I Timothy 1 Part 3

New King James Version 12. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry,

The Resultant Version 12. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who invigorates me, for He deems me to be faithful, and assigns me a service to perform,

Having dealt in the previous verses with the false teaching and misuse of the law Timothy was fighting against in Ephesus, Paul now goes on to speak of his own ministry. It is fairly certain that these false teachers, who sought to lead the believers into a different view of the law than that which they had been taught by Paul, were attempting to discredit him. Certainly if the believers stuck with what Paul was teaching they would not listen to these teachers, and so in order to support their own teachings they had to question Paul’s ministry. This is why Paul often has to write in justification of his own ministry in his epistles. Of course, Timothy himself was not questioning Paul’s credentials, but only those with whom Timothy was working.

Paul thanks Messiah Jesus our Lord. The Greek for “thanks” is charin echo, or “have grace.” However, the word “grace” can sometimes be used for the thanks offered for undeserved favors, which is what it means in this case. We might say that the specific thanks Paul was offering here was thanks for the grace he had been given by Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul then speaks of the grace the Lord has shown him. First of all, He has invigorated him. As we follow Paul’s ministry, we find that Paul had much to struggle against. Paul was never in good health. He mentions in Galatians 4:13 the ill health he had experienced while ministering to them the first time.

13. You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first.

In I Corinthians 12:7-10, he speaks of a thorn he carried in his flesh that had to do with some kind of physical infirmity.

7. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

What exactly this infirmity was is very hard to say. Some will guess one thing and some another. However, it is not hard to say that it was some physical ailment.

Now this might seem very strange, considering the great healing powers Paul was given as we read of them in the book of Acts. How could it be that one who was so powerful to heal others could be so physically infirm himself? This was the strange almost contradiction that we see in the apostles. It seems that the very healing powers they could use so profusely on others they were not allowed to use on themselves. Paul speaks of the strange reality of the apostles in I Corinthians 4:8-13.

8. You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us—and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! 9. For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! 11. To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 13. being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.

The apostles, as we read here, were a strange contrast to the average believer of the Acts period. They were suffering even as the people to whom they took the gospel were experiencing the amazing benefits of God’s kingdom. In a way, the apostles were an illustration of the suffering of the Christ Whom they served, for they suffered even as the people they suffered for were benefitted by them. They were not even able to use the healing powers they could apply to others on themselves, as Paul found out to his consternation when he was dealing with his thorn in the flesh.

Therefore, Paul had to suffer physical infirmity, even as he took on the difficult task of an apostle of Jesus Christ. Now, God’s secret administration has begun, and the believers are no longer experiencing the miraculous healing powers that they had in the Acts period. Paul’s infirmities have followed him into the new dispensation, but they do not disable him from carrying out his work for Christ. Christ Jesus our Lord was invigorating Paul, enabling him to do the difficult work he was still carrying out on His behalf.

Paul affirms that Christ deems him to be faithful. Indeed, Paul was a most faithful servant of Christ, gladly taking on whatever task the Lord had for him to perform. Even as the dispensation changed and he had to suffer the indignity of losing many of his powers as an apostle, his attitude in Philippians is the pattern to his fellow Acts period believers of letting go of what was behind in order to reach forward to what God had for them ahead. From the Damascus road when he first met Christ and on throughout his ministry, Paul never seems to have wavered in his faithfulness to His service.

Christ also assigns Paul a service to perform. This service did not come to an end with the Acts period. He still had much for Paul to do involved with the bringing in of the dispensation of grace. Paul is now carrying out this service even as he writes this inspired book to his coworker Timothy.

New King James Version 13. although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

The Resultant Version 13. Who being formerly a calumniator and a persecutor and an insulter, but mercy was shown me because I did it ignorantly in disbelief.

Paul now demonstrates the grace of God displayed to him by bringing in his shameful background. Formerly, before he became a servant of Christ, he had been a blasphemer, one who spoke injuriously against the Lord Jesus Christ. He had been a persecutor, following after the true servants of Jesus Christ to harm them and even to execute them. He had also been an insolent man, or as the Companion Bible has it, an insulter, speaking against all that the Lord and His disciples stood for. Yet in spite of Paul’s disreputable beginning, he obtained mercy from the Lord. This was because he did it ignorantly and in unbelief.

