Praising God for His Amazing Grace

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1 Timothy 1:12-20

INTRODUCTION: Please turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Timothy 1:12-20. Our message series is called “Doing Church Together.” After Paul left Timothy in charge of the church at Ephesus, he wrote this letter to encourage him and to give him instructions about the church and what the church should be doing. We looked at the first of those instructions last week – the church should be doing God’s work by faith.

Now in this next section Paul focuses on God’s grace to him as an individual and to all who choose to trust Jesus Christ 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. This provides the focus for today’s message. Another part of doing church together is simply 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.

1 Timothy 1:12-20 – 12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 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. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. 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. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
18 Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (NIV)

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 one 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 would like you to understand about God’s grace this morning.

    1) God’s grace is greater than your sin and your past.
    2) God’s grace displays his unlimited patience.
    3) God’s grace should motivate you to persevere in your faith.

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 sin and your past (verses 12-14)

First of all, God’s grace is greater than your sin and 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 Paul just spoke 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,” a full title that proclaims Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and which reminds Paul’s readers that they too share in Christ – he is “our Lord.”

Paul is astonished and grateful that Christ would consider him faithful. At the time Christ called him on the road to Damascus, Paul was anything but faithful. He was opposed to Christ and Christ’s people. But God called him into 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 he chose him for service in the kingdom of God. Unlike the false teachers who merely “wanted to be teachers of the law,” Paul was appointed to Christ’s service and commissioned as an apostle.

This is all the more astonishing when you look at how bad Paul’s past actually was. 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 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 did “all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth” and how he “put many of the saints in prison and … tried to force them to blaspheme.” (Acts 26:9-11)

The word persecute comes from a word meaning to pursue or follow after. 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 he “went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those” who believed in Jesus. Paul didn’t just want to stop these believers from following Christ. He wanted to hurt them. He wanted to humiliate them publicly.

This was Paul’s sin. This was Paul’s past. And as bad as all this was, when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, Paul learned that his sin was even worse, for Jesus told Paul that he was not only persecuting Christians, but he was actually persecuting Jesus himself. 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 Paul 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 sin. In fact in verse 15 he calls himself the worst of sinners. Paul is most likely appealing to the Old Testament concept of unintentional sins and defiant 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. Or as Paul says 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 – an extravagant word that means 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.

That is the first thing we learn about God’s grace from this section. God’s grace is greater than your sin and your past. 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; it is greater than your past.

II. God’s grace displays his unlimited patience (verses 15-17)

The next section, verses 15-17, tells us something else about God’s grace. God’s grace displays his unlimited patience, especially his patience with sinners, a patience that should lead you to put your faith in Christ. 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 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 particular 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 distillation 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 sinners. Jesus came into the world to seek that which was lost. 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.

When Paul gets to the word, “sinners,” at the end of the saying, he is prompted to add a personal note: “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.” Paul is saying, “I am the greatest sinner of all!” – which of course makes him 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.

But Paul is not wallowing in guilt or self-pity here. He brings this up to make a point. 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!”

Paul says that 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, 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: “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.” It is possible that Peter was 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. 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 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. In other words, eternal life starts 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, 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 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.

III. God’s grace should motivate you to persevere in your faith (verses 18-20)

Gods grace is greater than your sin and your past. God’s grace displays his unlimited patience. And finally, God’s grace should motivate you to persevere in your faith.

After stopping to reflect on God’s grace and giving God praise for his grace, Paul returns to giving instruction to Timothy. Look at verses 18-19: “Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience.” (1 Timothy 1:18-19)

Paul addresses Timothy as his son once again. He says, “Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction.” The word “give” in verse 18 is a banking term that means to deposit for safekeeping. Just as Paul had been entrusted with the gospel of grace, he entrusts the same gospel to Timothy. Later on in his second letter to Timothy, using the exact same word, Paul will tell Timothy to “entrust [these things] to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Paul is committing this instruction to Timothy’s care and expects Timothy to safeguard it and then pass it on to reliable men who will then pass it on to others.

