ďThe Worst and The BestĒ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††May 19, 2013

1 Timothy 1:12-17

 

SI:Paul wrote this letter to Timothy.

†† Timothy was a pastor, apparently the new pastor, of the church in Ephesus.

So itís a pastor to pastor letter on how the church should be organized.

 

Paul starts off by reminding Timothy that anything in the life and teaching of the

†† church that detracts from, erodes, or contradicts the Gospel must be opposed.

As we work our way through this letter, you will see Paul taking up one issue

†† after another, one aspect of church life after another and explaining how

†† each should be handed to magnify the Gospel.

As Iíve said, you will be amazed at how timely many of these issues are.

†† They apply just as much to the church today, and to our church.

 

Last week we looked at Paulís teaching about the lawó

†† how it can be misused and poorly taught, even in the church.

And so we expect Paul to move on to the next subject on his listó

†† the next thing he needs to tell Timothy.

But something happens.

†† Paul gets distracted by something he canít resist talking about.

 

Did you ever have a teacher who could always be distracted by a certain subject?

†† I had a high school teacher who couldnít resist talking about the Vietnam War.

†† She came of age in the 60s and Vietnam was an important, emotional topic.

If she was giving a lecture, or if she was making us write an essay,

†† and we wanted a break we would say:

†† Miss Sanderson, what do you think about Vietnam?

She knew what we were doing, but couldnít resist.

†† We would kick back and nod occasionally, and class work would be over.

 

Well, for Paul, the topic he couldnít resist talking about is the Gospel.

He starts talking about the law, and how the law shows us our sin and need

†† for Christ, and the next thing you know, heís telling Timothy what

†† the Gospel means to him, how it has completely shaped his life and identity.

Paul is known in his letters for these digressionsó

†† and this is one of his most famous Gospel digressions of all.

 

 

INTRO:One of the speakers at Gussie Canadayís funeral this week was

†† her grandson Nick.Nick is a talented speaker, and he was speaking

†† from the heart about someone he loved very much.

It was a thoughtful and eloquent tribute.

†† It was also funny.Nickís opening line was:

If Canadays are anything, we are confident and wrong.

†† My grandmother taught me to be confidently wrong.

 

When I heard that, I laughed, but I also thoughtówhat a healthy self-image.

†† I take myself far too seriously.I hate admitting I am wrong.

To be able to say:This is who we are, it runs in the family.

†† We are confident and often wrong.

It was refreshing and a tangible reminder of Godís grace.

 

And I couldnít help but make a connection to this passage.

Because here Paul is talking about himself, his own self-image.

†† He says something remarkable.

He says, when I look at the Gospel, when I look at Godís grace and mercy to me

†† I see myself clearly, and this is my self image.

Iím the worst.Of sinners I am the foremost.

 

But then, in the very next sentence he saysóand when I look again at the mercy

†† Iíve received, I see myself clearly, and this is my self image.Iím the best.

Itís in verse 16 where Paul says: that he is

†† ďan example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.Ē

†† That word example too weak in English.

†† Itís the Greek word hypo-tupososóprototype.

Paul is saying:Iím the prototype Christian.

†† Iím the best, Iím the premier demonstration of Godís grace.

 

Itís a remarkable self-image.

When I look at myself through the lens of the Gospel I am simultaneously

†† the worst and the best.Iím the worst sinner.Iím the best example of grace.

If there is one thing that modern psychology emphasizes,

†† it is the importance of self-image.

They way you see yourself, the fundamental judgment you have of yourself,

†† is crucialóit affects every area of your life, your work, relationships, etc.

I read this week an on-line article from Psychology Today.

†† The title was:A Nation Of Wimps

It was bemoaning the negative effects of the self-esteem movement

†† on parenting and children.It described the various neuroses that are manifesting

†† themselves in a generation whose parents that have been obsessed with making

†† them feel positive about themselves . . .

Paralysis in decision-making, dissatisfaction with ordinary careers,

†† inability to handle criticism and failure, inability to make long-term plans

 

But it was modern psychology that launched the self-esteem movement

†† in the first place.And now it is saying that is all wrong and the pendulum

†† is swinging in the other direction.

 

So how should a Christian think about himself or herself?

†† What self-image should we have?

†† What self-image should we teach our children to have?

Are we going to rely on the changing wisdom of world, or unchanging Word

 

John Calvin said that the knowledge of ourselves and the knowledge of God are

†† inseparable.And what we think about ourselves, will affect the way we think

†† about God.And that will affect the outcome of our lives.