How is it that Paul did the things he did ignorantly? The first we read of Paul in the book of Acts is in the story of the stoning of Stephen. We read of the murder of this faithful follower of Christ in Acts 7:58.

58. and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

This “Saul” is, of course, the same man Paul who is writing this letter to Timothy. The one who had the clothes laid at his feet in a stoning like this was the man who was responsible to see to it that the trial of the person being stoned had been carried out correctly and in order. Paul apparently believed this to have been done, as we read in Acts 8:1, “Now Saul was consenting to his death.

Now the stoning of Stephen was a most abominable act of injustice, and Paul might well have been condemned by the Lord for taking part in it. Yet I do not believe that this was the case, for Stephen himself prayed that it would not be so, as we read in Acts 7:60.

60. Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

I believe that the Lord granted this final request of Stephen, and so the sin of stoning him was not laid to the charge of these wicked men from the Sanhedrin. Yet I do not believe that this was enough to get them off the hook. Even if they were not condemned for stoning Stephen, yet still they had rejected the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, something which was enough to qualify them as unbelievers. Such men as these have no place in God’s kingdom to come. Yet Paul had been one of their number. How could Paul then have escaped this condemnation?

It is my conviction, though it cannot be proven by a definite statement of Scripture, that Paul had not been in Israel during the ministry of Jesus Christ, nor during the Acts period up until just before this incident with the stoning of Stephen. He most likely had been one of those Pharisees whom Christ describes in Matthew 23:15.

15. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

Whether or not he was making his converts to be twice as much the sons of Gehenna as he was, I believe that Paul was acting as one of these “missionaries” of the Pharisees. He was from outside the land of Israel (Rome and Tarsus), though he was trained in Israel under Gamaliel, and therefore he was well aware of the plight of Jews outside the land. I believe this zealous man wanted to convince the ancestral Israelites outside the land to hold strictly to the law, and to follow the traditions of the elders. Therefore, busy at this task, he had not been in Israel until he returned to it just before the stoning of Stephen.

Having been trained in Jerusalem and greatly respecting the men who led and taught the law there, it is likely that Paul promoted them to the Jews among the nations as he went to them preaching Pharisaism. He probably worked busily trying to convince Jews outside the land that they should faithfully hold to the law of Moses and the traditions of the fathers, just as men do in land, and especially in Jerusalem. This being the case, we can imagine his horror when he returned to Jerusalem and learned (from his fellow religious elite) that a “false messiah” who was leading the people away from the law and the traditions of the elders had gained a huge following and great popularity in the land. His reaction must have been something like that of the soldier who has been passing through the horrors of war and has been encouraging himself that when this is all over he can return home to his loving wife and family, only to find on returning that she has found another man and is planning on leaving him. Paul’s rather berserk actions are what we might expect from just such a perspective.

Now if Paul had only recently returned to Israel, that means that he had not been there in Acts 4 when Peter and John, along with the lame man they had just healed, appeared for trial before the Sanhedrin. Nor had he been there in Acts 5 when all the twelve were brought before the Sanhedrin and were accused of bringing the blood of Jesus Christ to bear on the guilty rulers of Israel. On both those occasions, the gospel had been clearly presented to the Sanhedrin by the apostles, and the Sanhedrin had rejected it. So when Stephen appeared before the Sanhedrin in Acts 6 and 7, he did not proclaim the gospel they had already rejected to these men. Instead, he condemned them for their refusal of it. A careful examination of Acts 7 will reveal that Stephen never actually proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ that these men had rejected. Instead, he merely accuses them of rejecting it. Yet since Paul had never heard the gospel when the rest of the Sanhedrin had, he could not have known what Stephen was talking about. Believing the lying report of his fellow religious leaders, he heard only an apostate and a blasphemer speaking against God’s appointed rulers of Israel. His rejection of what Stephen said, then, truly was done in ignorance and in unbelief.