Paul does this in keeping with the prophecies once made about Timothy. Paul himself had been called into the ministry through a series of prophetic revelations. First, a man named Ananias had come to Paul with a word from God after Paul was struck blind on the road to Damascus. Later, we read in the book of Acts, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” (Acts 13:2) Apparently Timothy’s call to ministry was also accompanied by several prophecies, perhaps a general call to the work of the ministry, and then later a specific call to accompany Paul on his missionary journeys.

Paul reminds Timothy of his call to ministry and encourages him to stay the course. He urges Timothy to “fight the good fight.” Those two words for “fight” in verse 18 are both military terms for waging war. But this is not an immoral or an unjust war. This is a good fight; it is a good and noble task to which Timothy has been called.

Timothy is to fight this good fight by “holding on to faith and a good conscience.” This is a reflection of verse 5 where Paul said that “the goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) We are also called to fight the good fight by holding on to faith and a good conscience. Not only must we believe in Christ, but our faith should impact our behavior. We should turn away from sin in our lives and confess our sins to God so that we may have a clear conscience before him. God’s grace should motivate you to persevere in your faith.

In order to further emphasize this point, Paul goes on in verses 19-20 to warn Timothy about those who have not held on to faith and a good conscience. “Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:19-20) The word “rejected” in verse 19 means to push something away from you. Instead of holding on to faith and good conscience, these men have pushed them away.

There is a question as to whether Paul is speaking about believers who have fallen into sin or non-believers who pushed these things away to begin with. Good arguments can be made both ways, but I believe Paul is speaking about believers who have given into sin. You can’t hand an unbeliever over to Satan. They already belong to him. These are believers who are no longer fighting the good fight. They have given into that from which God has saved them. As a result they no longer have a clear conscience before God, and they have made a wreck of their faith. It is not that they have lost their salvation, but they have lost sight of God’s grace to them in Christ.

Paul goes on to give the names of two people who have actually done this – Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul says that he has “handed them over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” We hear that phrase and we ask, “What in the world is Paul talking about? What does it mean to hand someone over to Satan? Is that even Christian?” Even if you don’t know what it means, you know just hearing it that it can’t be good.

The best explanation is that this seems to be a technical phrase for church discipline. Paul uses the same phrase in 1 Corinthians 5 concerning a believer who had given into sin. Paul tells the Corinthians, “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)

The idea seems to be that of transferring the believer from the fellowship of the church back into the world which is the realm of Satan’s power. There may also be the thought of the removal of God’s protection in that person’s life. Think about Job. Job was handed over to Satan when God removed his hand of protection from Job’s life. The believer who deliberately pushes away faith and a good conscience is playing with fire. They are inviting church discipline into their lives and willingly walking away from God’s protection from Satan.

What is Paul’s purpose in handing Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan? Is Paul bitter or resentful here? No, he has done this so that they may be “taught not to blaspheme.” The word “taught” in verse 20 is not the word for learning in a classroom. It is a word that means to be trained through discipline, to be corrected through stern punishment. It is related to the word “child” in the Greek and carries the thought of parents disciplining their children when they have done wrong.

The church has a responsibility to discipline those believers who choose sin over a good conscience. That means removing that person from church fellowship until such time that they turn from their sin and turn back to God. That may sound harsh, but the motivation once again is love. That’s what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Removing a fellow believer from the fellowship of the church and handing them over to Satan’s domain is one of the hardest things a church can do. But it is also one of the most loving things a church can do. And it has to be done if the church is to be obedient to Jesus Christ.

How about you this morning? Are you fighting the good fight? Are you holding on to faith and a good conscience, or are you giving up the fight and giving into sin? Have you forgotten what Jesus did for you at the cross? Have you lost sight of God’s grace in your life? God is patient with you, but his discipline in your life can be severe. Don’t take God’s grace lightly, but fight the good fight of the faith. God’s grace should never be an excuse for sin, but rather should motivate you to persevere in your faith.

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 John Newton became a Christian and wrote this song, he was involved in the slave trading business and was actually 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 a mercy that he did not deserve, he was drawn by God’s grace to put his faith in Christ several years later. He eventually 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: “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, “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 sin and your past.
    2) God’s grace displays his unlimited patience.
    3) God’s grace should motivate you to persevere in your faith.

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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