I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.
I am giving you these instructions, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies made earlier about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, having faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme.
What a jam-packed reading this is. One commentary I looked at devoted 14 pages to this passage! Don’t worry, I want to focus on just two aspects; calling and gratitude. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt (feels) inadequate for the role they were called to do. In a small way, I have a lot of empathy with Paul as he shares his calling with Timothy. I identify with four key elements within this journey of Paul: he was called, forgiven, trusted and strengthened. This was no vindictive ordeal where Paul was called and then sent off to fend for himself, he was made ready for his work. Firstly, he was forgiven so that he could leave his past behind and focus on the future. Secondly, he was trusted by the Lord to do His work; and if the Lord says he is fit to do the work who are we to disagree. Finally, he was strengthened for the tasks ahead. If your call is from God you too will be forgiven, trusted and strengthened; thanks be to God.
Paul never lost his gratitude for what God had done for him. In this passage, and in others, Paul reminds us that he was a great sinner, the chief of sinners. He knew he was forgiven (otherwise his sin would have incapacitated him) but he never forgot his sin. In remembering his sin Paul avoided any pride in his ‘own’ achievements and it served as a constant reminder to him of Christ’s love for him. Just imagine if someone bought you a coffee and someone else paid off your mortgage, who would you be more grateful to? For us sinners, God has done a lot more than just pay off our debts he has given us new life; forgiven, trusted and strengthened.
Lord, as I read of your great servant Paul, and I look into my sins I realise what an almighty God you are; you don’t give us what we deserve, you give us what we need. For this we are eternally grateful.
Lord I pray that we will never lose the sense of immense gratitude for the way you unendingly forgive us and strengthen us and then trust us to do your holy work. Amen
Alan Yates is a member of Trinity URC, High Wycombe and Moderator of General Assembly