Theme: A Right View of Ourselves and God
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
Compare these ideas that we find from Paul here in 1 Timothy and also in Philippians 3 with what he also writes in 1 Corinthians 15. Once again, you see Paul’s humility in his own self-assessment. In verse 9 Paul says to the church at Corinth, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Paul ranks himself alongside the other apostles because by God’s grace he was appointed by God for this work.
But he says here that he is the least of the apostles. He knows he was not among the original number who were called. His divine commissioning for service came later, but, nevertheless, this was God’s work, and Paul truly was an apostle because Christ revealed himself to him. But he was not proud in that status. In fact, Paul says that he does not even deserve to be called an apostle because of how he worked against the gospel in his efforts to persecute those Jews who had believed on Jesus. But once Paul had been turned from darkness to light, and had come to understand who Jesus really was, then by the grace of God Paul had been active and effective in this missionary task that God had given to him.
Later, when he wrote to the Ephesians he makes another reference to himself, and he humbles himself even lower. He had told the Corinthians that he did not deserve to be considered an apostle because of what he had done to Christians in the past. But in Ephesians 3:8, which he writes about five years after he writes his first letter to the Corinthians, he describes himself as “less than the least of all God’s people.” Paul never forgot what he had been, and he never grew tired of talking about God’s mercy that saved him.
So now when we come to our passage from 1 Timothy, we see that what Paul says about himself is consistent with what we had seen elsewhere. Earlier, Paul had described himself as the least of the apostles and less than the least of all God’s people. Now, as he is writing to Timothy, he calls himself the worst of sinners, or the “chief” of sinners, as the Authorized Version translates it. That kind of self-assessment shows real growth in the Christian life. As we grow spiritually, we should be able to see ourselves becoming stronger in our prayer life, and more dependent upon God in difficult times, for example. But as we go on in the Christian life, while we should be able to see ourselves increasing in the spiritual disciplines, we also become more aware of our failings, and of how far we have to go. This drives us back to the grace of God, where all such progress in spiritual things is found.
Having talked about himself and his sin, Paul gives a benediction in verse 17. But he does not linger on himself. He knows he is the worst of sinners, but he then shifts his focus off himself and onto God, bursting into praise of the greatness of a God who would save him. Paul extols, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
It is always that way. From time to time, people have told me that they don’t have much of a sense of God. Well, the reason is because they have too much of a sense of themselves as long as they think they’re okay and seem to be doing fine. At that point, they don’t have much need of God, and consequently do not think about God very much. But when we understand something of the horrible nature of our sin, that works within our hearts and we then begin to recognize our need of God and the grace that he alone can give. And as the knowledge of ourselves and our sin grows, so does our knowledge of God and his glory grow. We find ourselves not praising man, but praising God who loves and saves sinful men and women like ourselves.
Read Philippians 3:3-7; 1 Corinthians 15:9; and Ephesians 3:8. How does Paul’s humility increase?
Explain why a greater awareness of our sin shows spiritual growth.
Why is it necessary to move from a proper view of ourselves to a proper view of God?
Key Point: But when we understand something of the horrible nature of our sin, that works within our hearts and we then begin to recognize our need of God and the grace that he alone can give. And as the knowledge of ourselves and our sin grows, so does our knowledge of God and his glory grow.