1 Timothy 1:12-17
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1 Timothy 1:12-17 Biblical Commentary
THE BROAD CONTEXT:
1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus belong to a category called the Pastoral Epistles, because they deal with pastoral issues.
Verses 1 and 2 identify the author (Paul) and the intended recipient (Timothy). Timothy had accompanied Paul on his missionary journey to Berea and Macedonia, is identified as co-author of 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, and was clearly Paul’s trusted co-worker.
But there are serious questions about whether Paul wrote this letter and whether Timothy was actually the intended recipient. A study of the authorship is beyond the scope of this exegesis, but most good commentaries and Bible dictionaries provide an overview. The author, if not Paul, was probably a disciple of Paul’s, utilizing notes that Paul had compiled, and identifying himself as Paul. While that would not be accepted practice today, it would have been in that day.
I claim no special wisdom about the authorship of these books. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the names Paul and Timothy to refer to the author and recipient—but with the understanding that the author might be someone other than Paul.
All three of the Pastoral Epistles deal with challenges from false teachers (1 Timothy 3:7; 4:7; 6:3-5, 20-21; 2 Timothy 2:14, 16-18, 23-26; 4:3-4; Titus 1:10-16; 3:9-11). Specific concerns include those who:
• Promote “profane and old wives’ fables” (1 Timothy 4:7).
• Teach a different doctrine and don’t “consent to sound words, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:3).
• Are conceited and know nothing, but are obsessed with arguments and disputes (1 Timothy 6:4).
• “Suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5).
• Engage in empty chatter (1 Timothy 6:20).
• “Creep into houses, and take captive gullible women loaded down with sins” (2 Timothy 3:6).
• Refuse to “listen to the sound doctrine… (and) heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts; and…turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
• Those who engage in vain talk and deception, “especially those of the circumcision” (Titus 1:10).
Paul mentions “Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I delivered to Satan, that they might be taught not to blaspheme” (1:20).
He encourages prayer for everyone, especially rulers (2:1-7).
He provides counsel for men and women in worship (2:8-15), outlines requirements for bishops, deacons, and women (3:1-13), gives Timothy advice for dealing with specific segments of his congregation (5:1ff), encourages slaves to honor their masters (6:1), and advises contentment with food and clothing rather than love of money, which is a root of evil (6:6-10).
He encourages Timothy, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (6:11).
THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT:
In verses 1-11, Paul identified the recipient of the letter as Timothy, “my true child in faith” (v. 2). He urged Timothy to “stay at Ephesus that you might command certain men not to teach a different doctrine, neither to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which cause disputes, rather than God’s stewardship, which is faith” (vv. 3-4). He stressed that “the goal of this command is love” (1:5).
He talked about those who have “missed the mark” (astocheo—to miss the mark or to fail to reach the goal). They are guilty of “vain talking” (v. 6). They desire to be teachers of the law, but don’t know what they are talking about (v. 7). While the law can be good, it is meant for the unrighteous rather than the righteous (vv. 8-10).
1 TIMOTHY 1:12-14. I THANK CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD
12 And I thank (charin echo) him who enabled me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he counted me faithful, appointing me to service; 13 although I was before a blasphemer, a persecutor, and insolent. However, I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
“And I thank (charin echo—I am grateful to) him who enabled me (endunamoo me—strengthened me or made me strong), Christ Jesus our Lord, because he counted me faithful, appointing me to service” (diakonia) (v. 12). There are two points here that deviate from Paul’s usual practice in the undisputed letters (the letters that everyone agrees are written by Paul):
• Paul typically says, “I give thanks” near the beginning of his letters, but the Greek word for “I give thanks” is eucharisteo (see 1 Corinthians 1:4). Here he says charin echo—”I am grateful.”
• Paul typically gives thanks to God (see 1 Corinthians 1:4). Here he gives thanks to “Christ Jesus our Lord.”
These are two of the many anomalies that lead many scholars to believe that someone other than Paul wrote this letter.
