1 Timothy 1: 12 – 17
The discovery that changes everything
What kind of discovery, would change your life, I mean really change your life? If there was something that you learnt,
Or something that you came to understood,
Something you discovered for the first time, could that just completely turn your life upside down, or maybe right side up?!
I was driving through Mount Barker on Thursday, and drove past the street sign for Bilney Court, I understand named after one of the old Mount Barker families, but I couldn’t’ help but think of another Bilney, a man named Thomas Bilney, who one day, sitting in his study, made just that kind of life-changing discovery.
Thomas Bilney was a minister in the church in England in the 16th Century, and in those days, the church was Roman Catholic, and under the control of the Pope. The Bible wasn’t readily available, and only translated into Latin, which no normal people could understand, and even if you could understand it, the Bibles were literally , chained up in churches, so you couldn’t just read it for yourself.
The only path to salvation, peace with God, offered by the church of the day, was by good works;, doing good things, putting in religious effort. And of course, giving lots of money to the church was said to give you a head start with that as well.
Men and women like Thomas Bilney desperately tried to earn their salvation, earn a right standing before God, through their religious efforts, but the more Bilney laboured, the more he realised he could never save himself from what he saw of his own sin.
Until one day, Bilney purchased an illegal copy of the Bible, and smuggled it into his room at Cambridge University. As he read his own Bible for the first time, his eyes fell upon these words, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst
And these words, that we’ve heard read this morning, were the discovery for Thomas Bilney, that changed his life, really, changed his life.
In these words, Bilney realised that it was not up to him to earn salvation from the sin that he felt so keenly.
He later wrote,
"I felt a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch that my bruised bones lept for joy,
He went on, I also am like Paul, and more than Paul, the greatest of sinners, but Christ , saves , sinners.
I wonder if, when we heard these words read a moment ago, your “bruised bones leapt for joy”!
Would we consider these words that kind of a life-changing message?
Or perhaps, do they sound so familiar, that they more or less bounce off us, with no impact,
Water of a duck’s back.
1 Timothy 1:15 is, as Thomas Bilney discovered, the very heart of the Christian message, so let’s have a look at it together.
, Jesus came into the world,
If you’ve listened to any one preacher, on more than a few occasions, you’ll have figured out that preachers have hobby horses! You know, a favourite angle, a particular approach, that comes up time and time again.
No matter what the passage is, the sermon is the same!
It’s OK, I know how it is!
So you may have worked out that one of my hobby horses, is the conviction that the Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible.
It’s OK to have hobby horses if they’re actually in the Bible, isn’t it?
Because that’s what we see, time and time again!
The Bible doesn’t just present us with facts, expecting us, to arrive at our own conclusions as to what they mean, how we ought to interpret those facts.
The Bible gives us the interpretation of the facts and events and words that it records for us, and so we are absolutely not free to say things like, “Well, I think this means, ”
Or “I like to think of Jesus as, such and such.”
It’s not up to us to arrive at an interpretation of the Bible ourselves, such that my interpretation is as equally valid your interpretation.
The Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible.
OK, so having said that, let me just park my hobby horse over here, and let’s have a look at how 1 Timothy shows us that this is important.
Notice in verse 15, that the Apostle Paul presents a fact:, Jesus came into the world.
There’s a fact. Jesus came into the world.
That’s a fact of history,
You can go into really any history department, of any university in the world, and the history professors will tell you, “Yes, that’s a fact.”
The existence of Jesus of Nazareth, is beyond any dispute. And the events of the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus, are considered the most well-attested events of all of ancient history.
Fact: Jesus came into the world.
But Paul also gives us the interpretation or explanation of these facts.
And in this case it’s a fact sandwich. On each side of this statement, Jesus came into the world, is what makes sense of it.
Firstly, the Paul tells us that this Jesus is Christ, Jesus,
And secondly, we learn Jesus came into the world, for a particular purpose;, to save sinners.
Christ Jesus came into the world,
Let’s deal with the first one very quickly.
This Jesus, who Paul’s talking about, is the Christ.
