Summary: All of us could say with Paul, "I was the worst sinner of them all", but God’s grace is greater than all our sin!
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, 13 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; 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 15 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. 16 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. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” NASB
It is noteworthy that these verses of our text come on the heels of Paul’s admonition to Timothy to give warning and instruction to men, apparently embedded in the church in Ephesus, who in their driven lust for position and acclaim as teachers, have engaged in myth-telling and Scripture bending and hair-splitting, presuming to teach things they themselves do not understand.
I don’t think Paul was intending to compare himself with these false teachers, but what a sharp contrast we have here, between those who see themselves as righteous and knowledgeable and worthy of recognition as teachers of the Law, and this humble servant who wonders daily why God would deem to use him, but understands that by the grace of Christ alone he is what he is, and understands that it is this grace which he has been sent to preach.
I said I don’t think Paul’s intent was to directly compare himself with these false teachers, but I do think he very much intended to compare the right reasons for teaching with the wrong.
In verse 5 he says that the goal of ‘our’ instruction – the word ‘our’ meaning himself and those who traveled and ministered the Gospel with him, - the goal is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
Let me rephrase that. The goal of the Apostles’ teaching was to keep a clear conscience before God, expressing His love by keeping their hearts pure, desiring God’s will above their own and submitting every thought and action to His purifying Spirit, and calling people to a sincere faith that exalts Jesus Christ and never man.
In contrast, the false teachers about whom he warns Timothy have strayed from these things, he says in verse 6, and have turned aside to ‘fruitless discussion’; meaningless, empty talk.
Christians, the Word of God and His Spirit working in our hearts are what keep us on track. As soon as we begin to answer the siren call of the flesh to be fed; the fallen man to be obeyed; self to be served; we will be turned aside from truth and begin to entertain ‘fruitless discussion’.
Many a preacher has taken this route; many a church has followed this path to destruction. Paul often warned against drifting away and he kept to the right road himself by keeping his focus sharp and his message simple. Preach the Word. Preach the grace of Jesus Christ to the glory of the Father. That is the singleness of purpose we will follow today.
PEOPLE OF THE LAW
Before going to our text verses we need to look at verses 8-11 of this chapter and make a distinction.
“But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.”
Now I won’t spend a lot of time here since these verses are not today’s text. As I said, I just want to make a distinction.
The Law is for the lawless. Paul says that in verse 9. Think about this.
Most of us don’t go through our days telling ourselves we have to be careful not to rob a bank or burglarize a house. The only people afraid of the laws pertaining to those crimes are the people who commit those crimes.
On the other hand, those laws cannot prevent people from committing those crimes. They only provide punishment for those who do, and hopefully justice for the victims.