Appreciation of God

“And the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” —I Timothy 1:14 RSV

IT IS generally supposed that the Apostle Paul wrote his first epistle to Timothy while imprisoned in Rome. The letter contains important instructions to Timothy, including also reflections on incidents in his life. A second and final letter was written to Timothy before Paul was put to death by the Roman Emperor Nero.

In the first epistle, and particularly in the first chapter, the Apostle Paul touches on several important matters. Foremost among these were the doctrines of Christ. Later in this letter he elaborates on some of these doctrines; for example, in I Timothy 2:3-6, he mentions the ransom: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” These words are among the clearest written on the ransom. In this epistle we also find qualifications for elders and deacons and a clarification as to how the church should be organized and how elders and deacons were to be selected.

Other matters discussed by the apostle involve the principle of love, and especially God’s love for each member of the church. He considers whether or not he himself is truly worthy of such love. Finally he discusses the responsibility he had as a chosen vessel of the Lord and the obligations concerning the Gospel that all of us have.

As Paul writes to Timothy of these matters, we can discern an appreciation of God and the things of God. Appreciation can be defined as “mental realization or understanding of true value.” As a rule, it takes time to develop appreciation. But from the moment of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he highly esteemed the revealed word of God. He also knew that the end result of understanding and putting into practice these doctrines was to develop a Christ like character, which in its essence is love. Paul knew that God and Jesus loved him and he appreciated their love. He wanted Timothy (and us) to have this same appreciation.

After saluting Timothy, Paul immediately advises him to stay in Ephesus and to lend his influence concerning the proper teachings of Christ, saying, “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went to Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” Paul had labored hard to establish the various individual churches in Asia Minor, which in total comprised a great part of the Early Church. The church at Ephesus was a large one. They appeared to have many elders, and they served, and influenced, a large area in Asia Minor. Paul also knew that there were insidious influences at work in the area. When en route to Jerusalem, and with the knowledge that he would go to Rome and be imprisoned, Paul asked the elders of Ephesus to meet him at Miletus. They did so, and there he had a last meeting with them. We read the account in Acts 20:17-35: “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Spirit witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood [with the blood of his own Son]. (See Diaglott, Weymouth, RSV, NEB, footnotes.) For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

This meeting of Paul with the elders of Ephesus was climaxed by a display of affection and love on the part of all those assembled: “And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.”(Acts 20:36-38) They felt the need of Paul’s help, and they were sorrowful that they would not see his face anymore. Because he would no longer be able to visit them personally and because he was aware of the problems that would arise through ambitious leaders, Paul looked for other ways to help the brethren at Ephesus. Hence he advised Timothy to remain there and to lend his influence in the teaching of correct doctrine. Not much is said about the exact nature of the doctrinal problems that had arisen; but it appears that these could have been associated with technicalities which, in turn, were giving rise to a wrong spirit and were causing dissension and strife.

Paul knew well the value of the doctrines of Christ and that these must be understood before they can be appreciated. Paul also knew that the brethren in Ephesus particularly needed understanding. When speaking to the elders at Ephesus, he said there would be those who would be willing to teach error in order to receive a following. The beginnings of this may have been observed by the apostle at Ephesus.

One of the problems detrimental to the spiritual welfare of the brethren was “foolish talking” and technicalities regarding the Law of Moses. Timothy was instructed to charge certain brethren at Ephesus “not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculation rather than godly edifying in faith.” Why did Paul feel it necessary to give Timothy such instructions? We may be able to understand if we look at the background of the Early Church.

In the Early Church, many brethren who were “Israelites indeed” had been brought up under the Mosaic Law. Some viewed themselves as more knowledgeable concerning the Law than their Gentile brethren. They may have unintentionally confounded and confused these Gentile brethren. Paul emphasized the fact that the Law was intended to point out the weaknesses and shortcomings of men and the “exceeding sinfulness of sin.” It was not intended to be an added burden to the Gentiles. Those who had been under the Mosaic Law and who had accepted Christ, were free of the Law and were privileged to live in conformity to the law of Christ.

As a Jew, before his conversion to Christ, Paul had tried to live up to the requirements of the Mosaic Law. No doubt he did as well as, if not better than, others who were of the scribes and Pharisees. He felt that in zealously serving the Law he was serving God in the most effective way. His zeal manifested itself in his acts against the new, radical sect known as Christians. He began to pursue them and to persecute them. In Paul’s enthusiasm for serving the Law, he went contrary to it. The Law condemned defamation, murder, blasphemy, and persecution. Although Paul at that time had a profound technical knowledge of the Law, he was ignorant of its true purpose.