Paul’s writing to Timothy, his young friend who’s the pastor of the church in Ephesus, and he wants Timothy and the Christians in Ephesus to remember that Jesus is the Christ, God’s chosen king.
The story of the Old Testament is a story of promise. God had been promising his people that he would send a king, to lead ,
To care for his people.
To call Jesus the Christ, is to say Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s plans and purposes that he made known through the centuries of the Old Testament.
To call Jesus the Christ is to say that everything that God had been doing previously finds its fulfilment in him.
Do you see why we need the Bible’s interpretation?
If we simply supply our own interpretation, “Well I think Jesus was this or that”, a wise teacher, a good man,
We will seriously miss the truth, won’t we?
I’ll just get off my hobby horse again!
Jesus is the Christ.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners
The second part of the interpretation needs a lot more of our time.
Jesus came into the world. That’s the fact of history,
Jesus was the Christ, that’s part of the explanation,
But also, Paul tells us, Christ Jesus came into the world for a particular purpose, to save sinners
There are, probably not many terms considered more derogatory, more out of place in contemporary society, than the label “sinner.”
Imagine that you get invited to go on Q and A, on the ABC, and as you’re sitting there on the panel, cameras are rolling, Twitter feed is scrolling, and Tony Jones throws to you, asking you to respond to a question from the audience, and in your answer, you refer to whichever group of people we’re talking about this evening, as “sinners.”
How do you think that goes down?
Well, the Twittersphere erupts,
The studio audience starts heckling,
And the panel goes into meltdown, doesn’t it?
If you call someone a sinner, our society thinks you’re making a statement about their very character.
And actually, on that point, our society is exactly right!
Of course, the difference is probably that today, most people think that they are undeserving of that label, because they’re not a murderer, or a terrorist.
“I’m not a sinner, because I haven’t done this particular list of wrong things.”
But according to the Bible, a sinner is defined not by actions, but by attitude. Attitude towards God.
See, a sinner is simply someone who ignores God,
Who ignores God’s pattern for life.
A sinner is someone who lives in God’s world, who takes all the good things that God gives us, and yet who lives as if God doesn’t even exist.
And so clearly, you can be a nice person, and yet still be a sinner.
And maybe that’s you! Perhaps you don’t like that title “sinner”, but you’re quite happy to say, “Actually, no, I think I am entitled to forge my own path for life,
There’s no need for me to stop and consider God’s perspective,
What God says is right and wrong,
I can decide all those things for myself.
And if that is you, and you’ve come here today to work out if you can keep on living like that or not, can I say, thanks for having the integrity to try work out if you’ve got things right.
And we’re really pleased to have you with us today, firstly because the Bible tells us that we were once all like that,
We were all living in rebellion against God.
Even the Apostle Paul, what does he say about himself in verse 13?, I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man. He says my whole life reflected this attitude of rebellion against God, even though I was very religious.
And you can read about some of that in the early chapters of the book of Acts.
In Paul’s day, in the first Century AD, as in our Q and A example, “sinners” was a dividing term, it’s about us, and them.
Today it would be called wedge politics.
But Paul doesn’t use it as a dividing term. To him, “sinners” is a universalising term!
To Paul, this is a term that describes everyone.
No one is born in a right relationship with God.
This is the story of all of us.
The other reason we’re so pleased to have you with us today, is because we want you to hear what the Bible says about sinners, about people who live in rebellion against God;
The Bible says, sinners , need , saving.
Sinners need saving!
And this is just as important for those of us who are Christians. We need to remember that what Paul says of himself here is true of us!
And also, no doubt each one of us, can think of people we know and love, who are still living in rebellion against God,
People who are quite happy ignoring God and his pattern for life, and so we need to understand very clearly, where they stand before God.
Let’s make no mistake, sinners need saving!
We know that sin and evil needs to be punished.
We don’t want people who do evil to get off scot-free.
We demand justice.
And the thing is, God is no more likely to turn a blind eye to sin and evil than we are.
The Bible tells us that the penalty for sin is death, spiritual death and separation from God and his blessings forever.
That’s what the Bible calls hell.
