1 Timothy 1:12-17


Perhaps every Christian, at one time or another during his life-time, calls himself the chief of sinners, as Paul called himself. The first line of hymn # 432 in The Lutheran Hymnal, or #285 in Lutheran Worship, is based on this text.

Before a person preaches on this text he ought read the entire chapter. Paul had urged Timothy to stay in Ephesus. He was to deal with certain false teachers there. Evidently they did not know how to use the Law, the ten commandments. Verses 8-10 clearly show this. The Law is not meant for righteous people but for sinful people, to show them their sinfulness. Verse 11 tells us that this is the path for Evangelical teaching and preaching. The word Law is found in verse 11. Paul was telling Timothy that it is necessary to use Law and Gospel correctly. Then follows our text, a wonderful object lesson in the proper use of Law and Gospel

1 Timothy 1:12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.

In verses 12-14 Paul tells us what God, in His great mercy, has done for him. In verses 15-17 Paul uses his own experience as an object lesson for all future believers.

It is important to add the Greek word "and" which is omitted by most of our English translations. This is important because in verses 12-17 Paul is not merely giving Timothy additional information, but is recording his own experiences as an object lesson for future converts to Christianity.

Verse 12 cannot be read without the thought of verse 11 lingering in ones’ mind. That verse ends with an emphatic "I." He emphasized the fact that HE, of all people, had been entrusted with the glorious good news of the blessed God. He could not do his God-given task without that glorious Gospel. But first he tells us about himself.

He tells us what God did for him at the time of his conversion, at which time he was also called to be an apostle, in Acts 9:3-5. God had empowered and enabled Paul at that time.

Notice how the phrase "Christ Jesus" pervades our text, verses 12, 14, 15 and 16, four times.

Bengel: Christ, as promised. Jesus, as manifested.

Paul thanks Jesus because He considered Paul trustworthy. Jesus could count on Paul.

Lenski: Appointing Paul to the apostleship is the evidence that the Lord considered him faithful.

Romans 5:6 Paul says: Christ died for us while we were still without strength. Good sees and knows all things. At the time of Paul's conversion God foresaw that Paul would be faithful.

1 Timothy 1:13 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.

Some commentators feel that the three nouns represent a progression upwards of opposition to God. Bengel is likely wrong in applying the first noun to God, the second to the Church and the third to Paul himself. We agree with Lock:

Lock: The main thought of each work is of attacks on the Church; look at Galatians 1:13, 23; Philippians 3:6; Acts 22:4; 26:9-11.

Acts 9:5; 22:7; 26:14 clearly tells us that Paul persecuted CHRIST When Paul blasphemed, persecuted and insulted Christ, he was blaspheming, persecuting and insulting the church as well.

Kretzmann: He had been a persecutor, he had shut up saints in prison, and when they were put to death, he had given his voice against them, Acts 26:10, 11; 9:4; 22:4; Galatians 1:13, 23; Philippians 3:6.
Lenski: Now we see why we have the long list of awful sinners in verses 9-10 -- this man at one time not only belonged in that list, but topped it.
Lock: The three nouns form a triad with perhaps an ascending scale rising from the words to acts of authorized persecution and of illegal violence.

But God was merciful to Paul.

Lenski: ‘Because’ offers an explanation, not to lessen his guilt in excuse, but to admit all of it.

Paul’s ignorance and unbelief were not the cause of God’s being merciful to Paul. Paul is by no means picturing himself as one who deserved and earned the mercy of the Lord. "Because" introduces an explanation and nothing more.

The object is implicit in the text. "It" summarizes what he did as blasphemer, persecutor and insulter. The text does not say that the ignorance caused the unbelief or that the unbelief caused the ignorance. Who can fathom this?

Kretzmann: His entire life and education in Jewish teaching had been of a nature to keep him in ignorance of the grace of God in the redemption of Christ. He does not offer an excuse, but he gives an explanation why forgiveness in his case was still possible.
Rienecker-Rogers: Paul is availing himself of the distinction, conventional in Judaism (Leviticus 22:14; Numbers 15:22-31) and also in the Qumran sect, between ‘unwitting’ and ‘presumptuous’ sins, linking unbelief with his ignorance. He does not claim that as a result he was without guilt.
Bengel: Ignorance does not deserve pardon in itself.
Lenski: This was the same ignorance that is referred to in John 16:2, Acts 26:9; the same ignorance that brought Jesus to the cross, Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17 . . . . This is the ignorance that is always found in unbelief. . . . No question should be raised regarding the guilt of Paul’s ignorance; so also unbelief is always full of guilt . . . . That is an unbelief that acts against better knowledge, that plunges men into the sin against the Holy Spirit . . . . However black Paul’s guilt was, he did not go against better knowledge, did not oppose "willfully," Hebrews 10:26 . . . . When he realized the deity and the glory of Jesus, his unbelief was changed into belief.

