We don’t know if Paul led Timothy to Christ. However, we do know that Timothy had a good knowledge of the Old Testament due no doubt to his mother and grandmother. Paul accepted him as a young protége and became like a spiritual father to the young man. He called him, “my true son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2).
Paul wrote this letter to him to encourage him in his ministry.
Paul’s Thanksgiving For The Grace Of God In His Life. 12-14.
Throughout Paul’s writings, we see that he maintained a humble attitude to his calling and to his ministry. In these verses, he elaborates on the grace of God that was bestowed on him in his coming to faith and throughout his ministry.
12 “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service” [Note 1]
However, Paul had not always been “faithful” or a suitable candidate for ministry for God. Here he reminds Timothy of his life before he came to Christ and how it had been the grace of God that had changed him. 13 ”though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.”
It was certainly true that Paul had blasphemed against God. Not only by speaking against the testimonies of those who had come to “The Way” but by actively trying to have their voices silenced as he sought to have them thrown into prison. He had persecuted the church and Jesus Himself, as the Risen Jesus said as He appeared to him on the Damascus Road and challenged him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Paul had also been an “insolent opponent.” [Note 2].
One would have thought that such a person could never be forgiven by God having been responsible for so many sins against the church. But Paul introduces the concept of the mercy of God, “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” Paul’s sinful life was due to his ignorance of God and His ways and his subsequent unbelief. It took the mercy of God to change Paul into the man of God that God wanted him to be. It was the manifestation of grace towards Paul that brought the change.
Paul now turns the focus from his unworthiness to the amazing grace of God which He had poured out on Paul “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.“ [Note 3].
We know the story of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 where the power of God fell on Paul and led to his belief in Jesus. [We could say that every conversion is an expression of the grace of God leading people from unbelief to belief. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Salvation is a gift deriving from the grace of God and available as a gift to all those who put their trust in Jesus.]
Paul’s Affirmation Of The Death Of Jesus To Save Sinners. 15-16
In the next verse it seems that Paul was trying to encourage Timothy with the certainty of the truth of the gospel message, 15 “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
This is the gospel in a nutshell. Jesus as the Son of God had come into the world to bring about the salvation of sinners. That is the whole purpose of His incarnation in becoming a human to die for humans. That was the eternal message that both Paul and Timothy had been called by God to share with sinful humans. But Paul knew that of himself he was not worthy to perform such a task. So he added, “to save sinners,] of whom I am the foremost.” It wasn’t false humility on Paul’s part. He had been a great threat to the early church, perhaps more than any other human at the time. But God’s mercy and grace had wrought a miracle in Paul’s life so that the great persecutor of the church had become the great preacher and pastor of the church.
Paul had come to understand that God’s mercy had been behind His plan to save Him in particular, for it would show that if someone like Paul could be saved, then it was possible for anyone to be saved, 16 “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” Jesus’ perfect patience meant that He could wait until people were willing to repent of their sins and to give their lives to Him. Believing in Jesus led to having eternal life.
As Paul often did in his other epistles, he broke out into a salutation to God, 17 “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” His words emphasise the uniqueness of God as “the King of the ages “and as “the only God.” He was the only one worthy to receive honour and glory.
This passage of scripture is important in showing us the character of the apostle Paul. It also shows us the danger of misunderstanding the nature of truth. Paul had been sincere in his persecution of the church but it was a misplaced sincerity, for it had been based on a wrong perception of Jesus as a person and on the contribution he had come to bring to a needy world. It was only on the Damascus Road that his spiritual eyes were opened as his physical eyes were closed. However, from that point onwards his commitment to the Risen Christ was total. That was brought out in his challenging words in Galatians 2:20 where he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Perhaps one of the other major messages in this reading is the immensity of the grace and love of God. Who would have thought that a hardened persecutor like Saul of Tarsus could be so radically changed by the power of God? No wonder Ananias responded to the Lord’s command to support Paul that he replied, “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.’” It needed the assurance of an understanding of God’s purpose in Paul’s life, for him to obey, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.‘” It is a great reminder to us in today’s world, that we should not see any individual as being beyond the grace and mercy of God. Sometimes it is the most unlikely person whom God chooses to be one of His instruments in His purposes in the world.
[Note 1]. “Appointing.” Is from [tithēmi; τίθημι] meaning to “place” or “establish” Paul in his ministry and service to God.
[NOTE 2.] “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” The latter is [hybristēs; ὑβριστής] meaning an insulter or an injurious person. The only other reference in the New Testament is in Romans 1:30 where Paul is describing those insolent people whom God had given up because they had not acknowledged God.
[NOTE 3]. “overflowed” is from [hyperpleonazō; ὑπερπλεονάζω] meaning to be exceedingly abundant. It is the only use of this word in the New Testament.