The cartoonists’ version of hell is a place run by a funny red man with a pitchfork and a long tail, where, at least according to the Far Side cartoon, even the coffee is bad!
That’s the comedians’ picture of hell.
The Bible’s picture of hell is actually much simpler, and more more horrifying,
It is separation from God and his blessing, and from everything good.
Sinners need saving.
Each one of us is a sinner,
But Christ Jesus came into the world, to save sinners
Sometimes we hear Christians say things like “God loves sinners, but hates their sin.” Or sometimes it’s phrased as an exhortation to us: “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.”
And it’s pretty easy to see the point, the motivation behind that kind of language isn’t it? And this week, with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on TV, and various things being said about that, and about the people involved, it’s good to be reminded, to love people, even those with whom we might disagree,
And those who are living contrary to God’s pattern for life.
But my hesitation with phrases like “Love the sinner, hate the sin”, stems from the fact that I wonder if that actually clouds the issue. See, I worry that saying “God loves sinners, but hates their sin”, disguises the fact that God says “sinners need saving.”
It’s the person, who will face God’s right and just judgement for their rebellion against him.
Let’s be very clear about where people stand before God.
What is the salvation that Jesus offers?
So what is the salvation that Jesus offers?
Well, what was Paul’s own experience? Verse 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.
And then, verse 16, he says he’s an example for those who would believe in Jesus, and receive eternal life
So if sin leads to eternal death.
Salvation means eternal life.
To be saved by Jesus, means your standing before God is changed.
Once, facing death for all eternity, now, receiving life for all eternity.
There’s not really any way this change could be greater, is there?
Death, to life.
And whether you’re a Christian this morning, and this causes you to reflect on your own standing before God, and how you’ve got to this point,
Or whether you’re thinking about people you know who don’t know Jesus, maybe the people whose names are written on your Prayer Focus Card,
Or whether you’re not a Christian, and you’re wondering “What does it actually mean to gain this salvation?”
Whichever of those we are, It’s important that we see that, becoming a Christian,
Or trusting in Jesus,
Or being saved,
Those are all the same thing, whichever one of those we want to use,
Let’s stick with being saved, since that’s the language of this passage,
Being saved, is not about incorporating some changes into my life.
It’s not about turning over a new leaf,
It’s not about tinkering with the edges of my life,
It’s not about “getting religion.” Amazingly, I discovered this week, the dictionary definition of “getting religion” had this as the example: “When I had an automobile accident, I got religion. Now I'm a very safe driver.”
Now I would hope that being saved from your sin would shape every aspect of your life, even including your driving! But if that’s all your religion does, let me say this, you have , not , been , saved!
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and that salvation is nothing less, than a transformation from eternal death, to eternal life.
Any version, of Christianity, that seeks to explain the reason for Jesus coming into the world in any other terms that exclude this, or overshadow this, is not Christianity.
We’ve been saying that the title of this teaching series, 4 Comfortable Words, comes from the order of service for Holy Communion, from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
And communion speaks to us, of Jesus’ death.
These are the words that would be echoing in people’s ears as they ate the bread, and drank the wine.
Jesus saves, though his death.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners
This is the heart of the Christian message. And if you take nothing else away from today, I hope you can some away with this;, it took Jesus’ death, to save you from your sin, such is the enormity and horror of sin.
The salvation Jesus offers continues in a life of service
Of course we see also that for Paul, the eternal consequences of salvation, overflow into very practical consequences of salvation now.
The salvation that Jesus offers is about our eternal standing before God, but because of that, it also shapes the here and now.
That was Paul’s experience, wasn’t it?
The dramatic change in his eternal future, overflowed into his present existence and experience.
See there back in verse 13, I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man
And yet, now saved from sin and its penalty by Jesus, verse 12, I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service
Paul’s whole life has been turned around.
Formerly he was persecuting Jesus and the church, now he is a servant of Christ and his church.
In Paul’s mind, to be saved from sin, is to understand and experience the transforming power of God, on the eternal stage, and for that to be worked out in your life, here and now.
So, as it turns out, yes, “getting religion” probably should make you a better driver!
