1Ti 1:12-14: Notice in 1Ti 1:11 that Paul had been entrusted by God with the gospel; what does it mean to entrust someone with something? See also 1Ti 1:12. We often speak of putting our faith in God, who is completely faithful and never fails us; is that relationship reciprocal? Would God consider us faithful and worthy of his trust? Is our love and commitment to God such that God might have faith in us to carry out that which has been committed to our care? With whatever trust God may commit to our charge, what else does He always provide? See 1Ti 1:12. As Paul is reminded of the trust committed to him by God, what response does it evoke within him? See also 1Ti 1:17. Why did the reminder of God’s grace to Paul evoke such an outpouring? See 1Ti 1:13-14; cf. Lk 7:41-47. Consider that prior to his conversion Paul “was advancing in Judaism beyond many of [his] contemporaries” and was “extremely zealous for [his] ancestral traditions” (Gal 1:14); in what sense then did Paul consider himself a blasphemer? What does this teach us about the true nature of blasphemy? See also Mat 12:24,31. Why does Paul say in 1Ti 1:13 that he was shown mercy? Consider that Paul had a superb education having been taught by the great Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) and knew the Scriptures better than most; in what sense then was he ignorant? What does this teach us about the true nature of knowledge? Is it enough to know just anything? See also Jn 5:39-40, 8:32. Consider too that Paul certainly believed in God and with great zeal supposed himself to be serving God; in what sense then did he act in unbelief? What does this teach us about the true nature of believing? Is it enough to believe just anything? What three words most central to the gospel are found in 1Ti 1:14, and what is the great importance of each? See Eph 2:8-9, 1 Cor 13:2. Where only are these to be found?
1Ti 1:15: Here we find the first of five “faithful” sayings in the pastorals (see also 1Ti 3:1, 4:9, 2 Ti 2:11, Tit 3:8); why is this one noteworthy? Note: it is the very gospel! What is the full significance that Jesus Christ came into the world? See Phil 2:6-8, Heb 4:15. What is the full significance that He came to save sinners? See Rom 3:9-18,23, Mk 2:15-17. Consider that Paul regarded himself as faultless concerning the righteousness found in the law (Phil 3:6); in what sense then did he consider himself the worst of sinners? Are his words here just false humility? See 1 Jn 1:8,10. What ministry did Jesus have to those who considered themselves to be righteous? See Mat 21:28-46, 23:1-33. What does Paul’s example teach us about the possibility of a person being the most religious and even appearing to be the most righteous, and yet still being the most sinful at the same time? See 2 Cor 11:14-15 and consider that those are most like Satan who have an outward appearance of righteousness but are inwardly unregenerate. What quality is essential within a person for true salvation? See Lk 18:10-14, James 4:6. Let us then examine our hearts and consider if we are in any measure trusting in our own righteousness: Are we confident we are in Christ because we pray, study the Bible, go to church and zealously defend our faith? So did Paul—before his conversion! What ought such a realization to cause within us? See Rom 11:20, Phil 2:12, Heb 4:1.
1Ti 1:16-17: For what second reason does Paul say in 1Ti 1:16 that he was shown mercy? What does this teach us about the great love of God even toward those who like Paul before his conversion are the worst of sinners and lost in their own religion? See 2 Pet 3:7-9, Ez 18:23. Should we ever suppose that even the worst of sinners is beyond the Lord’s mercy? What was Paul’s response to this great truth? What is our response? Should a person (and especially a religious person) ever suppose that even the perfect patience of the Lord will tarry forever for him to repent? See Is 55:6-7, Rom 2:4-5, Heb 3:15-4:2.
Paul an Example For Us Of God’s Patience
Let us then receive the mercy of God as did Paul, in repentance and obedience along with thanksgiving and praise. And may the example of Paul encourage us that perhaps it is still Today, the time of God’s favor, and the day of our salvation has not passed. For he continues that Christ’s great patience was shown him as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Again, because we have come to know the apostle Paul as the true man of God he was after his conversion, we forget who he was before. We can’t imagine that he could have ever been like us in all our sinfulness. And yet he considered himself the worst of sinners, not because he was committing sin in the flesh (for he says he was faultless as to legalistic righteousness) but because he claimed to know and love God and yet was committing sin in his heart. Indeed, he had come to understand, as we must, that the worst of sinners are not those who sin in the flesh but those who with a hypocritical heart play the harlot against God. For, as we have already seen, in the eyes of God the latter are guilty of committing the very same sins as the former and yet add to their sin by living a lie. It is in this regard that Paul considered himself the worst of sinners. And yet his point is that even toward one such as this God is patient, not wanting him to perish but to come to repentance.
So then, like Paul, let us understand the depths of our sin so that we might also understand the depths of God’s patience. And let us then have hope that God has indeed been patient with us, greatly desiring us to come to repentance, and that there is still time to receive His mercy. But let us also learn from the things that were written in the past, that were written to teach us, so “that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). For Paul writes of those who rebelled in the wilderness and whose “bodies were scattered over the desert” that “these things happened to them as examples, to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did; [they] were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:5-6,11, NIV). And from Hebrews,
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion….Since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.
Hebrews 3:15, 4:1
For we know not when the sun shall set on the Today of our salvation. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Pilgrim’s Regress,
Nearly they stood who fall;
Themselves as they look back
See always in the track
The one false step, where all
Even yet, by lightest swerve
Of foot not yet enslaved,
By smallest tremor of the smallest nerve,
Might have been saved.
Nearly they fell who stand,
And with cold after fear
Look back to mark how near
They grazed the Siren’s land,
Wondering that subtle fate,
By threads so spidery fine,
The choice of ways so small, the event so great,
Should thus entwine.
Therefore oh, man, have fear
Lest oldest fears be true,
Lest thou too far pursue
The road that seems so clear,
And step, secure, a hair’s
Breadth past the hair-breadth bourne,
Which, being once crossed forever unawares,
O let us not fail to respond to the great mercy and love and grace of our God! May it never be said of us, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (Rom 10:21). For how can we continue to spurn the great love of God our Savior and so test His patience? How can we so lightly esteem His mercy? Have we no fear of God? Or do we not understand that God’s kindness leads us to repentance, and if we will not repent, then we are rejecting His kindness and storing up wrath for ourselves in the day of His judgment? Surely in the day of judgment the ungodly shall be without excuse. For then they shall plainly see that God has not been unfair, as He is so often accused, but has given everyone every opportunity to repent. And for all of eternity “they will be punished with everlasting destruction” (2 Thess 1:9), carrying with them the remorse that they refused the mercy of God. O as we hear His voice let us not harden our hearts!