We come tonight to the next section of 1 Timothy 1, so do please have that open in front of you.
Have you ever been required to do something that you knew was beyond your capabilities?
I remember when Vivienne and I took our dinghy out into the water for a sail a couple of years ago. We knew there was a stiff breeze, but that always makes for some excitement. We thought we could handle it. It wasn't until we were standing there waist deep in water clinging on to the sides of the boat with the sails whipping fiercely around our faces quite out of control that we realised just how strong the wind was. Do you know what we did? We gave up. No sailing for us that day.
You can do that with a leisure activity. But what if your life depends on it? What if there's a whole bunch of people who's lives also depend on you doing what you have to do – but you can't do it?
That was really the situation that Timothy found himself in. He was a young man, appointed by the apostle Paul to lead the church in Ephesus. When he looked outside the church he saw a hostile pagan world. He was supposed to be working for its transformation. When he looked inside the church he saw people doing all they could to undermine everything he was trying to do. When he looked inside himself he saw a sinful, fearful and weak young man who was out his depth. What was he to do? He could give up. But this was a matter of eternal life or death. What else could he do? He could get help.
The apostle Paul was his mentor and friend. He was also the one who'd landed Timothy in this sticky situation. Paul knew what Timothy was facing – and what he was feeling. He knew he needed help. That's why he wrote this letter: to make sure Timothy didn't give up; and to give him the help he needed.
And what he's doing here in 1.12-17 is showing Timothy that he's not the only one who's in out his depth. Paul is as well. But Paul has found the source of power that he needs to handle whatever's thrown at him. Paul has been utterly transformed by Christ. Timothy knows that of course. But Paul realises that Timothy needs to be reminded of some basic truths.
So what does Paul say to Timothy here in these verses to encourage him? My very simple outline has two headings: first, How Jesus transformed Paul, and secondly, Why Jesus transformed Paul. Because in this passage Paul gets personal. It's as if he lifts the bonnet on his life to show Timothy (and us) the engine that drives him.
First, HOW JESUS TRANSFORMED PAUL
Paul describes himself pre-transformation there in verse 13. Take a look:
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.
He was a blasphemer, a persecutor, violent, ignorant and unbelieving. Not that he knew any of that at the time, though. After all, in what sense was he a blasphemer? Was he constantly taking the name of God in vain? No way. He was a Pharisee. He would have seen himself as a man with the greatest concern to uphold God's name.
Earlier we heard the account in Acts 9 of his conversion. Acts says Paul was there when Stephen was stoned, 'giving approval to his death'; and that he 'began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.' Just before his conversion he 'was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples'.
But would he have seen himself as a violent persecutor? Not at all. He would have seen himself as a defender of true religion. Ignorant? He didn't think so – far from it. He was a brilliant, highly educated man. Unbelieving? No way. He believed in God.
He saw himself as an upright and Godly man – and that's what he was in the eyes of society. It was only Jesus who he spoke against. It was only those pestilential followers of Jesus who he attacked.
But to be against Jesus is to be against God. And to attack the followers of Jesus is to be an enemy of God. It is our attitude to Christ and to his people that really reveals where we stand with God. So Paul was lost. He didn't know it, but he was in deep trouble. He was a sinner – a rebel against God.
Now let me just pause for a moment and ask about you. Where are you in relation to where Paul was then? Are you like him? I'm not talking about stoning people or trying to imprison Christians. But in your heart. What is your attitude to Jesus? Are you against him? Are you resisting him? Because if so, you're in the same deep trouble with God that Paul was in. But you need to know this: you can be changed.
Or maybe you used to be hostile to Jesus, and you've had a change of heart, but things are not going smoothly and your Christian life is a struggle. If so, you need to remember just how deep that change has been in your life.
Or maybe your own attitude to Jesus has been transformed and you're wanting to share what you've discovered, but people seem so hardened against Christ and the task seems impossible. You feel as if you're getting nowhere. If that's you, remember this: they can be changed. If it can happen to Paul, then noone is beyond the reach of Jesus.
How, then, did Jesus transform Paul? Jesus did a whole series of things to and for Paul. Each one built on the last.
For a start, Jesus showed Paul mercy. Verse 3:
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy…
In other words, Jesus dealt with Paul's past. Paul's bank account with God was massively overdrawn. If God had called in the debt, then Paul would have been well and truly busted. But Jesus took over Paul's debt and paid it off himself.
Then Jesus flooded Paul's life with grace. Verse 14:
The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly,…
In other words, in dealing with Paul's past, Jesus also gave him an eternal future, and all of it utterly undeserved. The picture is of overflowing generosity – more than Paul could even take in. A groom promises to his bride on their wedding day: "All that I am I give to you and all that I have I share with you…"
And that's effectively what Jesus said to Paul, which is quite something when it's the Son of God speaking. Paul became an heir of all the eternal riches of heaven. And given that he was a Jesus-hater, that really is abundant grace.
Then following hard on the heels of grace were the two gifts of faith and love. Verse 14 again:
The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Faith in Christ is a gift. Paul would never have believed in Jesus unless Jesus had taken him by the scruff of the neck on the road to Damascus and shaken the unbelief out of him.
And just as faith in Christ is a gift, so is love. Paul discovered a totally new experience of love: love for Christ, in place of hatred; love for his fellow believers, instead of a desire to destroy them; and in place of arrogant contempt, Paul found a love for the non-Jewish world that drove him to give his life to evangelism of the Gentiles.