Now for Paul to sin ignorantly put him in a completely different position according to the law than one who sinned presumptuously, as the rest of the religious leaders had done. Numbers 15:27-31 makes this clear.

27. ‘And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. 28. So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the LORD, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. 29. You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them.
30. ‘But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people. 31. Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.’”

So one who sinned unintentionally could be forgiven for that sin, but one who sinned presumptuously, realizing he was acting in rebellion against the LORD, was to be cut off from his people of Israel. Therefore the members of the Sanhedrin who had been shown the truth about Christ and rejected it had sinned presumptuously, and earned their cutting off from the nation that they will experience when the kingdom begins, when they see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets entering into that kingdom, and they themselves will be cut off, as the Lord Jesus said to them (Luke 13:28). Paul, however, though his rejection of Jesus Christ was a sin, could be forgiven of that sin since he had done it ignorantly. That is what he is telling us here.

New King James Version 14. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

The Resultant Version 14. Yet the grace of our Lord abounded over all, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

But in spite of Paul’s blasphemy, persecution, and insulting attitude toward Christ, the grace of our Lord had been exceedingly abundant, overflowing in excess toward Paul. Far from just saving him from his ignorance and ungodliness by revealing to him the truth, the Lord’s grace had gone far beyond this by deeming him to be faithful and assigning him a service to perform. This was surely undeserved favor that God had lavished upon Paul. Moreover, the grace was mixed with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Paul, an unbeliever, had been given an opportunity for faith, and had been shown the great love of God in rescuing him from his opposing position. Truly Paul was an excellent example of the great grace and love of God that was revealed in Christ Jesus.  

New King James Version 15. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

The Resultant Version 15. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.

Here we come upon one of these “faithful sayings” that Paul mentions multiple times in what are his personal letters (I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus, and Philemon). These letters are often called his “pastoral epistles,” yet this is not the name I would prefer to use. These are just personal letters instead of letters to groups of men or ekklesia men. In these letters, he mentions a “faithful saying” once apiece in II Timothy and Titus, and three times here in I Timothy. It seems perhaps that these sayings were not originating with Paul as he writes them, but were in common use among the believers, and he is making use of them in an appropriate context. At any rate, Paul and therefore the Holy Spirit are giving their full approval to these sayings by quoting them in the pages of the Holy Scriptures and proclaiming them worthy of all acceptance.

Now the faithful saying he repeats is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. To say this is to state a true belief that all should accept. Christ came into the world to save Adam’s race, and since we are all sinners, He came to save sinners. What a great love and grace He showed by doing this!

The word “world” is the Greek word kosmos, similar to our English word “cosmos.” We think of the “cosmos” as referring to the stars and planets and galaxies of the universe, but the Greeks used this word for any orderly system or arrangement. Of course, the heavenly bodies are an orderly system or arrangement, but in this case the reference is to the orderly system of humanity on earth. The point is that Christ came among us in order to save us. Notice that Christ was not simply born into the world, as other men are, but that He came into the world. This implies that He was outside the world, and came into it. Of course, this is true, for He was positioned as equal with God, and yet He left that position to enter our order as one of us. Moreover, He came not to the most powerful nation on earth, but to a nation long past its prime that was enslaved to the Roman Empire. He indeed showed great grace and condescension when He came into our world!

Now Paul states that Christ came into the order to save sinners, of whom he is chief, or “of whom I am foremost.” Many take this to mean that Paul is viewing himself as the very worst sinner of all, perhaps because he had persecuted the followers of Christ back in Acts 7-9. The New International Version actually translates it this way, “of whom I am the worst.” Yet though we will admit that what Paul did was very bad, he has just claimed back in verse 13 that he did it “ignorantly in unbelief.” I have trouble believing that the worst of sinners did so ignorantly. I would say the worst of sinners did so knowing just what it was he was doing. This view does not make sense to me.

