|Volume 18 Number 11 November 2016||
a Blasphemer and a Persecutor
The apostle Paul declared his thankfulness to God in several places. In 1 Timothy, the gratitude is focused on the transformation God allowed with these words, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1:12-13). Paul’s pre-Christian lifestyle as Saul of Tarsus was one of a rising star in Judaism. He, at some point, had moved from Tarsus in Cilicia to Jerusalem to study at the feet of the well-respected Gamaliel (Acts 21:39; 22:3; cf. 5:34). One might speculate that Paul could have been on course to be the next teacher of Israel and to be respected by all the people.
In any other generation he might have been, but it so happened that he lived in the fullness of times when Christ came (cf. Ephesians 1:10; Galatians 4:4). This altered his life immeasurably. At first, of course, he fought to preserve the order of Judaism in which he had been raised. He watched the clothes of those who stoned Stephen, possibly as an instigator rather than just a lad standing by (Acts 7:58). He was, indeed, “consenting to his death” (Acts 8:1). He “made havoc of the church” during the persecution that ensued (Acts 8:2-3). After a while, he “was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). His life was consumed with snuffing out this upstart religion known as Christianity. He was fueled by rage, but he was always careful to show the appearance of legality (cf. Acts 9:2; 22:5). Though he acted in good conscience at the time (Acts 23:1-5; 26:9-11), he later acknowledged his role as a “blasphemer, persecutor, and an insolent man” (1 Timothy 1:13).
He came to experience the forces of Christ that would overwhelm his disturbed error – grace, faith and love (1 Timothy 1:14). He would later write about how we “have access by faith into this grace in which we stand” and therefore experience “peace with God” (Romans 5:1-2). These forces of good were quite sufficient to overcome his evil ways (cf. Romans 12:19-21). He pointed out the magnitude of God’s grace in the next verse. “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). He mourned his past, but he relished the forgiveness in Christ.
His example turns out to be instructive. “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:16). Saul of Tarsus being transformed into Paul the apostle is quite an extreme case. No one is able to doubt just how far the Lord’s mercy will extend. Can a murderer be forgiven? Absolutely. Any criminal? Of course. There were a lot of people in the Corinthian church who had come out of sordid lifestyles, but they were forgiven (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Note that his error was forgiven because he “did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). He was trying to hold on to his former lifestyle because it was all that he knew. Still, it was sinful (Acts 3:17-19). Even so, it is different than those who revert to a bad lifestyle after knowing better (Hebrews 10:26). Presumptuous (as opposed to unintentional) sins under the Old Law had dire consequences (Numbers 15:30-31).
The life of Paul and this passage of reflection in 1 Timothy therefore teaches: (1) God’s mercy is big enough to forgive anyone, no matter how vile the world may view his or her sins. (2) At the same time, do not presume upon the grace of God. When warned, obey. Procrastination or reversion for selfishness’ sake is quite uncomfortably presumptive (cf. 2 Peter 2:20-22; 2 Corinthians 6:2).
[Andy Robison is the Director of the West Virginia School of Preaching in Moundsville, West Virginia.]
The audience on the first Pentecost following the death of Christ was the greatest of its kind ever gathered to hear a Gospel sermon. There were devout men from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5) assembled to observe the Feast of Weeks. They had been drawn to Jerusalem in adherence to the Law of Moses, but on this occasion, they had observed something entirely unique. A sudden sound from heaven drew them to a small group of men.
Astonished and bewildered, these observers commented upon the ability of these apostles to speak in languages that they had never learned. We know implicitly that only the apostles received this miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which enabled them to fluently proclaim God’s Word to these various nationalities. This is evident from simple grammar. “They,” (i.e., which were together is one place, Acts 2:1), is a pronoun. A pronoun has an antecedent (the noun to which the pronoun refers). The antecedent is “apostles” from Acts 1:26. Not only does the position of the words in the sentence make this apparent, but also the agreement of the plural apostles (noun) with plural they (pronoun). Further evidence that the baptism of the Holy Spirit came only upon the apostles and not upon the 120 disciples found in Chapter One is the question, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” (Acts 2:26). Furthermore, Luke records, “But Peter, standing up with the eleven…” (Acts 2:14), forever confirming to us that it was the apostles who preached in languages previously unlearned by the ones speaking. Therefore, it was only the apostles who received the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Later, the apostles were the only ones observed working many wonders and signs (Acts 2:43).
Peter intelligently answered the accusation of the critics (i.e., that they were filled with new wine, Acts 2:13) by bringing up the hour of the day (of which most drunken men would be unaware). This would have been a very unusual time to be drunk as it was the time when the pious would be attending temple services. Peter then told them that they were witnessing the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-32). Joel’s prophecy indicated that during the reign of the Messiah, miraculous events would occur. These events occurring in their presence manifested unequivocally that the last days of which Joel spoke were upon them (Acts 2:17).
Peter then expounded to them the philanthropy of God expressed in the person and work of His Son Jesus the Christ. Peter’s recorded sermon stands as a mighty bastion to those who deny the Deity of Christ, the unshakable foundation upon which Christian faith stands. With sagacious brevity, the preacher detailed to them the death, burial, resurrection, ascension and reign of the rejected Son of God. His outline, if he had had such, may have contained the following points: His manner of life (2:22), His means of death (2:23), His miraculous resurrection (2:24-27), His marvelous reign (2:30-35) and the momentous conclusion (2:36). Pricked in their hearts, these Pentecostians interrupted Peter’s sermon with a question any Gospel preacher would happily allow, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (2:37). Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (2:38). We are not privileged to read his entire sermon, but we are simply told that Peter testified and exhorted them with many words. Gladly receiving the forgiveness granted through obedience to the Gospel, about three thousand were baptized into Christ (2:41). This message is consistent with Jesus’ own words regarding the plan of salvation (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16). Let us today rejoice that “the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).
[Ed Melott is an instructor at the West Virginia School of Preaching in Moundsville, West Virginia.]