Paul is grateful because (1) Christ appointed counted him faithful and (2) appointed him to service (diakonia). The word diakonia is the word from which we get our word deacon. It represents a humble kind of service.
• Jesus said, “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (diakonos) (Matthew 20:26; see also Matthew 23:11).
• Paul uses the word frequently to show that he is merely a servant of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:5, 9; 2 Corinthians 6:4; Ephesians 1:23; 6:21; Colossians 1:23, 25).
• Paul also calls Christ a diakonos (servant) (Romans 15:8). That might make it sound as if diakonos and deity are synonymous, but they are not. Christ emptied himself of his Godly status so that he could come to earth in a servant (doulos—slave—an even more humble word than diakonos) status.
Why should Paul be grateful for Christ’s having appointed him to Christ’s service? After all, Paul’s life as Christ’s servant has been anything but easy. He has been imprisoned, lashed, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked in Christ’s service. He has suffered peril from many sides, and has experienced hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness in Christ’s service (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
Paul’s gratitude stems from the importance of the calling to which he has been called. If Christ was crucified and resurrected from the dead, “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20)—which Paul clearly believes—then there is no greater calling than to proclaim the Gospel and to win people to Christ and salvation. In other words, the service to which Christ has called Paul has life-and-death consequences for the people to whom Paul ministers.
Also, Paul has been honored to be an apostle of the King of kings and Lord of lords (6:15). Stop to consider how proud people are to serve a governor or a president—but those kinds of service hardly compare with being the emissary of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Paul is grateful to have been called to such an exalted position.
What Paul couldn’t know is that his name would be known and revered throughout the world and throughout time. Today, two thousand years after his death, we still hear his name mentioned in public worship services. We still read the letters that he wrote to various churches. Today people consider it an honor to have their names attached to a building or a bridge that will stand for a century or less. Paul’s name will be remembered and honored as long as humans exist on this earth—and into eternity.
“although I was before a blasphemer, a persecutor, and insolent” (hubristes) (v. 13a). Saul (as Paul was originally known) was “a blasphemer,” because he spoke against Jesus and tried to force others to do the same (Acts 26:11).
He was “a persecutor” who “both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death I gave my vote against them” (26:10). He was present at the stoning of Stephen, and approved of Stephen’s execution (Acts 7:58; 8:1). He breathed “threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord”—considering them spiritual renegades. He traveled to Damascus, “that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” where they could be tried and convicted (Acts 9:1-2).
He was insolent (hybristes—insolent, violent, arrogant)—contemptuous of others and indifferent to their suffering—conceited—capable of inflicting injury without qualms of conscience.
“However, I obtained mercy (eleeo—mercy or compassion), because I did it ignorantly in unbelief”(v. 13b). Jewish law distinguished between sins committed unintentionally and sins committed intentionally (Numbers 15:22-31). Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Shortly after Pentecost, Peter accused his listeners of killing “the Prince of life” (Acts 3:15)—but he acknowledged that they had committed this sin in ignorance, and told them to repent (Acts 3:17, 19).
When confronted by a vision of Christ on the Damascus road, Saul suddenly realized that he had been wrong, and he immediately changed his ways. He became a fervent disciple of Christ who “proclaimed the Christ, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20)—and he continued diligently in Christ’s service to the end of his life.
Paul obtained mercy because he persecuted Christians “ignorantly in unbelief.” We might go one step further. He genuinely believed that he was doing God’s will when he persecuted Christians. He believed that Christians were a threat to the true faith, and he felt a responsibility to do everything in his power to stop them. However evil the results, his heart belonged to God and he was committed to serving God faithfully.
A problem raised by this verse is the fact that most of us have committed sins willfully and intentionally. Is there any hope for us? There is. We are “justified freely by (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
“The grace (charis) of our Lord abounded exceedingly (huperpleonazo) with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). Grace (charis) is a significant word in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s epistles. The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed, used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness.
Greeks often used the word charis to speak of patronage (the support of a patron, such as someone who provided financial or political support). To Greeks, the word charis connoted generosity—generosity that demanded loyalty on the part of the recipient.
