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First Timothy

Advantages of Humility

1 Timothy 1:11-20

The advantages arising from humility are generally acknowledged, and yet it is a thing not easily to be met with. – Chrysostom.Lesson audio

We consider now the apostle’s position – that of chief sinner.

The blessings of humility

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.

(1Ti 1:12-14 NASB)

What Christ has done for me

In this short passage we see Paul’s testimony first about what Christ has done for him. Consider well, and see if you recognize something in your own life.

Christ has strengthened him – which of course carries with it the implication that his own strength was not sufficient. Most of us are willing to tackle something within our own strength, but it takes real humility to start by saying, “I can’t do it” – and then receive strength from God.

Christ has considered him faithful. Do you not see that this means that Paul’s faith, alone, was not sufficient for the task? We know that if you ask God for faith He will give it; here, God gives him credit for it in advance. Humility says, “I don’t have the faith to do it.” God responds by crediting that faith to you – as you will certainly grow into it.

Finally, Christ has put him into service. Despite what he has done, God has put him on the team – and not just to warm the bench. The high calling of God is placed on those who deserve it least – so that all will see God’s doing, not man’s.

All this we may sum up thusly: God had mercy on Paul – not just for forgiveness, but to turn him into a warrior for the faith.

What Paul did to Christ

We sometimes gloss over this, at two thousand years away – but it should not be so. Paul has some very good reasons to be humble, if you consider how this relationship with Christ started.

He was a blasphemer. To us this means nothing but casual obscenity, but to the Jew – especially to the Pharisee – this was one of the worst things you could say about a man. It made him look like Snidely Whiplash.

More than that, he was a persecutor of the church. Paul got to do that literally, but the concept has not vanished. One of the reasons my children went to Christian schools was so that their faith would not be hounded by the careless cruelty of “good” children. The bitterness of such a life is long remembered, and hard to forgive. Think now what it must be like to be the person doing the hounding.

He was a violent aggressor. To be a violent man is to pick up the weapons of Satan; to pick up the weapons of Satan is to join his side. To do so against the Gospel of peace is the worst of all violence. To realize that’s what you are – is deeply humiliating.

The message is … grace

We often forget that the word translated “grace” can also be translated “gift”. The grace of Christ is the gift of Christ. Does that mean “gift from Christ” or “gift of Christ?” The answer, it seems, is yes.

Like all that Christ gives us, it is given abundantly. Indeed Paul characterizes it as more than abundant – “hyper-abundant” would be the transliteration. That is how Christ gives his gifts; that is how He gives himself.

And what grace, what gift did he receive? The faith found in Christ; the love found in Christ. Not the faith and love relating to his own efforts – no, these are gifts. Do you lack faith? Ask. Do you lack love? Beg.

Speaking as one so blessed

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

(1Ti 1:15-17 NASB)

The thesis is rather simple: Jesus came to save sinners. We often forget that, but it is the purpose of his coming to us.

Our translation calls this a “trustworthy statement.” But if you look behind the translation at the original Greek, you will see that “trustworthy” is from the same word as “faith”. “Statement” also hides a Greek word – logos, the Word. Jesus came to save sinners – a trustworthy statement of the faithful Word.

There is a message hidden in the word “acceptance” as well. It has a technical meaning – that implies that the person doing the accepting at the same time acknowledges the terms thereof. If I rent you a house, and you pay the rent and I cash the check, I have accepted all the terms of the lease agreement. Acceptance means more than intellectual head-nodding; it means commitment.

Just to make the point clear, Paul points to the one sinner he’s most familiar with: himself. As with each of us, Paul is the leading expert on his own relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul knows what Christ has done for him; the nature of this testimony is personal.

The foremost

Why would Paul refer to himself as the foremost of sinners?

For one reason, he deserved it.

For another, it brings up the subject not of Paul’s sin but Christ’s patience.

Indeed, the word for patience here does not mean the attitude of standing around, waiting for something to happen. It means longsuffering, endurance – and in this instance it is called perfect. The word means “complete” in the original. So we have a picture of the longsuffering Christ, whose patience is perfected and complete, waiting for the moment to turn Paul’s life upside down.