As Paul’s enthusiasm for persecuting the Christians increased, the Lord suddenly brought this activity to an end. Paul was intercepted by our glorified Lord on the road to Damascus and, as a consequence, became a Christian. He became identified with the very sect that he had persecuted. His previous attitude toward Christians was never forgotten. In this letter to Timothy, he alludes to himself, saying, “[I] who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” (I Tim. 1:13) And again in the 15th verse, in speaking of how Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, he adds, “of whom I am the chief.”

It is apparent that these previous experiences made Paul more aware of the seriousness of the situation developing in Ephesus. He was able to see clearly how Jewish brethren in Christ would favor teaching and emphasizing the Law to influence their Gentile brethren. Hence he wrote: “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: from which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the Law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the Law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the Law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.”—I Tim. 1:5-10

The lesson is plain. An intellectual appreciation of the Law was not enough. Without the Spirit of Christ, it was not possible to know that “the end of the commandment is love.” The development of love out of a pure heart should be considered a “doctrine of Christ” (a teaching of Christ), which it most certainly is.

In writing to Timothy, the Apostle Paul reflected upon his past behavior toward others. He saw the contrast between his own fallen nature and the perfect, righteous nature of Jesus. He wanted to be like him. Not only did Paul appreciate being brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light but he also appreciated that much had been done for him even though he had done nothing to be worthy of it. What he had done should have made him unworthy of God’s favor. Paul’s appreciation of God’s favor toward him was expressed to Timothy as follows: “I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service, though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; 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 sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.” (I Tim. 1:12-17 RSV) Note that the persecutions and insults were considered to be against Jesus himself. This is consistent with Paul’s experience as recorded in Acts 9:3-6, where Jesus intercepted Paul on his way to Damascus and asked him, “Why persecutest thou me?” And when Saul asked, “Who art thou, Lord?” the answer was, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest,” though Paul, as Saul of Tarsus, was breathing out threathenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.

The Apostle Paul in emphasizing his unworthiness speaks of himself as the foremost of sinners. But we know that these evil acts were committed with a “zeal not according to knowledge.” Paul was not a hypocritical Pharisee; and, since he had acted ignorantly in unbelief, was he judging himself too harshly? Saul of Tarsus had been converted (turned around) from a wrong course of zealously persecuting the church of Christ to a course of zealously serving God in the right way. Should he, therefore, be comparing himself with the worst of sinners? The Apostle Paul thought of himself in that light, but the Lord had chosen him to do a most important work. Speaking of Paul, our Lord told Ananias, “He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) In order to equip Paul properly for this great task, the Lord gave him special knowledge through the Holy Spirit. This did not puff him up. The important work given to Paul and the important position he held did not prevent him from reflecting on his previous course of action. This reflection kept him humble, as he said, “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”—I Cor. 15:9

Humility is an important quality for every Christian to develop. It is a necessary quality if we are to make “our calling and election sure.” There are many ways that God employs to keep us humble. As for his servant Paul, he chose to make him aware of his weaknesses. The human weaknesses we possess, which have been revealed to us by the Lord through experiences, are most effective in keeping us humble. Then, no matter how great the work might be that we are called to do for the Lord, we will not become high-minded but will remain humble because we are not blind to our weaknesses.

The Apostle Paul was most grateful for the love and mercy of God toward him, and he appreciated this mercy very much. He never made attempts to justify his course of action during his earlier life as Saul of Tarsus but recognized it as being activated completely by misguided zeal. He saw himself as a member of fallen humanity, with weaknesses and failings that made him a sinner as much so as the other members of the fallen race; and if God could make of him a foremost apostle, there is hope for all the church.

When God entrusted Paul with the ministry of the Gospel, he gave him a great responsibility. We too, have been entrusted with a similar responsibility. Paul did not fail God in this trust. Likewise, we should do what we can to spread the Gospel message and to endeavor to make ourselves less unworthy of this trust. As we come to appreciate the love of God more, it should inspire us to serve him. As we see his mercy toward us, we should become more tolerant of our fellow members in the body of Christ and of our fellow men. As we come to appreciate the doctrines of Christ, we should apply what we have learned and freely give to others what we have received. As we see our own unworthiness to receive these blessings, we should become humble and trust God to work in us to do his good pleasure. As we see the wonderful examples in Paul and Timothy, we should emulate them and follow them, even as they followed the Lord.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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