Take the Lead: Transformed By Christ
Timothy sits back down at his desk and continues reading:
” I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
(1 Timothy 1:12-15 ES
“This is strange” Timothy thinks to himself “Why include this?”
It seems strange, after such a polemic (topically specific) opening to the letter that Paul, Timothy’s mentor, would include such a note on his own salvation. Was Paul trying to tell him something? He has already told Timothy to deal with false teachers in love in verse 1:5 and now he includes an account of his testimony?
Why include this?
The Work of an Evangelist:
One of my theology professors during my first two years of college had written a book on 1 Timothy where he argued that the central theme of Timothy is Evangelism. We will see that this idea is an accurate one as we move into chapters 2 and so on. One could argue that Timothy is meant to do the work of an evangelist, one could surmise, as my professor did, that since Christ came to save sinners, Timothy must preach Christ.
That is the best piece of biblical advice one can receive, certainly one a pastor we worked with in Denver believed in fully. “Just preach about Jesus, they will understand that,” he told us concerning preaching at the day shelter he ran with the help of another pastor. The great evangelist Billy Graham preached Christ and saw many come to know the free gift of grace. So it makes sense to say that Paul included this as a preliminary presentation of the theme of the book, but I think there is another reason as well.
Rehabilitating False Teachers:
Consider that Paul was one of the worst of the periods “religious teachers.” While some might consider it wrong to call the Pharisees “false teachers,” you can call their insistence on tradition over the people (Mat. 15:1-20) a form of “Doctrine Over Person” legalism: meaning that they emphasized the teachings and traditions over seeing growth in the people whom they were there to serve, this was Paul’s world.
Until he met Christ, that is. Suddenly his world is transformed, instead of being an “Enemy of God” (Col 1:20) he was a servant of the most high. He even goes so far as to say “I (Paul) no longer live, but Christ lives within me” (Gal 2:20). The man who was the fiercest persecutor of the church had become its greatest promoter. This man, who once ravaged the believers, now reinforced them. This is a reason to rejoice, it is as if Paul is saying “There is hope for this church, there is hope for this people, there is hope for these false teachers. Timothy, in Christ there is hope.”
Today, false teachers may not get a Damascus road experience, they may simply be changed by us being Christ to them, they may be changed by an encounter with scripture, they may never be changed. I firmly believe that if someone had taken the time to love Fred Phelps, instead of letting hatred grow inside of him, Westboro Baptist would be a very different place. Yet most Christians do not seem to believe someone can change, so instead of preaching salvation by grace and exhorting, rebuking and reproofing in love (1 Tim. 1:5, 2 Tim. 3) we just respond with as much anger and hatred, doing nothing to advance the kingdom in the eyes of unbelievers.
The Spirit Still Works:
Here we must not assume that it is neither you nor I that do the changing in the lives of unbelievers or false teachers, but the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5 says “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit” (NIV). We can love those teaching false doctrines, we can love the unbelievers, but that is simply a means to an end of the Holy Spirit.
It might be more correct to say that the Spirit uses us to love an abusive or deceptive pastor, that the Spirit is directing us to love the unbelievers around us. The outpouring of love and grace in our lives of the unbelievers or False Teachers will draw them in. We are a catalyst to this but the Spirit is what does the drawing. We know we are loved by God through the Spirit of God dwelling inside of us. We pour that love out on other people and the Spirit uses that to draw us together and to draw others closer to God.
It is important to note that not all false teachers can be reckoned with; some may need a Damascus Road Experience to win them back to the safe haven of sound doctrine tempered by the living and active truth of God (Heb. 4:12) and immersed in grace and love. But that does not lessen our responsibility to love. Some unbelievers may continue to reject the Gospel, they may continue to scorn God, but that does not lesson our responsibility to Love. Love that: “issues from a pure heart, a good conscious and a sincere faith” (1:5)