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"If there's Hope for Paul, there's Hope for us All"

Jan.19, 2014 1Tim.1:12-17


When I was growing up, our home wasn't fancy - a rather ordinary farmhouse. Mom kept it clean and inviting and comfortable, but it wasn't what you'd call lavish or posh. The fanciest item in the whole place was the "china cabinet" - a 6-foot-high wooden cupboard with a central glass door and fancy woodwork. In behind that glass door was where Mom kept her fine china - this was back in the days when "china" was still a bit exotic, before practically everything we buy was MADE in China! There were fine bone china teacups, delicately handpainted - some might also have been from such an exotic place as England. In the middle, displayed prominently, was my parents' sterling silver teapot and tray. I don't recall the silver teapot ever actually being USED - it was there more for ornamentation. To give our rural Perth County farmhouse a touch of class. And it was made even more valuable by the fact that whenever Mom came by some extra cash due more to her own efforts as opposed to the farm's - she would squirrel away those bills of money inside the silver teapot. I think that represented a little extra security for her, her rainy day "stash".

What was really on display in the china cabinet? More than just the teapot and teacups. Imagine if the raw materials that made up those things was there instead - plain metal ore instead of finely formed silver, or even a dull old ingot; and instead of the teacups, lumps of clay. More than material was on display: more than the object itself, the craftsman's handiwork was on display. A lot of skill belonging to people we'd never meet had gone into fashioning those items; so the china cabinet put "on show" the quality of their efforts, the results of their training, their experience, and artistry.

You may not have an actual china cabinet in your home. But each of us by our lives is presenting something for public viewing to the world at large. By our saving and spending, our toiling and talent, we are storing up things that become "on display" to others in our community, as they get to know us. What's "on display" in your virtual china cabinet? Are you impressing others by the gadgets and vehicles you're accumulating? Is your home a private art gallery with walls lined with expensive masterpieces? Or could there be other things, intangibles, qualities that others notice in your lives even if you don't have all the latest do-dads?

At a recent meeting, a secondary school teacher was lamenting the busy-ness of Grade 11 and 12 students. It seems most of them feel it necessary to have a part-time job as well as full-time studies; this means some of them are working 50-60 hour weeks, not including homework. The money earned for shifts at a local manufacturing plant are just too good to turn down. So the teacher, who coaches sports, finds it impossible to schedule afternoon practices: too many team members can't attend because of their job. They haven't even finished high school yet already they have bought into the philosophy that getting ahead in life means overloading yourself with work commitments and financial priorities to the point that stress results and social commitments suffer, taking a back seat. They've fast-forwarded the stage of "youth" and been drawn into the treadmill of an adult work-scenario. Soon they become the young couple that can't get married until they already have the big house, the garage with two vehicles, the monster mortgage, and little time to just "be". Yet they've got so much "stuff" to show off in their life 'china cabinet', they're impressing the neighbours, so they must be doing all right, yes?

The Bible reminds us that life is about more than a treadmill, more than accumulating material valuables like fine teacups or silver teapots or the latest fully-loaded SUVs. It's more than just a treadmill on the doorstep of the cemetery. It's not about works, but grace; real life is a gift, not a grab. Ephesians 2:8,9 - "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast." Then Paul (the author) adds a statement that reminds us what's in GOD'S "china cabinet", what treasures HE wants to put 'on display': Eph 2:10 "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." We are God's workmanship, His craftsmanship, His masterpiece, like the artistry evident in those dainty teacups and impressive teapot.

In our continuing look at Paul's first letter to Timothy, we find him sharing his own story of how the Lord has been at work in His life; Paul realizes that HE HIMSELF is the piece of art God's putting on display, as a demonstration of His artistry and excellence.


If that teapot were replaced by an ugly ingot of plain silver, or the teacups by the actual clay from which they're made, that wouldn't look so impressive. Likewise Paul acknowledges that the raw material God had to work with at the outset of his career (back when he still had the Jewish name Saul) was not pretty. V13 "I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man..." We only have a few references to what Paul's life was like before he knew Jesus. Near the end of Acts 7 Luke introduces Saul as standing by in a quasi-officiating way while Stephen, the Christian church's first martyr, is stoned. Then as a great persecution breaks out against the church, Saul seems to be a leader: Acts 8:3 "But Saul began to destroy the church.

Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison."

Saul confesses he was a "blasphemer", one who literally gives a 'hurtful report'; the lexicon describes this as "speaking evil, slanderous, reproachful, railing, abusive." In his vigilante work on behalf of Jewish orthodoxy, Saul a lawyer-of-the-law was likely proficient at nailing people with his words. He tried to get believers to blaspheme, to say Jesus was less than Lord and Saviour. Is it possible to "blaspheme" in a non-religious sense, to give a 'hurtful report' about other people? Do you know someone who's always speaking negatively, running other people down, being critical, slandering and accusing others, eager to pass on juicy gossip, not talking positively about others but running them down? One family found their in-laws to be like that so, as they renew relations, are going to be on guard themselves against getting drawn into such negative communication patterns. It's hard to bite your tongue when other people are criticizing the system or running down those in authority, always grouching about one thing or another. But Christians need to beware blaspheming of any kind: Col 4:6 "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."

Paul confesses he was a "persecutor"; he recalls in Acts 22:4 "I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison..." Does he feel responsible for some of the early martyrdoms - Stephen and others? Whether he actually carried out the killing, it seems he condoned them and even arranged them. Acts 26:11 "Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them." The word "force" implies coercion - did he stoop to using torture? How much pressure did he apply? He admits to having an "obsession" - perhaps fanatical, compulsive, even driven, a dangerous extremist.

