Theme: Paul’s Testimony
In this week’s lessons, we look at how Paul viewed himself apart from Christ, and the great change that took place because of God’s mercy.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 1:12-20
I find it very interesting that in writing this letter to Timothy and having begun it as he has with an emphasis upon sound doctrine, Paul now speaks in a personal way of how the grace of God in that doctrine came to him. As he does, we recognize that here is not a proud man who somehow has all of the doctrine and therefore lifts himself up for recognition by men and women, but who in the light of the very nature of the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ recognizes himself to be a sinner. I find that interesting because I think it is the answer to one of the criticisms we often get when we want to talk about sound doctrine. Whenever a church is concerned about such things as biblical standards, the authority of the Word of God, the teaching of Scripture, or the fundamentals of the faith, such a church is often criticized that by emphasizing doctrine, they somehow become hard and narrow, as well as unloving and impractical.
There is such a thing as a bitter orthodoxy, where all of the t’s are crossed and all the i’s are dotted, and yet there’s little love for people. But when doctrine is really understood, it produces the very kind of things which are sometimes said to be absent in those who really care about biblical orthodoxy. When we recognize the glory of God in the gospel, we’re humbled by that; and we recognize that we are not those who have received the gospel because of our merits, but rather we are those who deserve nothing and who receive the gospel by God’s mercy. In the gospel, God is gracious and merciful even to the greatest of sinners. This is why Paul refers to himself as the chief of sinners.
This passage is a very interesting testimony on the part of the apostle Paul. Sometimes today, people are given pointers about how they’re to give a testimony in a public setting. First, you talk about your past, how bad you were before you found Christ. And then, second, you talk about that moment of crisis when you submitted to him. Lastly, you describe all the difference that’s come as a result of that. Well, we have something like that here. Paul talks about his past, saying that he was a blasphemer, persecutor and a violent man in his rejecting of Christ and his treatment of Christians. That is Paul’s own assessment of what he was before he met the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.
Now at this point it helps to remember that Paul and Timothy knew each other well. They had traveled and ministered together. So when Paul writes of himself in this way, Timothy knew the details of Paul’s past. A number of times in Paul’s writings he describes his past, leading people unfamiliar with his life to wonder what kind of terrible background he must have had. In fact, Paul had a very different background than some might suppose from what Paul says about himself.
Who was Paul? What was Paul like before he became a Christian? Well, he didn’t belong to organized crime, or even have any kind of criminal record. Rather, he was an outstanding religious figure. I suppose that in the Judaism of his day, he was well on his way to being one of the most distinguished of the Jewish rabbis.
Knowing Paul’s religious background, it seems confusing why Paul would go on to describe himself as he does in our passage. It seems incompatible. He is talking about his past as being a persecutor and blasphemer, and yet elsewhere we know that Paul was a Jew who carefully lived by the Old Testament and who worshiped and tried to serve the one true God. Paul would explain this apparent difficulty by saying that it was in the practice of his religion, as he understood it, that he was acting as a persecutor and blasphemer. He talks about his past in two notable passages.
When doctrine is misunderstood or not used properly, what negative results can occur?
What place does the Bible give to doctrine? What comes from a right use of it?
What do you know about Paul? What do you find out about him from the Bible?
Reflection: Do you set aside sufficient time each year to read various books on theology?
Application: How would you describe the theological level of your church? Is there anything you can do to encourage greater theological interest and study?