A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 1:12-17. 2). The apostle Paul and the gospel.
Turning away from the false teachers and their misuse of the law, Paul now writes about himself and the gospel which has been entrusted to him. He makes an extremely personal statement. He retells the story of his conversion and commissioning, sandwiching it between two paeans of praise. ‘I thank Christ Jesus’, he begins (12), and ends: ‘Now to the king of the ages be glory and honour’ (17). His whole life is permeated with thanksgiving, not only for his salvation but also for the privilege of having been made an apostle.
In particular Paul mentions three related blessings. First, *I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength…* (12a). It is striking that he refers to the inner strength Christ has given him, even before he specifies the ministry for which he needed to be strengthened. The appointment would have been inconceivable without the equipment. Secondly, *I thank Christ…that he considered me faithful* (12b). This cannot mean that Jesus Christ trusted him because he perceived him to be inherently trustworthy; his fitness or faithfulness was due rather to the inner strength he had been promised. Thirdly, *I thank Christ…for appointing me to his service* 12c). *diakonia* is a generic word, and there are many forms which Christian service or ministry takes. But Paul is clearly referring to his commissioning as apostle to the Gentiles.
He now gives further substance to his thanksgiving by reminding Timothy what he had been, how he received mercy, and why God had had mercy on him.
First, he uses three words to describe what he had been: *I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man* (13a). His ‘blasphemy’ was that he spoke evil of Jesus Christ; he also ‘tried to force them [sc. his disciples] to blaspheme’ (Acts 26:9,11). His persecution of the church was pursued ‘intensely’, for he ‘tried to destroy it’ (Gal.1:13), and in persecuting it he did not realize that he was persecuting Christ (Acts 9:4). Then behind both the blasphemy and the persecution there was *a violent man (hybristes)*, *hybris* being a mixture of arrogance and insolence, which finds satisfaction in insulting and humiliating other people. Perhaps the apostle was intending to portray an ascending scale of evil from words (of blasphemy) through deeds (of persecution) to thoughts (of deep-seated hostility).
Secondly, Paul describes how he received mercy. Humanly speaking, there was no hope for someone as malicious and aggressive as he was. But he was not beyond the mercy of God. Twice he uses the same verb *I was shown mercy* (13b, 16a), or literally, as Thomas Goodwin the Puritan put it, ‘I was bemercied’. To ‘mercy’ Paul now adds ‘grace’, having already bracketed them in his opening greeting (1:2). *The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus* (14). That is, grace ‘overflowed’ (NRSV) like a river in spate, which cannot be contained, but bursts its banks and carries everything before it, sweeping irresistibly on. What the river of grace brought with it, however, was not devastation but blessing, in particular the ‘faith’ and the ‘love’ to which Paul has already assigned a primacy (4, 5). ‘The Nile overflows; the crops abound. Grace overflowed, and faith and love sprang up’. Grace flooded with faith a heart previously filled with unbelief, and flooded with love a heart previously polluted with hatred. It was, in the words of Bunyan’s autobiography, *Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners*; he borrowed both parts of his title from verse 14 and 15.
No wonder Paul goes on to quote the first of the five ‘trustworthy sayings’ which occur in the Pastorals (The others are 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim.2:11 and Tit. 3:8). On each occasion the saying is pithy, almost proverbial, is perhaps a familiar quotation from an early hymn or creed, and is given by Paul his own apostolic endorsement. Indeed, since he constantly uses *pistos* (‘trustworthy’) of God, he is declaring the aphorism is ‘a faithful presentation of God’s message’.
|Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 1:12-17. The apostle Paul and the gospel.|
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.