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The Lord’s Grace to Paul July 31, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Timothy 1:12-20.

Summary: Paul begins by giving Christ thanks that He enabled him – through His grace – to hold the office of an apostle; moreover, He validated his faithfulness by calling him to this office. Now he had blasphemed against God and had persecuted the church, venting his anger on it – yet He forgave him because he did not deliberately attack Christ; he sinned out of weakness. Indeed, God has wiped away his past offenses and forgotten them; moreover, He has transformed him into a new person.

Paul then asserts that the lost can find their salvation through Christ. In particular, he has found salvation through Christ even though God viewed him as a great sinner. This obviously shows God’s grace in him – and so he has neatly turned the tables on his opponents, who had falsely attacked his ministry by highlighting his past life as a great sinner. This causes him to praise God as the King of the ages who never changes; moreover, He lives in inaccessible light.

Now Paul shows his affection for Timothy and reminds him of his charge regarding the law; he encourages him by reminding him that God – through various prophecies commending him to the church – approves of his ministry. Thus, Timothy can have renewed courage as God’s standard bearer in Christ’s army. In particular, Timothy should stick to sound doctrine and minister with a clear conscience; in contrast, some have not served God in a pure and honest way, and so their faith has disappeared. Paul concludes by noting that those whose faith has disappeared include Hymenaeus and Alexander, who he has excommunicated in order to overcome their fierceness.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Paul is extremely grateful to God for choosing him as an apostle – perhaps because of his past sinfulness. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

God forgave Paul his blasphemy because he acted in ignorance, but people who deliberately blaspheme can expect no such forgiveness…While Paul had an evil disposition to a certain extent, his mindless zeal took hold of him so that he was convinced that his actions were right. So Paul was not deliberately attacking Christ, but did so out of ignorance. But most Pharisees, in their false accusations against Christ, did so with a bad conscience…They were in total rebellion against God and they opposed Christ in a deliberate and calculated way.

Now this implies that in some sense, God made a distinction between the sins of Paul and those of the Pharisees – He evaluated their motives for sinning. Calvin then offers some other thoughts in his commentary on verse 15:

But the question arises about why Paul should say he is the worst sinner, since he acted in ignorance and the rest of his life seemed blameless to other people. This underlines how gravely God looks on the sin of unbelief, especially when it goes hand in hand with violence…God, however, judges unbelief, deliberately persisted in, very seriously, as he holds the obedience of faith so highly.

Now this implies that God considered the sins of Paul to be quite serious. Should we then infer that although God made a distinction between the sins of Paul and those of the Pharisees, He still lumped all of their sins into the category of “serious sins”? In that case, would each of the Pharisees be viewed by God as “the worst sinner,” since He did not forgive them? It is also difficult to accept Calvin’s assertion that “Paul was not deliberately attacking Christ.” We know from Acts 22:3 that Paul had a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament; none of the Pharisees surpassed him in that regard. In that case, how could Calvin infer that Paul was not opposing “Christ in a deliberate and calculated way?” Based on these difficulties, I am now looking forward to another stroll through 1 Timothy – sometime in the future – using a different commentary so that I can get another perspective on this passage.

In verse 20, Paul notes that he has excommunicated Hymenaeus and Alexander from the Ephesian church due to their false teachings. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Paul talks to Timothy about Hymenaeus and Alexander as two men who Timothy would know well. I think that Alexander is mentioned by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles as the person who tried unsuccessfully to quell the riot at Ephesus…Alexander lived at Ephesus, and we have already noted that this letter was mainly written for the benefit of the Ephesians…We now see Alexander’s end, and we learn from this to hold on to our faith with a good conscience so we can be kept safe to the end.

Hopefully I will have the opportunity to meet Hymenaeus and Alexander in the next life (in that case I would want to know how God brought them to repentance, perhaps via Paul’s excommunicating them from the church at Ephesus). What caused Hymenaeus and Alexander to fall away from their faith? Did Gnosticism play a role in their blasphemy? Did another false teacher come to Ephesus and convince them that the foundation that Paul had laid there was incomplete? How did they view Paul and Timothy? Did they have a chance to read Paul’s earlier letter to Ephesus, and if so, how did they respond to it?

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1. A Workman Approved by God | Ringing In - September 19, 2013

[…] we see that Paul has already punished Hymenaeus, as noted in 1 Timothy 1:12-20. Of course, this raises the following questions: did Hymenaeus have the opportunity to read 1 […]


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