A little over a year ago I read two books by a guy named Bob Goff- Love Does and Everybody Always. These two books- especially the latter- did for my love life (by which I mean the way that I love God + all of the people around me me, not just my spouse) what Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life did for my prayer life. That is, these books helped exposed how dry and near-dead my love for God and neighbor was. Then they pointed me to gospel hope, reminding me that God is the Source Who is never depleted and to rely fully on Him to love well.
It was also right around the time that I read these books that I finished up memorizing Genesis 1-4 and a few Psalms and was guided to 1 and 2 Timothy as my next books to commit to memory. By this time I knew the Holy Spirit always has reasons for when He wants me to dig into a certain part of the Bible. This now makes me a mixture of super excited to see what He has in store plus pretty afraid of how much conviction I’m gonna experience as a result. What He’s teaching me through Paul’s letters to Timothy has certainly brought so much needed rebuke, resulting in massive amounts of growth (still in progress) and much joy (with plenty of room for more!)
The way I’ve been describing it lately is that I’ve spent the majority of my Christian life (20 trips around the sun) privately thinking that it was acceptable to be a ‘jerk for Jesus’ as long as I got the main things right (i.e. doctrinal and moral issues). I couldn’t and didn’t see it that way, of course. If I offended someone with my words or actions regarding a faith-related issue, I rarely considered it to even be a possibility that I was at fault in any way.
And more to the heart of the matter, even when the issue was a legitimate one that warranted correction I rarely truly wanted the other person(s) to see Jesus clearly and have more joy in Him. My primary concern wasn’t for God’s glory. What I wanted was to win. For me. Even typing that out just now hurt quite a bit. It’s hard to admit and harder to keep away from the black hole of what-ifs. So let’s continue…
What woke me up? 1 Timothy 1. Paul greets Timothy as his true son, pointing him to the grace and mercy and peace God has given us. He then gives Timothy the job of staying in Ephesus to instruct certain people who are going off course in their doctrine to get back on track. So far so good for overzealous Emma. Go get ’em, Tim. Then, verse 5:
“Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
Hmm. That does sound better than the goal of feeling intellectually and morally superior to somebody else. And if Paul is communicating this to Timothy so that he can share it with others, not everybody in Ephesus is doomed to be led astray by false teaching. The end goal of handling the problems in the Ephesian church was God’s glory and their good. We then read an explanation of the purpose of the law, including a list of sinful practices that Paul exposes as contrary to God’s glorious gospel. He then continues with this incredible paragraph:
“I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry — one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” — and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Paul 100% owns that he lived in opposition to God. He thanks God for showing him mercy and bringing him from ignorant godlessness into true belief in Christ! Just in case it might be missed, he puts it in bright lights:
This is trustworthy! Accept this fully! Christ Jesus came to save sinners!
God’s patience is extraordinary. And if He showed it to Paul, I’m confident He’s extended it to me. And I can live convinced that it reaches to those around me. The Spirit is changing my heart day by day to really want the believers around me to be free from sin and false thinking, completely certain that Jesus came to save them and to have joy to the full as they walk in God’s grace. He’s working in me to seek to share this good news with those who haven’t heard and/or don’t believe it as the best news, knowing that:
“…God our Savior…wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 2:3-4
So that’s it again: may we marvel nonstop that God reaches down and saves sinful people (there isn’t anybody else to save!) and that He is worthy of all glory and honor and praise forever. We’ll rehearse that again in the next post, Lord willing!