Paul sinned grievously. But he had not committed the sin against the Holy Spirit.

1 Timothy 1:14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

All of our versions begin with "and." "To abound exceedingly," "above the usual measure."

Kretzmann: The measure of his sins being so great, Paul stood in need of an unusually great measure of mercy.

In verse 13 we had mercy. Here we have grace. They are related and correspond.

Lenski: The fact that this grace of the Lord was successful in Paul’s case is indicated by the phrase with META . . . . The preposition merely states that faith and love were ‘in company with’ grace . . . . Grace kindled them both, faith and love.
Bengel contrasts faith with unbelief and love with blasphemer.
White: Faith and love are the inward and outward manifestations respectively of the bestowal and realization of grace.

Well said. Faith is directed toward God and love is directed toward neighbor. In conversion Paul’s attitude both toward God and man had been changed. Faith and love were caused by Christ Jesus. They are His gifts.

1 Timothy 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the worst.

"Trustworthy saying" occurs again at 1 Timothy 3:1; 2 Timothy 2:11 and Titus 3:8.

AAT translates: "We can trust this statement and accept it absolutely. The commentators suggest that the clause "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" is reminiscent of phrases found in the Synoptic Gospel, such as Matthew 18:11 and Luke 19:10.

On the phrase "came into the world" they note reminiscence of passages in John, such as John 1:9; 12:46 and 16:28. "Came into the world" denotes His entire work in the state of humiliation.

Lenski: Those who think that Paul is here humbling himself too severely may look at 1 Corinthians 15:8 where he calls himself ‘an abortion.’
White: In the experiences of personal religion each individual man is alone with God . . . . And the more familiar a man becomes with the meeting of God face to face the less likely is he to be deceived as to the gulf which parts him, limited, finite, defective, from the Infinite and Perfect.
Kretzmann: Paul emphasizes this message over against the false doctrines of the Judaizing teachers as altogether trustworthy, absolutely reliable . . . . He no longer frames any excuses, he no longer makes any invidious comparisons; he knows that in the long list of sinners he stands at the head, because he is best acquainted with his own guilt.

All commentators point out that Paul says "I am" not "I was."

Lock: The sinner remains a sinner even if forgiven.

How true. By faith in Jesus he is a reconciled sinner and counted righteous for Jesus’ sake, but he is still a sinner.

1 Timothy 1:16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

Paul picks up the theme again from verse 13. There we were told under what circumstances God had mercy on Paul. Here we are told for what reason God had mercy on Paul. God had mercy on Paul but He looked beyond Paul to those who would becomes believers after Paul.

"Demonstrate" is a favorite word with Paul. "Long-spirited" means that God waits long for the repentance of man. From the first announcement of the Flood until it came, there was a period of 120 years. it is utmost long-suffering. Inexhaustible patience.. "For the purpose of example" "for those who are going to believe."

For 2000 years God has been holding up the example of Paul’s conversion before mankind. Anyone who says: "I’ve sinned too great or too much to be saved" need only look at the example of St. Paul and be comforted.

White: No one who ever afterwards hears the gracious invitation of Christ need hang back from accepting it, Jesus’ work of grace, by reason of the greatness of his sin, when he has the example of St. Paul before him.

The text is not saying that Paul was Jesus’ first convert. Nor is it saying that Paul’s sins cried to heaven more than do those of others. But it does say that Paul’s example is the first and foremost for future believers.

1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Look at Romans 16:27 for a New Testament doxology.

Bengel: From a feeling of gratitude there flows a doxology.
Lenski: Paul has such a large number of doxologies, phrased in such varied forms, that none of them follow a fixed formula, but repeat Old Testament expressions in free appropriation.
White: It is significant that in the Jewish forms of thanksgiving ‘eternal king’ is of constant occurrence.
Bengel: The thought of eternity particularly delights those assured of grace, while it miserable terrifies others.

True, All of God’s attributes are a comfort to the penitent believer, but they are a terror to the impenitent unbeliever.

The text is speaking of the exalted Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords. He is described with three adjectives

  1. incorruptible, will not decay, immortal;

  2. invisible;

  3. only, unique.

But this Jesus has revealed the immortal, invisible, unique God to us. Therefore honor is due Him. Praise is given to Him. How long? Forever and ever. Why" Because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Amen. That means "truth." Yea, yea, it shall be so!

After Timothy had read what Paul wrote he must have mused to himself about the importance of the correct use of Law, verse 8, and Gospel, verse 11.

Lenski: Only when the law is lawfully used, ‘in accord with the Gospel of the glory of the blessed God,’ that Gospel which is now entrusted to Paul, verse 11, could the long-suffering of Jesus at last bestow his mercy for faith and life eternal.

May the Lord bless the reader of these Notes with a rich and deep understanding of Law and Gospel.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 85-88. Used with permission.

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