And then to the gifts of faith and love, Jesus added power. Verse 12:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength…
In other words, 'who has empowered me'. And what does that strength do? It enables Paul to be 'faithful' – to keep going. Paul was out of his depth being the apostle to the Gentiles. But he was able to persevere through the most vicious storms of persecution and pressure because of the strength of Jesus at work in him.
How did Jesus transform Paul? He showed him mercy. He poured out his grace on him. He gave him faith. He gave him love. And he gave him strength. And as if that lot wasn't enough – one more thing. Jesus entrusted to Paul a task of the utmost importance. Verse 12:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.
That is truly amazing. This is not at all an adequate analogy, but it's as if Jeffery Archer had a change of heart and was then appointed foreign secretary by Tony Blair.
Now why does Paul tell Timothy all this? Because he wants to remind him just how powerful the gospel is. Timothy is under pressure. He needs to remember how the gospel changes lives.
Are you a believer who is floundering? You don't quite know how you're going to keep going? Look at what Jesus does in sinners lives. Lean on him.
Are you despairing that the armour-plated spiritual defences of your family or friends or colleagues could ever be broken through? Think again. Look at what happened to Paul. Jesus utterly transformed him for all eternity.
So why exactly did he do that? That brings me to the second of my two headings.
Secondly, WHY JESUS TRANSFORMED PAUL
Here are five reasons from these verses.
First, Jesus transformed Paul because that's Jesus' mission: to save sinners. Verse 15:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners …
The fantastic truth is that rescuing sinners is not a sideline for Jesus. It is the very centre of his mission. That's what he came for. Not for good people. But for people like us, who Jesus describes as 'evil'. Saving sinners is what he's about.
Did you hear that the tobacco giant Philip Morris has reported to the Czech government that it's much cheaper for them if they let their citizens die young of smoking related diseases? All those pensions they don't have to pay. If they rescue the Czech population from the perils of smoking, it's going to cost their government dear. Jesus made the same kind of calculation – but his conclusion was different. Should he let us die, or rescue us? The cost of rescue was incredibly high. But Jesus paid it. He died.
Secondly, Jesus transformed Paul because Paul in particular needed transforming. He was the worst of sinners.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst.
That's not false modesty on Paul's part. He's looked into his soul and seen how deep the rot goes. We only really begin to understand how serious our sin is after we've found forgiveness in Christ.
That was certainly my experience. It was after I grasped the gospel for the first time as a teenager that the full horror of what I was really like began to dawn on me. It was not a pretty sight. It would have driven me to despair if Christ had not given me strength and shown mercy.
The cross of Christ shows us with awful clarity how serious our sin and rebellion are. But, thank God, the cross simultaneously shows us the remedy. 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…'
Thirdly, Jesus transformed Paul because he wanted to demonstrate that noone was beyond his reach. Verse 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.
Do you think that you're beyond the reach of Jesus – too far gone, too sinful, too hard-bitten and cynical, too much filthy water under the bridge? Think again. Look what Jesus did with Paul. He'll do it with you if you ask him and mean it. There is no limit to the patience and mercy that Jesus will show to you if you'll just ask him.
Fourthly, Jesus transformed Paul because he had work for Paul to do. He appointed Paul 'to his service', as verse 12 says. Paul's whole life became a hymn of praise and thanksgiving as he slaved away for his Saviour and Lord and Friend.
None of us is called to be an apostle as Paul was. But every one of us who is a believer is called to service in just the same way. The Lord has work prepared for us to do. That's one key reason why he does his transforming work in our lives. He has a purpose and a use for us.
Then finally, Paul is transformed in order to bring glory to God.
The other night I saw '999' on the box. There was a true story of a beach lifeguard – a young man who saw a child, a young girl, separated from her mother and being swept out to sea in a dangerous current. In a rocky area he jumped in after her and in doing so very badly injured his leg. In great pain he got to her, and eventually managed to get her back safely onto the beach. The girl was reunited with her mother. The lifeguard collapsed and has still not fully recovered from his injury. The mother simply took her daughter and walked away without a word of thanks to the young man who suffered so badly for her daughter's sake. Lack of appropriate gratitude and praise is a shocking thing.
This whole passage is wonderful kind of sandwich of praise. Verse 12:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord…
And then verse 17:
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Let's each one of us make sure that our life is a continual hymn of praise and thanksgiving as Paul's was.
Why does Jesus transform lives? Because it's his mission to save sinners – and like Paul we certainly need it; because he wants us to know for sure that noone is beyond the reach of the gospel; because he has a purpose for our lives and work for us to do in his kingdom; and to bring glory to God. That's why.
So where are you in relation to Jesus this evening?
Are you beginning to see that you need transforming? Then believe on Jesus and receive eternal life. Just tell Jesus you want him to do for you what he did for Paul. That's all it takes. Then start trusting him. If you tell a Christian friend what you've done, then they can give you a helping hand.
Are you a believer in danger of giving up the personal fight of faith because the going is tough? Then remember that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And keep going.
Are you trying to share your faith, but you're finding that the gospel is opposed and evangelism is a struggle? Then do what Timothy had to do. Remember Paul. Remember what he was like before the transformation. Remember what Jesus did with him. And persevere.