The third adjective he uses in v13 is "a violent man", more literally "insolent." In the Greek hubristes as in 'hubris' or pride. The lexicon states, "one who, uplifted with pride, either heaps insulting language upon others or does them some shameful act of wrong." In Galatians 1(13) Paul says, "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it." His zealousness for Judaism, coupled perhaps with self-righteousness in keeping all the laws, predisposed him to be "intense" in his persecution.

Saul was insolent, "violent" as NIV and NRSV translate it. "Hubristes" is related to "hubris" - impudence, pride, haughtiness (lex.). Have you ever tried to correct a proud, insolent person? Parents, have you ever forbidden your children to do something only to find they've found a workaround that technically isn't what you forbade, but amounts to the same end result? Have they spurned your instructions and given you a smirk, as much as to say, "nah nah nah nah nah", almost sticking out their tongue? That's pride, insolence - "You can't tell me what to do; I'm going to do it MY way." Pride's all about being in control, not having to submit to any higher authority. We use our own wily schemes to get our own way, like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit even though God warned them not to.

In vv15,16 Paul says, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst...in me, the worst of sinners..." Here "worst" means "first" in rank, "chief" of sinners, NRSV "foremost". Certainly Paul felt ashamed of his pre-conversion henchman / thug activities. He had been mean to men and women. We can each relate to him when we feel ashamed for anything in our past. But God had a plan that would deal with Paul's dark history, and the same plan will deal with ours, too!


The craftsmen / craftswomen who fashion the teacups, do the handpainting, and hammer out the silver follow steps to change the raw materials into the objects of art. In this passage in 1Timothy, we can also trace the steps of Christ's work in the life of Saul / Paul.

1) V16 Christ begins with purpose, reflected in the words "so that": "But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience..." Jesus' ultimate purpose would be to bring God "honour and glory" as reflected in v17. In Acts 9:15 Jesus explains to Ananias, "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." Choice, purpose, intentionality.

2) V12 Paul says, "He considered me faithful..." Jesus had a perception about Saul, He saw something in him beyond a fanatic persecutor, He knew his potential - even though he was so far off track at the start.

3) V12 Paul says Jesus appointed him to His service. Christ put the fledgling movement's most violent opponent on His staff, as it were - sort of as if Prime Minister Harper appointed Neil Young to the PMO! Christ honoured Saul by commissioning him to serve, even though the other disciples were very leery of welcoming this former persecutor (Ac 9:13, 26f).

4) V13 Paul states "I was shown mercy", v16 again "I was shown mercy," v15 "Christ came into the world [into our imperfect, guilt-ridden, sin-pervaded environment] to SAVE SINNERS." This step was actually done between Bethlehem and Golgotha. But that's why Jesus came, to show MERCY, to save sinners. Mt 9:13 "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Lk 19:10 "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

Jesus is all about PEOPLE - not programs, or property. Sometimes those are helpful add-ons to serve people's needs, but He is Saviour of PEOPLE. Gary Demarest comments, "'To save sinners' is Paul's succinct way of stating the bottom line of the Gospel. Jesus did not come into the world to develop new theological or ethical systems.He did not come into the world to make good people better.He did not come into the world to found a new religious establishment.Nor did He come into the world to create a new social order...He came into the world to save sinners.Period!"

5) V14 "The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." Grace, faith, and love "super-abounded" in Paul's life, poured out by Jesus upon him.John MacArthur describes grace as "God's loving forgiveness, by which He grants salvation apart from any merit on the part of those He saves." Not just 'poured out', but poured out 'abundantly'! Christians who've trusted in Jesus can testify to this in your own experience. The Holy Spirit helps you actually KNOW God's grace and love.

6) V16 Paul says Jesus had displayed His unlimited patience toward Paul "as an example" for others who would "believe on Him and receive eternal life". An example, a sample or pattern. If God can do it for Paul, He can do it for us ALL: what Jesus has done in the WORST of sinners, He can do also for YOU...For all who "believe and receive" - believe on Him and receive eternal life. John 1:12 uses similar words: "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..."

True faith forces us to become humble, it puts us in a receptive posture, no longer trusting in our own means or the world's way, but relying upon God for help. Hubris (pride) is replaced by humility.

Christ made Paul an example, a pattern - in dealing with the "worst" sinner, Jesus demonstrates what He can for for anyone. And YOUR story becomes a testimony for future believers. Gary Demarest comments, "...Every man and woman in Christ becomes yet another prototype for someone else.If God can redeem Paul from his guilty past, He can save me.If God can save me from my broken and futile past, He can redeem you.Our churches and groups are the design studios where the models are being developed for people around us to see what God can do to create order out of chaos, beauty out of ugliness, and love out of indifference in these sinful lives of ours."


China cabinet technology has advanced from the day when my parents' one was made. Our own china cabinet has an electric light installed behind one shelf, which can be turned on to highlight the crystal and colours on display.

Paul's testimony here shines a spotlight on the qualities and excellence of the artist (Jesus) who's been responsible for crafting His transformation. In admiring the shine of the teapot or beauty of the teacup, we catch a glimpse of the original artist. You can just skim through the passage and quickly list Jesus' attributes that show up: v12 strength, consideration; vv13&16 mercy; v14 grace, faith, love; v16 "unlimited patience"; v17 He is eternal, "incorruptible" (a more literal translation than 'immortal').

Jesus Christ is still at work in people's lives today, crafting masterpieces out of the most improbably candidates. In closing, here's a 6-minute video by sports broadcaster Rudy Kalis describing how Jesus overcame "hubris" (pride) in his life; how the Lord has used his failures to mold and shape him into someone whose purpose is to touch other people's lives...

(Let's pray)