Thatís why the Apostle Paul says at the conclusion of another letter:

†† ďThink of yourself with sober judgment.Ē

 

That brings us to this magnificent passage in 1 Timothy.

†† Paul looks at himself through the lens of the Gospel and says something

†† absolutely unique.

 

Three headings.

†† 1.Because of the Gospel, I see myself as the worst.

†† 2.Because of the Gospel, I see myself as the best.

†† 3.Question:What does this unique self-image look like?

 

 

 


 

MP#1Because of the Gospel, I see myself as the worst.

Paul says, ďChrist Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.Ē

†† Iím the number one sinner.Of all people, Iím the worst.

 

Now, if someone in your Sunday school class or in your Covenant Group saidó

†† Iím the number one sinner.Of all people, Iím the worst.

We would probably think, come on.

†† Youíre exaggerating, youíre using pious speech to try to holy and humble.†††

†† Really, you think you are the worst of sinners?

 

Was this just a manner of speaking for Paul?

†† Was this just holy preacher talk and pious exaggeration?

The evidence is noóPaul really thought this about himself.

†† It comes bubbling out in several of his letters.

1 Corinthians 15 he says heís the least of the apostles, not worthy to be apostle.

Ephesians 3 he says that he is the least of all saints, least of all Christians.

†† Paul had thought this out and it was a deep and true part of his self-image.

†† He wasnít just spouting religious talk.He meant it.

 

Paul had done terrible things.When he was a young man, went by name Saul.

†† He was a very devout Pharisee, he was convinced Christianity was a cult.

†† It had to be stamped out.He believed that Jesus was a false messiah.

So he blasphemed the name of Jesus and tried to get others to blaspheme.

†† He was a persecutor.He went from house to house, arresting Christians.

†† Dragging them away to prison, in some cases put to death.

Remember he was present at the stoning of Stephen.

†† He watched the cloaks of those stoning him and gave approval to his death.

And he says the most terrible thing of all was in this he was an insolent opponent.

†† He was a self-righteous know-it-all.He was a jerk, better than everybody else.

 

You know the story of Saulís conversion.

†† The risen, glorified Lord Jesus Christ met him on the Damascus Road.

†† And in that encounter, Christ claimed Saul as his own and saved him.

†† Weíll talk more about his conversion in a moment.

But this was all in Paulís past.

†† These were things he did in his pre-Christian days, his BC days, Before Christ.

In addition, he says that he acted in ignorance.What does that mean?

†† It means that he was so blind before the Holy Spirit opened his eyes,

†† that he thought what he was doing pleased God.

So at the most, you might expect Paul to say:I was the worst.

†† I was a blind, ignorant sinner who was fighting against the Lord Jesus.

†† But Paul, in reflecting on his life says:I am the worst.

Why?Did Paul not appreciate that he had been forgiven?

†† Compared to his pre-Christian days, Paul was a much better man.

†† What terrible sins was he committing to make him say:I am the worst?

 

It was the Gospel that caused Paul to see himself this way.

†† It was grace that made him say:I am the worst.

There is that famous scene in Victor Hugoís novel Les Miserables,

†† where the convict Jean Valjean steals the silver candlesticks from the bishop.

Heís been given a room for the night in the parsonage, and he rewards his host

†† by stealing the silver.Heís caught and brought back to the bishop and it

†† looks like heís going back to the penitentiary.

But the bishops says to the authorities, I gave this man this silver.

†† After they leave, he prays for Valjean and claims his soul for God.

 

Now, in the musical, and in movie versions, thatís the turning point.

†† Valjean weeps at this kindness and goes away changed.

But in the novel, itís more complicated.

†† He leaves with the silver, and later, on a lonely road, he meets a poor boy.

†† While talking, the poor boy drops a coin, and Valjean puts his foot over it.

Poor boy begs him for the coin, but Valjean threatens him, and boy leaves.

†† After he is gone, the thing that comes crashing into Valjeanís conscience is

†† the mercy he was shown by the bishop.He begins to wail over his sin.

And you think, out of all the things this man has done, he feels bad for

†† stealing a coin?But thatís not it at all.Itís the grace of God convicting.

 

I was shown mercy when I deserved to be locked away forever.

†† Grace overflowed to me when I had nothing to show but my guilt and hard heart.

Because of the Gospel, I see myself as the worst, because I know the grace

†† the Jesus Christ has shown to me.I know how he has loved me and died for me.

†† How he shed his blood for me.

So I canít compare my sins to other people and say this is a small thing.

And I canít compare my sins now to the sins I committed in ignorance before

†† I knew God and sayóWell, this isnít as bad as other things Iíve done,

†† these are just petty little sins Iím committing now.

