A Demonstration of God’s Mercy – 1 Timothy 1:12-20

Paul thanks God because God has enabled him to be faithful to the service to which he was appointed (v. 12). To “strengthen” someone is to give them the power of ability to do a particular task. This is the same verb (ἐνδυναμόω) Paul uses in Phil 4:13, and will use in 2 Tim 4:17. In both cases, Paul describes his weakness and inability to do the task God has given him, yet God gave him the strength to not only fulfill his commission, but to do so successfully.

Paul refers here to his commission to be a servant of God. The Greek noun διακονία can refer to any sort of job, assignment, or obligation. While we tend to think of “service” as those voluntary jobs we do for our church or school, the word can mean much more than that. In English we refer to someone who has been appointed to the role of an ambassador as being in the “foreign service.”

approved-stampPaul’s “appointment to service” is his commission to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). He was appointed to this particular role by God himself after he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. From the very beginning of his new life, Paul was told that he was a “chosen instrument” to take the gospel to the Gentiles. This commission was repeated in a vision given to Paul while he was worshiping in the Temple (a calling not unlike Isaiah). Paul’s point here is that despite being an unlikely candidate for this particular commission, God chose him and enabled him to fulfill this his calling to be the light tot he Gentiles.

Paul also recalls his former life before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (v. 13, 16). He says that he was a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” In English, the word blasphemy has taken on the connotation of speaking against a particular religious view. In the context of the book of Acts, Paul did not “blaspheme” by speaking slanderously about God, rather, he unintentionally blasphemed by speaking slanderously about Jesus, denying he was the messiah and denying that God raised him from the dead.

But in Greek, the words translated as blasphemy (βλάσφημος, βλασφημία, and the verb βλασφημέω) are usually associate with slander, demeaning speech, or even disrespectful talk. This might be mocking a particular view, a sarcastic parody, etc., usually with the intention of shaming people who believe that sort of thing. In a public debate, it is easier to mock the opponent rather than engage their ideas. This might be personal attacks, or using a straw-man argument. It is far easier to create a simplistic characterization of a person’s ideas and attack that rather than seriously examining what they actually say!

This fits well with the third word in this line, Paul was insolent. The noun (ὑβριστής) is rare in the New Testament, only appearing here and Rom 1:30 (a vice list). The word is also rare in the LXX (10 times), but it does appear in Prov 6:17 as one of the seven things the Lord hates (“haughty eyes”). The word appears in secular descriptions of vice in secular Greek as well. Aristotle describes the wealthy as “insolent and arrogant” (Rhet. 1390b, 33); “insolence means to do and say things that bring shame to the victim” (Rhet. 2, 2, via BDAG).

Taken with the slander implied with the Greek idea of blasphemy, perhaps we can think of this sort of speech as the lowest form political discourse, the old-fashioned “mudslinging” and yellow-press tactics which most politicians say they will not use (unlike their communist, atheist, baby killing, rap music loving opponent).

Even though Paul had been opposed to the truth of the Gospel, God chose him in order to demonstrate his mercy (v. 13-14, 16). God is described as merciful and patient. These words describe the character of God in dealing with his people throughout the Hebrew Bible. God is “longsuffering” or patient with his people, waiting a long time before rendering a justly wrathful judgment. Paul says that since he “acted in ignorance” God extended mercy to him. In the Jewish Law there is a distinction between sins committed in ignorance and sins committed intentionally (with a “high hand.”)

Since Paul was the “worst of sinners,” God’s demonstration of patience and mercy to him was a demonstration of how great God’s mercy can be. If God was merciful to Paul, of all people, then how much more will he be merciful to you? This is perhaps an intentional contrast with the false teachers he will mention in verse 20. They are not ignorant, they are willfully departing from the truth of the Gospel, knowing full-well what they are doing. For this reason there is no mercy for them, rather they will be “handed over to Satan.”

Paul describes his experience of God’s grace as an overabundance of grace. This word (ὑπερπλεονάζω) only appears in the New Testament here and is rare outside the New Testament. Paul described himself as the most desperate of sinners, yet God has filled him up with his grace to overflowing!


7 thoughts on “A Demonstration of God’s Mercy – 1 Timothy 1:12-20

  1. It is astounding to me that God did show an “abundance” of mercy to Paul when he intentionally slandered Jesus, claiming Him not to be the Messiah. He persecuted believers of Jesus and when Paul’s life was turned around on the road to Damascus and he surrendered his life to the Lord, God showed him mercy. He did not do this only because Paul surrendered and only because he loves him (which are both true and wonderful things), but he showed Paul mercy in order that Paul would go tell people of the mercy he was shown. God used Paul, who claimed to be the worst of sinners, to promote His own glory. This is not something that is unique to Paul, but to everyone who believes in Christ. John 3:16 is a perfect example of God’s mercy on us, despite our sinful nature. Because He has shown us this mercy, we should go tell the world so that they might receive it too! Mark 16:15 says “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” This was Paul’s calling from God and was to be his response to the mercy that was shown to him. This is our calling as believers in Christ, to make disciples of all nations.

