The Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 11, 2023
1 Timothy 1:12-17
His Holy Ministry— Is Filled With Sinners Called by God!
12I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
When I was in college the first item on my agenda every time I came home for the summer was— find a job! There was no time to waste. I knew that I had bills to pay— tuition, books, fees, etc.. As soon as I got home I would start going through the classified ads in the newspaper looking to see who was hiring. This was back in the day when you had to actually go to the business or company that was hiring and actually fill out an application. So I looked for job openings that I thought would fit and off I went. I would go to each company, each business and fill out an application. Then I would wait a day or two and start following up with a phone call. I was always disappointed when someone would say, “I’m sorry, but that position has been filled.” I was even more disappointed when someone said, “I’m sorry, but we decided to hire someone else.” Thankfully, each and every summer the good Lord saw to it that someone was willing to hire me— even if it was just for the summer.
Our sermon text for today focuses our attention on not just a “job,” but a “calling.” That “calling” is to serve in His (Pointing to the cross) holy ministry. For the next few weeks we are going to study various aspects of this “calling,” various aspects of serving in— His Holy Ministry. As we begin this sermon series let’s see how God the Holy Spirit holds up the apostle Paul as an example of this truth: His Holy Ministry— Is Filled with Sinners Called by God!
At first glance it might appear that our text for today centers on one pastor, the apostle Paul, talking to another pastor, Timothy, about the work of a pastor. While that is certainly one way to look at this text, if that were the only way to look at this text then you would have the right to simply tune out right now and start planning the rest of your day. That would be highly unfortunate! Why? There are two reasons. First, last week we studied the Great Commission that our Triune God has given to all of us— not just pastors. As Christians we are to do everything we can to “make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) If we were to see the Great Commission as “the pastor’s work,” then God’s Kingdom here on this earth would suffer the consequences.
Secondly, in 1 Peter chapter two God the Holy Spirit has the apostle Peter say to all of “God’s elect” scattered throughout the world, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). “Making disciples of all nations” and “declaring the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” — that , my friends, is what His holy ministry is all about! Understanding that when God brought you to faith in Jesus as your only Savior from sin He made you a part of His (Pointing to the cross) holy ministry, enables us to understand exactly what Paul means as he reveals to us that His holy ministry is filled with sinners called by God— including you and me! To help us understand how this text applies to all of us we’re going to focus on three words. They are the words: Gratitude, Grace, and Growth.
Paul’s gratitude to Christ is made evident in verses twelve and thirteen. He writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”
Paul’s sins were well known. Neither Paul nor the Holy Spirit ever tried to hide or minimize just how sinful Paul had been— back when he was still known as Saul. As a “blasphemer” Saul insulted God and degraded the Christian faith. As a “persecutor” Saul did everything in his power to eradicate everyone who belonged to “the Way.” As a “violent man” Saul quickly gained the reputation of being ruthless as he “hunted down” Christians and threw them into prison. Then the risen and ascended Christ changed all that— by changing Saul into Paul!
You may recall that as Saul traveled on the road to Damascus determined to find and imprison even more Christians, Jesus had “mercy” on Saul. Jesus’ “mercy” effected a powerful dramatic change in Saul. Saul’s passion for persecution— stopped. Saul’s white-hot rhetoric against the believers— cooled. Saul’s shameful violence— the violence that led him to “give approval” to Stephens’s execution (Acts 8:1)— that violence evaporated. And so looking back over his life as Saul, Paul was most certainly grateful for God’s “mercy”!
God’s “mercy” led Paul to be exceptionally grateful that Jesus “appointed” him to be “in his service,” (Pointing to the cross) that is, to be a part of His holy ministry! That gratefulness was evident throughout Paul’s ministry as he traveled from city to city sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That gratefulness was evident in the letters that Paul wrote to various congregations and to various individuals— such as his letter to the young pastor Timothy!
How grateful are we for God’s “mercy,” my friends? Are we grateful that our dear Lord and Savior loved us enough that He was willing to die in order to pay for our sins? (Pointing to the cross) Are we grateful that we have been made a part of His holy ministry ever since we were baptized in the Name of the Triune God? Are we grateful for the “mercy” that God shows to us each and every day? Is that gratefulness evident in our daily lives? In the way that we speak to others? In the way that we treat others? In the way that we support His Kingdom work here on this earth with our time, our talents and our treasures? Those are questions we would do well to ask ourselves. Those are questions that we can only answer for ourselves.
Paul’s gratefulness to Christ was open and evident in everything he did because Paul understood the enormity of God’s grace. Look at verses fourteen and fifteen of our text. Paul writes, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and the love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst.”