The salvation that Jesus offers isn’t less than that, but it is so much more than that!
In fact we could even say, that for Paul, the salvation that Jesus offers starts with the freedom from sin, that transformation from death to life, and it continues, in faithfulness and service to Jesus.
So to have only part of that, to consider that salvation is only about heaven and eternity, and nothing to do with how I live my life now, is to mis- understand salvation as Paul explains it here.
Christ’s salvation is available to the worst of sinners.
But of course Paul’s great statement, his trustworthy saying, has a post script, doesn’t it? He adds a PS!
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst
Was Paul the worst sinner who ever walked the face of the earth?
Or let me ask you a different question, who do you think was the worst sinner ever?
Typically we answer that question with names like Adolph Hitler, or Pol Pot, people known for their atrocities.
But of course, when we think that, we’ve fallen into that trap of thinking sin is a list of wrong actions.
But if sin is our attitude to God,
Our unwillingness to submit to his rule and kingship,
Then sin isn’t a spectrum, on which we place ourselves, or others.
No, sin is a simple category. You are a sinner, or you aren’t. What do the mathematicians call it? A binary category. There are only 2 options; Yes, or no.
And as we’ve seen, Paul uses the term sinners to include everyone who has ever lived.
So it’s not particularly, that Paul is worse sinner than everyone else, that his sin was somehow more difficult for Jesus to forgive than anyone else’s.
But as Paul grasps more and more the the grace of our Lord, that was poured out on me abundantly, as he says in verse 14, the more he understands God’s grace, the more he understands how sinful he really is!
Once upon a time, he thought that his previous life, with its persecution and violence against Christians, he thought that demonstrated how good he was!
Now he realises, all that showed he was just as much a rebel against God as any person who ever lived.
Literally he says, “I’m the first of sinners.
It’s like one of those top 10 countdown lists, “The Top 10 sinners in the world!” And by the time you get to number one, you know things are going to be bad.
The more Paul understands what salvation is, and how it has come to him, that is, by grace, God’s undeserved kindness, the more he understands how much he needs it.
Maybe you’ve sat in a room, and looked as the sun shines through the window, with a beam of light. And although you kind of assumed that the air around you is clean, in that beam of light, you can see hundreds, thousands, of impurities, dust and, whatever else.
The room is not pure and clean like you thought, but filled with , contamination.
That beam of light that highlights all the impurities, is the grace of God that shows us our sin, how horrific and costly it is.
And until we are able to say, “I am, stained with sin,
I am contaminated with the impurity of rebellion against my creator, we cannot receive the salvation that Jesus offers.
I remember a preacher once describing a school excursion to the criminal courts, that he had been on as a young boy. The courts were in session, so the boys were told to walk in quietly, and go and sit in the public gallery.
So they all walked in, just kind of wandering along, while the business of the court was going on around them, and the group of school students walked into this little box where this rather surprised looking man was standing.
He was, of course, the accused! In their ignorance, the boys had walked right past the public gallery and gone and stood in the dock!
Friends, as long as we think we’re standing in the public gallery, we cannot receive the salvation Jesus offers.
It can only be ours, when we realise we’re standing in the dock!
That we are the guilty ones.
Our world considers that label “sinner”, a grave insult, probably in fact, with no place in a sophisticated enlightened society.
And yet it’s a label we must be willing to take onto ourselves, in order to receive the offer that Jesus extends to us.
Paul’s experience of salvation is an encouraging example for us!
And of course, if Paul, quite willing to call himself the worst of sinners, if even he isn’t beyond the reach of the salvation Jesus offers, well that’s good news for us!
Why did God deal with Paul the way he did?
Worst of sinners, transformed,
Persecutor of the church, to servant of the church,
Sinner deserving of eternal death, to believer in Christ, and recipient of eternal life?
Why did God do that?
Well, if we look at the rest of the New Testament, we’d probably say something like “For the benefit of the church,
For the spread of the gospel of Jesus”,
And God definitely used Paul like that.
But here we’re given a very specific reason, as to why God chose Paul, and saved him, giving him that assurance in eternity, and that service verse 12, in the present.