It is easy, therefore, to understand why Paul would adapt charis to the Gospel. Christian charis is the gift of salvation by God to all who accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ. God, therefore, is the patron—the benefactor. Just as we could never fully repay a person who left us an inheritance of unimaginable wealth, so also we can never repay God for the gift of salvation. However, if a patron were to grant us unimaginable wealth, we could be faithful to the patron by using the money in a way that would be consistent with the patron’s wishes or values. So also, we can be faithful to the God who gives us salvation by living in accord with God’s will.
“abounded exceedingly” (v. 14) is a good translation of huperpleonazo, which is a combination of huper or hyper (above) and pleonazo (more than enough). The idea is super-abundance—hyper-abundance—overflowing abundance. Paul is talking about having hit the charis (grace) jackpot. Grace is now the ocean in which he
“with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). There are three possible meanings here:
• Paul received the benefit of God’s faith and love along with God’s grace. In other words, the faith and love in this verse are God’s—not Paul’s.
• Being the beneficiary of God’s grace filled Paul’s heart with faith and love. In other words, the faith and love in this verse are Paul’s.
• Or both meanings could be true. Paul may be saying that he has been the beneficiary of God’s grace, faith, and love—and, in turn, has responded with faith and love.
“in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). The phrase, “in Christ Jesus” is important. Paul uses it (or “in Christ”) frequently. Some examples include:
• We must “consider (ourselves) also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11).
• Christians “are sanctified (made holy) in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
• “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
• “In Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
• “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Being “in Christ” involves an all-encompassing relationship with Christ Jesus—a relationship that has saving power. That relationship involves receiving justification (being made righteous) as a gift rather than as an achievement. That makes us equal at the foot of the cross, so there is “there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). “In Christ” there is no room for boastfulness, because we have all received the same gift.
1 TIMOTHY 1:15-16. JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS
15 The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, for an example of those who were going to believe in him for eternal life.
“The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance” (v. 15a). This sort of “faithful saying” phrase appears in four other places in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8)—and nowhere else. This is another example of the anomalies that cause scholars to question Paul’s authorship.
This is Paul’s way of signaling that he is about to say something of great importance. Jesus did the same sort of thing with his “Amen amen lego soi” statements (“Truly, truly, I say to you”).
“that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v. 15b). This is the heart of the Gospel, and is reflected in a number of Jesus’ sayings as well as those of his disciples.
• “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).
• “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
• “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“the world” (kosmos) (v. 15b). While the word kosmos can refer to the created order, in the New Testament it usually means the world that is opposed to God—people who are antagonistic to God.
“Christ Jesus (v. 15b). Christ (Greek: Christos) is Jesus’ title—the equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah. Both Christ and Messiah mean anointed—set apart for a particular service or calling. In the Old Testament, they anointed prophets, priests, and kings.
Peter was the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:16), but the word Christ is used to refer to Jesus more than five hundred times in the New Testament.
“sinners, of whom I am chief” (protos) (v. 15c). The Greek word protos means “first,” but in this context it means “foremost” or “chief” or “the worst example.” He surely has in mind his former persecution of Christians. Elsewhere he calls himself “the least of the apostles, who is not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the assembly of God (the church)” (1 Corinthians 15:9). He also calls himself “the very least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8).
But he could also have in mind his ongoing struggle with sin (Romans 7:15-20).
“However, for this cause I obtained mercy” (eleeo) (v. 16a). See the comments on verse 13b above.
“that in me first, Jesus Christ might display all his patience” (makrothumia) (v. 16b). The Greek word makrothumia means endurance or steadfastness or patience or longsuffering or perseverance. Rather than striking down Saul for persecuting Christians, Christ exercised remarkable restraint—appearing personally to Saul in a Damascus road vision to effect Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-19)—and then appointing Saul (renamed Paul) to be an apostle (Acts 22:17-21; Romans 1:1-2; 1 Corinthians 9:1-5; Galatians 1:15-16).