Others will take this as something we should all take to ourselves personally, and will claim of themselves, “I am the chief of sinners.” They seem to think Paul is giving us an example of an attitude we should have, considering ourselves to be the worst of sinners as a way of keeping ourselves humble. I do not believe this makes much sense either, however. There can only be one worst of sinners, and it is only fooling yourself to try to tell yourself that you are the one. The reality is that most of us can easily find people who are worse sinners than we are. This does not justify our sins, of course, but I fail to see how telling ourselves fantasy stories that we know very well are not true will result in making us more humble. Since we know such a statement to not be true, it is unlikely to affect us much. I do not think that Paul is urging us to try to convince ourselves contrary to reality that we are the worst person of all. This is not what the passage is talking about.

What this passage means all boils down to what the word “chief” or “foremost” means. The word in Greek is protos (first “o” long as in “professional,” second “o” short as in “toss”). Its first use is in Matthew 10:2 of Peter.

2. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter…

Simon Peter is not only listed first, but he is specifically called the “first” apostle. Does this mean he was the worst? Surely not! Perhaps we might start to get some idea in the book of Acts, wherein Peter takes center stage over all the rest until Paul comes on the scene.

Another important occurrence is Matthew 20:27.

27. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—

Does Christ mean “Whoever desires to be worst among you”? Does He not mean rather something like the opposite of the worst?

Then we could consider Mark 12:30.

30. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.

Does Christ mean that this is the “worst” commandment? For this is one commandment I consider to be of highest importance, and am always striving to obey it more completely. I had better stop doing that, if this is really the worst commandment.

Luke 15:22 is another important use of this word.

22. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.

The word “best” here is the word protos. The NIV translates it “best” here as well. But shouldn’t they have rather translated it the “worst” robe? This would make no sense in the context. The father was honoring the prodigal son, not mocking him. Once again, the word means the opposite of “worst.”

John 1:15 is another important instance of the use of this word.

15. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’”

The second to last word, “before,” is the Greek word protos. Surely it is clear to see that John is not saying that Jesus Christ is worse than he. Again the meaning is the opposite of “worst.”

Finally, we will rest our case here with I Corinthians 15:3.

3. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

Need we bring forth any more evidence? The idea of protos is of the best, not the worst, or of the most important, not of the most disgraceful. Paul was not at all saying that he was the worst of sinners when he said he was the chief or foremost of sinners. If anything, he was saying he was the best or most significant of sinners.

This word also means literally “first.” It can refer to first in a series, or first in time, or the former as opposed to the latter. We could multiply examples of this, but this does not help us here. Yet there are a few more examples that I think would be relevant to its use here as well.  First is Luke 19:47.

47. And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him,

Here, the word protos is translated “leaders” of the people.  A similar usage is in Acts 13:50.

50. But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

The “chief men” are the “foremost” of the city, or the protos.  Another example is Acts 17:4.

4. And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

The word “leading” here is protos, meaning the foremost women. That should be sufficient for now, though we could add more examples. But let us consider just one more, Acts 16:12.

12. and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days.

This time, “foremost” refers to a city, not a person, but the meaning of protos here is plain. Putting these definitions together, we can say that when protos or “first” is not used literally of the first one, it means the foremost, the most important, the best, the most significant, the leader, or the ruler.

So why did Paul consider himself the foremost of sinners? I believe that he could say this, and say it accurately, because he had been placed in that position by God. In the very next verse, he says he is set forth by Christ as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him. Surely if Christ sets forth a man as a pattern for all others to follow, that man is therefore the most significant of men. Moreover, I do not believe Paul had yet lost all the significance he had as a representative of God in the Acts period. Just the fact that God was still inspiring books through him at a time when I believe He had stopped inspiring them through anyone else made Paul the most significant man on earth at that time. He was still representing God at a time when all others had become unable to do so, as he himself will state later in this epistle. This made him the first, the most important, the God-given leader of men. This is what Paul means by the fact that he is “protos.” He was the very best of men on earth at that time, not the worst. He was the most significant man in God’s plan, since he was set forth by God as a leader of His people.