|Volume 22 Number 7 July 2020||
Much has been said. Many topics covered. Yet, Solomon in all his wisdom reduced his conclusion to two simple truths: fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Are these really simple truths? In one sense, yes. There isn’t a whole lot of theology involved, not a need to call in the scholars to explain to us their meaning. In another sense, these points are remarkably complex. Indeed, volumes have been written discussing the many facets to these two statements.
Why, though, do these two truths entail “the conclusion”? Solomon explains with his two “because” clauses. Why should we fear God and keep His commandments?
First, because this applies to every person. While other points made through the book have application to some, this point doesn’t. The rich need to hear this along with the poor. Those in foreign lands as well as our next-door neighbors need to hear these truths. The old and the young, the brave, the weak, the world leaders and the hermits also need the same. Think about it. Who doesn’t need to be told to “fear God”? Who doesn’t need to be encouraged to “keep His commandments”?
Second, because God will bring every act to judgment. Everyone needs to hear this because everyone will be judged (Revelation 20:11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Acts 17:30-31). Does this mean that, literally, no one will escape God’s judgment? Yes! This is why it is imperative for people to know what lies ahead. They need to think about the future and prepare for it (Matthew 24:36ff).
All has been heard. What remains to be said? “Fear God and keep His commandments!”
Paul’s Placement in the Ministry
One of the greatest aspects about which Paul marveled in his own life was the fact that he, “chief” of all sinners, received forgiveness and ministry through Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:15-16). In the paragraph that contains these verses, Paul briefly departed from his warning about false teachers (1 Timothy 1:10-11) and exclaimed thankfulness to God for what He had done for him.
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. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 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. 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 1:12-16)
The words “has enabled…counted…putting” (1 Timothy 1:12) point to a specific time when this reality for Paul occurred. The specific time goes back to the appearance of Jesus to Paul while on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:15-16; 22:14; 26:16-18) and his subsequent conversion in Damascus (Acts 9:6; 22:10, 16; 26:19). Paul mentioned three specific truths for which he was thankful. First, Jesus Christ gave him strength (1 Timothy 1:12a). The word translated “enabled [“strengthened” NAS] means to strengthen or make strong. The word describes Abraham, who was “strengthened in faith” (Romans 4:20) and the Christian who is to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). Paul acknowledged, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). This enabling of the Lord sustained Paul, even toward the end of his life when he wrote from his final imprisonment, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me…But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Timothy 4:16-17). Do we draw strength from the Lord?
Second, Paul was thankful that Jesus Christ “counted…[him] faithful.” The term “faithful” can mean believing but also carriers the idea of being trustworthy and reliable. Faithfulness can describe God, as in the case of Sarah, who “received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11). Even Jesus, who was God in human flesh (John 1:1-3, 14), was said to be “faithful to Him [the Father] who appointed Him [the Son]” (Hebrews 3:2).
Faithfulness can also describe people. Paul described Timothy as “my beloved and faithful son in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:17). In First Timothy 1:12, Paul was extremely thankful that Jesus was the One who counted him faithful! This echoes Paul’s statement earlier about “the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust” (1 Timothy 1:11). Jesus knew Paul to be trustworthy and reliable with the Gospel. Can the Lord say that about us? Are we reliable to Him?
Third, Paul was thankful that “Jesus Christ” put him “into the ministry” (1 Timothy 1:12c). The word translated “putting” generally means to place or put but can also carry the sense of making someone something, appointing or assigning one a place (Luke 12:46). Paul used an exact form of this word when he wrote that God “has committed [entrusting ESV] to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). God’s placing Paul into “the ministry” takes us back to Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road and his subsequent conversion in Damascus (Acts 9:1-18). Paul was blinded by a manifestation of the Lord. During that encounter, Paul asked two great questions, “Who are You, Lord?” (Acts 9:5) and “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6a). Paul, of course, was told, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6b).
Along the way, the Lord told Ananias in a vision to seek Saul of Tarsus and teach him (Acts 9:10-12). In response to Ananias’ concerns about Saul’s reputation, the Lord said, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16). God had a plan! God’s placing Paul into “the ministry” also emphasized that Paul was not a “self-appointed” apostle who was in a position to arrogantly brag. It is also interesting to note that Paul spoke of his appointment to “ministry” [“service” ASV] rather than to “apostleship.” Yes, Paul was an apostle, just as legitimate as the rest (Galatians1:10–2:14), but here he emphasized the service aspect of his work. Are you a servant of the Most High God?
All Christians have been transformed by the will of God and the blood of Jesus Christ. Although our conversion and ministry are obviously not like Paul’s in every way, we should still be thankful for the transformation of life God effected through our obedience to the Gospel. This new status for Paul was all the more remarkable when considering who he was before conversion.
Jesus is able to reach even the vilest of sinners (1 Timothy 1:13). Paul was a “blasphemer” not only by speaking against Christ and His church, but also by forcing others to do the same (Acts 26:11). Paul as a persecutor is well documented in Acts (8:3; 9:1-2; 22:4-5; 26:9-11; cf. Galatians 1:13) and serves as the reason why many in the early church were hesitant in receiving him as a brother in Christ (Acts 9:13-14, 26). “An insolent man [“injurious” KJV; “a violent aggressor” NAS]” refers to one who is violent with the idea of being boldly disrespectful and impudent (Bauer 832). Paul not only opposed Christianity, but he did so violently! However, Paul’s former life was targeted with the “super-abundant” grace that was poured upon him that resulted in his present standing before God! Paul “obtained mercy”! This is not teaching some form of unconditional election, but as Paul elsewhere confirmed, “obtaining mercy” from God only comes as a result of being faithful in Him (Romans 11:30-31; 1 Corinthians 7:25; 2 Corinthians 4:1).
Additionally, Paul received mercy because he “did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). This clause is often taken out of context to teach false theories about amenability. This verse does not support the “unaccountable for sin” theory of a sincere sinner outside of Christ! The statement alludes to Numbers 15:23-31, where Moses compared “unintentionally committed” [“committed by ignorance” KJV] sin and “presumptuously” committed sin.
In Judaism, as well as in the New Covenant, there was no atonement for “presumptuous sin” (Numbers 15:23-31; cf. Hebrews 10:26). Paul mentioned the fact to explain how his life prior to conversion became the object of God’s mercy rather than His wrath. Paul acted in “good conscience” while he sinned against Christ (Acts 23:1; 2 Timothy 1:3). Although he was lost, Paul at least thought he was serving God. His main problem was that he did not believe that Jesus was truly the Son of God. Paul changed his view about Christ on the Damascus Road, and this change of mind ultimately resulted in his obedience to the Gospel. Had Paul been in “presumptuous” sin while persecuting the church of Christ, he never would have come to repentance. No one can have “godly sorrow” while at the same time willfully resisting God (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).
One reason Christ saved Paul was to set him as a “template” for others to follow (1 Timothy 1:16). The word translated “pattern” refers to a prototype, standard or example. God’s “longsuffering” is His willingness to forebear the sins of people (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:8). This willingness has been clearly manifest through the sending of His Son to save even the worst of sinners. If God can save a sinner like Paul and place him in the ministry, then He can save and place into His service any sinner who, like Paul, gives himself or herself over to the Lord! Have we allowed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to target and transform our lives?