Paul’s conversion from persecutor to apostle gave Christ the opportunity to demonstrate the incredible reach of his patience and perseverance.
“for an example (hupotuposis) of those who were going to believe in him for eternal life” (v. 16c). The Greeks used the word hupotuposis to speak of the preliminary sketch that an artist might draw. Such a sketch might be rough and incomplete, but it would nevertheless give the viewer a good idea what the finished product would look like. If anyone wondered what Christ could do for them, Paul’s conversion gave them a clear outline. If they would only believe, Christ would give them eternal life.
We tend to think of eternal life as having to do only with longevity—infinite in duration. However, Jesus portrayed eternal life as also having to do with quality of life—and starting in the here and now. In his High Priestly Prayer, he said, “This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).
1 TIMOTHY 1:17. TO THE KING ETERNAL BE HONOR AND GLORY FOREVER
17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul opened this passage in verse 12 with thanksgiving to “Christ Jesus our Lord.” Now he concludes with a doxology—an expression of praise to God (the word doxology comes from two Greek words—doxa, which means glory—and logos, which means word).
Doxologies are common in both Old and New Testaments (Genesis 24:27a; 1 Samuel 25:39a; Psalm 28:6; 31:21; 41:13; 68:19, 35; 72:18-19; 89:52; 106:48; Romans 11:36; Galatians 1:3-5; Philippians 4:20; Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Timothy 6:14-16; 2 Timothy 4:18; 1 Peter 4:11b).
These doxologies typically include:
• The name of the one to whom the praise is directed (God, Yahweh, the Lord, Christ Jesus).
• An expression of praise or blessing (“Blessed be the Lord.” “Be honor and glory”).
They often include:
• A reason for the praise (“Because he has heard the voice of my petitions.” “For he has shown me his marvelous loving kindness”).
• An expression denoting eternity (“From everlasting to everlasting.” “Forever and ever”).
“Now to the King eternal (basilei ton aionon—”of the ages”), immortal (aphthartos—incorruptible), invisible, to God“ (v. 17a).
“King of the ages” (basilei ton aionon emphasizes the eternal nature of God—that God is infinite,having no beginning or ending—that God is not bound by time, but is eternal.
“immortal” seems an odd translation of aphthartos, which means incorruptible. However, most translations (NRSV, NIV, ASV, The Message) say “immortal,” so I will bow to the weight of scholarship. The idea here seems to be that God is immune to the kind of degrading or wearing down that is typical of the created order.
“invisible.” When Moses asked to see God’s face, God replied, “You cannot see my face, for man may not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). God’s glory is so overwhelming that humans aren’t engineered to be capable of experiencing it. Like coming into contact with a live high-voltage electrical line, it would be too much for us.
The New Testament reaffirms this idea. John says, “No one has seen God at any time,” but then continues, “The one and only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him” (John 1:18). In other words, Jesus has made the invisible God visible. Jesus made the same point when Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus responded, “Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9). In his letter to the Colossians, Paul said that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).
“who alone is wise“ (v. 17b). This phrase is absent from the better manuscripts. Most modern translations omit it.
“be honor (time) and glory” (doxa) (v. 17c). The Greek word time (pronounced tim-AH) means honor or respect or reverence. Doxa means glory. Honor and glory are often found together in the New Testament (Romans 2:7, 10; Hebrews 2:7, 9; 1 Peter 1:7; 2 Peter 1:17; Revelation 4:9, 11; 5:12-13). God is worthy of our highest praise.
“forever and ever” (eis tous aionas ton aionon—literally, “into the ages of the ages”) (v. 17d). It is appropriate that a timeless God should receive timeless praise.
“Amen“ (v. 17d). “Amen“ (v. 20b). This word is Hebrew, and in the New Testament is transliterated into Greek. In other words, Greek letters are used to make the sound of the Hebrew word. In the Old Testament, amen means “to confirm; to support; to be faithful… (and) is also used in response to worship and praise…. The English word amen comes from this word and means, ‘I agree; may it be so'” (Baker and Carpenter, 70).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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