, to “over-super-abound.” And along with this grace came the gift of faith and a new love for God and his people, the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

It doesn’t matter how badly you have sinned against God in the past. God can forgive you. God can restore you. God can still use you to serve him. There is a wonderful hymn that speaks this truth so clearly. The refrain goes like this:

Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within!
Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin!
(by Julia Johnston and Daniel Towner)

God’s grace is greater than your sin. Look at verse 15 where Paul says, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

This is the first of five “trustworthy sayings” that we find in what we call Paul’s pastoral letters. These sayings seem to be distillations of Christ’s teachings that were passed around in the early church before the gospels were written. Paul says that this saying is one “that deserves full acceptance.” This saying is not only trustworthy but should be personally welcomed and accepted by all who hear it.

And what is the saying? “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Once again, this is a summation of several sayings of Jesus, like Luke 19:10 where Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost,” and John 3:17 where Jesus said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

This is good news for us as sinners. Are you lost? Jesus came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. Are you a sinner? Jesus did not come into the world to condemn you but to save you. You do not have to hide from God because you are a sinner. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That is the reason why he came. This saying is trustworthy and deserves your full acceptance.

Now when Paul gets to the word, “sinners,” at the end of the saying in verse 15, he is prompted to add a personal note. He says: “of whom I am the worst.” The word he uses for “worst” here actually means “chief or foremost.” It was from this verse that John Bunyan drew the title for his autobiography: “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.” What is Paul saying? Paul is saying, “I am the greatest sinner of all!” – which of course makes him the worst sinner of all. If you’re the greatest at sinning, that makes you the worst!

How are we supposed to take this? Is Paul exaggerating, or does he really think that he is the worst sinner of all? I believe Paul is completely sincere. Although Paul was forgiven by Christ, Paul knew that he had formerly persecuted Jesus and his church, and he thus viewed himself as the chief of sinners. In a way we can all view ourselves as the chief of sinners, because we all know our own sin so much better than anyone else’s, but Paul felt he really was the worst sinner of all.

And so that’s two things we’ve now learned about God’s grace from today’s passage. God’s grace is greater than your past. God’s grace is greater than your sin.

III. God’s grace displays his unlimited patience (16-17)
   – 1 Timothy 6:16, 2 Peter 3:15

And then there’s one other thing we learn about God’s grace in these verses. God’s grace displays his unlimited patience, especially his patience with sinners. And this is a patience that should lead you to put your faith in Christ. Look at verse 16: “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16) Paul is basically saying, “If Jesus could save me, then he could save anyone!”

Jesus displayed his unlimited patience in Paul as an example for others who would believe. If Jesus was patient with Paul while he was blaspheming Christ’s name and persecuting Christ’s church and physically harming Christ’s people, then you may be certain that Jesus is patient with you as well. He is waiting for you to come to him.

The apostle Peter says something similar in 2 Peter 3:15. Peter writes: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.” (2 Peter 3:15) It is possible that Peter was even thinking about Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:16 when he wrote these words in his letter.

Have you ever felt that God has given up on you? That you have sinned too badly to be forgiven? That it is too late for you to come to Christ? Be encouraged! God will never give up on you. Jesus displayed his unlimited patience in Paul, the chief of sinners, as an example for you, so that you would turn to him and put your own faith in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life.

The phrase Paul uses for eternal life in verse 16 is a phrase that literally means, “the life of the age to come.” The emphasis is not so much on the duration but the quality of this kind of life. Yes, it is life that lasts forever, but it is also life in God’s presence, life marked by holiness, life filled with peace and joy through the Holy Spirit. This is the kind of life that we will enjoy for all eternity. And yet we do not have to wait until we enter eternity to begin to experience it. We receive it even now. When you trust Jesus Christ, you receive eternal life and begin to enjoy its benefits in the present.

All this causes Paul to break off into praise once again. Look at verse 17: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)

Paul stops to think about who this God is who has shown him such mercy and grace in Christ Jesus. He is the eternal King of the universe, literally, “the King of the ages,” that is, he is the King of the past age, the present age and the age to come. He is immortal, a word which means incorruptible. He is not subject to sin or death or corruption as we are. He is invisible. God is spirit, and we cannot observe him directly, or as Paul will say later in this same letter to Timothy, he “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (1 Timothy 6:16) He is the only God, the one, true, living God who is over and above all power and authority.

How amazing that the one true God who is eternal, immortal, invisible should come into our world as a man to save sinners like Paul and sinners like you and like me. No wonder Paul cries out: “to him be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

You see, knowledge of God’s grace should prompt a response from us. Like Paul we should be filled with thanksgiving and praise for God’s amazing grace. We should never get used to it. There is an old song that goes, “I’ve grown accustomed to your face.” We should never grow accustomed to God’s grace. We should always be praising God for his amazing grace.

CONCLUSION: We started this morning by looking at the words to the song “Amazing Grace,” written by John Newton. Most of you probably know the song, but not all of you may know John Newton’s story. Before he became a Christian and wrote this song, he was involved in the slave trading business and was the captain of a slave trading ship for a while.

Once when he encountered a violent storm at sea, Newton cried out for God’s mercy and deliverance, and God brought him safely through the storm. Realizing that God had shown him mercy that he did not deserve, he was drawn by God’s grace to put his faith in Christ. He left the slave trade and became a pastor, but he was always deeply conscious of God’s grace in his life.

John Newton, like Paul, probably considered himself the chief of sinners. In fact, the words on his tombstone are strikingly similar to the words of Paul we have just studied this morning. His tombstone reads this: “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”

When Newton was eighty-two years old, and his health was failing, he said this: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” You see, John Newton understood God’s grace. It was God’s grace that delivered him from sin to begin with. And it was God’s grace that sustained him even in his final years.

What have we learned about grace this morning?

   1) God’s grace is greater than your past.
   2) God’s grace is greater than your sin.
   3) God’s grace displays his unlimited patience.

Never presume on God’s grace or take it for granted. We should praise God every day for his amazing grace.

© Ray Fowler

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