I had a gentleman come into my office this week and we talked for awhile. And as we talked he shared with me his testimony. Now your testimony can be long or short, involved or to the point. But always your testimony is simply the story of your life. Evangelistically your testimony probably details life before you knew Jesus then moves on to that time when you became a believing follower of Jesus Christ and then moves on again to a short summary of what has changed because of your knowing Jesus. But if you're talking to Christians your testimony may skip the former life and you'll just focus on what God's been doing in your life lately.
Either way you look at it your testimony is more than a segment of your life's story. Your testimony is a tool; an opportunity if you wish to not only correct and encourage someone else but by design your testimony is a springboard for worshiping God with greater passion and authenticity.
I'm willing to bet that you can't tell me the story of what God has done for you without spontaneously erupting in praise and adoration towards him.
And that is exactly what happens with Paul in our text today in 1 Timothy 1:12-17.
<Read 1 Timothy 1:12-17>
If Point number one of Church 101 is having the proper goal in your teaching (Love from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith)
Point number two is proper use of the Law, then
Point Three is Worship Springing from the Grace of God.
Remembering the definition of grace: Getting what you don't deserve. From Paul's perspective, and rightly so, he has received something that he indeed did not deserve: in the words of John Bunyan "Grace abounding to the chief of sinners"!
I am occasionally surprised at the number of people who simply don't "get" grace. They don't understand it or comprehend it. You know the folks of whom I speak. There are the obvious ones that make jokes about the church walls collapsing on them if they came to church. And then there are their more subtle cousins. They just avoid God and the Bible altogether. Belief or unbelief isn't so much the issue as just an uneasy silence whenever the subject of God is brought up.
And then there's another group. Struggling Christians who for whatever reason have a hard time coming to grips with the grace God has granted them.
For all of these, God's grace is unimaginable. But it is that elusive but wonderful grace which leads us to greater and more authentic worship of a God who so richly deserves it.
Paul's comments beginning in the twelfth verse are certainly not disjointed from the prior verse. He closes the prior section by stating that true doctrine is that doctrine which is in keeping with the glorious gospel with which he has been entrusted. Now he continues that thought acknowledging his own unworthiness to be a servant of this glorious gospel and effectively spotlighting the incredible mercy and grace of our God as a testimony and example given in Paul's own life.
For Paul, as it should be for us the transformation that God has performed in us is more than an academic knowledge. The transformation from Sinner to saint is real and significant and it capitalized Paul's doctrine and life.
The transformation in Paul was so dramatic you should recall, that right after his conversion the people in town all thought that he was baiting them with a trap. It took Barnabas to accept him with open arms before even the 12 apostles would trust him.
But in the transformation that the Lord had made in Paul's life he who before would have been unworthy of being trusted with the gospel was made worthy!
Note that it is God and not Paul who has enabled Paul to carry the gospel to the nations. The prior verse is a bit startling when you first read that Paul has been "Entrusted" with the gospel. That is a significant amount of trust placed in Paul. But it is not Paul's capacity to bear that trust it is God who has "strengthened" Paul to bear it. There again is grace unimaginable .
God's mercy is coupled with His grace in Paul as it is in your own testimony. Paul says here that he is the ultimate example of whom he was talking about previously in verses nine and ten.
Look at how Paul describes himself. He wasn't merely deluded. He wasn't merely "mistaken" he was a blasphemer! He spoke vigorously against God. He called Jesus a fraud and his followers he named as traitors. He was a violent aggressor. He didn't merely disagree with followers of Jesus, he chased after them – he imprisoned or murdered them. He wasn't always Paul the apostle he started out as Saul the Pharisee who persecuted believers everywhere.
But God looked at him and gave mercy!
The reason for God's mercy is that Paul acted the way he did as a sinful, ignorant unbeliever, rather than with intentional malice towards God. Mind you that ignorance is never an excuse before God. Paul mentions his ignorance because of "a special Jewish law ( Lev. 5:15-9 ; Num. 15:22-1 ). If a person sinned knowingly "with a high hand" in Israel, he was cut off from the people. But if he sinned in ignorance, he was permitted to bring the proper sacrifices to atone for his sins. Jesus recognized this principle when He prayed on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" ( Luke 23:34 ). Their ignorance did not save them, nor did Christ' prayer save them; but the combination of the two postponed God' judgment, giving them an opportunity to be saved." 1
It is the utter sinfulness of Paul that highlights the mighty mercy of God. This too is grace unimaginable. The reason for God's mercy is never that God saw something good in Paul. The reason for God's mercy is that he didn't. The reason for God's mercy is that God saw Paul was an ignorant unbeliever. It's hardly flattering but the only reason God has had mercy on us is strictly because we don't deserve it.
You don't show mercy to someone who doesn't need it, or who can do without it. Mercy by definition is not getting what you deserve. So there can be no deserving it.
There is not one of us that have drawn near to God of our own accord, Jesus said, " No one comes to me unless the father draws him. " ( John 6:65 ) If we know God it is because of His mercy – to the praise of his glorious grace. This too is Mercy unimaginable.
With unimaginable Grace and unimaginable Mercy comes an abundant torrent of Faith and Love flowing into our hearts. Our faith is not our own, it is a gift of God given by his grace to us. And the Spirit of God dwelling in us trains us to love.
With unimaginable Grace and unimaginable Mercy comes Unimaginable change.
Paul moves from his enormous sins to God's great mercy and grace now he recounts the transformation – Paul underwent incredible change because of the grace and mercy of the Lord.
He makes reference to it in Galatians 1:22-24 I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy." And they were glorifying God because of me.
Now all of this meandering has a point and it is this:
The purpose of Christ's visit was salvation – not discussion! And certainly not to enslave men to the law!
The primary focus of Jesus' coming was the saving of sinners. He didn't come just to teach or heal, or to turn water in to wine. He came to save, and Paul's point is clear. "If Jesus can save me, he can save anybody" He came here to save!
What an incredible lesson and what an incredible hope for anyone who is haunted by their former sins. The saying is trustworthy. It deserves full acceptance: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…"
Isn't that a beautiful statement?
There is an olive branch of sorts here; a saving grace is offered to the unnamed false teachers in Ephesus. Up in verse seven we see that they don't know what they're talking about. These are not the men who come later with consciences seared as with a hot iron. They are ignorant, but Jesus came for their salvation.
Paul found mercy because it was in him that God could demonstrate just how great his patience and mercy and grace were in Paul. Saul the murderer, Saul the blasphemer, Saul the violent aggressor who himself persecuted the flesh of Jesus as he pursued his followers. That man, the sinful brutish man of self righteousness found mercy because God could use him as an example.
Your life is also an example.
Your testimony is one of the most beautiful tools the Lord has created in order for you to minister with it.
It is the retelling of your salvation that floods your heart with a renewed vigor when it lags. Your testimony is exhibit A when talking to people about God's grace. "Always be prepared to give an answer…." ( 1 Peter 3:15
When faced with so great a grace the only natural response to God's salvation is praise of his glorious grace!
If you haven't thought through or worked through your testimony lately, let me encourage you to get out a sheet of paper this afternoon and write it out. Write out what God has done for you, and then… share it with someone.
The end result may be the salvation of another soul and the writing of a new testimony. And that would be to the praise of His grace, a grace that is unimaginable in its magnitude.
1 Wiersbe, BE Commentary on the same verse.