God’s “grace” led the true Son of God to be born into this world as the true Son of Man. God’s “grace” led God’s Son to sacrifice Himself on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for not only our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. (See I John 2:2) God’s “grace” led the apostle Paul to realize and to rejoice in knowing that even though he was “the worst of sinners” God’s “grace” is so enormous that all of his sins were completely forgiven!
Paul also recognized that not only was God’s inexhaustible “mercy” and God’s unlimited “grace” “poured out” on him “abundantly” but along with that “mercy” and along with that “grace” he enjoyed “the faith and the love that are in Christ Jesus.” What does Paul have in mind here? While we’ll talk about this in more depth in next week’s sermon, Paul may have in mind here the faith and the love that he experienced from his fellow Christians. Here we might think of Ananias whose Christian faith and love led him to follow God’s command to go to Damascus, find Saul, place his hands on him so he could be healed of his blindness and then baptize him in the Name of the Triune God. Here we might also think of Barnabas whose Christian faith and love led him to not only embrace this former blasphemous, violent, persecutor of “the Way” as a brother in the faith, but also convince the disciples in Jerusalem that the one who once tried to destroy the church was now fearlessly preaching the crucified and risen Christ. (See Acts 9:26ff)
How grateful are we for God’s “grace,” my friends? Do we perhaps think that because we were never a “blasphemer” or a “persecutor” or someone who violently opposed God’s church that we don’t really need as much “grace” as Paul needed? Think about it. Our old sinful nature is constantly trying to get us to ignore the fact that in God’s eyes harboring anger or hatred in our heart towards someone is the same as murder (See Matthew 5:21ff; 1 John 3:15) and looking at someone with lust in our hearts is the same as committing adultery with them (See Matthew 5:27, 28). Our old sinful nature is very good at getting us to check off all the things we think we have done correctly in an effort to divert our eyes away from the two greatest Commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). Saying to ourselves, “Sure, I’ve made mistakes. Yes, I’ve messed up, but everyone does. At least I’ve tried my best” — thoughts like that diminish the “grace” that God reveals to us in the cross of Jesus Christ. (Pointing to the cross) Like Paul we need to realize that we needed the bloody sacrifice offered by the sinless Son of God in order to satisfy God’s perfect justice. When we are able to say with Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst,” then we will be grateful for God’s “grace.”
The final point that we want to glean from this text is found in verse sixteen. Paul writes, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
Paul not only expressed his gratitude to Christ for everything Christ had done for him, Paul not only made sure that his gratitude to Christ was firmly based on the enormity of God’s “grace,” but Paul also realized that as he grew stronger and stronger in gratitude for God’s amazing “grace” he could serve as an “example” for others! No matter who Paul came into contact with, no matter how sinful they might have been, Paul could honestly say, “I was worse!” Then Paul could lead them to the cross of Jesus Christ (Pointing to the cross) and say, “Jesus graciously paid for all of my sins— and He has graciously paid for all of your sins too!” Paul realized that as a sinner who was called by God to be a part of His ministry, he was to be an example for others of what God could and would do for them.
We need to embrace that same realization in our hearts and let that realization be evident in our lives. God’s power and God’s grace has called us out of the darkness of sin and into the glorious light of faith. The instant the Holy Spirit created the gift of saving faith in our hearts He called us to be a part of God’s holy ministry here on this earth. Now we need to use God’s holy Word and God’s holy Sacrament so that we can grow. We need to grow in our gratitude for what Christ has done for us. We need to grow in our understanding of the enormity of God’s “grace.” We need to grow in our ability and in our desire to be an “example” for others. When that is our goal, my friends, then we will always be able to stand beside the apostle Paul and say, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.”
So what can you take home with you from this portion of God’s holy Word? You can take home both comfort and confidence. You have the comfort and the confidence of knowing that God’s “mercy” and God’s “grace” guarantees that all of your sins are completely forgiven! You have the comfort and the confidence of knowing that God’s “mercy” and God’s “grace” have called you a part of His holy ministry! We may not have the same role or the same “job” in God’s ministry as the person sitting next to us, but we have all been given something that we can do to carry out His holy ministry here on this earth. Whether it is sharing God’s Word with little children or sharing God’s Word with adults, whether it is serving in some capacity here at church or serving to share Jesus with people who do not yet know him, whether it is serving others by remembering them in our daily prayers or supporting God’s Kingdom with our offerings— there is always something that we can do! Yes, my friends, we have the comfort and the confidence of knowing that even though we are sinners we have been called by God to serve in His holy ministry. May that comfort and that confidence always lead us to say:
To God be the glory!