Recent Sermon
 Sunday, October 2, 2022

Pentecost 17

I Timothy 1:12-17
 

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 
         Human resource departments manage a number of tasks for their companies.  Among them is the recruiting and hiring of employees.  In order to do that, they have to sort through stacks of applications and resumes and conduct dozens of interviews.  When they feel that they have found the person who can best perform the tasks necessary for the position that they are filling, they will hire that person.
          As the Apostle Paul wrote to his colleague and friend, Timothy, he reflected on his call into the ministry.  Paul implied that if he had been the manager of the HR department who was “hiring” workers to spread the message about Jesus, he would have been at the bottom of the list.  Saul, as he was initially named, had a long list of reasons why he shouldn’t be considered for the job.
          But he quickly noted, that being a Christian who shares his faith is not the result of personal talents and characteristics.  It is a miraculous work of God which can clearly be seen in the example of Paul.  But he wasn’t the only one who should have come to the conclusion that he was completely unqualified to be a messenger for the Lord.  We all fall into that same category.
          Like Paul, you and I are marvelous examples of the power and love of God.  Let’s turn to the words of Paul to see how, like him, God has taken us….
 

“From Worst to First”
 
I.  Made into a reliable witness
II.  Given a reliable message

 
          When we think of the apostle Paul, perhaps words such as courageous, bold, or heroic come to mind. The Apostle Paul may have individually done more for the spread of the Gospel in the 1st century than anyone else.  He endured suffering and persecution that makes us wince as we think about it.  He persevered, though, to travel to many different places where he planted congregations and helped them grow through God’s Word.
          Yet, Paul tells us a different story. He did not grow up as a strong Christian who seemed like the perfect candidate for the job of Apostle.  He tells the story of a man who was wholly unreliable. He admits that he was a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man….”  Initially Christians ran and hid when they saw him coming, because he was coming to arrest, and torture, and even imprison anyone that he found confessing that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  Paul admitted in the letter that he later wrote to the Galatians, “…I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.”
          In our text as Paul wrote to his friend, Timothy, he admitted, “…I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”  This is where we find the thread of similarity between Paul and ourselves.  Like Paul, every one of us was born in ignorance and unbelief.  Allowed to remain and grow in that state, we would have walked a similar path to the one that Paul initially walked.  He noted in his letter to the Romans that “…the sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s will nor can it do so.” (8:7) Led by our “sinful mind” we would have opposed the will of God in our lives and lived with no love of God in our hearts.
          Now granted, the hostility of the unbeliever doesn’t always manifest itself in active persecution of Christians the way that Paul’s did.  Quite often the hostility of unbelief is more passive, yet just as damaging.  It might show itself in a parent who doesn’t take seriously God’s command to “Train up a child in the way he should go…,” (Prov. 22:6) who doesn’t “…bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4) Such failures make us unreliable as messengers of God.
          Hostility to God can also show itself in the lack of regard that people show for God’s Word.  God’s commandments are seen as mere suggestions and his invitation to drink deeply of the Word is pacified by a few sips of it now and then.  Excuses to skip a devotion or time for Bible reading or to attend church services come too easily.  Earthly appointments fill our schedules very quickly while time slots for our Lord remain empty. 
          And yet, in spite of our complete lack of qualification to be children of God and messengers of his Word, God has poured out his grace and mercy on us.  Just as God took the self-proclaimed “chief of sinners,” Saul and made him “the Apostle to the Gentiles,” a New Testament hero of faith, he has done the same for us.  We can say with Paul, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appoint me to his service…The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”  Just as he did with Paul, each of us can say that God took us “From Worst to First.”
          Paul wrote, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.”  Jesus turned our life from hostile enemies of God to dearly loved children of God.  It wasn’t easy.  He had to come down from heaven and do everything that we had failed to do.  He had to face the temptations of Satan head on without falling to even one of them.  And then, even though he had done that perfectly, he had to suffer the pain of hell as he hung on a cross.
          And he did that.  And because he did that, we are no longer sinners awaiting the punishment of our just God, but servants ready to do the work that God appoints us to do.  We are now reliable witnesses who have been given….

 
II.  A reliable message

 
          God had plans when he appeared to Saul the persecutor on the road to Damascus.  He appeared to him powerfully that day, but not to crush and destroy him, but to save and restore him.  Paul wrote, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”  God took Paul “From Worst to First,” and then God put him to work.
          God sent Paul out into the surrounding countries and towns and villages to share his Word, a Word that Paul described as being “trustworthy.”  He wrote that the statement that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” was a “trustworthy saying.”  Paul knew that the Gospel was reliable.  It could do what God was using it to do, and that was to save sinners.  Paul had seen it in his own life.  He had seen its power to lead him to trust his eternal soul in the hands of the one that he had previously persecuted so violently.
          As the book of Acts described the work that Paul did for the Lord, we see that there were no gimmicks needed or no fancy sales pitches used.  Paul noted to the Corinthians, “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:1-2) Paul gave the glory for all that had accomplished to God.  He used his own life as an example to show how merciful God is and how powerful his word is.  He said, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
          God’s mercy and grace took us from people who deserved nothing but God’s anger and punishment and made us heirs of eternal life.  That was all accomplished by the powerful Gospel that tells the story of Jesus.  When we share that story with others, two things are happening.  1.) We are honoring and praising God for what he has done for us.  We are giving him all of the glory and recognizing his great love in saving us from our sins.  2.) We are opening the door for others to be shown that same love and mercy of God.  Paul would ask, “How can they believe on him of whom they have not heard?” (Rom. 10:14) We all know the answer to that question – they can’t. When people hear the Word of God, amazing things happen.  Just ask Paul.  Or better yet, just as you or me!
          The power of God’s Word can be seen in the life of Paul.  He may have earned the title of “worst of sinners” which he claimed for himself.  But that is not how he is remembered.  We use words like “courageous, bold, or even heroic.”  But in the same breath we use words like “blessed and loved.”  The dramatic change in Paul, and in you and me, can be seen in the praise the words he wrote to Timothy in the last verse of our text, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.”  His words are also our words because we acknowledge that God has truly taken us “From Worst to First.”  Amen.   
 
“The peace of God….”