1 Timothy 1:12-20
But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:16 NLT
Paul understood what it was like to have a strong opinion about something. He also knew that passion and zeal did not make someone right. The individuals who were negatively influencing the believers in Ephesus and causing problems for Timothy were all convinced that they were right. Paul describes them as wanting "to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently" (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT). At one time, Paul had been much like them. He had been an expert in the law and a Pharisee. He described himself as "a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today" (Acts 26:3 NLT). In his mind, all that he had done during that time in his life was done so to honor God. He did what he did with confidence and a clear conscience, including blaspheming the name of Christ and persecuting the people of God. But as Paul looked back on his life, he recognized that it all had been done "in ignorance and unbelief" (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT).
So what's Paul's point? He wants Timothy to know that even those individuals who are causing confusion and conflict within the church in Ephesus are not hopeless cases. They are not lost causes. If God could extend mercy and grace to Paul, He can certainly do the same with those who "have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions" (1 Timothy 1:6 NLT). It seems that Paul is attempting to encourage Timothy to trust in the grace and mercy of God in the midst of all that he was facing. God had been able to take a man like Paul, known as Saul in those days, and miraculously change his heart and his life through an encounter with His Son, Jesus Christ. Saul had met Christ on the road to Damascus and had never been the same again. "Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 1:14 NLT). Paul reminds his young disciple that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15 NLT), and he classifies himself as "the worst of them all!" But God had mercy. God extended grace. Paul's life had not been beyond the reach of God. His life had not been too far gone for Jesus to transform. He had not been irredeemable. Paul's life had become "a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life" (1 Timothy 1:16b NLT).
Paul gave Timothy a timely reminder: "All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God" (1 Timothy 1:17 NLT). He was never to lose sight of that fact – in spite of all the opposition, confusion, setbacks, false teachers, uncommitted congregants, limited converts, and trying circumstances. He gave Timothy one simple directive: "Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear" (1 Timothy 1:19 NLT). Faith in what? Faith in Christ. Jesus Christ was the one who had made it possible for men to be made right with God. He was the one who provided redemption and restoration with the Father. It was through Him that all men have access to God's incredible mercy, grace, power, presence, and provision. Paul wanted Timothy to remain faithful to Christ and faithfully fulfill his work as God's minister of the Gospel. Some had failed to do so and Paul used them as an example and a warning. Hymenaeus and Alexander, evidently believers and members of the local fellowship there in Ephesus, had not remained faithful to Christ. They had violated their consciences, somehow disobeying what they knew to be true and right and, as a result, had shipwrecked their faith. Their lives were spiritually "on the rocks," out of commission and under God's discipline. Faithfulness is the key to preventing spiritual failure. God was going to use Timothy in a powerful way, but Timothy had to remain faithful to Christ and focused on God's power to extend grace and mercy to all, and redeem even the worst of sinners. Timothy's God was still on His throne. The same Christ who had taken Saul of Tarsus and transformed him into Paul the apostle, was working in the city of Ephesus. He's working in our city as well. So we must remain faithful.
Father, like Timothy, we sometimes face opposition and find ourselves tempted to give in or even give up. But Your plan is unstoppable. Your grace and mercy are without limit. We just need to remain faithful to Your Son and dependent upon Your power. There is no situation so difficult or individual so sinful that You cannot remedy or redeem. Keep us focused on You, not our circumstances. Amen.