  2. The Grace of God is something that can barely be explained with words. This is a gift He grants all of us even when we do not deserve it. Other than Paul there are many other people God uses to complete His work. People undeserving in the eyes of man, but in God’s eyes they are more than enough. As Christians that have fully given themselves over to God, it is a shared experience. We all ask ourselves and God the question, “Why me Lord?”. After every offense I have committed in the past and you still have called me to be one of your chosen. This is truly a humbling experience when we finally find our salvation through Him. The fact that God still chooses to love us even after our transgressions against Him and the kingdom shows how merciful of a king He is. God does not need us and yet He puts up with us anyway. There are so many people that I look at and think “Wow God is here and He is ever present in our lives”. He brings people out from a dark place and ushers them into the light. Then, they become beacons of hope to other people in the same position. This is the mercy that Paul is talking about and how God uses Him as an example. Paul, someone who once persecuted Christians turned into someone God could rely on to help guide them. If that is not mercy and grace then I do not know what is. Anytime God gives someone a chance to start over is a gift that should not be taken for granted. I solely believe that when God saves us it is not just for us… In my opinion there are people who God ties to our lives that we are meant to reach when the time comes. He wishes to make an example out of all of us and as His servants and heirs to the kingdom it is our obligation to do so.

  3. This idea from Paul as a quiet life is one that is very well throughout in my opinion. Paul is here trying to talk about leading by example. What Paul means here by a quiet life is that living to please God is so important, and actually living it out instead of just talking is more important. By living a quiet life it means that you can live a godly life by example so that others will see and know that you are a Christ follower. As we go on in life it is important that we remember that our actions speak louder than our words. It reminds me of that saying, don’t tell me what you’re going to do, show me what you’re going to do. For me in my life it is very important that I live this out, and lead by example.

  4. God’s Grace is like no other. Us Christians know this because as Paul has a story about his salvation we all have stories too. Stories about how God has completely changed our lifes in some way or another. He has completely forgiven us of our sins and redeemed us from this point forward. I had someone talking to our youth group about God and his free gift of salvation, and loving grace. He said that he had a hard time accepting the Grace of God. He accepted it after he realized that this gift from God was like no other gift he had ever received. When I thought about it, it was 100% true there is not gift like the gift of free Grace, and salvation.

  5. The idea of God being gracious and merciful has – in all honesty – confused the living daylights out of me. If God is a maximally great being, and justice is an objectively great quality, then God must be maximally just, which SHOULD mean that God does not show any mercy toward those who do not deserve it. However, since grace and mercy are also objectively great qualities, then he should have maximal grace meaning that no one should be given the punishment they deserve…

    Despite this contradiction (which only seems like a contradiction to me know because I have not yet found a solution to it), God manages to strike a balance between His justice and His graciousness.

    One solution I could offer for this problem would be that, since God has given us free will to choose either God or not-God, then He is able to be both maximally just and maximally merciful because He allows us to choose which of these great qualities we will experience. For those who choose to be loyal to God, they experience His full grace, and those who choose not-God experience His full justice.

    However, it seems as though a better answer lies in Jesus and His work on the cross. Since Jesus’ atoning sacrifice covers the sin of those who choose God, their sins are washed away and forgotten, so there is no reason for God to restrict His justice because there is no punishment awaiting us. Though we must not view ourselves as sinless lest we put ourselves in an improper relationship with God and lose our salvation (John 9:41), God does not see our sins (Acts 3:19, Hebrews 10:18) because of the miraculous covering that Jesus has provided us with his sacrifice.

    However, perhaps this could also be argued against since, for God to “hide” our sins from Himself would seemingly be a paradox along the lines of “could God create a stone too heavy for Him to lift.” At this point, I’m not too proud to admit that I have absolutely no clue about the metaphysical truths regarding the being of God and His attributes.

    This brings a new perspective to Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, because its ontological considerations are so impossibly complex.

  6. The Bible is filled with examples of people who are unfit sinners who are used by God. This example is shown to us as a demonstration of the glory of God and His abundant mercy. Paul is no exception to this. Paul, throughout his writings never hesitates to let the reader know how little and unfit he is. All the praise is given to the Lord and the mercy of God is shown throughout the ministry of Paul. Paul understands the sins of his former life and the heinous acts he committed. This gives the reader context into why Paul always counts himself as so low. Paul talks about how weak he is on his own and the strength he has in the Lord. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV). This verse is usually taken out of context, the focus here is less on the strength we receive but why we get to receive this strength. This verse is a representation of our weakness. The strength we can possess comes from our admitted weakness. Our sinful lives as humans restrict us from and strength on our own. It is only through our submission to the Lord and the Holy Spirits work in our lives that we are given strength. This is done not reveal our glory but to be a demonstration for the mercy of God.

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