Iím a debtor to grace, and so sins I commit now are sins against that grace.

 

Listen to the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains Paulís words.This is awesome:

†† ďThere can be no genuine acknowledgment of sin that does not lead to this extremity . . . My

†† sin is of necessity the worst, the most grievous, the most reprehensible. Brotherly love will

†† find any number of extenuations for the sins of others; only for my sin is there no apology

†† whatsoever. Therefore my sin is the worstÖĒ

 

Has the Gospel had that effect on your self-image?

Are you so amazed at Godís grace in Christ that when you sin against it,

†† you are broken and sayóI am the worst of sinners?

Do you see what a humble person that makes you?

 

But there is another side to this that is even more wonderful.


 

MP#2Because of the Gospel, I see myself as the best.

As I said a moment ago, this is in verse 16 where Paul says that he is

†† ďa example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.Ē

That word ďexampleĒ is the Greek word hypo-tupososóthe hyper-type, prototype.

†† Paul is saying:Iím the prototype Christian.

†† Iím the best, Iím the premier demonstration of Godís grace.

 

Are we reading too much into this?Did Paul really have this self-image.

†† He did.He says in 1 Corinthians 15 that he worked harder than any

†† of the apostles, that he had more fruitful manifestation of grace than any.

Thatís pretty bold.He also told the Corinthians.

†† I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

Thatís even bolder.Through the Gospel Iíve become a spiritual fatheró

†† and I want you to imitate me.

 

And in this passage, in verse 12, there is another expression of this self-image.

Paul says, Christ Jesus judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.

†† What does Paul mean by that?He canít be saying that God chose him

†† for salvation and for service as an apostle because he was a faithful man.

He wasnít a faithful man.

†† Weíve just seen that Paul says the very opposite about himself.

†† He was not faithfulóhe was an insolent blasphemer.

 

The church father St. Augustine explained Paulís remark this way:

†† ďGod does not choose anyone who is worthy, but in choosing him renders him worthy.Ē

In other words, Paul is saying:

†† The Lord chose me because he knew the sort of man he would make of me.

†† He chose me to make me faithful and great in his service.

 

Once again, imagine someone in your Sunday school class or Covenant Group

†† saying these sorts of things about himself or herself:

Listen, Jesus knew what a great and faithful Christian he would make of meó

†† and so he chose me.

The grace of Jesus Christ has been poured out on me in such abundance that

†† Iím the prototype Christian, the Lord has made me a spiritual father,

†† I urge all of you to imitate me.

It would make us uncomfortable because it sounds like bragging.

†† It sounds likeólook what great things Iíve done.Look how holy I am.

†† But itís not.

Paul is saying:Look what grace has done in my life.

The story of Paulís conversion gets more attention in the New Testament,

†† more coverage, than any other event besides the crucifixion and resurrection.

It is the prototype conversion.

†† Not that every conversion has the same details, or the same drama.

†† I donít know anybody knocked off a horse by the blinding light of Christ.

But itís the prototype conversion in that it shows salvation is grace from first to last.

 

Notice the way Paul talks about his encounter with Christ.

†† He describes himself as not just non-responsive to God, but his enemy.

†† It is God who chooses and initiates and saves.

I was so wicked and messed up in my sin and ignorance that I had no hope,

†† but God pursued me, and claimed me.

When the blinding light from heaven struck Paul on the Damascus road

†† and he fell to the ground, Jesus say:Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?

Paul asked, Who are you?Christ replied:I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

†† Jesus didnít tell him to pray a sinners prayer.

Iíve chosen this man, and Iím going to show him how much he will suffer for my

†† name.Go and wait in the home of Ananias for my instructions.

 

And then Christ took this man who he had chosen, not because he was a better

†† person, not because he knew the Bible better, not even because he chose Jesus.

Paul says, he strengthened me, he empowered me, and he made me his servant.

†† So Paul could look at himself and his life and his work and know that the Lord

†† was smiling on it, because it was his work.

 

Readerís Digest had some stories about mothers for Motherís Day

†† that people had send in from all over the country.

One of the stories said:

†† While waiting in a bookstore for a guest author to sign her latest book, I leafed through some

†† of the Civil War novels she had written.The woman in line behind me commented, ďThose

†† are the best books Iíve ever read.I couldnít put them down.ĒBefore I could reply, the author

†† looked over and said, ďOh, cut it out, Mom!Ē

Of course your mom thinks you are the best.

†† Sheís your mother, she loved you before you were even born.