Why would Christ do this? So that Paul might be an example – to those who believe. The favor of God often is unbelievable, and the cynic will point to any possible explanation. But when you know the love of God, you often see how lavish He is in dealing with the sinners.

Benediction

The entire discourse is so high, so holy in these few verses that Paul feels compelled to end it with a benediction. For the moment he will stop talking about Paul and what God has done for him – and pass to the subject of what Timothy should do. But not without rounding off the words preceding. It is as if Paul has been awed by what he just wrote. It happens sometimes – when the object his High and the writer low.

He begins with praise for the nature of God – the King, eternal, immortal, invisible – the complete “other-ness” of God.

He then – as the Psalms do so often – commends and commands glory and honor, now and forever.

Sometimes I wonder: does the casual nature of our worship (“casual attire is emphasized,” as it says on our church’s web site) keep us from the awe of God? And does that keep us from giving praise and honor to Him outside the church walls?

Entrusted to You

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.

(1Ti 1:18-20 NASB)

Fight the good fight

May I vent just a little about this?

First, please realize that it really is a fight. This is not a Sunday morning only activity; the assault of Satan will carry through the week. This is combat whether you want it to be or not.

Second, it is the good fight. You are not permitted to fight dirty – that is, to pick up the weapons of Satan. They may slander you; you are not permitted to slander them. Rather, you are to use the weapons of Christ.

Third, this is the good fight – you are struggling for God’s good purposes, not your own gain.

Personal Preparation

If you’re going to war, a little personal preparation is required. Paul gives Timothy a neat synopsis of this:

He tells him to keep the faith. God has no “catch and release” program in mind. He is expecting his people to stay faithful to the end of their lives, no matter what is thrown at them. Indeed, as their trials rise above what they can stand God will provide strength and faith to rise with them.

He is also to keep a good conscience. We seldom hear that word these days, conscience. Modern life sears the conscience so that it no longer bothers us. Is it wise for us to become, like the modern world, too cynical and worldly to have so old-fashioned a thing as a conscience?

All this is according to prophecy concerning Timothy. It sometimes comes as a surprise to know that God has a plan for your life. For some, he reveals that plan, for they need to know to carry such burdens. For others, He does not reveal it.

But occasionally he offers us a hint. When my wife and I were at our prior church, I received an offer from my employer for relocation. That was odd, in my view, as the job was in the same area. But it met the criteria for relocation, and so the offer was made. I thought and prayed about it, and – over my wife’s objections – I decided to say no. I thought this was a test to see if I would throw away a good ministry for the comforts of the suburbs. Before I could send in my rejection, I was scheduled to go to a conference in Nashville. The hotel was right across the street from the Baptist Sunday School Board bookstore – a teacher’s heaven! I bought some books, and some tapes.

One such tape was in the player when I heard God say, clearly, “Listen. This song is for you.”

“Beyond the open door lies a new and fresh anointing; hear the Spirit calling you to go. Walk on through the door, for the Lord will go before you, into a greater power than you’ve ever known before.”

We moved. Despite all objections from the staff here, I began to teach. What God has planned I do not know; but I know He knows, and that should be sufficient.

The grim alternative

We cannot leave this topic without a word of warning. If you will not follow the charts of Scripture, shipwreck will soon occur. Indeed, the word used for shipwreck is the root word for our word, “navigate.” If you will not keep the faith in good conscience, the shipwreck will occur.

What does that mean? It means that you have ignored His warning signs, his lights, and have gone off on your own road.

God’s way of dealing with this is different than ours. He lets you go off course – in the hopes that what you get from your own way is sufficient to convince you to come back. It is a matter of church discipline. You start with a one on one conversation; then bring a couple of friends – and then the whole congregation. It is a serious thing to throw someone out of the church. It is also a serious thing to defile the conscience.

Our best hope is in this: The Light of the World can be clearly seen – but sometimes we need the light that is closer to us. The lower lights, which so clearly outline the channel at night. We cannot be the Light, but we can and should reflect it for all to see. Let us have the grace and humility to keep that mirror clean.

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