And this is , I think, staggering, and amazing, and if you’re someone, who has ever thought that God couldn’t possibly use you, or save you,
Or if you know people,
And are praying for people,
And have written people’s names of your Prayer Focus Card, but you’re tempted to give up, because it just doesn’t seem possibl, that God could ever save them,
Then this bit is for you!
God dealt with Paul as he did, for your sake!
God showed mercy to Paul, appointed him to his service, verse 12, for you!
Look at verse 16 with me, 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.
Public enemy of the church?
The worst of sinners?
Because God wanted to make it absolutely clear, that his grace, the salvation from sin he won for us in Christ Jesus,
The offer of meaningful, fulfilling, significant service,
Is not beyond any person in this room, or any person that you know.
God wanted to put on such a display of his grace and kindness, such a display of salvation, that anyone who ever despaired at their own sinfulness, or the sinfulness of others, might be encouraged.
God dealt with Paul as he did, so that you would be assured that you can find mercy and salvation in Christ.
Paul is saying here.
“You might think you’re bad
You might think you’re too far from God,
You might think that there’s no way that God could ever use you, because of what you’ve done,
Or how you’ve treated people,
Or the things you’ve said,
Or the thoughts that you’ve entertained,
Or the sin that entangles you even today, as you sit in this place,
Surely this keeps me from ever coming to God, or being used by him”,
“If that is you”, Paul says, “Have I got news for you.”
The more I understand God’s grace being poured out on me abundantly, the more I realise that I stand in the front line of sinners.
Look up ‘sinner’ in the dictionary”, Paul says, “There’s a photo of me.”
And even now, writing to Timothy, years after all that persecution and violence, he still acknowledges his ongoing battle with sin.
See, notice that he doesn’t say, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I , was, the worst?
No, he says, I am the worst
Paul says, “I am the type specimen. You are not more sinful than me.
The way that God has dealt with me;, mercy, grace salvation, that’s how he’ll deal with all who believe in Christ, who trust in his death for salvation.”
That example word that Paul uses in verse 16, it has a sense of sketching out a prototype.
They say the idea for the personal computer was sketched on the back of a serviette in a Texas restaurant way back in 1982. And now that idea has been replicated and inserted in the lives of a billion people around the globe.
That’s what Paul says about God’s sketch on the serviette of Paul’s life; It’s the prototype for everyone who would believe in the salvation that Jesus offers.
These are not words that allow us get comfortable
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst
But not words that would allow to get comfortable, in that sense of relaxing, just going with the flow.
These are words that change lives,
I mean really change lives.
These are words that either call us to belief in Jesus, that we might receive eternal life,
Or, if we’ve already responded to God’s grace like that, these words spur us on, in the faithful service to which Christ calls us, following Paul’s example,
We look at the great demonstration of grace and mercy that God sketched out on the serviette that is Paul’s life, and there’s really no alternative but to think that life of faithful service is our calling too.
See the other example to look at, is Thomas Bilney.
He was so utterly convicted by the promise and the assurance of these words,
The guarantee of salvation for all who simply believe in him and receive eternal life, that he just wanted everyone he came across to understand this good news.
He began preaching in the colleges at Cambridge, and around England.
So convinced was he, that these words captured the heart of how we can come to God and be welcomed by him, that he openly and repeatedly defied the religion of the day, that said coming to God, salvation, was a matter of works,
And religious effort,
Spiritual box ticking.
But such was the opposition to this message of the free gift of salvation from Jesus, that one Sunday as he was preaching in St George’s chapel in Ipswich, he was literally dragged away from behind the pulpit, and imprisoned.
Still he would not let go of this truth, and continued to preach the good news, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
His response to this message lit the candle that started the Protestant Reformation in England, as other men and women became convinced of the significance of these words.
Repeatedly imprisoned, Thomas Bilney was finally arrested one last time, for preaching a message of salvation that did not sit well with the prevailing views of his society.
Eventually he went on to become the first Reformer to be burnt on English soil.
These are comfortable words,
But not words that will allow us to get comfortable.