†† She carried you under her heart and named you.She poured her life into you.

 

How much more does the Lord love you.

He says that a mother will forget the child at her breast before he forgets you.

His love for you is eternal.He chose you before the creation of the world.

†† He has engraved you on the palm of his hand.

And in his perfect timing, in your life, he came to you when you were

†† and enemy, and he called you and strengthened you to serve him.

†† And you can do great things.

Do you see the effect the Gospel can have on your self-image?

†† Do you see what a bold person it can make you?

 


 

MP#3What does this unique self-image look like?

If this is your self-image.If you believe these seemingly contradictory things

†† about yourselfóI am a great sinner and I am a chosen, strengthened and faithful

†† servant of Christ.I am the worst and I am the best.

Then what kind of person will you be?

†† What does this self-image look like?

 

Youíll be a person the world does not have a category for.

Youíll be humble and bold at the same time.

†† Youíll be humbled to the dust by the knowledge of your sinfulness.

And youíll be bold as a lion knowing that in the eyes of the only person

†† who really matters, you are greatly loved.

 

The world understands people who are crushed and self-hating.

†† Who feel hopeless and helpless and despised.

†† It understand the people who are losers and know it and hate their lives.

And the world certainly understand people who are prideful and boastful

†† and flaunt their accomplishments.

We live in a time when the those who boast about their greatness

†† are admired and copied.

 

But what the world canít understand or produce is a person

†† who is truly humble, but not crushed and self-hating,

†† and at the same time confident and strong, but not prideful.

 

In recent years Iíve been reading more and more biographies.

†† One of my favorites is Elisabeth Elliotís biography of Amy Carmichael.

†† Last year the church gave it to our graduating senior girls.

Amy grew up in a Christian home, in late 1800s, but her spiritual life really took off

†† through her participation in the Keswick Movement in England.

A non-denominational fellowship that held annual conferences emphasizing

†† a personal relationship with Christ.

 

Amy like to write, she had a talent, and she often wrote devotional literature.

†† She took on the pen-name Nobody. That was how she wanted to be known.

†† As Nobody.That seems over the top.Sounds like false modesty.

But in Amy it was genuine.

†† She had this deep and profound sense of her sinful unworthiness,

†† and the grace she had received in Christ.

Now you would think that a person like that would be timid and uncertain.

†† But she wasnít.

†† This little nobody, this young Scotch Irish woman was as bold as a lion.

And that boldness came from the even greater certainty of Godís grace

†† and his calling and equipping of her to be his servant.

She arrived in India in 1895, thinking that she would be involved in evangelism.

†† Thatís what she did for a number of years, going from village to village,

†† trying to talk to women about Christ, but usually ending up talking to men.

 

She eventually gathered around her a small group of believing Indian woman.

†† And it was through them that she heard about the practice of child prostitution in

†† the Hindu temples.

This became fire inside her, to rescue these little girls.

 

The first girl she rescued was a seven year-old named Preena.

†† There was an eruption of fierce opposition.The temple wanted the girl back.

†† They began to pressure Amy.You would think that the British authorities

†† would have been supportive, but their position was that they didnít want trouble.

And if this little girlís mother had given her to the temple, that was her choice.

†† They denied that there was sexual slavery in the temples.Just a rumor.

†† Amy was branded a trouble-maker.

Some other missionaries even said that she was doing this as a publicity stunt.

†† And over and above this there was spiritual warfareóa sense of demonic evil

†† that had been challenged by her bold rescue of this child.

But Amy stood firm.Those attacks bothered her but didnít overwhelm her.

†† And this Nobody rescued hundreds of children and brought them to Christ.

 

There was only one Amy Carmichaelóand she had a unique calling.

†† You have your own calling from the Lord.

You have the work he has called you to do.You have your own challenges.

†† You have people in your life who need you and those who oppose you.

†† What do you need to face the challenges of life that you will face even this week?

 

You need the Gospel, and the unique self-image that it gives you.

Humility that lets you look squarely at your worst failures and sayóyes, thatís me.

†† Iím the worst.

And boldness that enables you to face the biggest challenges and sayó

†† I can do this, because Iíve been chosen and called by Godóto him Iím the best.

†† And even to say, Imitate me.

How does Paul respond to Godís grace?He worships.

†† To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God,

†† be honor and glory forever and ever.Amen.

As we come to the Table this morningóas you take in your hands the symbols

†† of his deathótell yourself.He did this for me.And let that humble you,

†† and move you to confession, and then let it raise you to the skies,

†† and fill you with boldness to live for him this week.